There be dragons!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Grier Angelou and the tawdriness of modern poetry

I found this fun blog on Maya Angelou's awful poems: the first is, I think, really hers, the other two are parodies. Angelou lends herself to parody but no one does that parody better than David Alan Grier:
Having had to read Angelou in college as a serious American poet I can claim that the state of modern American poetry is truly in the dumper! The cheap, tawdry, pandering and fawning and mild, rather disgusting sensuality of Angelou's poetry is laughable. Nor can it compare to the greatness of Melville, or Poe, or Dickinson, or any of the other great poets in the American canon. As one colleague put it, her poems have not stood the test of time but have been rushed into the list of necessary reads for poor dumb college students who can't yet tell a good poem for a bad.

Here is my attempt at a parody:
My M and M minis
Oh you melt in the mouth marvels
Making magic in your glorious multicolored
Shells. Chocolate goodness.
M! The lips moistened in a permanent press
of succulent sensuality. This unit not labeled
for Retail Sale. I. You. My M and M
May contain peanuts.
Questions? Comments?
Ask not for whom the M and M melts
It melts for me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Plato Akrasia and the True Path

One of my students, now in college, sent me her very fine essay on akrasia. I'll try to get her to post it on line so I can link to it.

Here is my response:

I think you have a fine analysis of The Protagoras using a philosophical standpoint.

Some helpful observations on this concept (including reference back to Aristotle's points about the same; I noticed your point similar to Aristotle on page 3 of the essay - people do what they think will make them happy; the problem is in learning where true happiness resides and habituating ourselves to it; the Nichomachean Ethics.)

Here is the Greek in context:
εἰ ἄρα, ἔφην ἐγώ, τὸ ἡδὺ ἀγαθόν ἐστιν, οὐδεὶς οὔτε εἰδὼς οὔτε οἰόμενος ἄλλα βελτίω εἶναι ποιεῖ, καὶ δυνατά, ἔπειτα ποιεῖ ταῦτα, ἐξὸν τὰ βελτίω: οὐδὲ τὸ ἥττω εἶναι αὑτοῦ ἄλλο τι τοῦτ᾽ ἐστὶν ἀμαθία, οὐδὲ κρείττω ἑαυτοῦ ἄλλο τι σοφία.

Then if, I proceeded, the pleasant is good, no one who has knowledge or thought of other actions as better than those he is doing, and as possible, will do as he proposes if he is free to do the better ones; and this yielding to oneself is nothing but ignorance, and mastery of
1 oneself is as certainly wisdom.

- from Perseus project (

Some few thoughts of my own on this dialogue (which, thank you, I am intrigued enough to go back and read a second time now).

1. note that from the start Plato is setting up a series of dual figures; a bad (or false) and a good (or true). First Socrates and "the friend" who open the dialogue, then Socrates' comment about leaving Alkibiades (the true love) for Protagoras (the false love), which is ironic b/c Alkibiades is also the false man (loved only for appearance) whereas Protagoras is jokingly held up as the true man (loved for his mind/soul/nous); then the slave makes way for Socrates at The Friend's bidding; then Socrates mentions that his conversation with Hippocrates occurs in the morning (btwn the false dark ignorance of night and the dawning truth of daylight); then there is the analysis of what sophism is in comparison with philosophy (as a false act of knowledge for personal gain compared to a true act of knowledge for love), also the seeking out by Hippocrates of Socrates as the true "doctor of the soul" compared to the contingent journey to Protagoras as a false "doctor of the soul" and then the discussion between the two in which the true doctor trounces the false. Seems that the factors that from the beginning are being established are false vs. true, ignorance vs. knowledge, selfish vs. selfless , lack of love vs. love. Thus the opening "chords" of this little rondo by Plato seem to concern a comparison btwn a false path of life and a true.

2. taken in the larger context of the Platonic corpus, this dialogue seems to be a repetition of that thesis that the vision of the good is an overpowering vision that prompts a man to transcend the pettiness of selfish desire and thus become master of himself (autonomous).

3. seen in the light of the literary context and the overall corpus, it would seem that the discussion of akrasia has to be fitted into the larger discussion of incontinence or inability to rule (akrates) and the power to rule (krates). Plato is offering a philosophical distinction which does indeed set philosophy buffs panting, but really it is more of a theological work.

What does the right or true path of the good do for a man? makes him krates(note that krates is the Greek word that ends such cognates as autocrat or plutocrat or aristocrat), strong enough to rule b/c he no longer wants any of those petty things that constitute the world of evil. It isn't, then, so much a question of the manner in which we choose good or evil but an attempt to depict what The Good has to offer.

Drawing, then, from Michael Davis' most excellent article on the death dialogues (Wonderlust: I would hazard that this is what Socrates/Plato is actually doing in the passage on akrasia. He is giving to his audience an alternate vision of the universe; a hopeful vision that allows them to become autonomus individuals capable of dealing with the two great horrors of human life vis a vis death (extinction) and despair (hopelessness). The actual philosophical terms are, in this context, not so significant (no offense) but only in so far as they serve to provide for the audience at large the hopeful vision that they can transcend themselves and master their own false libidinous urges to destruction.

I am most intrigued by the passage that runs

When you buy victuals and liquors you can carry them off from the dealer or merchant in separate vessels, and before you take them into your body by drinking or eating you can lay them in your house and take the advice of an expert whom you can call in, as to what is fit to eat or drink and what is not, and how much you should take and when; so that in this purchase the risk is not serious. But you cannot carry away doctrines in a separate vessel: you are compelled, when you have handed over the price, to take the doctrine in your very soul by learning it, and so to depart either an injured or a benefited man.

For Socrates in this small triage on the soul of Hippocrates the doctrines matter; to set a man on the right course of action away from the false course of action is an imperative. Thus to the passage on akrasia: the "other possible course of action". Here the impotence, or incontinence of the present life or actions (
ποιεῖ) of weakness are held in comparison to the stronger (δυνατά), better (βελτίω) way which is fostered by true wisdom (σοφία). Here's the ultimate point: Socrates' "new way" of action is one which acknowledges the darkness and meaninglessness of our existence but also recognizes that living in that meaninglessness (whether as a nihilist or as a sophist) emasculates a person and makes them incapable of acting. Aquinas also seems to recognize this, that the abyss is a reality but discussion of it is bootless and only makes one incapable of acting. Only adherence to the seemingly paltry and rather shabby doctor, Socrates, offers a resurrection of thought, like the dawn breaking, that can trounce these sowers of sorrow and addiction and offer the real autonomous rule that provides a counter to the horror of death.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Achilles and the inverse Rhetoric

The Embassy

Reason - Odysseus

Authority - Phoenix

Emotion - Ajax


Emotion - Patroclus' death

Authority - Priam (as Peleus)

Reason - Achilles himself

Increasing the Ol' Lexicon

fantods : restlessness; the willies; the fidgets. Used by Huck Finn in Mark Twain's book they have the same connotation as "boojums" or skittishness at some supernatural force.

