Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Odd Hours

After years of eye-straining work, today Father A. hit the "print" key on his Latin-English prayer book. Here's what the dust-jacket will look like.

For some readers, this will strike a sentimental note. It harks back to the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal -- and specifically to the nice leather-bound edition that Grandpa Anonymous used to use. (Except, of course, that his didn't have any Latin. An oversight on the part of Luther D. Reed, no doubt.)

There is a lot of SBH genetic material in this book, most of it inherited from the Common Service Book. The Matins and Vespers services use the CSB/SBH structure. The difference is that, in the old hymnals, you had to flip pages to find the seasonal propers. Here, each season's office is printed along with with its versicles, responsories, psalm antiphons and suggested hymns.

But there's more inside than just the SBH, or for that matter just Lutheranism. For one thing, there is a Compline service, which shares elements of the Lutheran Book of Worship and the modern Roman Catholic rite, although rendered in old-fashioned language. For another, very few Lutheran prayer books contain the Angelus or the Marian antiphons. Most of the hymns were translated by Anglican poets, and in general it is likely that Anglican readers will feel very ... very ... comfortable with this book.

It appears that the book, a hymnal-sized hardcover with a decent cloth binding, is going to sell for $38.95 from Amazon. (And, even at that, we make about a buck on each copy). It will come in closer to $28 if you buy direct from Lulu.

"Ugly Ritual is Bad Religion"

That's the title of a good piece by Rod Dreher, at Real Clear Religion. The name is self-explanatory; what we especially like is that, after the customary nods to liturgical Latin and orthodox otherwordliness, he then makes his case most strongly with a heartfelt story about small-town Methodism.

Because -- and this is important -- every community has its rituals. And those rituals matter.

Dreher is not, by any means, our favorite opinionator of the day. But this essay is worth reading and thinking about.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Safeway's War On Families Continues ...

... in Everett, Washington, where a security guard detained a 4-year-old girl for eating some dried fruit from a bag, and then putting it back on the shelf. (We know: Ick, right? But the kid's dad didn't notice.)

The guard "told the father that the girl could face criminal charges" -- she's four, mind you -- then took her to a room and made her sign a piece of paper"acknowledging she wasn't allowed to enter any Safeway stores." We're impressed that she could sign her own name, because -- did we mention this? -- she's four years old.

All this follows the Honolulu incident, in which parents were arrested and temporarily lost custody of their preschooler after the same sort of innocent mistake.

The Safeway chain announced that it had fired the guard in Everett, saying it was "appalled" by his behavior, and was going to re-examine its policies. Pretty much what they said after the Honolulu incident, which gives it a less-than-convincing sound.

The supermarket industry is reasonably competitive; unless you're in a very small town, there are almost always other stores to patronize. If there were a Safeway within a thousand miles of us right now, we would have already abandoned it in favor of KrogersShop-RitePriceChopperA&P or whatever. The funny thing is that what the stores are competing for, by and large, is business from families with children. So if Safeway wants to delay its inevitable swirling around the drain, it really needs to start thinking about ways to attract the parents of small children. Here's a hint: more "How can we help you," and less over-the-top bullying.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Stay Awake!

So says Jesus in the lesson for Sunday.

While we are tempted to drag in a sermon by St Augustine (we have a great one on staying up late, which he preached at the Easter Vigil), it occurs to us that readers may grow tired our endless harping on Augustine.

So how about Honore de Balzac? The French novelist is said to have risen from bed around midnight, and begun writing -- and to have continued writing for ten, fifteen, or many more hours. Needless to say, he had a little help.

We're talking about coffee here. Balzac drank prodigious amounts of the stuff; we remember hearing ten or fifteen cups in a day, the sort of quantities that could kill a racehorse. And in a wonderful essay called The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee, he wrote about his poison of choice. He understood (as many coffee drinkers don't) that you need to back off now and then:
Coffee's power changes over time. [Italian composer Gioacchino] Rossini has personally experienced some of these effects as, of course, have I. "Coffee," Rossini told me, "is an affair of fifteen or twenty days; just the right amount of time, fortunately, to write an opera."
But Balzac had learned to extend coffee's effect over time, and he reveals his system:

For a while - for a week or two at most - you can obtain the right amount of stimulation with one, then two cups of coffee brewed from beans that have been crushed with gradually increasing force and infused with hot water.

For another week, by decreasing the amount of water used, by pulverizing the coffee even more finely, and by infusing the grounds with cold water, you can continue to obtain the same cerebral power.

When you have produced the finest grind with the least water possible, you double the dose by drinking two cups at a time; particularly vigorous constitutions can tolerate three cups. In this manner one can continue working for several more days.

However, writing novels -- not NanoWriMo quickies, mind you, but the sprawling epics of the nineteenth century -- takes a bit longer than this. And so Balzac says:
I have discovered a horrible, rather brutal method that I recommend only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered with liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins. It is a question of using finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach. This coffee falls into your stomach, a sack whose velvety interior is lined with tapestries of suckers and papillae.

