Sunday, September 30, 2007

Songs to Die For III

C.S. Lewis said various things to the effect that we will actually love the things of this world more when we learn not to grasp at them. I have always found this hard to understand, but I think he is almost certainly quite right.

Which brings me to the song, "Home Where I Belong" by 70's country singer B. J. Thomas. (Very short clip of the recording available here.) My long-suffering immediate family is rather tired of this one ever since I found the chords and can play it for myself on the piano. But my sister-in-law says maybe someone could sing it at her funeral. And she's not much older than I am!

It's a rather surprising song for being so light and popular. It seems to me that the first verse of this song gets just the right balance between love of this world and love of heaven. This world is beautiful, but if we have to choose, we should choose heaven. The chorus is a perhaps unconscious echo of St. Paul's statement in Philippians 1 that he would like to die and be with Christ but that it is necessary for him to remain for the sake of others.

Verse 1
They say that heaven's pretty, and livin' here is too.
But if they said that I would have to choose between the two,
I'd go home. Goin' home, where I belong.

Verse 2
Sometimes when I'm dreamin' it comes as no surprise
That if you look you'll find that homesick feeling in my eyes.
I'm headed home. Goin' home, where I belong.

But while I'm here I'll serve Him gladly, sing Him all these songs.
I'm here, but not for long.

Verse 3
One day I'll be sleepin' when death knocks on my door,
And I'll awake to find that I'm not homesick anymore.
I'll be home. Goin' home, where I belong.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


We went kite flying today. Down to a big field known in our family as "the kite field," next to a local public school. There was a football game going on with cute little kids in football gear, but there was enough room for the kites too.

Eldest Daughter captained one kite and I the other, the other two girls to take turns with us once we'd gotten them up, and when we had left some space between us and were trying to launch them, a little boy came up to E.D. She says he asked her, "Will you be my friend?" E.D. is great with kids, and young Leo had a wonderful time with her. He was six. She told him Bible stories and talked with him about the solar system and what animals eat and other fascinating topics. He also got to fly the kite.

When it came time for us to go, it turned out that he didn't know where his mom was. Eventually, with Leo's help, I found his mom with a man at the end of the line of spectators at the game. The man rolled over on the turf, gave a rather hard laugh, and said, "Hey! We've been looking for this cat." The mom gave a nervous smile and thanked me. I explained where he'd been and that he'd been a good boy. The man said, "You can take him back again." I ignored this and said that we needed to go home. Mom still had nothing to say except a nervous, "Thank you," but the man continued to be voluble. "Hey, I've got twenty bucks I'll give you if you take him with you." My face probably showed what I thought of this witticism; he gave another of his unfunny laughs and said, "I'm just kiddin'." I went on my way, feeling vaguely guilty. I hated to leave a child with them. I can't remember if I said goodbye to Leo, for which I feel specifically guilty.

I looked in the Prayer Book for a collect for children like Leo. Couldn't find one. They all make reference to the child's being a "member of thy Church" and "standing fast in the faith" and stuff like that. Maybe there isn't a collect for everything after all. But pray for Leo anyway.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Phoreign Policy Phobias

I don't want to do too much about foreign policy on this blog. As I said in an e-mail to a friend lately, too much of a focus on foreign policy makes for bores and cranks. So I'll try to make this the last one on foreign policy for a little while, anyway.

But there is a phenomenon I'm noticing on the paleoconservative side that I find rather annoying. It's this business of labeling those who disagree on foreign policy as "phobics." We've had Russophobia and now, a new one on me as of yesterday, Persophobia. This ugly word apparently describes the psychological state of thinking that Iran is, or plausibly may be, a serious threat to other countries and that Ahmadinejad is something more dangerous than a powerless buffoon.

