20 October 2006

Retiring the Cow

I've started a new blog for our family. It will include the sort of rambling thoughts you found here, but add some focus on communications about our preparations for ministry in Slovakia. The new site is still a work in progress as I learn about scripting, but it has a wee bit of content already. Please visit us at www.the-lundgaards.com.

So it's good-bye to the Brinded Cow....

03 October 2006

Athanasius on the Incarnation

The new Pen&Pulpit is posted here.


Tony Reinke quizzed me last week, and posted the conversation on his blog.

14 September 2006

Coming to Omaha

If you plan to be near Omaha on October 14th and are looking for something to do, I have a suggestion....

13 September 2006

Godly Arguing?

John Newton (the man who wrote “Amazing Grace”) had some wise advice for Christians who enter into disputes over theology. His comments are published in the latest edition of Pen&Pulpit.

05 September 2006

Quo Vadis?

There is a small but growing ministry in Trnava, Slovakia, called The Building. The team is sent by Mission to the World (MTW), the missions agency of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). (Sorry for the alphabet soup.) I mention this team because Paula, Kristian, Ethan, and I visited them in May. We went there to see what they were up to, and to see whether we might fit in.

We thought we fit. They thought we fit. So they invited us to come work with them, and in a fit of ecstacy we said "Sure!" We have since applied with MTW and have been accepted. So now we begin our long walk the road to Slovakia....

12 August 2006

Power through Prayer

Excerpts from E. M. Bounds' exhortations to prayer are in this month's Pen&Pulpit.

30 July 2006

Where is Happiness?

Men travel side by side for years, each locked up in his own silence or exchanging those words which carry no freight—till danger comes. Then they stand shoulder to shoulder. They discover that they belong to the same family. They wax and bloom in the recognition of fellow beings. They look at one another and smile. They are like the prisoner set free who marvels at the immensity of the sea.

Happiness! It is useless to seek it elsewhere than in this warmth of human relations. Our sordid interests imprison us within their walls. Only a comrade can grasp us by the hand and haul us free.

And these human relations must be created. One must go through an apprenticeship to learn the job. Games and risk are a help here. When we exchange manly handshakes, compete in races, join together to save one of us who is in trouble, cry aloud for help in the hour of danger—only then do we learn that we are not alone on earth.

Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: it is something moulded. These prison walls that this age of trade has built up round us, we can break down. We can still run free, call to our comrades, and marvel to hear once more, in response to our call, the pathetic chant of the human voice.

—from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand, and Stars

05 July 2006

Chesterton's Orthodoxy

The July Pen&Pulpit is posted here.

26 June 2006

The Back of My Car

I'm not really a bumper-sticker man, but I couldn't resist this one. It's Old Church Slavonic for "Glory to Jesus Christ." (I think.)

Pictures of our Pension

If you go to this link and click "kino" on the left, you will see a slide show of the Pension we will be staying in for our English Camp in July. We will be teaching the advanced students, and representing the USA against the Czech Republic in a rematch of the World Cup fiasco.

23 June 2006

Wandering in Slovakia

I'm afraid my pictures are not the best, but here you can get a small taste of the beautiful country that we visited at the end of May.

The other pictures on that page are from last year's trip to the Czech Republic to teach English--Paula and I will do that again in about three weeks.

05 June 2006

John Ploughman's Talks

The June edition of Pen&Pulpit is posted here.

18 May 2006

Richard Rolle of Hampole, c. 1300 – 1349

Ihesu, als thou me made and bought,
Thou be my love and all my thought,
And help that I were to Thee brought;
Withouten thee I may do nought.

Ihesu, als thou may do thy will
And naething is that thee may let;
With thy grace my heart fulfill,
My love and my liking in thee set.

Ihesu, at thy will
I pray that I might be;
All my heart fulfill
With perfect love to thee.

That I have done ill
Ihesu, forgive thou me;
And suffer me never to spill
Ihesu, for pity. Amen.


als – as
withouten – without
naething – nothing
let – hinder, impede, thwart
fulfill – fill; imbue, endow
liking – pleasure, delight
set – to base on or ground in
at thy will – in accordance with your will
spill – perish; be damned
for pity – on account of [your] mercy

Prose paraphrase

Jesus, since you made me and bought me, be my love and all my thought, and bring me into your presence. Without you I can do nothing.