The coffee finds nothing else in the sack, and so it attacks these delicate and voluptuous linings; it acts like a food and demands digestive juices; it wrings and twists the stomach for these juices, appealing as a pythoness appeals to her god; it brutalizes these beautiful stomach linings as a wagon master abuses ponies; the plexus becomes inflamed; sparks shoot all the way up to the brain.

From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination's orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink - for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.
Mind you, a friend who tried this method took to his bed, believing himself poisoned. Balzac suggests that the poor fellow "had a stomach of papier-mache."

Perhaps, now that we think about it, this wasn't quite what the Lord had in mind. And yet, with the sermon deadline bearing down on us and that rassum-frassum breviary still not prepared for the printer, we find ourselves eyeballing the little bag of beans in the freezer, and wondering ....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Octopi Wall Street!

That was one i09 reader's comment on this astonishing piece of video:

Yes, that's right: a walking octopus. An octopus that hauls its gelatinous body out of the water, crawls across the land, drops a crab off with some onlookers (at 2:08), and then flops back into the drink.

We knew they were clever creatures, easily the smartest of the invertebrates -- apart from an occasional bishop -- but we had no idea they could walk. Frankly, we find the idea disturbing.

A couple of other i09 readers made Cthulhu jokes, which were inevitable, but another told an absolutely freaky story about a science teacher who thought kids were stealing fish from his tanks. So he set up a camera, which filmed the nocturnal shenanigans of an octopus. This monster of the deep was able to squeeze itself through a quarter-sized hole, crawl along a counter, climb into another tank, eat a resident, and then escape back the way it had come -- covering its tracks.

We at the Egg, for one, welcome our cephalopod overlords.

Beware the Apple Tree!

This time of year -- when we call upon God to rend the heavens, and so forth -- preachers may be tempted to talk about Martin Luther and the apple tree. Our suggestion: don't. Or do so only in the most guarded terms.

You have all heard, over and over, the remark attributed to Uncle Marty: If I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I should still plant my apple tree. Or variations thereof.

There are two questions for a preacher tempted by this remark: (1) is it genuine; and (2) does it reflect Luther's own eschatology?

The first answer appears to be no. Such is the conclusion of Martin Schloemann, in Luthers Apfelbaumchen? Ein kapital deutscher Mentalitats-geschichte seit dem zweiten Welt-krieg (1975; repr. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994). We gather that Scholoemann can trace the remark only back to 1944.

The second answer is probably fodder for a graduate seminar, rather than a Sunday sermon. Frederick Gaiser, in a 2005 Word & World editorial (here, if you have ATLA access) says that Schloemann's own answer is no, if the remark is to argue for a life focused on the present reality without concern for the last days, and yes -- or at least maybe -- if it is used to talk about "creaturely service [to] neighbor and world" grounded in an eschatological context. (Gaiser doesn't mention it, but the appropriation of the remark to support environmental initiatives is opportunistic and arbitrary -- and by the way, Luther did have some truly interesting things to say about the degradation of German farmland.)

But be warned: Schloemann found the misattribution of the remark suspicious, not merely because it doesn't necessarily reflect Luther's thought, but also because it reflects "the slippery malleability of the 'Luther'" whose imprimatur people seek to stick on the cause of the moment. If there are any two words that fail to describe Luther, they are slippery and malleable.

In a somewhat confusing essay on tracing suspect quotations, Yoel Natan suggests that this one may have evolved from a Jewish source:
[Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai] used to say: ‘If there were a plant in your hand and they should say to you, ‘Look, the Messiah is here!’ Go and plant your plant, and after that go forth to receive him’ (‘Abot R. Nat. B 31; quoted from John T. Carroll et al. The Return of Jesus in Early Christianity. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 2000, pp. 180-181)
So if, having considered questions (1) and (2), a preacher goes on to ask (3), "What if this remark reflects my own eschatological ideas, which I want to share in a convenient form with the faithful?" it seems to us that there are two good answers. Either attribute it to Yochanan ben Zakkai, or just say it yourself.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On the Sidebar

The Egg's Dept. of Scrupulous Reading has recently recommended some changes to the blogroll posted to your right. The suggestions have worked their way through the Committee on Resisting Change, and been grudgingly approved. Let us draw them to your attention:

  • Liturgy Geek is smart, and kind, and who can resist the name of her blog? Not us, that's for darn sure.
  • MadPriest, the vicar of St Laika's, snuck up on us. The more we read, the more we like. So we have started reading more. Despite an unfortunate love of capital letters, his frequently-updated blog is written with vigor and wit. Really, he had us with his utterly sexist post about an improved process for selecting bishops.
  • Restenergy Blog is Mark Christianson's project, and includes many of his wonderful photographs. We are dumbstruck by his recent pics from Bad Wimpfen, and hope that he will someday give the fine churches of Claudiopolis Transilvaniae the treatment they deserve.
  • Halden Doerge's Inhabitatio Dei is new to us. We stumbled over it, as one generally does on the internet, looking for something else. No idea what, but we liked his blog better. He doesn't post often, but his (rather serious) essays seem educated and thoughtful.
We have also, and with deep regret, dropped two blogs from the list:

Father Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes is still updated, occasionally, but for whatever reason the updates do not appear on our blogroll. Perhaps, given his difficult situation, the author has adjusted the settings to create a bit more privacy. We continue to pray for John Hunwicke, and specifically that the leaders of the church body to which he is newly attached will recognize the depth, sincerity and vitality of his priestly vocation.

