Archive for October, 2012

October 30, 2012

he says your beer is always good

Some more favorites bits from reading Tolkien’s The Return of the King with the kids:

Celeborn and Galadriel … had journeyed thus far by the west-ways, for they had much to speak of with Elrond and with Gandalf, and here they lingered still in converse with their friends. Often long after the hobbits were wrapped in sleep they would sit together under teh stars, recalling ages that were gone and all their joys and labours in the world, or holding council, concerning the days to come. If any wanderer had chanced to pass, little would he have seen or heard, and it would have seemed to him only that he saw grey figures, carved in stone, memorials of forgotten things now lost in unpeopled lands. For they did not move or speak with mouth, looking from mind to mind; and only their shining eyes stirred and kindled as their thoughts went to and fro. (book VI, chapter 6)

[Gandalf speaking:] “But if you would know, I am turning aside soon. I am going to have a long talk with Bombadil: such a talk as I have not had in all my time. He is a moss-gatherer, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling. But my rolling days are ending, and now we shall have much to say to one another.” (book VI, chapter 7)

[Butterbur speaking about the new king:] “Though I’m sure I don’t know why he should, sitting in his big chair up in his great castle, hundreds of miles away. And drinking wine out of a golden cup, I shouldn’t wonder. What’s The Pony to him, or mugs o’ beer? Not but what my beer’s good, Gandalf. It’s been uncommon good, since you came in the autumn of last year and put a good word on it. And that’s been a comfort in trouble, I will say.”
“Ah!” said Sam. “But he says your beer is always good.”
“He says?”
“Of course he does. He’s Strider. The chief of the Rangers. Haven’t you got that into your head yet?”
It went in at last, and Butterbur’s face was a study in wonder. (book VI, chapter 7)

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October 30, 2012

good taste in knowledge

Excerpts from the essay “Good Taste in Knowledge” in the book The Importance of Living (1938) by Lin Yutang:

The aim of education or culture is merely the development of good taste in knowledge and good form in conduct. The cultured man or the ideal educated man is not necessarily one who is well-read or learned, but one who likes and dislikes the right things.

…To be well-informed, or to accumulate facts and details, is the easiest of all things. There are many facts in a given historical period that can easily be crammed into our mind, but discernment in the selection of significant facts is a vastly more difficult thing and depends upon one’s point of view.

An educated man, therefore, is one who has the right loves and hatreds. This we call taste, and with taste comes charm. Now to have taste or discernment requires a capacity for thinking things through to the bottom, an independence of judgement, and an unwillingness to be bulldozed by any form of humbug, social, political, literary, artistic, or academic. There is no doubt that we are surrounded in our adult life by a wealth of humbugs.

…When a man is wrong, he is wrong, and there is no need for one to be impressed and overawed by a great name or by the number of books that he has read and we haven’t. Taste, then, is closely associated with courage, as the Chinese always associate shih and tan, and courage or independence of judgement, as we know, is such a rare virtue among mankind.

…Confucius seemed to have felt that scholarship without thinking was more dangerous than thinking unbacked by scholarship; he said, “Thinking without learning makes one flighty, and learning without thinking is a disaster.” He must have seen enough students of the latter type in his days for him to utter this warning, a warning very much needed in the modern schools. It is well known that modern education and the modern school system in general tend to encourage scholarship at the expense of discernment and look upon the cramming of information as an end in itself, as if a great amount of scholarship could already make an educated man. But why is thought discouraged at school? Why has the educational system twisted and distorted the pleasant pursuit of knowledge into a mechanical, measured, uniform and passive cramming of information? Why do we place more importance on knowledge than on thought? How do we come to call a college graduate an educated man simply because he has made up the necessary units or weekhours of psychology, medieval history, logic, and “religion”? Why are there school marks and diplomas, and how did it come about that the mark and the diploma have, in the student’s mind, come to take the place of the true aim of education?

The reason is simple. We have this system because we are educating people in masses, as if in a factory, and anything which happens inside a factory must go by a dead and mechanicial system. In order to protect its name and standardise its products, a school must certify them with diplomas. With diplomas, then, comes the necessity of grading, and with the necessity of grading come school marks, and in order to have school marks, there must be recitations, examinations, and tests. The whole thing forms an entirely logical sequence and there is no escape from it. But the consequences of having mechanical examinations and tests are more fatal than we imagine. For it immediately throws the emphasis on memorization of facts rather than on the development of taste or judgement. I have been a teacher myself and know that it is easier to make a set of questions on historical dates than on vague opinions on vague questions. It is also easier to mark the papers.