But in a little while I see a pale streak over the treetops, and knowed the day was coming. So I took my gun and slipped off towards where I had run across that camp fire, stopping every minute or two to listen. But I hadn't no luck somehow; I couldn't seem to find the place. But by and by, sure enough, I catched a glimpse of fire away through the trees. I went for it, cautious and slow. By and by I was close enough to have a look, and there laid a man on the ground. It most give me the fantods.

bezoars : A bezoar or enterolith is a sort of calculus or concretion, a stone found in the intestines of mostly ruminant animals, but occurring among others including humans. Though used by my dad in the context of "dreaded bezoars" it meant any sort of physical malady. (from

Bezoars were sought because they were believed to have the power of a universal antidote against any poison. It was believed that a drinking glass which contained a bezoar would neutralize any poison poured into it. The word "bezoar" comes from the Persian pâdzahr (پادزهر), which literally means "protection from poison." In fact, some types of trichobezoar are apparently able to precipitate or bind arsenic compounds (long used as poison) from a solution. In 1575, the surgeon Ambroise Paré described an experiment to test the properties of the Bezoar Stone. At the time, the Bezoar stone was deemed to be able to cure the effects of any poison, but Paré believed this was impossible. It happened that a cook at Paré's court was caught stealing fine silver cutlery. In his shame, the cook agreed to be poisoned. He then used the Bezoar stone to no great avail as he died in agony seven hours later. Paré had proved that the Bezoar stone could not cure all poisons as was commonly believed at the time.

fomes : any agent, as clothing or bedding, that is capable of absorbing and transmitting the infecting organism of a disease. Though as used by Saint Thomas they normally are something that foments rebellion in the body, temptations, particularly those to lust.

So, then, this very inclination of sensuality which is called the "fomes," in other animals has simply the nature of a law (yet only in so far as a law may be said to be in such things), by reason of a direct inclination. But in man, it has not the nature of law in this way, rather is it a deviation from the law of reason.

hypos : an excessive preoccupation with one's health, usually focusing on some particular symptom, as cardiac or gastric problems. Though, Melville uses it to mean something like "excessive worry about the situation in general".

From Moby Dick:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me. There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs--commerce surrounds it with her surf.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The timelessness of the Iliad

While researching ideas for my students who are reading the Iliad I came across this new book cover for Stanley Lombardo's translation of the Iliad published by Hackett publishing company.

I haven't yet read the translation but the cover alone is remarkable. Students frequently ask, though perhaps not so eloquently as did Hamlet, "what is he to Hecuba or Hecuba to him?" In other words, why ought we be concerned with a work that was written in a foreign language over 2000 years ago (with a war that was 3000) years ago?

I think that this cover reflects that question. It's a fantastic choice for the cover of this masterpiece. Whereas most publishers have chosen stark pictures of Greek helms, or hoploi, or a panoply of empty, ghostlike armor, or others have chosen that famous statue of the spartan king, Leonidas, or still others have perhaps shown a painting or fresco of the legend of Achilles, the publisher here has chosen Robert Sargent's famous photo of the landing at Omaha beach, June 6, 1944, thus connecting the tumultous event of D-day in our modern era to the timeless themes embodied in Homer's great work.

Like the work of the Iliad, the stark black and white photo conveys a sense of fatedness and oppression from divine necessity. What is is and what will be will be. The gods themselves are merely slaves to the destructive fatedness of character in the Iliad and man is even more fated to endure "the will of Zeus moving toward its end." Events begun in wrath on Achilles' part work themselves out to the inevitable destruction of "so many sturdy souls hurled down to the house of death" such as Hector and Patroklus. Nor is there any justice in the slaughter of these men for they were "great fighters' souls" not cowards or evil men. Fate seems to grind down the good, the noble, the virtuous and the pure and there seems to be no escape from such horrible ruin. Hector himself acknowledges to Andromache that "one day mighty Ilium will fall" and Achilles states that "the same fate waits the coward and the brave." Courage, nobility and honor do not save a man from suffering the horrid ruin of being "hurled down to the house of death."

Similarly, Sargent's photo is framed by the steely cage of the Higgins boat, tomblike, funneling men onto the killing field of the sands of France. The colorless world of smoke and horror seems oppressive, fated, lifeless and terrifying. Nor does one have any assurance of surviving the hail of bullets from German pillboxes once he emerges from the relative security of the womb of the boat into the bloody world of war's reality. The young men who fought on that day undoubtedly had a sense of their own fate and the cruel jesting unfairness of it all.

Yet what more could they have done then their duty? They saw this moment as the beginning of the "Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months" as Eisenhower urged them. "The eyes of the world are upon you," Ike wrote, "The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you." No more could the young men butchered in those first few moments of terror shirk their duty then could Hector have remained behind the walls of the city. Hector claims that he cannot follow Andromache's command and remain in Troy for shame at facing "the women of Troy with their long robes trailing behind them" or the men who would mock him for his cowardice. The necessity of Honor drives Hector as it later would drive the young men on Omaha, Utah, Sword, Juno & Gold beach to give their own lives rather than shirk duty.

But more even than duty or honor what drives both Hector and the men at Normandy is the sense of love. Hector claims that he would sooner die than see Andromache "led off in chains, servant to some Greek woman" or see his little boy, Astyanax, thrown from the walls of the city (as later he would be). Love ultimately drives Hector to do the impossible task of defending a failing cause against overwhelming odds. Similarly the men at Normandy beach may have had different motives for joining the army, but in those moments before the gate dropped and the first waves dissolved in an hazy smear of blood, love must have been a motivating factor. Each man loved country, freedom, family, mothers, sisters, wives, children and each other. Driven by a love for the world and desire to stop the marauding hordes of darkness that threatened to engulf the fragility of human life and human civilization in a wave of Fascist nihilism, each man somehow found the courage to inch up that beach and reach the shingle. In a primordial way they struggled merely to survive; but beyond that animalian impulse they also wished to "bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for (themselves) in a free world," just as Hector sought to preserve some vestige of human civilization and beauty for himself and those whom he loved.