And Pr. Sophie's Lutheran (True) Confessions, which once covered the world of Lutheran LGBT matters with such love and humor, was last updated in August, 2010. (Although the Twitter feed remains active.) We don't know who Sophie is, or whence came the decision to discontinue. Perhaps after CWA 2009, the battle seemed won, or perhaps -- as happens so often in the world of blogging -- life offline gained momentum. Whatever the reason, we hope that Sophie is safe and happy.

Adveniat Tempus Adventus

Like the proverbial month of March, Advent arrives like a lion and leaves like a lamb. It comes with talk of a fire kindled in the brushwood, and the stars falling from heaven; it leaves with an angel announcing new life to a fearless girl. A season could do worse for itself.

Lion-like, Advent comes roaring in with its annual debates and decisions. The one we care about these days is "Blue versus Purple"; the one about which don't care much anymore is "Can We Sing Christmas Songs."

The first question, about liturgical color, is meaningless on its surface. What possible difference could it make whether the paraments and stoles and whatnot are the violet customary in the Roman rite or the indigo purportedly found in a few northern rites? The answer, of course, is none; liturgical colors are as utterly adiaphoristic as it is possible to be.

And yet ... Whether with or without precedent, dark blue has been taken up by American churches in the past few decades, and called "the color of hope." This is surely a fair assignment; hope is a virtue of which Advent speaks conspicuously, whether in its lion-weeks or its lamb-weeks. Why should it not have its own color?

On the other hand, consider the role of Advent in the church's year. Historically, it was a late development; as the Christmas-to-Epiphany cycle emerged as a mirror image of Easter -- "Pasch in winter," it is sometimes called -- so eventually Advent was invented as an invernal "St. Martin's Lent." It was, and among the Orthodox its equivalent remains, a fast. It was likewise a time of penitence, of self-scrutiny and confession. Logically, as Christmas shares its color with Easter, while retaining a distinct character, so Advent shared its color with Lent.

It seems possible that, by changing the color of Advent, churches may also change its character. The analogy to Lent is broken, or at least vitiated. The question churches need to ask themselves is whether this is a good thing or a bad one. Some may celebrate a step away from a religion of guilt and gloom -- but others may regret the lost opportunity to offer discipline and self-restraint in the season of endless office parties and shopping binges.

We have swung both ways over the years, but lately we lean toward the latter. A violet Advent seems more deeply countercultural, and therefore more deeply useful.

As for songs, well, how much rhetorical blood has been spilt over the question of whether a few Christmas carols sung in early December will be an offense to Almighty God? Pastors struggle both with parishioners and consciences; music directors seem to divide down the middle, with Dr. Purist Noseintheair snarling at the populist leniency of Ms. Suzie Pedalpumper.

It makes us want to jump up and down shouting, "Hey, guys! You know they're only songs, right?" Songs are just as adiaphoristic as colors -- or for that matter seasons -- and yet for some reason they seem to draw many times the acrimony.

Once upon a time, in our idealistic youth, we sided with Dr. Noseintheair. No matter how the choir begged and the children cried, there would be no Christmas songs before Christmas! Father A. stood like St John the Baptist, fire in his eyes, decrying the generation of liturgical vipers. Frankly, we still prefer to hold Christmas off until Christmas; if nothing else, we like the way it builds suspense, like ketchup slowly working its way down the neck of a bottle. We compare it to such antepaschal customs as fasting, or veiling the crucifix, or omitting the Alleluia.

But here's the thing: Christmas songs are, by and large, about the Incarnation. And the Church is always celebrating the Incarnation, because (with the Resurrection) that's the center of the Church's very being -- the object of every sermon and every sacrament, the sine qua non of Christianity as a religion. To set them aside is, at least arguably, to risk setting aside the center of the faith in favor of its marginalia. We might as well spend Holy Week trying to forget the Resurrection (which, of course, some liturgical practices nearly do).

So if the question is: Can we sing Christmas songs during Advent?, we at the Egg are inclined to answer, with a heavy sigh, Yes, provided you would also sing them in Lent, or in mid-summer. Which, for many of the most beloved hymns, you would, could and maybe even should.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Historic Bibles Online

A few months ago, scrounging the net for a particular verse reading in the Coverdale Psalter -- tricky to find, if you care about spelling and punctuation -- we stumbled over something truly remarkable: a website featuring page-by-page photo-reproductions of historic Bibles.