Jesus, since you can do as you please and nothing can thwart your purposes, fill my heart with grace, ground all my love and delight in you.

Jesus, I pray that my will would be in accord with yours; fill all my heart with perfect love to you.

Forgive the evil I have done, Jesus; and never let me be damned, for your mercy’s sake. Amen.

17 May 2006

The Flesh is no Brat

Weeds happen; but even the smallest garden—a bonsai that will fit in the palm of your hand—requires painstaking cultivation. Sin happens; but mortification demands study, purpose, and care. The flesh is not an attention-starved brat who will go away if you ignore him.

The Climb

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

—from Christina Rossetti, “Up-Hill”

13 May 2006

Horatius Bonar's "The Rent Veil"

The latest edition of Pen&Pulpit is posted here.

17 April 2006

Time To Build a Woodshed

“The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”


16 April 2006

Do You Like Sentences?

A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, “Do you think I could be a writer?”

“Well,” the writer said, “I don’t know.... Do you like sentences?”

The writer could see the student’s amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am 20 years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, “I liked the smell of the paint.”

—from Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

The Scandal of the Scriptures

“When I was a child, the adult members of Pittsburgh society adverted to the Bible unreasonably often. What arcana! Why did they spread this scandalous document before our eyes? If they had read it, I thought, they would have hid it. They did not recognize the lively danger that we would, through repeated exposure, catch a dose of its virulent opposition to their world. Instead they bade us study great chunks of it, and think about those chunks, and commit them to memory, and ignore them. By dipping us children in the Bible so often, they hoped, I think, to give our lives a serious tint, and to provide us with quaintly magnificent snatches of prayer to produce as charms while, say, being mugged for our cash or jewels.”

—from Annie Dillard, "The Book of Luke"

14 April 2006

The World is a ... Maypole

“The Metamorphosis of nature shows itself in nothing more than this that there is no word in our language that cannot become typical to us of nature by giving it emphasis. The world is a Dancer; it is a Rosary; it is a Torrent; it is a Boat; a Mist; a Spider’s Snare; it is what you will; and the metaphor will hold, & it will give the imagination keen pleasure. Swifter than light the World converts itself into that thing you name & all things find their right place under this new & capricious classificaiton. There is no thing small or mean to the soul. It derives as grand a joy from symbolizing the Godhead or his Universe under the form of a moth or a gnat as of a Lord of Hosts. Must I call the heaven & the earth a maypole & country fair with booths or an anthill or an old coat in order to give you the shock of pleasure which the imagination loves and the sense of spiritual greatness? Call it a blossom, a rod, a wreath of parsley, a tamarisk-crown, a cock, a sparrow, the ear instantly hears & the spirit leaps to the trope; and hence it is that men of eloquence like Chatham have found a Dictionary very suggestive reading when they were disposed to speak.

We all know enough to be endless writers. Those who have written best are not those who have known most, but those to whom writing was natural & necessary. Let us answer a book of ink with a book of flesh & blood. All writing comes by the grace of God.”

—Emerson’s Journal, June 6, 1841

04 April 2006

My First Published Poem

The following parody of W. B. Yeats's "The Second Coming" was published in Nit&Wit literary Arts Magazine in 1981. As I recall, the journal was published out of Chicago and had a circulation of 5,000.

The Second Bathing

Rising and rising in the porcelain coffin
The waves of washing break against the body;
Clouds fill the tub; the bath tub cannot hold;
Dirty water is loosed upon the sewer,
The grime-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
Rats and bugs of innocence are drowned;
The best leave filthy rings, while the worst
Deposit their gritty foul matter fully.

Surely some more cleansing is at hand;
Surely the Second Bathing is at hand;
The Second Bathing! Scarcely are the words out
When a gross image out of Spiritus Mud Eye
Impairs my sight: somewhere in the swamp
A shape with bulbous body and the head of a child,
Eyes wide and searching as Lucifer’s,
Is wringing tiny hands, while all within him
Reel thoughts of rolling in the muddy water.
He splashes in again; but now I know
That twenty afternoon naps of faking sleep
Were spent scheming ways to ruin new clothes.
And what rough child, his turn to bathe now here,
Comes of his own free will in full submission?

03 April 2006

John Donne's Holy Sonnets

The April edition of the Pen&Pulpit is here. I enjoyed my work with Donne's Holy Sonnets, and hope the introduction and notes benefit you. These pearls are worth a dive or two.

