Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Telling Moment

Most mornings I try to catch a few minutes of Morning Joe on MSNBC before leaving for work. I watch less and less television these days, but this remains a favorite. In my opinion, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist host the best and most lively hard news show around. Pat Buchanan, Mike Barnacle, Dillon Ratigan rotate as semi-regulars and the guest line-up is A-list all the way.

This morning, Joe Scarborough, while ruminating on the dire headlines in The Washington Post, made a passing reference to Sodom and Gomorrah and noted "We are all piles of salt now."

Sensing perhaps that nobody caught the reference (for Pat and Mika were not there--they would have certainly known), Joe asked if anyone knew who was turned into a pillar of salt....blank looks all around. First Willie admitted he had no idea, then Dillon, then the female economist guest. He turned to Chris the producer, who was equally was the crew standing nearby. Joe plaintively asked "Is there not a Baptist amongst us?" Finally, he informed everyone that the answer was "Lot's wife."

I am no longer easily shocked, but I have to admit that this caught my attention. Whether you were taught these Bible stories growing up in Sunday School or not--such stories were once part and parcel of our cultural narrative. Not so long ago, most everyone would have known what was meant by a reference to Lot's wife or a pillar of salt. The story that our society is adrift from its cultural moorings is hardly news. Still, one doesn't like to be reminded of it before their second cup of morning coffee. Yes, it may indeed be time to start "collecting books."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Of President's Day and Paraguay

C-SPAN conducted a recent survey, here, in which 65 scholars ranked the U.S. Presidents. In light of the observances this year of the 200th anniversary of his birth, it is not surprising that Abraham Lincoln is ranked first. He would not be my first choice, as I consider Washington the essential President. But I will give Lincoln his due. Others in the top 5 include Washington, FDR, Theodore Roosevelt and Truman. I would agree with these picks, though I think Truman is often overrated, merely because he was plain-spoken. I am pleased to see, however, that Jefferson did not make this cut.

I was surprised to find that George W. Bush is ranked only 36th out of 42, which of course begs the question as to what one would have to do to rank 37th? These scholars are more generous souls than I. The article did break-down the statistics a bit. "Bush scored lowest in international relations, where he was ranked 41st, and in economic management, where he was ranked 40th." Aaah, that is more believable.

These rankings would come as something of a surprise, however, in Paraguay. One U.S. President is quite popular in that landlocked South American nation. Oddly enough, that President is Rutherford B. Hayes. With a province (Presidente Hayes) and a provincial capital (Villa Hayes) named after him, Paraguay is wild about Rutherford. The municipal museum of Villa Hayes contains an exhibit (below) dedicated to this august personage. November 12th is a provincial holiday in Hayes' honor. In the late 1990s, a 17-year-old Paraguayan girl miraculously recovered from a coma. A television station granted her wish and gave her an all expense paid trip to the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio.

This is not a news story taken from The Onion. Paraguayans are serious in their appreciation of Hayes, and believe that we revere him "only behind Abraham Lincoln." All I remember about his presidency is that he lost the popular vote in 1876, but was elected by Congress, and that his wife, "Lemonade Lucy," allowed no liquor in the White House. In the late 1860s, Paraguay suffered a massive defeat at the hands of Argentina and Brazil in the War of the Triple Alliance. The small nation was in very real danger of disappearing from the map altogether. Rutherford B. Hayes, as the official mediator of the final boundary settlement, signed a document awarding Paraguay the Chaco District, accounting for some 60% of its present size. So, Paraguay, as we know it today, is in large part the creation of our otherwise unnoticed 19th President. You can read it, here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The End of Ebenezer Le Page

Tonight I finished reading The Book of Ebenezer Le Page. Until I read a review by the Ochlophobist, I had never heard of the book. The Ochlophobist, in turn, had heard of the work from Douglas Ian Dalrymple. Their mutual recommendation made this, for me at least, The Book Which Must Be Read.