Truly, friends, we live in astonishing times. A poor parish priest can sit in his study and flip pages through the first English New Testament, from 1390 -- as well as Erasmus' diglot, Luther's 1522 NT and his 1530 Bible, and plenty more. These are not easy books to find, even in reproduction. (And yes, the site is run by a company which does sell reproductions of historic Bibles, but even those ain't cheap. We've checked).

This is incredibly cool, at least for readers with an interest in incunabula, typography, and so forth. It's not perfect, of course. For example, the most important part of the Geneva Bible was its extensive annotation, which was sufficiently antiepiscopal and anitmonarchical to require a more C-of-E-friendly translation, duly commissioned by King James I. Well, the Geneva Bible is there, all right, but we couldn't zoom in close enough to read the notes as easily as we'd like. No problem on a bigger monitor, we expect. Also, the page includes Foxe's Book of Martyrs but not the Douay Bible. Showing bias much, guys?

Still, it's a striking site, and we'll click back often.

It's called The commercial site has the unhumble monicker And yet, for all our Lutheran disdain for self-promotion, we have to say that this is a pretty great site.

Shakespeare and the Albino Monks

A few nights back, Father A. slipped out to his local multiplex to see the film Anonymous. The beautiful Mother A. declined to accompany him, claiming that she would be too distracted by his growls, grimaces and muttered cursing. She is a wise woman.

By now, you have read the reviews, and know that Anonymous is a picture about the supposed conspiracy to pass off the illiterate son of a rural tradesman as the author of plays and sonnets which, it is assumed, could only have been written by a person of noble breeding and top-notch education. You surely realize as well that this assumption is malarkey. Shakespeare came from the rising middle class, and attended a grammar school with a curriculum that would put some modern American colleges to shame. Some of his fellow playwrights -- Marlowe and Jonson -- made much more strenuous efforts to show off their formal education. The idea that only a nobleman could have written Shakespeare's plays is baseless snobbery; the idea that a nobleman would have is dubious in the extreme.

The whole thing is a bit Da Vinci Code-esque. One half expects the conspiracy to be revealed by a Harvard "symbologist" pursued by albino monks.

Here's a nice Smithsonian piece which gets at the basic problem: we don't a lot of documentary evidence about the life of Shakespeare. To people accustomed to having their websurfing histories and credit-card reports meticulously processed by computers and sold to marketing departments, this sounds suspicious. No data trail? The man must not have existed! In fact, as the Smithsonian says,
We know as much about Shakespeare as we know about most of his contemporaries–Ben Jonson, for instance, remains such a cipher that we can’t be sure where he was born, to whom, or even exactly when. “The documentation for William Shakespeare is exactly what you would expect of a person of his position at that time,” says David Thomas of Britain’s National Archives. “It seems like a dearth only because we are so intensely interested in him.”
In the absence of evidence, people are prone to make up stories. It is sweet, but also a little annoying.

All that said, Anonymous wasn't as bad as it might have been. The CGI sets are pretty, even though they seem to have been generated in black-and-white. There are a few bits of good acting, especially Rhys Ifans (the Earl of Oxford) and the daughter-mother team of Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave (both as Elizabeth I). Sadly, Richardson is party to the most comically bad instance of mock-fellatio ever filmed, but one can only blame Roland Emmerich for this. The supposed "history" presented in the film is utterly bogus, but it does at least succeed in giving a sense of the endless succession of spies, plotters and bullies that constituted the great and good of Renaissance England.

Sadly, for a film about a writer of so many sparkling lines, the dialogue is tepid. The most compelling scene in Anonymous, by far, is Henry V's "ye band of brothers," played straight -- and every line save one is by Shakespeare.

But let's get back to the bogus history. The idea that Shakespeare did not write his own works emerged in the 19th century. Candidates for the "real" Shakespeare abound; the classic is probably Sir Francis Bacon, whom we had always assumed was chosen because he is the only other Elizabethan literary figure whose name is recognized by the average non-English-major. In fact, as a moment on Google reveals, the "Bacon" hypothesis was first put forward by a writer named Delia Bacon. What a ... coincidence.

Albino monks aside, there is in fact a funny theological twist to the story of the Shakespeare conspiracy. Readers surely know that in 1835, David Strauss published his Das Leben Jesu, which marked the beginning of the interminable "quest of the historical Jesus." One of the early responses to Strauss was Samuel Mosheim Schmucker, who in 1848 published a book called Historic Doubts Respecting Shakespeare, Illustrating Infidel Objections Against the Bible. He was making fun of Strauss, mind you -- Schmucker knew perfectly well that Shakespeare had written his own works, just as he knew that Jesus had been Jesus. But he inadvertently gave ammunition to the crazy people.

(Aside to fellow Lutherans: Yes, this guy was the son of that Samuel Schmucker. The one we all hiss and boo like a stage villain. It is good to remember that by the standards of his own day, Schmucker pere was a confessional conservative, and that both his sons -- the other is the great Beale Melanchthon Schmucker -- turned out okay.)