30 March 2006

Finding Rest

As for me … I know what it is to be a subject and what it is to be a sovereign.

Queen Elizabeth I
Speech to Parliament, 1586

Kings and queens are the “makers of manners.” So saith Shakespeare, but it’s been centuries since royalty was hip on these shores. It isn’t the fashion for our civic leaders to insist on their divine rights, to have their political opponents beheaded, or even to prance about in ermine stoles. Monarchy as a fad was on the way out in February 1776 when Thomas Paine introduced his pamphlet Common Sense with these words:

Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence [sic] of custom.

He couched those burgeoning sentiments in phrases like “the remains of monarchical tyranny in the person of the king” and “crowned ruffians,” and said plainly that “a thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy.” Paine pulled no punch. He procured for those anti-royalist sentiments a general favor, and ever since then it’s been downhill for hereditary tyranny. I can picture young Thomas curled up before the fire with a copy of Dante’s Paradiso in hand, the pages of Canto XIX, the litany of the sins of kings, yellowed and ragged from overuse:

What to your kings may not the Persians say,
When they that volume opened shall behold
In which are written down all their dispraises?

There shall be seen, among the deeds of Albert,
That which ere long shall set the pen in motion,
For which the realm of Prague shall be deserted.

There shall be seen the woe that on the Seine
He brings by falsifying of the coin,
Who by the blow of a wild boar shall die.

There shall be seen the pride that causes thirst,
Which makes the Scot and Englishman so mad
That they within their boundaries cannot rest;

Be seen the luxury and effeminate life
Of him of Spain, and the Bohemian,
Who valour never knew and never wished;

Be seen the Cripple of Jerusalem,
His goodness represented by an I,
While the reverse an M shall represent;

Be seen the avarice and poltroonery
Of him who guards the Island of the Fire,
Wherein Anchises finished his long life….[1]

Enough with the history. You don’t need to be told that you never bowed or curtsied to a King. Everything in our Constitution and our national consciousness seethes with disdain for the very idea of one man or one woman arrogant enough to try to rule over us. Long before you or I were born our forefathers beat down those antique ideas of “his or her royal majesty” and decrees and curtseying so that now they’re only quaint ceremonies on the movie screen in costume dramas. Whether we prefer Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr in The King and I or Chow Yun-Fat and Jodie Foster in Anna and the King, either way we don’t want Anna bowing in front of the king of Siam—we want him to learn to treat her as his equal. Paine would smile on our egalitarian taste.

Queen Elizabeth I said she knew “what it is to be a subject and what it is to be a sovereign.” I imagine she’d feel awkwardly out of place around here. What does “sovereign” mean anyway? What do shopper-citizens at the mall think it means? I dare not guess, but suspect our definitions wouldn’t jive with the Virgin Queen’s. And if we don’t grasp what sovereign means with respect to earthly kings, can we be sure we understand what the Bible means when it calls God sovereign?

Perhaps we could get a clue from the word itself by noting that it conceals in it the word “reign.” That’s a word that would conjure up in Tom Paine images of the disease of monarchy, all that “avarice and poltroonery.” Are we any more comfortable than he with sovereignty?

Now I’m not interested in raising royalty on our republican soil. But I can’t help but wonder how our hard-coded hatred of monarchs flavors our response to the biblical idea that God rules over us and all creation with “absolute power,” a concept that is the political opposite of the “checks and balances” written into our beloved republic. Is it possible that we subconsciously overlay the idea of biblical sovereignty with a series of our own “checks and balances”?
A generation before Citizen Paine came along America produced her greatest theologian: Jonathan Edwards. Perhaps because he died before the ideals of royalty dropped completely out of vogue he was able to compose this undemocratic definition of God’s sovereignty:

The sovereignty of God is his absolute, independent right of disposing of all creatures according to his own pleasure.

In our sophisticated modern commitment to human freedom and independence we gag on words like these—yet God’s sovereignty has become for many believers the source of their greatest comfort and security. Edwards himself struggled with the doctrine when he was young: “From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.... It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me.”[2] But his thinking was later changed, until he could say, “I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.”[3]

Why isn’t the idea of the sovereignty of God as precious to us as it became to Edwards? It may be that our ideas of sovereignty are so shaped by the Caligulas, Neros, Hitlers, and Stalins of history that we struggle when asked to believe that God shares with such scoundrels anything that even smells of absolute power. There may be some psychological reticence in us not unlike an abused child’s confusion when thinking of God as Father.