Saint Paul once wrote to the Corinthians, "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Love seems to be the distinguishing mark of the free man. It is a deep seated power that transcends the acrid putridity of Treblinka and Auschwitz, the violent superfluity of Krystalnacht, and the tragic ruin of Hissarlik. Consequently it speaks of man's greatness who alone can, in the face of overwhelming odds, look beyond his world to a greater light and endure unimaginable pain for the "little low heavens" he sees around him. Ultimately, as in Sargent's photo, man seems to be heading toward a grey dismal land, only dimly seen through terrified eyes. But love, even in that last test of our heroism, allows us to stand against the barbarism that seeks to beat us down and say

My time has come!
At last the gods have called me down to death.
Well let me die -
not without struggle, not without glory, no,
but in some great clash of arms that even men to come
will hear of down the years!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Liturgical Taste Test

Okay, so here is old church:

Here is new church:

Now you tell me that both are equal in quality, talent, beauty and that both equally create an atmosphere of reverent and dignified prayer. All things are not equal and the switch from exhibit A to exhibit B (a switch very frequently seen and heard in modern churches) is not a lateral but a vertical downwards shift. But I suppose that if one conceives that there is no metaphysical world, or if one conceives that all images are equivocal and equally bullshit then why not have the Doobie Brothers or Led Zeppelin playing at your next Benediction ceremony? Advocates of the old forms of worship are sometimes cranks who simply hate change, but more often they have a valid point: images effect imagination, conception, the soul - lex orendi lex credendi. If the forms of worship or Bacchic, cheap, tawdry and shallow what they effect in the nous (mind/soul) will be of equal quality; an entire generation or two or three might grow thinking of Christ only as their non-threatening buddy and not as their leader, savior, guide, hope and salvation. But then, wait, that's already happened, hasn't it?


Saturday, November 1, 2008


This is a video with the great "I've Seen All Good People" by Yes. Just thinking about the birth of Elanor, and traveling back from my faculty retreat up north for her birth here in MN.

It seemed an appropriate video.


Monday, October 20, 2008

An exchange on Mysticism (Jewish and otherwise)

Wise Men from my Past –
Greetings from the west coast – I hope everything is wellwith all of you! I am writing in search of information and research advice… While searching for a class at the beginning of this quarter to fulfill a “global citizen” requirement, I discovered – and am now enrolled – in a class entitled Kabbalah: The Mystical Teachings of Judaism. Thus far, the class has been exceptional; the opportunity to talk to Moshe Idel and Daniel Matt more than makes up for some intense reading… We’re going over the basic history and literature, before looking more in depth at key elements of Kabbalah. The content is interesting and enlightening, particularly against the backdrop of Catholicism. (Although I’ve heard the word esoteric more times than it ever should beapplied to a single tradition…) It turns out that Jewish mysticism, like mysticism in general, has had a tough history. It’s definitely a tradition that’s had to carve out a place in the respectable world. (A discussion of what exactly Madonna is doing to that position can be left for another time.) In fact, a comprehensive, scholarly account of Jewish mysticism didn’t even exist until Gershom Scholem – and he published Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism in 1941. 1941! Basically, I’m looking for the equivalent of Scholem in the Christian tradition. In what I‘ve seen so far, it looks like a lot of the literature is either talking about “holistic Christianity,” and/or has minimal value outside a pop culture superficiality and a list of famous Christian mystics. Do you, in your collective experience/wisdom, have any advice on where (or to whom) I should look for some solid scholarship of this tradition? Also, it seems that the literature tends to focus more on separate trends within Christian mysticism, rather than the trajectory of the tradition as a whole… if you have a few minutes, I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Also, feel free to forward this along to anyone you think might have relevant information – I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks! KO.

Dear KO,
It’s both good to hear from you and gratifying to be included somehow in someone’s “past.” Your class sounds very fine, esp. if you’re in the hands of good teachers. I find, by the bye, that appealing to “world citizenship” has not helped me avoid the penalties for breaking local traffic laws or tax evasion—but that’s another matter. I’m afraid that the Christian world doesn’t have some of Scholem’s caliber in the historical/systematic treatment of mysticism, though you may wish to consult Evelyn Underhill’s landmark work on mysticism or, maybe, Rudolf Otto’s “The Idea of the Holy.” If you wish to find “direct discourse” on the matter, there is no one better than Garrigou-Lagrange’s “Three Ages of the Interior Life” which is a something of a behemoth and probably not the sort of thing that you’ll find helpful now. One thing to keep in mind is that Scholem, like Rosensweig, take their bearings at least as much by German existentialism as by the “tradition” of Jewish mysticism. Christian teachers who come from similar influences tend to read the data of Christian mysticism in a way that falsifies that tradition, e.g., either Heideggerian world-night negation or good old-time Kantian “apophatic negation=noumenal unknowableness.” Keep on truckin’ Dr. BS.

KO! Wonderful to hear from you! I think of you often, and it’s great to see your mom here now and then too. Sounds like you’re having a wonderfultime, and this particular class sounds fascinating. I fear I don’t personally know of good scholarship about the phenomenon of mysticism in Catholicism (which certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t any!). Traditionally, a Catholic mystic’s experience is weighed in the context of its adherence to and/or contribution to the Catholic faith. Since the phenomenon of “mysticism” is fairly universal—as is prayer, belief in god(s), a moral sense, etc.—the typical Catholic interest in it is necessarily contextualized as a facet of an interest in the Church. What’s most interesting to me in the current attention to mysticism given by scholars, rock stars, etc., is why? And why now? My gut is that “mysticism” fits well with contemporary philosophy of radical subjectivity: there are no universal laws of nature that bind or guide us, nor any real demands made on us by an omnipotent God. What matters in the realm of “values” then is what we “feel,” and whether our feelings are “sincere” and “authentic.” And if what we feel sincerely is “spiritual,” it is beyond analysis and therefore beyond debate or criticism. My own experience, then, of spirituality or mysticism becomes part of the radically subjective creative work of art that is…me. A locus classicus of earlier thought that has brought us to this point is Rousseau’s section of Emile titled, “Confessions of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar”; I highly recommend it. I should make the point that many serious Jewish scholars of Orthodox and Conservative persuasion are distressed by the new focus on Kabbalah, abstracted from what they view as the necessary prior life commitments to the Law and the Prophets. I’m reminded of a funny thing a crotchety old theology prof of mine once said: “Mysticism: it begins in mist and ends in schism.” Often, of course, that has been the case. I myself come from a family whose history is rooted in Mormonism, a movement based on claims of mystical experience by the prophet Joseph Smith. I now think that Smith’s visions were untrue (i.e. not of God), although I am convinced that he sincerely and authentically felt them to be true. But then, who am I to criticize someone’s “mystical experience”?... Bless you, KO. The Head Hamster.