The Smithsonian blog post linked above highlights one of the wee bits of Shakespearean data exhaust that scholars have preferred to overlook. Years ago, the Canadian scholar Leslie Hotson dug up a "surety of peace" -- something like an order of protection -- in which Shakespeare was named as part of a group that had made threats against the life of one William Wayte. A very close reading places Shakespeare in the middle of the London underworld, associated with pimps and strong-arm men. A "gangster," it calls him. Yes -- and who better to have written about Caesar's Rome and Macbeth's Scotland?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Occupy Bulevardul 21 Decembrie 1989?

We haven't had much -- anything -- to say about the movement to "occupy" civic spaces around the United States. In a nutshell, here's why:

Ever since the Egg relocated its production facility overseas, it has been a little hard to keep up with life back home. We still know the obvious things -- the name of the president and six Supreme Court justices; that Breaking Dawn is in the theaters now -- but we're fuzzy on the nuances. (What's a Glee? Who played in the World Series?) The upshot is that we don't really know what's going on, either at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, in Oakland, or at the seemingly hundreds of other franchises nationwide and in Canada.

Some of our muzziness reflects the deliberate muzziness of the protesters themselves. To be sure, income inequality is at the heart of the matter -- and inequality is made even more unequal when unemployment rates are so frighteningly high. (An old friend, a paralegal with many years of experience, was just laid off from her job at a foreclosure firm. Nobody is safe!)

But a complaint is not a prescription. There's no OWS platform as simple as, say, "America out of Viet Nam" or "End Apartheid Now." One gathers that this is the point; the movement has been purposefully decentralized and multifarious, a sort of big tent enclosing many shades of disenchantment.

Fr. William of the Beach has forwarded us several fine home videos of the scene in Manhattan, the most recent of which is posted below. Both the protesters and the police seem well-enough-behaved. (This is what we love about America, by the way. Cuz it ain't that way everywhere.)

But did you see the placards? A lot of somewhat general insistence upon liberty (which makes sense, when the protesters have been required to vacate the park, thus endangering their freedoms of speech and assembly), coupled with agitation around schools, the public library, and ... hormone replacement therapy?

As we said, multifarious. Hard to pin down.

Anyway, it all has us thinking about the place where we live. Romania has the fastest internet download speeds in Europe, but only about half the population has indoor plumbing. Economic inequality here is far more extreme than in the US. Unemployment is lower than the US, at least on paper -- but many "employed" people can't collect their paychecks, which would be pathetically small even if they could. The government is widely held to be both irresponsible and incompetent; the mayor of our own city was taken to jail last week, where he is awaiting trial on corruption charges. As for civil liberties, citizens of our own age and older were effectively raised without them, during the grim, repressive days of Nicolae Ceaucescu.

In 1989, there was a revolution. It wasn't the bloodiest revolution in history -- more like Tunisia than Syria, at the moment -- but it was bloody enough. People were shot down in the street. Flushed with optimism, people imagined that their world would change overnight. The name of our main street was changed from Lenin to the date date of the uprising. The world seemed, briefly, full of hope. And, twenty-one years on, things are certainly far better than they were; yet many of the promises remain unfulfilled. Frankly, a lot of the same people still hold power, either economic or political -- and a lot of the same people are still poor and powerless.

All this suggests to us that, for all the organizational wisdom that keeps the OWS movement free-form and many-headed, it must eventually lead to something more pointed if it is to have a lasting effect. It will need to produce policies and leaders; it will need to actively transform a broken political system, rather than settling for the observation that it is broken. Such things are possible, but they are very difficult, and comparatively rare.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Christ is Coming; Say Your Prayers

Readers have surely noticed that this is the week when the lectionary takes its annual turn toward the Apocalypse. Zephaniah tells us that, when God comes, "it will be a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, of wasteness and desolation, of darkness and gloom." St Paul mutters ominously about thieves in the night.

In other words, it is pre-Advent, the weeks during which the Church refreshes itself with some old-time fire and brimstone, a bracing reminder that the Day of the Lord isn't all about ponies and rainbows.

And -- watch this segue, friends, because it's going to be crass -- what better time to deepen your prayer life by buying Fr. A.'s new book?

The book in question is called Odd Hours. It's a Latin-English breviary -- or, technically, a diurnal -- with forms of Matins and Vespers for the different seasons of the church year. Compline, Suffrages and some of the Small Catechism prayers make an appearance as well. There's a complete Psalter, using (get this!) the Coverdale translation in its original spelling. Because, really, what do Protestants need more than a book of Latin prayers, translated into obsolete, archaic, and nearly unreadable English?

We'll say a lot more about Odd Hours in the next few weeks. We don't really expect to take the world by storm with this thing, but we do think there may be a few people who enjoy it. We think of the book as a work of "outsider art," which is the term dealers use these days for the "machines" and "castles" that crazy old men make in their basements out of tin cans.

Like a crazy man in the basement, Father A. didn't actually make any of the tin cans. He's been collecting them from other sources -- SBH, Vulgate, and lots of Internet Archive books -- and stacking them up in funny ways.