This is where our theology can step in to make some helpful distinctions. First, we have to remember chapter one: God is Creator, we are creatures. There’s a big distinction in that. As Creator he isn’t limited as we are, nor is he fallen as we are. His rule will never be tainted by sin.

And the rest of theology fills the reign of God with adjectives that make it sound delicious to us: it teaches us to think of God’s reign not only as unlimited and eternal, but as wise, loving, just, merciful, and holy. As we let this more biblical picture of God’s majesty permeate our minds, our objections subside. We realize that the only way to run a universe is with God at the helm—and not just to run the universe, but to run our lives. So, with Edwards, we learn to rest[4] in thoughts of the sovereignty of God.

[1] This is from Longfellow’s translation (which, of course, Thomas Paine could never have read). The I and the M stuff refers to Roman numerals—Dante refers to Charles II of Apulia, and says his good deeds will be counted with a one (I), and his misdeeds with a thousand (M). Ah, poets!
[2] Jonathan Edwards, Personal Narrative.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

Please Pass the Sunset

Bring me the sunset in a cup,
Reckon the morning’s flagons up
And say how many Dew,
Tell me how far the morning leaps—
Tell me what time the weaver sleeps
Who spun the breadths of blue!

Write me how many notes there be
In the new Robin’s ecstasy
Among the astonished boughs—
How many trips the Tortoise makes—
How many cups the Bee partakes,
The Debauchee of Dews!

Also, who laid the Rainbow’s piers,
Also, who leads the docile spheres
By withes of supple blue?
Whose fingers string the stalactite—
Who counts the wampum of the night
To see that none is due?

Who built this little Alban House
And shut the windows down so close
My spirit cannot see?
Who’ll let me out some Gala day
With implements to fly away,
Passing Pomposity?

—Emily Dickinson

For the Sake of Conversation

I wish you would read a little poetry sometimes. Your ignorance cramps my conversation.

—Anthony Hope

26 March 2006

Make Your Choice

“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

—Woody Allen

25 March 2006

Highlight from The Faerie Queene, Book 2

But Guyon all this while his booke did read,
Ne yet has ended: for it was a great
And ample volume, that doth far excead
My leasure, so long leaues here to repeat:
It told, how first Prometheus did create
A man, of many partes from beasts deriued,
And then stole fire from heauen, to animate
His worke, for which he was by Ioue depriued
Of life him selfe, and hart-strings of an Ægle riued.

—Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, II.X.VXX

Modernized spelling of the above excerpt:

But Guyon all this while his book did read,
Ne yet has ended: for it was a great
And ample volume, that doth far exceed
My leisure, so long leaves here to repeat:
It told, how first Prometheus did create
A man, of many parts from beasts derived,
And then stole fire from heaven, to animate
His work, for which he was by Jove deprived
Of life him self, and heart-strings of an Eagle rived.

English Camp 2006

Paula and I have been invited to return to Pastviny to teach at an English Camp in July. After our experience last year, I decided that the Czech students need more help with writing than with anything else. So I have decided to focus on the sentence—some grammatical aspects of the sentence, as well as stylistic aspects. The title of my lessons will be Maximum Sentence. I expect the pun will be lost on them (but I hope it isn’t lost on you).

22 March 2006

Evangelical Reunion Online

John Frame's book Evangelical Reunion is now online (as are other works of his). I recommend it.

Shows about Nothing

The problem with Thomas S. Hibbs’s Shows about Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld is that it both inspires and helps me to be more reflective about the culture around me and its influences on me, and that it makes me uncomfortable. I say “uncomfortable” because it clues me in to the more subtle influences of the world that unquestionably, secretly, and maliciously shape my life. Hibbs reminds me that I can’t simply be an unreflective consumer of the novels, poems, movies, and art that I enjoy—none of it is meaningless and impotent, and its meaning can be helpful, harmful, or both. Even when it delights me it can be at the same time poisoning my soul.