An interesting reply, The HH. Particularly your question of “why?” For those of us growing up in the Vatican Too Much era that seems a perennial question. Why, after all, can U2 draw a crowd of thousands, while the Mass draws only a handful and then only sporadically. Was it always so? I think that the Church, God bless her, is guilty of two things that have driven crowds from the Narthex to the Anthrax.
1. killed all spiritual joy by oversystematizing Catholicism into a series of laws. Any time a religion becomes so calcified that it replaces law with human need it is doomed to failure (or at least cataclysm). Before Vat II this seems to have been the case. The attempt to put everything into a codified form served the great purpose of giving a powerful catechism of doctrine to which later generations could refer. But that doctrine was only doxa and thus precipitated the negative effect of reinforcing public opinion at the expense of authentic creativity. It was the Gregory/Irish monks struggle all over again. Consequently, human nature being what it is, most people gravitated to fulfilling only the letter of the law (what they knew of it) and, like Scobie in Graham Greene’s excellent novel “the Heart of the Matter”, lost all the spirit of the law. Cataclysm followed Catechism.
2. destroyed all nobility by introducing flabby unromantic substitutes for authentic spirituality. The backlash of any totalitarian regime is a Dionysic ecstasy wherein all law is cast off for what feels good. This is the fear that most adherents to esoteric (there’s that bloody word) philosophy feel when they see Kabbalah introduced to the uninitiated who have not done any prior preparation. It’s a bit like the Eleusinian mysteries being revealed to everybody. After Vat II the Church allowed such spiritual excess in through the open windows and the liturgical dance, hip-swaying, butt-slapping, hemp-smoking practices that emerged were a direct result. Now there is a generation (yours) having grown up completely severed from their heritage, thinking that Marty Haugen or Joncas are the norm for high mass (having never heard names like Palestrina, Victoria, Brumel, Allegri, Anerio, or Praetorius, or Taverner, Part, Poulenc, or Faure for that matter).

So now the situation for spirituality is either creative, emotional, sappy, crunchy, weird, heterodox OR strict, overly lawful, rigid, inflexible, joyless, orthodox. Neither camp strikes me as either esoteric or mystical or Catholic for that matter. Or maybe it’s just me. Abecedarius Rex.

Dear All,

I don’t know much about philosophy of religion but what comes to mind is a couple of books by Louis Dupre. Like “The other dimension: a search for meaning in religious attitudes” or his compilation “Light from Light: An Anthology of Christian Mysticism”. From the theological perspective a good place to start could be Simon Tugwell OP “The ways of imperfection”.

Do you think it could be valuable?

Father The Buda, OP

Thanks, all for the reading suggestions (I'll definitely be spending some substantial time in the library) – and the various views on this issue...

I, too, found The Head Hamster's response very interesting, and I think it brings up an interesting point; it may be helpful to a have a conclusive definition of what mysticism is. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that actually exists. Thus it is possible to come up with the seeming contradiction that mysticism is a subjective “feeling of God” on the one hand; and a specific experience that can only be attained after rigorous – halakhic – preparation, on the other. Of course, I’m not going to try to come up with a working definition – but I can make a few points.

First, mysticism is not what popular culture seems to think it is. The idea of mysticism as a subjective spirituality in which you meditate, bow to the sun, eat tofu and go along you merry way can pretty much be thrown out. In my understanding, mysticism can be characterized more accurately by 1) a belief in a reality of God that surpasses human reason, 2) a set of laws or practices by which an individual achieves the goal of 3) intimate unification of God and the soul. Thus the Jewish mystics, for example, speak of En Sof, the divinity in his highest aspect, which cannot be imagined. En Sof wills itself to be revealed, and pretty soon we have the created world, and Torah, and the Law. (It may be a bit more complicated than that…) It is easy to see where a problem might arise, as there is a certain element of mysticism that defies human reason, and this may lead to the belief that we are then free to do as we feel. It seems to me, however, that mysticism claims just the opposite: we are more in need of a set of laws, not less. The subtle, but key, distinction has to do with authority: it can be given to God, who chooses to reveal to us the one Truth that defies comprehension, and the practices by which we attain this truth; or, it can by given to John Doe, who dictates, “Because I feel it, so it is…”

Second: if we then rule out the subjective appeal of mysticism, the question “why?” remains. I agree that Catholic mysticism must be viewed through the framework of the Church, but I think it is much more than a sort of added bonus. In the case of Kabbakah, Scholem (okay, I like the German!) refered to mysticism as the beating heart of Judaism. I don’t think it would be particularly difficult to make a similar observation within the Church. To make this claim, however, it might be a good idea to have a more solid grasp on what Catholic mysticism is… and a good place to start might be with the history, literature, and overall trends of the tradition – hence the initial inquiry, and the German appeal. I agree with ABCRex's analysis – and in fact am quite distressed by the fact – that the Church today seems to offer us with only two extreme options, neither of which is particularly appealing. In my opinion, mysticism is coming to the fore because of its potential to rectify the unfortunate situation of the Church. It is precisely this tradition that enables the observation of the spirit of the Law, as it fosters profound respect for its origins in divine revelation, and for its power to result in sublime unification. It also a mystical understanding of the Mass, as a concrete experience of the presence of God, that will expose the inacceptable nature of the “butt-slapping.” Finally, mysticism can re-introduce some of the mystery and depth – from the angelic, or eros traditions, for example – that are certainly present in the church, but sadly lacking from common knowledge. It is wholly possible that the cultural popularity of mysticism is just religious overflow, and stems from these same desires, for nobility, mystery, and order.

Of course, my hopeful fascination with Catholic mysticism may simply be driven by an aversion to kosher and Lifeteen… just a thought.
I intensely enjoy hearing your comments, and know that the great Providence Academy has irrevocably shaped my life.
If I happen to write the definitive work on Catholic mysticism, I’ll dedicate it to all of you…

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Pause for George Herbert

The Pulley.

               VVHen God at first made man,
Having a glasse of blessings standing by;
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can:
Let the worlds riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.

So strength first made a way;
Then beautie flow’d, then wisdome, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure
Rest in the bottome lay.

For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewell also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts in stead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlesnesse:
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Letter from a student

Hello, sir,

I hope things are going well with the new school year. I am very busy, but also very happy here at college.
While enrolling for classes, I decided to sign-up for an English composition class. It's my favorite one so far.
There are only about 18 kids in the class. Last week we got broken into small "peer-review" groups to help with edits for our first paper. I just got through my edits for both of the students in my group. After having read them, I feel it necessary to say thank you for your help with my writing over the years.
Attached is the BETTER of the two essays I had to critique; I think you may find it interesting (if not entertaining) to read.
Good luck with the rest of the school year, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks so much for the email. Great to hear from you.

That essay - sad. Sad to me that so much earnest goodwill in that writer seems to have been so squandered by an educational establishment incapable of proposing anything greater than feelings and unable to suggest any heroes besides Abe Lincoln and MLK. The lines that hit me the most were these:

But I don’t believe that my life has a plan or anyone’s life has some plan that it must stick to. In essence things do happen for a reason, but no one really knows what that reason is. So living, dying, is the best we can do and making ourselves happy within being born and dying leaves no room to ask these questions.