And like that same crazy man in the basement, Father A. has been working on this thing for many years, with a monomaniacal frenzy that has left his baby undiapered, his wife in despair, and his blog un-updated. It eventually drove him to exile in a windswept Carpathian stronghold. Having destroyed his family and his friendships, the monstrous project now in its final stages. Soon enough, you should be able to purchase a copy on Amazon (or, if that jacks up the price unreasonably, from the print-on-demand service It will sell roughly for cost, but we aren't sure what that will be. We had hoped to have it available as a Christmas gift for the lunatic in your ecclesiastical attic, but it seems unlikely that we'll make the deadlines. Turns out Mother A. expects us to work between now and Christmas.

Until then, however, you can read -- and download, and pray -- Matins and Vespers for Advent, absolutely free, just by clicking here. We hope you will.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Twilight of the American Idols

A couple of balloons got deflated recently:

Idol #1: Rick Perry is no longer a viable candidate for the Republican nomination. He made a fool of himself in the most recent debate, struggling to remember even his canned threat against the Department of Energy. Afterward, Perry himself remarked that "It's a good a thing I was wearing my boots, because I really stepped in it." The guy is clearly not ready for prime time.

Since Perry is sitting on a big old pot of money, it is unlikely that he will slink away in defeat. It is likely that he will stay in the race, for all the usual ego-and-2016 reasons. If you ask Herman Cain, Perry has been trying to destroy him out of sheer meanness, and such a thing is not impossible. The real question is whether Perry's schadenfreude will extend to the destruction, attempted or complete, of Mitt Romney.

Idol #2: Joe Paterno. Needless to say, this is far more important than the mere presidency of the United States -- it's football. Paterno, who is 84 and probably should have retired years ago, was fired by Penn State for failing to take sufficient action when one of his assistant coaches was discovered raping a 10-year-old boy in the locker room.

The story is appalling on every possible level. Over 15 years, assistant coach Jerry Sandusky serially molested young boys, often using the Penn State athletic facilities to do so. He was observed doing this on several occasions, and by several people.

And let's be clear, this isn't a "sex scandal" in the same way that Bill Clinton's in-office adultery or Newt Gingrich's serial infidelity are. This goes well beyond even Herman Cain's alleged groping of an employee. Sandusky is accused of at least two counts of rape, a crime of violence -- in his case, against children. And to be sure, there is an element of scapegoating here; Paterno is only one of the many links in a chain or irresponsibility. After all, he reported the allegation to the administration, thereby doing the bare minimum to salve his conscience.

But as one of our friends, himself a professional athlete, observed this morning, Paterno -- a living legend so legendary that even Fr. A. has heard of him -- was in many ways superior to the administration at Penn State. For years, he has run his program like a medieval prince. If he had wanted Sandusky gone, the guy would have been gone in a heartbeat; if he had said a word, Sandusky would have been in prison. So why didn't he?

The Paterno case begs comparison to the scandals within the Roman Catholic Church. Paterno does indeed sound like one of those bishops who took little or no action against the reported abusers on their team. Paterno is also one of those sports figures who has often pontificated on "values." If anything, though, a coach of Paterno's stature has more power than the average bishop.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Church's War on Filthy Lucre

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, is the other highest-ranking cleric in the C of E. He is sometimes presented as a more reliable friend to theological conservatives than the brilliant but much-distracted Archbishop of Canterbury. This makes his piece in today's Yorkshire Post especially interesting, since he lashes out at the ultra-wealthy plutocrats who are so often admired by political conservatives.

Sentamu expresses his annoyance with the fact that FTSE 100 CEOs received average pay increases of nearly 50% last year, while the Western economy was in freefall. He argues that this is both illogical and socially destructive:

Top pay has been found to bear little or no relation to company performance, but even if it did, isn’t the performance of a company dependent on the work and well-being of all its staff?

Among the ill effects of very large income differences between rich and poor are that they weaken community life and make societies less cohesive.

No argument, but nothing new, either. We are more interested by Sentamu's prescription for change, which is that society should, basically, stop honoring the rich. Encourage (but don't require) people to make public the amount of tax they pay; don't give the Queen's Award to Industry to CEOs so much as to whole companies, and especially don't give it to people who are already rich.

On their face, these suggestions are laughably weak tea, but they move toward an important idea. Prestige, social status, "cool" -- these are all names for the same basic commodity, and it is extremely valuable. Prestige ranks with sex and money as one of the great motivators of human activity. Now, in life as we know, it these things are often companions; people with one have easier access to the other two. But there are exceptions. At least early in the game of life, the cool kid with no money has a better shot at the pretty girl than the well-off jerk.

So what if being rich weren't cool? That's what Sentamu seems to be proposing here. What if honor were not publicly held to accrue to wealth, but rather to, say, activities that improve society? It's utopian, but it could happen. As he observes, it wasn't that long ago that "honor" among the English (and French, and Italian) aristocracy meant killing each other in duels.

