Songs at Mass Review (10/31/10)

Oh, boy. At the early Mass today at Parish A, got both a winner of a song and shanghaied into singing it.

The long term choir director, who is a very nice guy and a good musician, in whose choirs I and my kids used to sing years ago, saw me in the pews and collared me to help him lead the singing – he had issues with his voice (cold?) and had only one other person in his choir show up, and I’m loud and can read music, So –

I’m standing at his side at a lectern very purposely set so that one’s back is directly to the tabernacle, singing  this beauty:

What Is This Place

  1. What is this place where we are meeting? Only a house, the earth its floor.
    Walls and a roof sheltering people, windows for light, an open door.
    Yet it becomes a body that lives when we are gathered here, and know our God is near.
  2. Words from afar, stars that are falling, sparks that are sown in us like seed:
    names for our God, dreams, signs and wonders sent from the past are all we need.
    We in this place remember and speak again what we have heard:
    God’s free redeeming word.
  3. And we accept bread at this table, broken and shared, a living sign.
    Here in this world, dying and living, we are each other’s bread and wine.
    This is the place where we can receive what we need to increase:
    our justice and God’s peace.

By some act of divine mercy, I have for nigh these many years been spared this, this *thing*. Let’s dig in:

Continue reading “Songs at Mass Review (10/31/10)”

Will the Real Skeptic Please Speak Up? Another Ramble

In college, many years ago, I once read a little pamphlet that contained some exchanges between Martin Luther and Erasmus, occasioned by Luther’s publishing of a paper called ‘On the Bondage of the Will’. It was a fascinating read on several levels, but one item in particular has stuck in my mind all this time. Erasmus makes the point that, if Luther truly believes that the human will is not free, why in the world would he bother talking about it? Learning about the abject slavery of the human will isn’t needed by those Christians who by the sole grace of God and through no merit of their own have gained freedom, and it won’t do any good for those other poor souls, who are utterly enslaved by sin and are incapable of doing anything at all to change that situation.

It seemed like a pretty good point to me at the time, and still does. However, history shows that Luther did not, in fact, stop talking about it. Score 1 for passion, 0 for logical consistency.

But then again, those who think consistency is some sort of hobgoblin must take some comfort in how few people are afflicted with it. Continue reading “Will the Real Skeptic Please Speak Up? Another Ramble”

Music at Mass – road trip – 10/24/10

This past week, was out of town on business, attended Mass at a hip parish near the convention I was attending.

This parish had money – it’s in a resort town full of the kind of people who move some place to retire. (Aside – if I ever am so foolish to move away from where I’ve lived my life in order to retire with a bunch of elderly strangers, just shoot me.) The church building was in the modern ‘talk show set’ form factor, with amphitheater-style seating, huge speakers hung from the ceiling, an orchestra pit to the left for the musicians, and a tabernacle tucked away on the right so that, unless you were really looking, you’d never see it.  The sanctuary was dominated by a huge crucifix that looked like happy-bendy bronze Jesus sitting on the cross-piece of a giant upright X. His limbs were flat and twisted – the theological and artistic reasons for this are just one of the baffling items that we must accept, it seems, as mystery here. The quality of the structure and furnishings was high. Continue reading “Music at Mass – road trip – 10/24/10”

Guess where and when this little quote is from:

Against Homework

“A child who has been boxed up six hours in school might spend the next four hours in study, but it is impossible to develop the child’s intellect in this way. The laws of nature are inexorable. By dint of great and painful labor, the child may succeed in repeating a lot of words, like a parrot, but, with the power of its brain all exhausted, it is out of the question for it to really master and comprehend its lessons. The effect of the system is to enfeeble the intellect even more than the body. We never see a little girl staggering home under a load of books, or knitting her brow over them at eight o’clock in the evening, without wondering that our citizens do not arm themselves at once with carving knives, pokers, clubs, paving stones or any weapons at hand, and chase out the managers of our common schools, as they would wild beasts that were devouring their children.”

Curious? After the break:

Continue reading “Guess where and when this little quote is from:”

Another Basic Point about the Economy, or Today’s Downer

Do You Want to Know the Real Problem with Our Economy?

I’ll answer that rhetorical question right up front: no, you don’t. Because, fundamentally, what we consider our current high standard of living is based on almost everybody being consistently stupid, selfish and greedy. If too many Americans started acting reasonably, generously and with prudent frugality, our economy would collapse. Continue reading “Another Basic Point about the Economy, or Today’s Downer”

A Small Clarification

“Larger vehicles are safer.”

Um, no, they are not. Simple physics says: as a fragile human being, you’d want the roads populated by *less* massive vehicles, which cause *less* damage in accidents. If I’m worried about safety when I’m out driving, regardless of  whatever vehicle I personally am in, I want all the other vehicles on the road to be as small and light as possible – that way, if anyone hits me, I’m less likely to get hurt.

But that’s not what people mean – what they mean is: all other things being equal, *I* am safer in a bigger, heavier vehicle. Safer for me, maybe, but more dangerous for everybody else. But that’s their problem.

Yet another reason why if you look inside an needlessly huge personal vehicle, you’re likely to find a narcissist.

The Piano Lesson

Learning to play the piano is hard – it takes years of practice to get really good, and months of practice just to get to the point where you can even play a non-childish song or two.