That this writer doesn't see any "plan" to life is a travesty. But not seeing a plan seems obvious by his style of writing. Seeing a plan, seeing order in the universe is a delight, but it is a task - not an easy thing to do, that. I think the natural tendency of most humans is to see only the darkness. If, then, we are to engage in that arduous climb out of the darkness to see the light we have to apply ourselves to the equally difficult task of learning the forms, the orders, the proper grammar and syntax of hope.

Language is a big part of this and when I was teaching you to write I was only secondarily concerned with your grade or your being able to compose a good college essay, or being able to critique the unfortunate work of another individual. What I was mostly concerned in, and still am, was not so much the success of my students but their acquisition of the ability to see the light. I think that training students to compose accurate, meticulously spelled and rewritten essays following an ordered format is as integral a part of this overall process as is learning philosophy or theology. What do we have to hold ourselves to if not the rigorous exactitude of language and the ideas which that language conveys? If we call God "Abba" it is a very different thing than calling him "Moloch" - our belief will follow our language. Without such rigor we can't really engage in that strenuous activity of seeing "the plan" and thus being happy. Then all we're left with is living, eating, sexing, crapping, drinking, despairing, dying - it's the "best we can do" (and Cancun spring break becomes the New Jerusalem).

I'm glad to have helped you get out of the cave.

Now go back into it with mercy and happiness.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tragedy of Christ

Most commentators suggest that the Passion of Christ does not fit the formal definitions of tragedy as laid forth by Aristotle.
I would argue otherwise and suggest that, human nature being what it is, it seems unlikely that the Gospel writers living in a culture surrounded by Greek Tragedy as the major idiom would have not employed that artform to tell their story. They must have used the elements of Tragedy or elements of the popular story forms available to them. It just is too unlikely that the Gospels sprang, fully formed, from the heads of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.
Consequently, I suggest that the Gospels do indeed employ the Aristotelean forms of Tragedy in order to convey an extremely profound insight into the nature of LOVE.
Aristotle says that:

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions. . . . Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality—namely, Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Melody.

Certainly the Passion is serious & complete and of a certain magnitude. Further it is embellished with artistic ornament (esp. in John's narrative which is an incredible work of art). It involves mostly action, not just narrative and it arouses (or should arouse if people take it seriously) pity and fear, thus accomplishing a katharsis.
To this degree it certainly fits the definition.
Moreover, Aristotle suggests that Tragedy is the “imitation of an action” (mimesis) according to “the law of probability or necessity.”
A chain of events is set in motion which results in one and only one ruinous conclusion. Again, the chain of events, namely Christ challenging the Sanhedrin and submitting to Crucifixion, seems to lead by necessity to one seemingly ruinous conclusion.
The major problem seems to emerge from what is referred to as the "tragic flaw":
...the peripeteia is really one or more self-destructive actions taken in blindness, leading to results diametrically opposed to those that were intended (often termed tragic irony), and the anagnorisis is the gaining of the essential knowledge that was previously lacking...
There is no flaw in Christ so his "ruin" in the crucifixion stems from his self-sacrifice, not his flaw. In him there was no guile. Consequently the Passion seems to defy the Aristotelean mode of tragedy; we have a great man, a king, brought to ruin not by his own mistake but by the mistakes or evil of other people.
But here I would hazard that the gospel writers are even more clever than we give them credit. As mentioned above, the gospels do not spring out of a vacuum; they are the artistic creations emerging from the cultural womb in which their authors lived. Consequently, the evangelists would have been familiar with Greek tragedy but also with Jewish mythology. According to the latter mythical idiom the Christian story is simply the conclusion of a longer story narrated in the Old Testament.
If then Christ is fully God and fully man, he is uniting the stories of man's ruin to the story of God. We certainly see in man's ruin a terrible tragedy; the rebellion from heaven and fall from Eden. Christ participates in man's tragedy in so far as he "shares man's smudge and bears man's smell." As man, he could have chosen not to antagonize the Sanhedrin, not to allow himself to be given up to his captors, to side with Peter and drawn the sword (or legions of angels).
In this sense, then, the tragedy is twofold.
First, that he by his very birth entered into a sequence of events that follows the law of probability or necessity. All men must die.
Second, that he willingly chose to take upon himself an action which he knew would lead to his death. Heroic and noble, but tragic. Yet still "...the peripeteia is really one or more self-destructive actions taken in blindness, leading to results diametrically opposed to those that were intended." The "taken in blindness" part indicates that Christ would not have known what his captors were about. Consequently the Passion again defies the classical form of tragedy.
But what of the God part? Here, I think, is where the evangelists were looking when they conceived this great tragedy. They were looking back to the very beginning in Genesis to the moment God created man. The tragic peripeteia is a self-destructive action taken in blindness. What self-destructive action did God take? He created man. Man is the mistake that proves to be the death of God.
This may seem utterly strange and even antithetical to our theological understanding b/c of course God cannot die in the literal sense. Nor is man a mistake in any malicious sense or erroneous sense of that word. But mistake can sometimes mean risk or hazard. For instance, when we fall in love we run the terrible risk of ruination. In fact any form of love will result in ruin b/c the beloved will die. Thus if we love we ruin ourselves; die to ourselves. To not love is to not run that terrible risk of loss of the other and of self. But God is Love. He loved so much that he created this world and granted us freedom, and in so doing he set in motion an inevitable chain of events that would end in his having to choose is own death.
Some might say that this puts a necessity on God and binds him to a thing greater than himself. I'd say, no, there is no necessity put on God for he at any moment might have chosen not to love; but there is necessity, as Aquinas notes, in that God does not go against his nature and his nature is to love. Love prompted him to risk creating a free being that could ruin itself and love prompted Him to remain bound to His creation through love so much so that He "gave His only Son" to die at the hands of his captors.
Thus the Aristotelean definition of tragedy is fulfilled in the Passion; Christ's death is the inevitable result of God's initial generative love.
But the Gospels remain superior to Greek tragedy. In the tragedies redemption does not occur. Learning, wisdom, greater insight come to Oedipus, or Orestes, or Pentheus, or Jason - they learn the hard way. But they are not redeemed. In the Passion we have a figure suffering the tragic consequences of his initial "mistake" of creating through love a world that sought his destruction. But after the Passion comes the resurrection and in this the evangelists claim something remarkable about the nature of love.
The classical world authors conceive love as a dalliance, a pleasure, a treacherous illusion, but not as an enduring reality capable of bearing all things. For them, life was sorrow with occasional relief found in the pleasures of love. They could not conceive of a love that endured intense pain and triumph. The evangelists, on the contrary, are suggesting that love is the greatest thing. Paul says this outright to the Corinthians: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Such a sentiment would be unheard of in the classical world. Even the greatest of the classical writers, Plato, held that love was a longing for something unfulfilled; a force that drove one to near manic state. But not something that endured.
Only the Gospel writers, with their commentary on the Tragedy of the Passion, could inspire the claim that "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
If God was willing to risk the "mistake" of creating us as free beings, if he was willing to bind himself to us by that mistake, then he was also willing to suffer the inevitable ruin of himself that would result in our salvation. He could not leave his beloved to die. This eucatastrophe is what separates the Pagan world, with all its glory, from the Christian. Only the Christian world can claim "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
Love never fails.
And in that reality lies our hope.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Becoming a Man

This is a talk I gave to the Middle School boys:

Audio Clip

The Topic I’ve been asked to speak on is “What makes a man?” Or “What do we seek for you as a graduate of our high school?”

