On the Other Hand…

Just got back from Adoration, where, in the best Baptist tradition (I’m being sincere, here), I cracked the Bible to the middle, and read some Psalms.

Psalm 103 says:

God does not always rebuke,

nurses no lasting anger,

Has not dealt with us as our sins merit,

nor requited us as our deeds deserve.

Let us pray.



I am haunted, as I imagine many others are haunted, by the all-too-imaginable horror of what this man did to the women and children in his care.

Two thoughts. The first is Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, in which he talks about how both sides in the great war believed they were right, and neither thought the price of prevailing would be too high, but

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

May God in his Mercy forgive us!

The 2nd – redemptive suffering is incomprehensible, but strikes a deep chord in our hearts. Some people seem immune to this resonance, just as some people will never feel love or see a miracle, no matter how dramatic the love or the miracle. But Gosnel’s actions cry out for something, and not mere vengeance – they call for us to join our lives to Christ on the Cross, to embrace the suffering that the mysterious workings of a world full of free souls and spirits, evil and good, require,  in the dazzling brilliance of the Love of God that endures letting us do what we want even to the point of suffering the consequences. It is our failure to understand the profound depths of our freedom and the profound unity of creation that makes it hard to understand why Christ had to die on the Cross, and why we, now have chosen the cross that is coming to us in full payment for the evil our lack of love has allowed to grow up among us.

Judging Music at Mass

My personal ground rules for judging liturgical music:

1) Can I sing this at Mass? My first duty, no matter how artistically bad the liturgy and the music in it may be, is to join my prayers with the other Catholics there in order to praise God and prepare to receive Him. I believe this means singing along with the choir or song leader if at all possible – sitting out songs as a protest over *style* seems unchristian to me. So, the question becomes – is this song, most generously understood, heretical? Does it teach contrary to what the Church teaches? Bad music, stupid lyrics, forced text – these are present in virtually all contemporary music sung at Mass – but, if the words are not heretical, I will sing them.  I will sing that “Gloria *clap-clap* song. I won’t like it, but I’ll sing it. I won’t sing “What is This Place?” because it is heretical any way you slice it – we don’t believe that holiness is solely a function of Christians getting together.

2) Given that a given song is not heretical, is it appropriate? I remember, back in my callow youth, singing such mysterious songs as ‘By My Side’ from Godspell at Mass. This ditty is not heretical. In fact, it is simply incomprehensible in that charming way the second half of the ’60s and first half of the ’70s had of substituting feelings for thought – as if they are the same thing. I defy anyone to say what that song means based on the words actually sung. BUT: not heretical (as far as I can tell). But wildly inappropriate. So: I’ll sing it through gritted teeth and – I’m turning over a new leaf – mention to the choir director and maybe pastor that it is nonsensical to sing such a piece at Mass.

3) What is a given song squeezing out? The most egregious examples of this issue occur at Easter and Christmas, but you can sadly find them year around – namely, that there are hundreds of good to great pieces available for every liturgical purpose, so that every time we sing some lame yet not heretical piece, we’re NOT singing some good to great song. An example would be just about anything by the St. Louis Jesuits (or whatever they are calling themselves these days) – there are, without exception, better songs to be sung no matter what the purpose. And, by the way, don’t EVER use the lame ‘we’re doing it for the kids’ excuse – we saw right through that back in 1972, when I was a kid. Nobody asked us what songs we wanted. No real choice was given – the real choirs were euthanized, the real musicians chased into hiding, and a bunch of smiling guitar-wielding thugs took over – very sensitive and hip thugs. We kids had nothing to do with it.  Kids today still don’t – I’ve been all around this country, attended dozens and dozens of ‘Folk’ or ‘Contemporary’ or ‘Life Teen’ Masses, and – it’s a bunch of old fogies and people who really want to play in public but would never be hired for real money in the real world to play anything like what they play in church. Teenagers? C’mon. They’ll be there right up until the moment they can stop or the moment they decide to show the world they’ve added a 4th cord to their guitar repertoire.

4) Musically, how bad is it? Some songs are so musically lame, so utterly without merit, that, even if they were lyrically a direct quote from Scripture, they would still be awful. Everything by Carey Landry, for example. “One Spirit, One Church” is a special case – a mash-up of some infantile attempt at poetry and the great hymn ‘Come Holy Ghost’, except simply mashing didn’t get it done, the ‘composer’ chose to change the time signature from a swinging, Trinitarian 3 to a square 4 – because, that way the new lyrics could be shoe-horned in. Somebody at some point needed to say: No. No, you are not a poet. No, the music you write is not good, it’s bad. No, it does not improve the classic hymn to mangle it that way. No, you may not be a church musician unless you sing humbly at the back of the choir and refrain from letting any thought of suggesting a song enter your little head. No. Just No.

More Dumb Tests

The NYT has this little essay analyzing an 8th grade graduation test from 1895 which many astute combox readers snope out.  (Has the verb form of ‘snopes’ become current yet? It’s about time it did! We’d have to drop the awkward final ‘s’ – to snope, snoping, I snoped it. Works for me. Maybe I should Google it first.)