Of course, honor in society isn't all about wealth. Bill Gates may be richer than Steve Jobs ever was, but until he started his Foundation, there was zero chance he could ever be as cool. But let's be serious: each of these guys enjoys a social status unimaginable even to some otherwise remarkable people -- most Nobel prizewinners, for example, or virtually any serious artist. or, and this is closer to Sentamu's point, the people who actually do the science, engineering and labor that make Microsoft and Apple what they are.

Sentamu's ideas don't seem all that well thought through, but we think he's onto something.

There is nothing new about Christianity taking the side of the poor against the rich -- you are preaching on the Beatitudes this Sunday, aren't you? Take a look at the Anglo-Catholic Socialism website linked on the sidebar for another reminder, or remember that the cause of Archbishop Romero is still working its way through the Congregation.

And yet Archbishop Sentamu's essay follows by only two weeks a statement on global finance by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace which has managed to offend many of the right people. (George Weigel dismissed it as "rubbish, rubbish, rubbish.") While we haven't had a chance to read the statement yet, we gather that it's a bit confused. Still, strong newsmaking public signs of what Christians know but other people forget -- the Church's concern for the poor -- are always welcome.

Down With Skool

(With gratitude to Nigel Molesworth).

A college education in the United States may very well be a colossal waste of money and education. Evidence has been mounting for years that college is overpriced. It doesn't actually prepare most people for, you know, work. Drop-out rates are high, and whether students finish a degree or not, they are left to begin adult life with crippling debt. And don't get us started on graduate school.

There's a review essay by Anthony Grafton at the NYRB, and it's sobering stuff, albeit familiar. Grafton is critical of some recent books, especial those which go after professors, and which seem to fall short of particulars, but he signs on to the general picture. Today's students study impossibly few hours; they read little, care less, and appear to gain no long-term benefit, financial or otherwise. Universities (Rutgers is mentioned in particular) starve their academic departments to feed the unprofitable pursuit of football glory.

Grafton is especially impressed by a test called the College Learning Assessment, which seeks to measure student progress -- of which it finds little:
The Collegiate Learning Assessment reveals that some 45 percent of students in the sample had made effectively no progress in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing in their first two years. And a look at their academic experience helps to explain why. Students reported spending twelve hours a week, on average, studying—down from twenty-five hours per week in 1961 and twenty in 1981. Half the students in the sample had not taken a course that required more than twenty pages of writing in the previous semester, while a third had not even taken a course that required as much as forty pages a week of reading.
(Grafton does not mention one factor that may deter professors from assigning as many term papers as they once did. Our own brief college teaching experience shocked us by revealing how thoroughly the Internet has abetted the age-old instinct to plagiarize, so thoroughly that students of seemingly reasonable intelligence seemed unable to distinguish between "writing" and "pasting." Surely few professors want to set up shop as full-time investigators of academic criminality.)

Notably, Grafton makes an exception -- or rather, the data make an exception -- for the liberal arts:
Nowadays the liberal arts attract a far smaller proportion of students than they did two generations ago. Still, those majoring in liberal arts fields—humanities and social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics—outperformed those studying business, communications, and other new, practical majors on the CLA. And at a time when libraries and classrooms across the country are being reconfigured to promote trendy forms of collaborative learning, students who spent the most time studying on their own outperformed those who worked mostly with others.
Just as we would have expected. In our day, by gum, students read books and wrote papers, mostly about Shakespeare and Wittgenstein. (Or was it von Kleist and Rembrandt? After all these years, we sort of forget).

Mind you, the CLA measures things like critical thinking, and many a liberal arts graduate has had time to think critically about, say, the meaning of the unemployment line.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Used and Abused

This looks very interesting: Robert Jenson has published a little book called Lutheran Slogans: Use and Abuse. Steve Wright gives it a quick review at Faith & Theology.

Regular readers know that the abuse of slogans (and logia) is one of the Egg's interests, and stimulates our occasional efforts to find sources and contexts for the sort of sayings that people tend to take for granted. (Fr. A.'s first published work of scholarship was, in fact, an exploration of the the words lex orandi, lex credendi. Hint: nobody uses them -- or even quotes them -- rightly.)

Wright gives few examples of the slogans addressed in Jenson's book. He mentions sola Scriptura and the law/gospel distinction. We wonder whether, and hope sincerely that, they also include sola fide, sinning boldly, and "sacrifice," or rather the rejection thereof.

Two matters give us pause. First, Wright says that Jenson "takes almost every effort afforded him to disagree with Melanchthon." Disagreement with Melanchthon has been a common enough pastime among Lutherans from the very beginning, but we are inclined to consider it an unhealthy one -- more like smoking than playing baseball.

It seems increasingly clear to us that Melanchthon is the essential Reformation theologian, the vital and indispensable link connecting the many different ideas and approaches that were then in play. It is Melanchthon the classicist who prevents Luther's evangelical insights from coming unmoored from patristic tradition; it is Melanchthon the ecumenist who, so long as he can, keeps the Reformation of Germany in communication with those of Switzerland and England. And yes, it is Melanchthon the much-abused "pussyfooter," the "synergist," even the author of the Interims, who offered the best hope that the Reformation had of being what it always claimed, a reform movement within a united church.