I think of no greater example of a real man than my father, Rollin A. Lasseter III.

My father honored those things most worthy of honor; church, family, the truth.

I remember that when I was very little, it was summer, and I was playing in the alley, running the hose down to make lakes and muddy pools in the warm sun for my soldiers. And I remember my father, striding out the door with his suitcase in hand. “Where are you going, daddy?” I said. “I have to go to my mommy’s funeral,” he said. And it struck me that here was my daddy honoring his mother.

We want all of you to graduate from here as men who honor family, freedom, your country, your church, the truth; all those things most worthy of honor. So I urge you, Become honorable men.

See, when I was young boy, my father was incredibly strong. I thought of him as a giant among men. I have a very vivid memory of him building a walkway down to the lake and heaving railroad ties about, 7 or 8 feet long, as though they were Lincoln logs. I remember him paddling a canoe into the lake in early spring to hack away at the ice with a small axe, his sleeves rolled up and chips of ice zinging through the air and clipping him in the face. I remember him carrying me in his strong arms up the hill when I lost control of my sled and slammed into a tree, cutting my scalp in a long, bloody line.

Being a man does mean being strong. Strength of arm. Strength of mind. Strength of soul.

We desire that all our young men graduate strong, robust, full of vim and vigor and energy. Good at sports, strong of arm, swift of leg. Mens sana in corporo sano. So Become strong.

But there’s also sacrifice. I remember that my father made a point to attend every one of my soccer games in high school. That cost him time. I remember that my father worked an eight-class teaching job and still taught at the local college on the weekends just so we could make ends meet financially. That cost him time and effort. I vividly remember my father coming through the door on a winter morning with his beard rimed with frost. He had been outside shoveling and salting the walkway so that us kids could walk to the car without having to trudge through the snow. That cost him in time and effort.

Sometimes, to be a man, means sacrificing your own time and effort in order that others might do well. Being a man means going out of your way to help those around you; putting others before yourself; working so that others might prosper even more than you do.

What we desire for you as men is that you come to put others before yourself; that you work for the good of other people and other things first. Become selfless.

When we were growing up in Three Rivers, MI, my mother raised a victory garden in our backyard. It was so successful that she bought some land across the road and started another garden there. We grew sorgum, pumpkins, potatoes and watermelon. And the watermelon grew and one in particular grew so big that we were going to eat it on Labor Day and have a big ol’ feast. Unfortunately, the garden was near the road and someone in the night came by and stole our watermelon. My father was remarkably self-controlled, though, and merely said that we would grow more. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away,” he quoted, “blessed be the name of the Lord.” He was frequently this way; exhibiting those Roman virtues of dignitas and gravitas that were the hallmarks of self-controlled, civilized men.

We want our young men to be equally self-controlled. No running in the halls. No chewing gum. Be on time to class. Keep your uniform and hair neat. Follow the rules. These things promote self control. The more you can be self-disciplined the easier it will be for you to enter into that road of education which you will follow. Become self-disciplined.

My father had an office that was paneled all in cedar panels. The smell was exquisite. And as kids we would sneak back there to watch TV, or stare at the fire, or just be in his presence as he worked through the mountain of papers on his desk. Around the lentils of his room, though, he had stenciled the phrase, “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms.” It was a message of great trust in the Lord which has stuck with me ever since. Dad trusted God even when he didn’t understand Him or agree with Him.

Our young men ought to become men of faith. Trust in the Lord is no small thing, as you will discover with time. But it is an important part of being a man. We must trust that the Lord knows what He is doing, even when we do not see it or do not agree with what we see. To do this we must cultivate our faith through practice and through understanding. Become a man of deep faith.

You must take the time to listen to the world; observe the world; be still and know who God is. My father was the first person to teach me to draw. He taught me the crafts of poetry and of writing and of speaking. And in all these things he would tell me, “don’t draw what you think is there; observe it, and draw what is there.”

As young men you must learn to observe the world in all its glory and all its horror. Don’t shy away from knowing things because they are frightening and don’t abandon the beauty and glory of the world because things don’t seem to go your way. See the world for what it is, not what you want it to be. Become observers of what really is.

Yet action is vital too. My father took me to see Star Wars in 1978; it is a treat which I am sorry none of you will ever experience – seeing the first Star Wars when it first came out. We rode to the movie theater in our beat up old green Toyota; the sun was shining in through the backseat where I rode without a seat belt not knowing what I was going to be seeing but looking forward to it. The movie was, as you know, spectacular. I saw the first and then the second with my father. In the second movie Yoda says “there is no try. There is only do.”

My father followed this maxim even before Yoda did. He was always tinkering, gardening, writing, reading; he cooked and cleaned dishes, he was a chauffeur and a mechanic and an outdoorsman and a homebody. When he saw something that needed doing, he did it.

We want our young men to graduate from here being doers not just spectators in life. See what needs doing in the world! How much needs you and your talents. Become a man who is a doer, not just an observer.

We want our young men to possess strength of mind. I remember my father giving me the farewell sendoff given to all the graduating seniors of Trinity School in 1988. Each senior had a faculty member “send them off” with a little speech at dinner. My father referenced works such as the Iliad and the Odyssey and Aristotle and Luther and Aquinas and Rousseau and Tolkien. I was proud and stunned at his erudition. How wise he was and how much he knew. But in that speech he said to me “Welcome to the conversation of men, fellow traveler on the way.”

The men that we graduate will, hopefully, know much, understand much, and join with the conversation that has gone on for generations. Attend to your studies; sure you’ll get into a good school, that happens – but more to the point is that you will be a young man who understands the world and joins in that great conversation of men that has gone on through the ages. Become men who are scholars.

Finally I remember my father facing his own death. The cancer was terminal, spread throughout his body; the infections had spread causing sepsis and toxemia; the tube was up his nose to help keep him from vomiting; the ostomy bag, the blood pressure monitors, the heart rate monitors, the bother of machines that made him seem to us, the observers of this giant among men, to be weighed down with sorrow. And as I sat with him on that last Saturday, in the grey light of morning when he was drifting in and out of morphine sleep, he turned to me suddenly and said, “All is gift. All is love.” There was a man. He died two days later. God rest him.