Consider, for example, a lengthy nested quotation (including references to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America) that is forcing me to reexamine my view of my family—and making me wonder whether I’m not, after all, another one of those individualists that I denigrate as antichristian:

There is, then, a hidden alliance between centralized government and individualism. They are mirror images of one another; each tends to give birth to its opposite. How are we to understand the relationship? According to Tocqueville, “When the inhabitant of a democratic country compares himself individually with all those about him, he feels with pride that he is the equal of any one of them; but when he comes to survey the totality of his fellows and to place himself in contrast with so huge a body, he is instantly overwhelmed by the sense of his own insignificance and weakness. The same equality that renders him independent of each of his fellow citizens, taken severally, exposes him alone and unprotected to the influence of the greater number.” The impotence of the individual before the whole of society makes possible a hitherto unknown form of tyranny, a “new physiognomy of servitude.” The great danger is not, as it was in previous eras, the despotism of a single man or even of a class. We witness

“an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind.... Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratification and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if... its object were to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual
childhood.... For their happiness such a government willingly labors.... what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?”

What sort of citizens does such a regime produce? Tocqueville does not give them a name, but it would be hard to distinguish them from Nietzsche’s last men. According to Tocqueville, these enervated souls suffer from the shrinking of each person’s world to a very small circle. Some social conservatives might be surprised to learn that what they call family values and see as an alternative to liberal individualism is nearly indistinguishable from what Tocqueville calls individualism: “a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself.” [37-38]

Hibbs troubles me later with his analysis of the film Trainspotting, which I have never seen nor want to see. The film itself critiques the American Dream from a different perspective from mine, but for the same emptiness I find in it. Then Hibbs summarizes painfully: “The problem for most of us is that we will return to our lives of paying bills and lowering our cholesterol. If we can find no higher goals than those of endless accumulation, and if our heroism peaks at daring to say no to drugs, our life looks pointless and comically hollow.” [142] Even seeing clearly the vanity of the Dream, I close my eyes and embrace it with the other fools.

Sigh. I have much to think about.

Thomas Hibbs, Cultural Critic

Soon I hope to write a few notes on Thomas Hibbs's work of cultural criticism called Shows about Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld.

Until then you can read a tasty sample of his writing in this discussion of moral education, Harry Potter, and Pride and Prejudice.

You can access the archives of his reviews at National Review Online.

21 March 2006

The Novelist is a Canary

“The novelist is less like a prophet than he is like the canary that the coal miners used to take down into the shaft to test the air. When the canary gets unhappy, utters plaintive cries, and collapses, it may be time for the miners to surface and think things over.”

—Walker Percy, “Notes for a Novel about the End of the World”

15 March 2006

Richard Baxter on Pride

The March edition of Pen&Pulpit is published here.

14 March 2006

The Tables Turned

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ‘tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

—William Wordsworth

12 March 2006

Matthew Arnold on the Vanity of Toil

A section of Arnold's poem "A Summer Night" captures the emptiness I'm sometimes tempted to feel about my work. I pray it doesn't end this way for me:


And I, I know not if to pray
Still to be what I am, or yield, and be
Like all the other men I see.

For most men in a brazen prison live,
Where in the sun’s hot eye,
With heads bent o’er their toil, they languidly
Their lives to some unmeaning taskwork give,
Dreaming of naught beyond their prison wall.
And as, year after year,
Fresh products of their barren labour fall
From their tired hands, and rest
Never yet comes more near,
Gloom settles slowly down over their breast.
And while they try to stem
The waves of mournful thought by which they are prest,
Death in their prison reaches them
Unfreed, having seen nothing, still unblest....

Notes on Nina Balatka

In a used bookstore last week I stumbled across and snatched up a copy of Anthony Trollope’s minor novel Nina Balatka. I had been interested in it for two reasons: I adore Trollope’s Barchester novels, and I have an interest in Prague, where NB takes place.

The plot follows the socially unacceptable love between a Christian woman and a Jewish man, and in the end shows how love can span social and religious barriers and conquer all bigotry and hatred. The question of marriage between people from different religions is complicated, and unfortunately Trollope is unable to treat it from any perspective other than a social one. For him religion is not a spiritual reality but merely a social differentiator—one more small-minded way that men distinguish themselves from each other and keep themselves separated. All the Christians and Jews in the novel who oppose the marriage of Nina and Anton do so on grounds that are clearly wrongheaded and indefensible. And Trollope even makes the Church bless their union in that the Priest has no arguments against Nina’s resolute love.