Many correctly point out that this test is impossibly hard off the top of one’s head chiefly because it requires knowledge of now-obscure measures – bushels, rods – and tests for stuff we no longer consider important. We could pass it, it is asserted, if these were the sort of items we’d just spent the last few years studying.

Be that as it may, here’s a couple points that seem largely missed:

– Kansas, from where the test originated, was about 80%+ farmers  in 1895, and a huge majority of their kids would have been educated in one-room schools.

– Recall that the teacher in a one-room school taught at the pleasure of the farmers of that ‘section’ – the construction and staffing of the schoolhouse was up to the farm families within each section wherein the school resided. So, the test reflected to some degree what farmers thought was important. Thus, bushels and rods and writing a check and a receipt.

– Students in Kansas in 1895 were likely to spend a small fraction of the time students today spend at school and doing homework. So, if in fact time in school and homework correlate positively in any way to learning, we should expect modern students to be much superior to the farm kids in 1895.

Given the above, this 1895 test raises for me a bunch of different questions.

– Given that we spend vastly more time and money on schools today than in 1895, shouldn’t we expect vastly better results? Are we getting them?

– What are today the areas of expertise that correspond to farming? In other words, if a kid in 1895 needed to know conversion factors for bushels and rods to get along in his world, what do kids today need to know? Are we testing for it? Are we even talking about it?

Finally, I’ve looked at today’s tests, specifically the Star tests from California. They, too, require instant regurgitation of obscure knowledge. The difference is that some 80% of Kansas 8th graders in 1895 actually needed the knowledge we consider obscure to get by in their normal daily lives, while I’d bet maybe 5% of the obscure stuff we test for today has any relationship to the lives those kids will be living once they get out of school.

What’s a Fellah Got to Do to Get Impeached These Days?

Here’s the Oath of Office for the President of the United States:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The Constitution, Article II, section 3, laying out the duties of the President, lists:

he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed

Apparently, lurking in a penumbra of an emanation someplace invisible to all but Constitutional law professors, it adds: ‘unless he or she really, really doesn’t like the law, in which case he or she needn’t bother either with trying to get Congress to change the law like any other citizen, or letting the Supreme Court do its job and rule on the constitutionality of the law, but can just, you know, decide to uphold the law in the sense of pretending it doesn’t exist and having the Justice Department do likewise.’

My primary beef with the gay rights movement is that there’s an express assumption that if you take an ax to the root of our current civilization, what will spring up in its place will be a bouquet of surpassing sweetness and light, not, say, the Reign of Terror or the Cultural Revolution. Do the gay rights advocates not realize that, like Robespierre, their own personal Committee of Public Safety is going to put *their* necks on the block just as soon as it is expedient to do so? Do they think those seeking political power and using them as tools to get it really owe them any allegiance? If the power-hungry manage to get power in a world clear-cut of any of the cultural restraints that have grown up over the centuries to reign power in – such as rule of law, and the ideas that human life is sacred, and it is worthy and even expected that a good Christian citizen would lay down his life to defend his fellow citizens, even when his fellow citizen is a gay man – do gay rights advocates think they will be safe? The moment they cease to be useful to the power hungry, they will become just another irrelevant and annoying squeaky wheel – and, in the brave new world, squeaky wheels get the ax.

So, be careful about striking at the rule of law – it’s an annoyance when it keeps you from doing what you want, but it’s a literal life-saver when it keeps your opponents from doing what they want.

Scary Prayer

I’m bad at prayer.  Distracted, bored, falling asleep, rote – the usual. However, I do keep after it, nudged by who knows what heavenly patrons and the example of my beloved wife – no credit to me, that’s for sure. I’m counting on maybe getting points for effort. In fact, I’m hoping I get a chance to forgive somebody totally undeserving at some point before I die, so that I can plead that whole ‘as we forgive those who trespass against us’ defense before the judgment seat of God. I have no back-up plan.

So, a while back, I’m being blessed with upwards of 30 whole seconds of being able to direct my attention to listening to God. ‘O.K., God – your will be done. What You want, not what I want. But you’re going to have to do it” when the thought forms instantly in my mind: kids? And just as instantly, faster than thought, I answer: No!

Come on, God can be a bit of a goof. Have you seen some of His favorite saints? Can’t my kids just grow up to be good parents and spouses? Do we have to be open to the whole over-the-top martyr business? I finally get my mind calmed for a few seconds, and I get THIS?

I’m not the deal-maker kind of suppliant – I get that all we can reasonable ask of God is that His will be done. We lay out our problems, concerns and questions, ask God’s blessings and help, but always wrap up with ‘Your will, not mine, be done.” Right? But this kid thing – please, God, be reasonable here. I have to love and raise them, do I also have to hand them over to you? So that you can make a St. Catherine of Siena or a St. Francis or a St. Phillip Neri out of them? Can’t we cut a deal? No? Really? That’s kind of tough – You ask a lot, you know.

Thy Will be done.