He proved in those last moments that his life was one of great love. To be a man is to be able to love, freely. All else is subordinate to that great task.

One day each of us will face death. Our hope for our young men is, sure that they graduate well, attend university, have a family, job, etc. But mostly it is, that in those last moments when you wrestle with the fate that faces us all, you too will be able to be free enough to say, “All is gift. All is love.” That is what it means to be a man. Become men.

The Winds of the World

A talk I recently delivered to the High School boys:

Audio Clip

I've been asked to talk today about women, rules, the law, the meaning of life, and other minor issues.
Well to put my thesis at the beginning of my essay I would say, Rules exist to save us from horror and guide us to happiness.

Recently I saw a bumper Sticker on a Monster Truck that said "No Rules". There’s good husband material, I thought. Why do we have so many rules? So many rules. What a drag rules are. I gotta be me. I gotta be free. I gotta express myself. Rules seem like so much sadistic oppression; or random power plays by "the man"; or at best they seem to exist in order to prepare us for the drudgery of adult life. What purpose could rules and obedience to rules possibly serve.

I am remembered of a passage from Robert Bolt's play, "Man for All Seasons".
William Roper says, "So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!"
To which Thomas More responds "Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?"
Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

…the winds that would blow then?...
The winds of the world are gale force!
We all might think we are safe and don’t need the rules. At 16 we are all Nietszchean ubermenschen barreling along without any thought to rules or courtesies or manners.

You will notice, however, that the truck with the bumper sticker “No Rules” didn’t swerve into the other lane much. Rules protect against horror. They encourage self-control. They Set boundaries. They allow us to play the game better.

With the help of rules we can become men who stand up against the winds of the world.

The necessity for obedience to rules becomes especially acute with respect to women. In 1985 there was a movie called “Breaking All the Rules” directed by James Orr. Teenagers, bank heist, a little lovin'. All the things that occur in a normal teenager's life. In the movie the characters and the director break all the rules except that the very cute girls try very hard to get the strapping young guys to like them, the guys don’t want any form of commitment, but all complications work out in the end and everyone goes away happy. James Orr must have hit every major rule cliché existing in Hollywood teen flicks. “Breaking All the Rules” was about as formulaic and rule-driven as any teen movie of the age.

Girls sometimes seem a bit like this movie. They often say that they want a guy who is wild and crazy, but they don’t. What they want is a trustworthy man who will help them, guard them, sacrifice himself for them. This is a rule of nature which hasn’t been broken in the history of the world. Men must learn to control themselves!

The Jewish faith was the first to see this reality. To appreciate how monumentally revolutionary their thought was we must consider the cauldron from which it was born. The Jewish people were surrounded by Babylonians who worshipped the many-headed, all-devouring, female dragon/goddess, Tiamat. Quite the feminine image there. They practiced orgiastic rituals to stimulate the gods. They considered life cheap and slavish to the gods. Their empire was rampant with violence, infanticide, rapine, slavish status for women, pornography.

A right royal mess it was. And into this mess came the book of beginnings; Genesis which proposes that the purpose of creation is not the gods, not man, but woman. She is the paragon; the intent of all God’s creating. Why? Because she is the life giver; she is beautiful; she is the help mate who completes us.

Men ought to be devoted to the protection of women.

We see the same sentiment in the ten commandments. Normally the commandments are read 1 to 10. From the unity of God come all the other laws in descending order. I would propose that the Jewish culture saw them more as a ladder that ran both up and down. The ten commandments can be read 10 to 1 as well. See, without governance over our sexuality (number 10; “thou shalt not covet”) the vision of the unity of God (1) is not possible. “Know, oh Israel, that the Lord your God is One.”

All codes of chivalry since have, as their goal, the protection and honoring of women.
Western culture itself is based upon the honor and respect of women.
Indeed, cultures, as Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, ought to be defined by how they treat their weakest members.

The Jews were so serious about this image of self-control of sexuality that they engaged in circumcision as an obvious and painful reminder of that need for controlling that immense power. One look at that and you’d know they meant business.

Note also that the devil attacks Eve first. Why? Well, the demonic forces, whatever they be, want to rend asunder, tear up, grind and destroy the weakest and most precious things first. After that glorious source of hope, a good woman and the family she creates, are gone, men quickly descend into monsters… horrors.

Look around you at our current culture. Women are portrayed as cheap, slavish, whorish; sex is plentiful and grotesque; abortions are rampant; murder, rapine, perversion, pornography, violence, are rife or extolled by some cable channels or purveyors of cheap teen clothing; Movies like Saw I, II, III ... XVIII, and other forms of porn violence seem popular hits; Bratz dolls – Britney Spears – Madonna – Britney Spears & Madonna; MTV spring break; Grand Theft Auto – the list goes on. And we wonder why we have an education crisis.

These horrors are the marks of the diabolic which “tears apart & rends asunder”. The experiences of loneliness, anger, isolation, self-loathing which men suffer from all stem from engaging in these horrors which promise to give us happiness and leave us … alone. Truthfully, seeking the next “pop” leads to greater and greater excess in order to satisfy that unending pit of darkness, the only limit of which is horror.

The winds of the world are gale force!

Our sexuality as men is deeply tied with who we are; not just an addition, not just a hindrance to the greater realm of thought, not just a highly pleasurable diversion to wile away a few moments of boredom. How we treat the fairer sex, how we appear to them, how we speak about them effects us deeply.

Sexuality in its properly governed realm, marriage, binds us closely to a woman who should be our friend, partner, confidant, help mate. Abuse of sexuality leads to estrangement, sorrow, loneliness… horrors.

The Laws exist first and foremost as safeguards against horror. Moreover Laws exist to train us to be able to protect the weak & beautiful in order to see clearly. Ultimately, the Laws exist to train us to see the happiness which lies in the oneness of God.

How, then, do you treat the women in your life?
The Laws of chivalric treatment of women (opening doors for them, carrying their books, keeping your mitts off their person) help us govern our actions. The laws of chivalric neatness in appearance and comportment (cutting our hair, tucking in our shirt, dressing modestly) govern our appearance. The laws of chivalric speech (how we talk about women, how we talk to women, what we listen to or read) govern our words.