And second, we note that the book is published by ALPB, as was Jenson's catechism a few years back. Nothing wrong with that, but we do wonder why one of the three or four best American theologians is publishing with such a very small house. We hope it is because he chooses to.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Least Safe Way

Old Father A. has never actually shopped at a Safeway supermarket. Now it appears he never will.

Last week, a former USAF staff sergeant and her husband moved from California to Honolulu. They went for a walk, got lost, and stopped into a supermarket to buy some food -- and eat a sandwich, planning to scan the wrapper at the checkout counter. (She's 30 weeks pregnant, so you can imagine how hungry a getting-lost-in-your-new-neighborhood walk made her). Although they bought $50 worth of groceries, they forgot to scan the wrapper, and so failed to pay for the sandwich.

So, when the security guard dragged them away, they were pretty embarrassed, and offered to pay for the sandwich. But it seems that Safeway's policy wouldn't let them do that. Do you know what Safeway's policy required the store to do?

Have the couple arrested. And put in jail. And have their 2-year old daughter taken away by Child Protective Services.

Obviously, Safeway supermarkets are going to fold all over the country, because from now on nobody in his or her right mind will ever shop at one. But the story (here, here, here) does raise another question: what sort of half-wit police officers do they hire in Honolulu? Because it is one thing for some lardass mall cop and his pimple-faced management trainee boss to follow this policy; it is another thing for the actual police to make it happen.

Oh. What? There -- Joys!

Here in South-East Central Europe, people are heading to the cemeteries today, to place candles by the graves of the faithful departed. Many American Christians will never know that All Saints Day has come and gone; many others will only celebrate it next Sunday.

And don't get us started on All Souls Day, a day once reserved for the not-so-faithful departed. If you ask us, it was the more realistic of the two November holy days. The general Protestant disdain for Purgatory pretty much killed that one, although ... Tract XC, anybody?

Anyway. Your congregation will probably sing For All the Saints; almost everybody does, and well they might. Great freakin' hymn. But please do consider this gem, by Peter Abelard:

O quanta, qualia sunt illa sabbata

quae semper celebrat superna curia.

quae fessis requies, quae merces fortibus,

cum erit omnia Deus in omnibus.

quis rex, quae curia, quale palatium,

quae pax, quae requies, quod illud gaudium,

huius participes exponant gloriam,

si quantum sentiunt, possint exprimere.

vere Ierusalem est illa civitas,

cuius pax iugis est, summa iucunditas,

ubi non praevenit rem desiderium,

nec desiderio minus est praemium.

illic molestiis finitis omnibus

securi cantica Sion cantibimus,

et iuges gratias de donis gratiae

beata referet plebs tibi, Domine.

Illic ex sabbato succedet sabbatum,

perpes laetitia sabbatizantium,

nec ineffabiles cessabunt iubili,

quos decantabimus et nos et angeli.

Nostrum est interim mentem erigere

et totis patriam votis appetere,

et ad Ierusalem a Babylonia

post longa regredi tandem exilia.

Perenni Domino perpes sit gloria,

ex quo sunt, per quem sunt, in quo sunt omnia;

ex quo sunt, Pater est; per quem sunt, Filius;

in quo sunt, Patris et Filii Spiritus.

Here is John Mason Neale's translation:

O what their joy and their glory must be,

those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see;

crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest:

God shall be All, and in all ever blest.

What are the Monarch, his court and his throne?

What are the peace and the joy that they own?

O that the blest ones, who in it have share,

all that they feel could as fully declare!

Truly, "Jerusalem" name we that shore,

city of peace that brings joy evermore;

wish and fulfillment are not severed there,

nor do things prayed for come short of the prayer.

There, where no troubles distraction can bring,

we the sweet anthems of Zion shall sing;

while for thy grace, Lord, their voices of praise

thy blessèd people eternally raise.

Now, in the meantime, with hearts raised on high,

we for that country must yearn and must sigh,

seeking Jerusalem, dear native land,

through our long exile on Babylon's strand.

Low before him with our praises we fall,

of whom and in whom and through whom are all;

of whom, the Father; and in whom, the Son;

and through whom, the Spirit, with them ever One.

It is one of Neale's best efforts, although he apparently did not bother to translate stanza 5, illic ex sabbato, etc. (Basically, it says that there where sabbath follows sabbath forever, saints will forever celebrate the Sabbath, singing our joyful songs alongside the angels.)

One thing to observe is that "O quanta qualia" doesn't mean "joy and glory." It is a more subtle expression, something on the order of of "O, how many and of what sort." Also, the "blessed ones" are actually described as "the supernal court," matching the expression in the next stanza.

Sadly, the thing most to be noted is that Lutherans have long been deprived of so much from this hymn. The LBW includes only 4 (altered) stanzas, so the wonderful rhetorical questions of st. 2 are gone, as is the comparison of life on earth to the Babylonian exile. But all that pales before the fact that ELW doesn't include the hymn at all.

Still, here are the words, for anybody who wants them. They're worth singing today.