The danger is that after having instituted this system, we are liable to forget that we have already wavered, or are apt to waver from the true ideal of education, which as I say is the development of good taste in knowledge.

…We must give up the idea that a man’s knowledge can be tested or measured in any form whatsoever. Chuangtse has well said, “Alas, my life is limited, while knowledge is limitless!” The pursuit of knowledge is, after all, only like the exploration of a new continent, or “an adventure of the soul,” as Anatole France says, and it will remain a pleasure, instead of becoming a torture, if the spirit of exploration with an open, questioning, curious and adventurous mind is maintained. Instead of the measured, uniform and passive cramming of information, we have to place this ideal of a positive, growing individual pleasure. Once the diploma and the marks are abolished, or treated for what they are worth, the pursuit of knowledge becomes positive, for the student is at least forced to ask himself why he studies at all.

…At present, all students study for the registrar, and many of the good students study for their parents or teachers or their future wives, that they may not seen ungrateful to their parents who are spending so much money for their support at college, or because they wish to appear nice to a teacher who is nice and conscientious to them, or that they may go out of school and earn a higher salary to feed their families. I suggest that all such thoughts are immoral. The pursuit of knowledge should remain nobody else’s business but one’s own, and only then can education become a pleasure and become positive.

Taken from this online transcription by Peter Saint-Andre.

October 30, 2012

religion does not want Christianity

For it falsifies the Christian message to present and to preach Christianity as essentially life-affirming–without referring this affirmation to the death of Christ and therefore to the very fact of death; to pass over in silence the fact that for Christianity death is not only the end, but indeed the very reality of this world. But to “comfort” people and reconcile them with death by making this world a meaningless scene of an individual preparation for death is also to falsify it. For Christianity claims that Christ died for the life of the world, and not for an “eternal rest” from it. This “falsification” makes the very success of Christianity (according to official data church building and per capita contributions to churches have reached an all time high!) into a profound tragedy. The worldly man wants the minister to be an optimistic fellow, sanctioning faith in an optimistic and progressive world. And the religious man sees him as an utterly serious, sadly solemn and dignified denouncer of the world’s vanity and futility. The world does not want religion and religion does not want Christianity. The one rejects death, the other, life. Hence the immense frustration either with the secularist tendencies of the life-affirming world or with the morbid religiosity of those who oppose it.

This frustration will last as long as long as Christians continue to understand Christianity as a religion whose purpose is to help, as long as they continue to keep the “utilitarian” self-consciousness” typical of the old religion.

From chapter six in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (96-97).

October 29, 2012

strange vacuum covered by this truly demonic word

Today no one, except the peculiar and esoteric race of men called “liturgiologists,” is interested in what was in the past a major preoccupation for Christians: the feasts and the seasons, the cycles of prayer, a very real concern about the “kairos“–the time of liturgical celebration. Not only the average layman, even the theologian seems to say: the world of Christian “symbolism” is no longer our world, all this failed, all this is gone and we have more serious affairs to attend to; it would be unthinkable, ridiculous to try to solve any real “problem” of modern life by referring it, say, to Easter or Pentecost, or even to Sunday.

…The real tragedy of Christianity is not its “compromise” with the world and progressive “materialism,” but on the contrary, its “spiritualization” and transformation into “religion.” …Christians were tempted to reject time altogether and replace it with mysticism and “spiritual” pursuits, to live as Christians out of time and thereby escape its frustrations; to insist that time has no real meaning from the point of view of the Kingdom which “beyond time.” And they finally succeeded.

…We must understand, therefore, that the intensive, almost pathological, preoccupation of our modern world with time and its “problem” is rooted in this specifically Christian failure. It is because of us, Christians, that the world in which we live has literally no time. Is it not true that the more “time saving” devices we invent, the less time we have? The joyless rush is interrupted by relaxation (“sit back and relax!”), but such is the horror of the strange vacuum covered by this truly demonic word, “relaxation,” that men must take pills to endure it, and buy expensive books about how to kill this no man’s land of “modern living.”

There is no time because Christianity, on the one hand, made it impossible for man to live in the old natural time, broke beyond repair the cycle of the eternal return. It has announced the fullness of time, revealed time as history and fulfillment, and has truly poisoned us once for all with the dream of a meaningful time. There is no time, on the other hand, because having announced all this, Christianity abandoned time, invited Christians simply to leave it and to think of eternity as of an eternal rest (if not yet “relaxation”). To be sure, one can still adorn the meaningless time with “beautiful symbols” and “colorful rites,” preferably “ancient.”