See, women often appear alluring to men; they use their sexuality, their beauty, to get what they want. I remember a song from 1966, “Devil with a Blue Dress On” by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. The lyrics ran...
Fee, fee, fi, fi, fo-fo, fum
Look at Molly now, here she comes
Wearin her wig hat and shades to match
Shes got high-heel shoes and an alligator hat
Wearin her pearls and her diamond rings
Shes got bracelets on her fingers, now, and everything
Shes the devil with the blue dress, blue dress, blue dress,
Devil with the blue dress on

The problem is that women are not devils. Nor are they angels. They are humans like you and me; worried, tired, flawed, experiencing pain and self doubt, capable of incredible heights of greatness, yet needing salvation. If we, as men, do not control ourselves with law we come to see women first as angels – then as devils; and then we fall into loneliness. At such a point we can quickly become like the character in Beowulf, Grendel, the Grinder. The text of that great poem reads

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold, f
en ond fæsten;

Grendel this monster grim was called,

march-riever mighty, in moorland living,
in fen and fastness;

He’s a horror living in the swamps - outside the golden realm of men and men’s law. Sort of a “No Rules” kind of guy. He eats flesh. Kills joy. Destroys property. Terrifies women. And he’s utterly, totally alone.

When we do not govern ourselves we become Grendel; a horror.
As example of what I mean; I read this article the other day in the Sun: 16 Sep 2008;

FOUR teenagers horrifically slain by Satanists — stabbed 666 times each and then EATEN. After police arrested eight suspected members of the Russian ring, one said he did not expect to be punished because, “Satan will help me to avoid responsibility. I made lots of sacrifices to him.” Another said he had got fed up with God for not making him rich and that “things improved” after he started praying to the Devil.

The winds of the world are gale force!

In contrast The Lord says: I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

The habits of life must start now. Will you choose Chivalric or non chivalric actions? Governance of sexuality or rampant abuse of sex? Adherence to the law or flaunting of it? The choose is yours. But you have to be aware that the choices you make will have consequences.

Finally, what do women really want? They want to be liked, admired, loved; to be looked on with friendship and love, not as an object. What they really want is a man who is noble; not just another flirt, another fling. That’s a dime a dozen. They want a man who can stand up against the winds of the world, not a mister “No Rules”.

If you want happiness, if you want to avoid loneliness and the danger of becoming a horror, govern your actions NOW, your appearance, your words. Give honor to women. Stick to the law.

Make the right choice. Do not choose to be the Grendel with the “No Rules” sticker. Choose to be a man who honors women, who chooses the law of life, and who can stand up to the winds of the world.

Friday, September 12, 2008

An exchange on American Government

This is an exchange I had with a Greek correspondent of mine. I put his words in yellow to distinguish.

Something I cannot understand is the fact that a candidate is elected based on his religious beliefs(actually christian ones).Though I was like 14 years old I still remember Gore,Bush and their struggle to gain some more votes from the religious ones(much like now with Obama and McCain).
My point is:since America is a country with SO many ethnicities and religions,why does religion play such an important factor when,in my opinion,should play an insignificant or even no role at all??From what I know America really knows to respect a citizens beliefs(I really do),but making christian beliefs the main(and some times only) prerequisite for a candidate may exclude other people (and propably better than Obama and McCain) to be voted for.

It's a legit question.
I think that, barring religious bigotry and sanctimonious exclusionism (both of which, I don't deny, are widespread) there are some considerable reasons for emphasizing the religion of the candidates.

America has always had a strong Protestant Christian strain w/in its society. Only in the 18th and 19th century did Catholic populations begin arriving on these shores with the Italian, German, Irish Catholics displaced by persecution or war. The Chinese population (and hence Buddhism and Taoism) came to America during the 19th and early 20th century while the Cambodians, Laotians, Mung, and Vietnamese were really only part of the population after the wars in Southeast Asia (1950 - 1970). Jewish population has always been fairly prominent in America, probably b/c Jews were mangled and pushed about by every other country in the world (Russia esp.) I think that the contingent of Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox is prob. a phenomenon of the 20th century b/c of the terrible suffering that these groups experienced during that era. Islam only began to be part of the population (barring the Nation of Islam movement under Malcolm X) after the wars in Somalia and Northern Africa drove a large body of people here. Middle Eastern sons of the wealthy certainly traveled here to America for education, especially the young Saudis.
What's the point of this sort of history? Until recently America never really has had to deal much with a religious diversity as vast as the Christian/Muslim one. So finding our feet in these waters has been very tricky.
But why should it be? one might ask. Isn't America open to all? to a degree. Belief systems always effect the way one acts in the world (even if we think religion is a load of horse manure, it still is one of the most important factors for people in making their decisions about life). In so far as the belief system of a people is compatible with American culture/government they are assimilable into the "melting pot". When there is a strong opposition preventing a people from being assimilated, however, we have a problem.

So, for instance, the protestant belief in universal rights, tolerance of others, and fierce independence created this government. Loyalty to another entity on earth, it has been said, would compromise anyone serving in this government. Thus for the longest time Catholics were not in most political positions b/c of their allegiance to the pope. When Kennedy came to the presidency it was a watershed moment for Catholics b/c it disproved the idea that Catholics would be divided in their allegiance.

Similarly, certain religious beliefs in the Jewish faith have prevented men like Henry Kissinger from taking the oath of office even though he served in other branches of government.

Americans are just downright wary of anyone who might have beliefs that run contradictory to the basic principles upon which the country is founded. The system is founded on the idea of a single merciful God granting rights to his creatures (see John Locke), and if one person chooses to violate those rights they lose their own rights.

B/c Islam is perceived (for right or wrong) as a religion antithetical to those basic Lockean principles, a man professing submission to Allah would be looked upon as circumspect.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Guinness stout ginger cake

The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern | October 2001

Claudia Fleming

Random House

The recipe for this moist, dark, fragrant gingerbread pays tribute to Dona Abramson and Stuart Tarabour at the Bright Food Shop, a terrific little Mexican-fusion café in Chelsea where I spent some time. This was my favorite of their desserts, and it has since become a seasonal classic at Gramercy Tavern, though I've made a few adaptations and embellished a bit. My recipe has just a touch of cloves, and instead of just the ginger and cinnamon in a typical gingerbread, I use a panoply of spices, including cardamom, nutmeg, and a lot of fresh ginger, to give the cake a racy, intriguing flavor.

The most unusual thing about this recipe is that stout is substituted for the water or coffee used in most gingerbread recipes. I find it adds a lot of richness and underscores the spices. Since it is made with oil, this cake will stay moist for several days. Dress it up or simply enjoy it on its own, with coffee, tea, or a beer!

Servings: Makes 8 servings.

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1 cup Guinness stout
1 cup molasses
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon grated, peeled fresh gingerroot


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9- X 5-inch loaf pan, line the bottom and sides with parchment, and grease the parchment. Alternatively, butter and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan.

2. In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the stout and molasses and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the baking soda. Allow to sit until the foam dissipates.

3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the eggs and both sugars. Whisk in the oil.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom.

5. Combine the stout mixture with the egg mixture, then whisk this liquid into the flour mixture, half at a time. Add the fresh ginger and stir to combine.

6. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour, or until the top springs back when gently pressed. Do not open the oven until the gingerbread is almost done, or the center may fall slightly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.