I will not attempt a review, as the Ochlophobist has already done such an admirable job with that (you will need to scroll back to January 15th for the particular post). This little-known work is the only novel of G. B. Edwards, who died in 1976. In my view, he joins the company of Harper Lee, Guiseppe di Lampedusa, John Kennedy Toole, and yes, Margaret Mitchell; all writers who show that if you do something well enough, it only has to be done once. The book is simply one of the most satisfying reads I have had in a long, long time. These characters will stay with me--Ebenezer himself, the tormented Raymond Martel, the fussing sisters La Hetty and La Prissy, good old Jim Mahy, the unattainable Liza Queripel, harbinger of doom Cousin Mary Ann and finally, Neville Falla, who epitomized the author's hope for mankind. As Och noted, the book does not lend itself to short, pithy quotes, for the entire work is a gem. I do like this one, found in the last pages: "Is all one generation can do to set the stage for the comic, sad story of the next?"

This is the story of a man firmly rooted in his place, the island of Guernsey. He came of age before the First World War, lived through the German occupation during the Second, and continued on into old age-but never senility, and living long enough to witness the Disneyfication of his beloved island. But through it all, he knew, and lived who he was--Ebenezer Le Page of Les Moulins.

The rootedness of Le Page to his place and his world is at the heart of my fascination with his story. Ebenezer stands as a rebuke to the utter rootlessness of our age. And yet, while we recognize its value, and lament its loss, we are sometimes happier when it is others who tackle becoming "rooted."

My wife and I have lived for 21 years in a now-101 year-old house. We are but its 3rd owners. Her parents home, purchased in 1950, lies across the garden patch. Her brother owns it now, and her niece lives there, while the other brother lives next door. The sister, before her death, lived at the end of the block. Various aunts and cousins have and do live in other houses scattered around the neighborhood, a near family compound. In fact, my wife has never lived outside this 2-block neighborhood. Except for 3 years in Austin, I have lived my entire life in the southwestern quadrant of our county. My son, my nephew and I are the 5th and 6th-generation owners of our farm, which we simply refer to as "the old place." My folks purchased the new farm, closer by, in 1962. Even the building where our little Orthodox mission meets is in the old schoolhouse associated with my mother's family. Sometimes, after liturgy, I step across the road to the cemetery, and visit with my parents, where 6 generations of my family lie buried. My wife's family and my maternal family had been scratching around on this little patch of earth since the mid 1840s. And the fact that we are 3rd cousins attests to the fact that there is a good bit of overlap in our family stories. All this is to say that the two of us are not exactly poster children for the mobile society.

Certainly our situation is hardly typical in today's society. I am thankful to be able to live out my life in a particular place that has meaning to me. I am sympathetic to the story of Ebenezer Le Page, and yet...I also realize how much a product of the modern world I am. I could have never been content with staying-put as he did. My yearning to travel is a reflection of this, I suppose. Also my familial connectedness is not so much with the close-at-hand ancestral ties, but rather with my dad's family, the "other" which was lost. He was not from around here, as they say. During the Great Depression, he found his way here, settled in, and took charge. Without him, no "old farm" would have been saved, or anything else for that matter. So, I appreciate the rootedness I do have. But reading The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, reminds me how far I actually am from that life. At best, I may just be trying to have the best of both worlds, which is seldom convincing. It certainly lacks the honesty of a life lived like Ebenezer Le Page.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hymn of Entry (3)

Last week at church, in the Adult Education class, we continued our study of Hymn of Entry: Liturgy and Life in the Orthodox Church by Archimandrite Vasilieios. The author, the Abbot of Stavronikita Monastery on Mount Athos, has produced an incredible little book, only 133 pages, but powerful in its impact. I plan to post a few excerpts from each of the 6 chapters, but will withhold whatever meager commentary I could offer until the end of the series.

Chapter 3 -- The Divine Liturgy as a Theological Rite

The Liturgy consists not of sacred words but of sacred action. We do not speak but act. There is nothing here without deep roots. What is depicted or heard externally is a manifestation of an inner, personal and conscious sacrifice.