…The cross of Christ signified an end of all “natural” rejoicing; it made it, indeed, impossible. From this point of view the sad “seriousness” of modern man is certainly of Christian origin, even if this has been forgotten by that man himself. Since the Gospel was preached in this world, all attempts to go back to a pure “pagan joy,” all “renaissances,” all “healthy optimisms” were bound to fail. “There is but one sadness,” said Leon Bloy, “that of not being a saint.” And it is this sadness that permeates mysteriously the whole life of the world, its frantic and pathetic hunger and thirst for perfection, which kills all joy.

From chapter three in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (48-49, 54).

October 28, 2012

the very food of our world became His body

In this world Christ was rejected. He was the perfect expression of life as God intended it. Th fragmentary life of the world was gathered into His life; He was the heart beat of the world and the world killed Him. But in that murder the world itself died. It lost its last chance to become the paradise God created it to be. We can go on developing new and better things. We can build a more humane society which may even keep us from annihilating each other. But when Christ, the true life of the world, was rejected, it was the beginning of the end. That rejection had a finality about it: He was crucified for good. As Pascal said: “Christ is in agony until the end of the world.”

Christianity often appears, however, to preach that if men will try hard enough to live Christian lives, the crucifixion can somehow be reversed. This is because Christianity has forgotten itself, forgotten that always it must first of all stand a the cross.

…In this world Christ is crucified, His body broken, and His blood shed. And we must go out of this world, we must ascend to heaven in Christ in order to become partakers of the world to come.

…He became man and lived in this world. He ate and drank, and this means that the world of which he partook, the very food of our world became His body, His life. But His life was totally, absolutely eucharistic–all of it was transformed into communion with God and all of it ascended into heaven. And now he shares this glorified life with us.

…The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity and the moment of truth: here we see the world in Christ, as it really is, and not from our particular and therefore limited and partial points of view. Intercession begins here, in the glory of the messianic banquet, and this is the only true beginning for the Church’s mission. It is when, “having put aside all earthly care,” we seem to have left this world, that we, in fact, recover it in all its reality.

…Adam is again introduced into Paradise, taken out of nothingness and crowned king of creation. Everything is free, nothing is due and yet all is given.

…And God has made us competent, as Paul Claudel has said, competent to be His witnesses, to fulfill what He has done and is ever doing.

From chapter two in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (23, 42-46).

October 27, 2012

gold in the seams of my hands

Prayer
by John Burnside

Give me a little less
with every dawn:
colour, a breath of wind,
the perfection of shadows,

till what I find, I find
because it’s there,
gold in the seams of my hands
and the desk lamp, burning.

October 27, 2012

you must not ask for so much

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch
He said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door
She cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”

Lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On a Wire” (recorded 26 September 1968 in Nashville and included on his 1969 album Songs from a Room).

October 24, 2012

a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines

Education is not primarily a heady project concerned with providing information; rather, education is most fundamentally a matter of formation, a task of shaping and creating a certain kind of people. What makes them a distinctive kind of people is what they love or desire – what they envision as ‘the good life’ of the ideal picture of human flourishing. An education, then, is a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart (the gut) by means of material, embodied practices. And this will be true even of the most instrumentalist, pragmatic programs of education (such as those that now tend to dominate public schools and universities bent on churning out ‘skilled workers’) that see their task primarily as providing information, because behind this is a vision of the good life that understands human flourishing primarily in terms of production and consumption. Behind the veneer of a ‘value-free’ education concerned with providing skills, knowledge, and information is an educational vision that remains formative. There is no neutral, nonformative education; in short, there is no such thing as a ‘secular’ education.

From Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Cultural Liturgies) by James K.A. Smith.

October 23, 2012

celebrants of the sacrament of life

This is the first meaning of our bringing to the altar the elements of our food. For we already know that food is life, that it is the very principle of life and that the whole world has been created as food for man. We also know that to offer this food, this world, this life to God is the initial “eucharistic” function of man, his very fulfillment as man. We know that we were created as celebrants of the sacrament of life, of its transformation into life in God, communion with God.

…To be sure, it is a sacrifice: but sacrifice is the most natural act of man, the very essence of his life. Man is a sacrificial being, because he finds his life in love, and love is sacrificial: it puts the value, the very meaning of life in the other and gives life to the other, and in this giving, in this sacrifice, finds the meaning and joy of life.

From chapter two in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (34-35).

October 23, 2012

there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.

From Tolkien’s “The Land of Shadow” (chapter 2 of book VI) in The Return of the King.

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