Yet millions of people, over the years, have become quite good at the piano, almost without exception using more or less the same approach:

– Take lessons from a piano teacher for half an hour to an hour once a week or so;

– practice from 15 minutes to a half hour a day.

Following that method, you can pretty darn good in a few years. Of course, if you want to get really good, you eventually must ramp up the practice to several hours a day – but even without a grueling practice schedule, you can get pretty good at 30 minutes a day. You just have to be consistent about it for a number of years.

Now, it’s almost a truism that music and math are related talents. I’ve even heard it said that they are the *same* talent. Yet, with rare exceptions, we teach math – I should say, attempt to teach math, since it almost always fails – by lecturing to students as a group for 40 minutes to an hour day after day, year after year, then assigning math homework which, in high school, can run into several hours a night. We do not work one-on-one with a student for a limited time once a week and then give them lots of space to practice on their own, as we do with piano.

Oddly, we do use something much more like piano lessons to teach people in college – at least, the amount of time students get to work on their studies outside the classroom is more like the ratio of piano lessons than like high school. In grad school, it’s gets even less like high school and more like piano.

Once, on a business trip, I sat next to a man who was doing some really hairy wave function type math around some sort of sensor he was consulting on. I asked him how he learned all that math. He told a story of having joined the Navy, having gotten good scores on an aptitude test and getting assigned to work in the radio room. From there, he took whatever classes were available, worked his way through a number of increasingly technical jobs, adding, along the way, to his math chops – until, to my pretty-good-at-math eyes, he was a master.

His closing comment: ‘It’s just like leaning the piano – just do a little work on it every day, and you’ll get good at it.”


NYT reports today that European governments are now rejecting the Keynesian prescription to spend your way out of a recession/depression/panic economic bad thingie.

Now, I’m largely economically illiterate – read Adam Smith a couple times and took a few econ classes in business school – so I probably just missed this point. Simple question: what’s enough? I’ve never yet come across a formulation of the Keynesian policy that said: you can spend up to X or X% of Y or any limit whatsoever. Nope. Just spend.

So, if $1 in deficit spending is good, $10 is 10 times as good. If a trillion dollars is good, 2 trillion is way better! How about $10 trillion? $100 trillion? Seriously, not only have I never heard what the natural or logical limit to debt spending is, I’ve never heard any Keynesian argument that there even is a limit.

I’ll consider getting on board the good ship Keynes as soon as it’s clear where it’s planning to dock, or indeed clear it has any interest in docking at all.

Another Song from Mass 10/17/10

Parish A this week. Wading into the enigma shrouded in mystery wrapped in a ‘huh?’ that is: Marty Haugen.

Eye Has Not Seen

Eye has not seen,
ear has not heard
what God has ready
for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come,
give us the mind of Jesus,
teach us the wisdom of God.

Continue reading “Another Song from Mass 10/17/10”

Historically Conditioned Ramble, Pt 1

Sometimes listen to NPR. Terry Gross’s interviews are my favorite item. She should give lessons to all interviewers in whatever format that is she uses, which would consist of 3 things: Shut up and let your guest talk; ask good questions; shut up and let your guest talk.

Anyway, she was talking to some legal scholar a bit back, and the topic of ‘original intent’ came up, and she, very predictably (this is NPR) blessed the notion that, since it is inevitable that issues and situations not covered by the original intent of the drafters would come up, OF COURSE the SCOTUS would need to, you know, sort of make it up as they go, with an implied ‘what can these crazy original intent types be thinking?’.

Now, of course, the issue isn’t really binary: thinking people (especially lawyers) understand that you can’t write everything down, that there will be plenty of situations that require judges to apply law that wasn’t written with the concrete case in front of you in mind, and few ‘living document’ types really, truly believe that the Constitution is a blank piece of paper (although many of our elected officials seem damn close to that POV – it doesn’t count when your behavior is constrained by fear of the people, and that just happens to coincide with some musty legal fundamentalist’s interpretation of the Constitution. That’s called cowardice, not principle.)

What struck me was not that Ms Gross came down on the issue the way she did – news flash! Sun sets in the West – but rather how, given a situation where, from any objective perspective, you’re walking a path between the state whereby intolerable evils persist because no written law applies to remedy them and the state of chaos where the law means whatever any judge happens to feel like it means at that moment, that you’d recognize the dangers on one side of  the issue but totally miss or ignore the trouble lurking on the other.

That path is not all that narrow, but it seems to me to important to recognize you’re on it, and work to stay on it. If all you fear is that some evil might not be redressed because there are as yet no laws available with which to redress it, while not also fearing that judges might confound what they want to see happen with justice (like we all do) and thereby do evil, then you will, frankly, arrive at the current unhappy state of affairs.

Thinking about this in relation to a different but conceptually related notion: that the beliefs of the Catholic Church are ‘historically conditioned’, meaning, it seems,  that any statement of belief can be challenged and overturned based on the assertion that the belief does not represent an eternal truth, but is rather just a data-point of how people at one time and place *understood* a fundamentally ineffable truth that defies any attempt at definitive formulation.

Something like that. There’s probably a cleaner formulation of this concept out there.

Continue reading “Historically Conditioned Ramble, Pt 1”