Here we learn to live, to offer ourselves. the really free life dawns, the life to come that has been given to us. We see that offering is increase, self-emptying is fullness, humiliation is glory. We learn to give thanks. And "while this thanksgiving bestows nothing upon Him, it makes us more intimate with Him."

When something is offered to God in all and for all in the atmosphere of the Liturgy, this results in its sanctificaton and fundamental transformation. The life and will which is offered to God is immediately and inalienably sanctified. When we offer what is non-essential and corruptible with a sense of gratitude, it brings us an increase of what is holy, eternal and the believer's whole life becomes a spiritual increase inasmuch as it is an offering. Instead of being exhausted it is regenerated, because before time and old age and illness can exhaust it, he has given his strength and his life to God and received grace. He has been sanctified in soul and body, and now time, old age and illness have no hold over him: his joy, life and youth escape from the hands of his enemies and go on "to the infinity" of the freedom of the Spirit.

Finally, the death and bodily burial of the believer in the earth is his last earthly act of universal offering. he does not vainly try to resist death. He has learned that offering is increase and life....He is not buried as a dead man conquered by illness or time. rather, he is offered as a liturgical gift given on behalf of all. He became voluntarily dead to self-will, fear and evil before he died physically. He died in all and for all, in every sphere of his life, so that He who is eternal and incorruptible could enter into him, as owner and master. thus even the final death which has come upon his body has been accepted by hm as the visitation of God's fatherly love, the purpose of which is total cleansing, resurrection and freedom.

Life brings us satisfaction only when it is tormented by the spirit of freedom which blows where it will. We are ceaselessly extended by eternal life once we surrender the weapons of our cowardice, of our own free will, and entrust to the will of God incarnate our entire destine, "all our life and hope."

The life which lacks the infinite and boundless dimensions of death, is in itself lifelessness and death. that is why the life which is strong as death has as its gateway the death of everything corruptible; the loss of our very soul, in order to find it again in a place open and unrestricted, free of every constraint and anxiety. In this way, when we have death as our companion, our spouse, we are married to life.

The faithful are not like spectators or an audience following something that makes a greater or lesser emotional impression on them. the faithful partake in the Divine Liturgy. the mystery is celebrated in each of the faithful, in the whole of the liturgical community. we do not see Christ externally, we meet Him within us. Christ takes shape in us. the faithful become Christs by grace.

Monday, February 09, 2009

This is interesting. H/T to Hilarius and Ochlophobist.

My Political Views
I am a left social moderate
Left: 3.43, Authoritarian: 0.06

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -7.55

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Culture War Stance
Score: 1.11

Political Spectrum Quiz

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Signs of the Times

A guilty pleasure of driving the byways of this good ole U.S.A. is the collection of church signs along the way. The effect of these signs is seldom that which the church committee intended, or at least it isn't to this sarcastic motorist. I am always on the lookout for new lows in American religiosity. Despite the glut of this kind of outreach, and its apparent ineffectiveness, there are businesses that cater to this compulsion among American churches. One of the good things about their site is that it allows potential customers to design their signs online. One of the unintended consequences is that it also allows some to play around a bit, to-wit:

And this:

And this:

And this:

h/t to Milton.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Creeping Monarchy

CNN interview with Crown Prince Alexander II of Serbia, here--a bit dated (30 August 2006) but nicely done.

Monday, February 02, 2009

St. Ekvtime the Confessor (Kereselidze)

My friend John Graham over at Georgian Chant reminds us that February 2nd is the commemoration of St. Ekvtime the Confessor, a 20th-century Georgian saint. His story makes for compelling reading. Another short biography, here.

Thou didst make fertile the barren wilderness with the streams of thy tears; and by thy deep sighing and through thy struggles thou hast borne fruit a hundredfold. Accordingly, thou hast become a star for the universe. Therefore, O Holy Father Ekvtime, intercede with Christ God to save our souls!