But her love is more than resolute: she swears more than once that she would rather die than deny her love for Anton, and she even says that she would give up her soul if need be in order to have him. Anyone reading from a spiritual perspective recognizes her idolatry, and it baffles me that Trollope would go that far. Everything is subordinated to love, so love now is the only true religion.

In that sense the novel is perfectly frustrating. But Trollope is a skilled writer, and I can see how he wins over the hearts of his readers and persuades them of even so ridiculous a position. There is a nobility in Nina’s love, and it is easy to root for her against her oppressors—because, of course, her oppressors are twisted caricatures, not a single one resembling a Christian with a vital, biblical faith. In fact, it is a wonder in the end that she doesn’t give over her faith completely, since it is so unattractive, so useless, so powerless, so unreasonable.

This is exactly the kind of novel I fear: good writing put to an ultimately evil (or at least wrong-headed) end.

11 March 2006

Can you Define Beauty?

"... when the cold hand of theory reaches for beauty, it will succeed in grabbing everything except the beautiful."

—Walker Percy, "Metaphor as Mistake"

09 March 2006

Behaviorists and Dog Spit

"Instead of having behaviorists trying to explain language by stimulus‑response theory, why not try to account for behaviorists by a larger theory of language (for after all the behavior of behaviorists is notable in that it is not encompassed by behavioral theory: beha­viorists not only study responses; they write articles and deliver lec­tures setting forth what they take to be the truth about responses, and would be offended if anyone suggested that their writings and lectures were nothing more than responses and therefore no more true or false than a dog's salivation)?"

—Walker Percy, "The Delta Factor"

The Sovereignty of the Amateur

"I make no apologies for being an amateur in such matters, since the one thing that has been clear to me from the beginning is that language is too important to be left to linguisticians. Indeed everything is too important to be left to the specialist of that thing, and the layman is already too deprived by the surrendering of such sovereignty."

—Walker Percy, "The Delta Factor"

07 March 2006

One Sure Way not to See the Grand Canyon

Every explorer names his island Formosa, beautiful. To him it is beautiful because, being first, he has access to it and can see it for what it is. But to no one else is it ever as beautiful—except the rare man who manages to recover it, who knows that it has to be recovered.

Garcia Lopez de Cárdenas discovered the Grand Canyon and was amazed at the sight. It can be imagined: One crosses miles of desert, breaks through the mesquite, and there it is at one’s feet. Later the government set the place aside as a national park, hoping to pass along to millions the experience of Cárdenas. Does not one see the same sight from the Bright Angel Lodge that Cárdenas saw?

The assumption is that the Grand Canyon is a remarkably interesting and beautiful place and that if it had a certain value P for Cárdenas, the same value P may be transmitted to any number of sightseers—just as Banting’s discovery of insulin can be transmitted to any number of diabetics. A counterinfluence is at work, however, and it would be nearer the truth to say that if the place is seen by a million sightseers, a single sightseer does not receive value P but a millionth part of value P.

It is assumed that since the Grand Canyon has the fixed interest value P, tours can be organized for any number of people. A man in Boston decides to spend his vacation at the Grand Canyon. He visits his travel bureau, looks at the folder, signs up for a two-week tour. He and his family take the tour, see the Grand Canyon, and return to Boston. May we say that this man has seen the Grand Canyon? Possibly he has. But it is more likely that what he has done is the one sure way not to see the canyon.

—Walker Percy, "The Loss of the Creature"

05 March 2006

Face to Face

Face to face with the Lord,
Wisdom, understanding, counsel avail nothing.

—Proverbs 21:30, Revised English Bible

Speaking of God

"We are speaking of God—is it surprising if you don’t understand? A pious admission of ignorance must be preferred to a rash profession of knowledge. To touch God to some extent with the mind is a great bliss, but to grasp him altogether is impossible."


Do I Know Enough?

"I know only enough about God to want to worship him…."

—Annie Dillard

The Pole of Great Price

"After all, one of the few things we know about the Absolute is that it is relatively inaccessible. It is that point of spirit farthest from every accessible point of spirit in all directions. Like the others, it is a Pole of the Most Trouble. It is also—I take this as given—the Pole of Great Price."

—Annied Dillard

Sufficient Sensibility?

"On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?"

—Annie Dillard