Now, I'm not going to claim to know that Iran is going to a) get nukes and b) use them. But they're very open about getting them. Boast about it loudly. And as for using them, well, Mr. A. may not be nearly as brilliant as he thinks he is, but he does apparently think it would be a cool thing if Israel were wiped off the map. And some of his creepy fans seem to think nuking Israel would be a wonderful idea and are getting all geared up to celebrate. Even if it's true (as some claim) that quite a few of his own people think little of him, it doesn't follow that he would have neither the will nor the de facto authority to use nuclear weapons if they were available. It certainly doesn't seem to me ridiculous to think that this raving kookball would be dangerous with such power in his hands. It doesn't, for example, seem to rate the kind of snooty scorn heaped upon the head of Rick Santorum for thinking of Iran as a threat or for taking seriously Mr. A's saber-rattling. I'm as prepared to think that Rick Santorum might have some evidence on this subject that I don't have as to think that, say, the writers at The American Conservative (who think very well of themselves) have such evidence. It's certainly possible that if I knew more about the matter, I'd decide that Iran is nothing to worry about. But even then, I don't think I'd ever call anybody "Persophobic."

I don't like the -phobic suffix in this connection for reasons similar to those that obtain with regard to homosexuality or Islam: I don't think the opinions being so labeled are stupid or indicate anything like mental illness, and to label them as if they do is a preemptive strike on normal political discourse. Do I think some views deserve to be laughed out of court? Sure I do. But not only are these not among them, the words "Russophobic" or "Persophobic"--unlike, say, the phrase "Bush Derangement Syndrome" for people who fantasize about disemboweling the President--aren't even a little bit amusing.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I agree with this editorial


I'm feeling more political than liturgical this week, and this got my dander up, so all two of you who come here can follow the link if you want. If you read on you'll find out what it's generally about.

Can anyone give me one really overwhelming reason--more overwhelming than the evil of the "Palestinians" in deliberately shooting rockets at an Israeli daycare and advertising it as a "gift" for the start of the new school year--why the Israelis should continue to supply electricity and water to Hamas-controlled Gaza? Are they crazy? Are we crazy in the rest of the West for demanding this of them? And, here's the 64 million dollar question, if the "Palestinians" really did get the sovereign state they supposedly long for, would the Israelis then be allowed to stop sending them electricity and water?

Cutting off electricity would merely be telling the people of Gaza, "You wanted Hamas. You claim to want independence. Now act even a little bit like grownups and at least try to pretend you don't want all the Jews over here dead. Then maybe we'll start giving you handouts again." This isn't military action. It isn't trying to kill civilians. It isn't murder. It isn't even remotely like what the Gazans try to do to the Israelis day after day. Yet we hear whines about "collective punishment." Give me a break. If any group of people did this to us we'd bomb the heck out of them, probably without too much regard to collateral damage. Yet not giving them electricity is "collective punishment"?

I think some of the more sanguine Israelis think that somehow if they satisfy all the demands from their Western enemies, give the "Palestinians" everything they say they want, except perhaps for the so-called "right of return" to overwhelm Israel with descendents of those who left in 1948, then the rest of the world will leave Israel alone. I say this is a delusion. If the "Palestinians" are given a state, the Israelis will continue to be expected to subsidize them, to send them electricity and water, to let them move freely back and forth across the border to have jobs in Israel, even if the suicide attacks start again. In fact, these things will be demanded of them even more hotly than they are now because of the then-fiction that they have gotten a "peace deal" with the "Palestinians." And these things will be demanded just as unconditionally as they are now.

The policies foisted upon Israel are insane. They must stop. And it is a matter of great indignation to me that some still insist on demonizing that country as the villain of the piece when, in fact, Israel is if anything far too easy-going on her avowed and implacable enemies.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hymn of the Week--The Son of God Goes Forth to War

It occurs to me that all of you poor folks out there who have emasculated hymnals probably don't have this one. Perhaps it's better if you don't have it. I'd hate to think what the feminizers would do to it. Anyway, I find it in both my Baptist and my Anglican hymnals, though we never sang it for some reason when I was growing up. But my father-in-law knows it, so the Baptists in his day must have sung it. Wish I could put up the tune to it. But if you already know it, I hope it gets it humming in your heads:

The Son of God goes forth to war
A kingly crown to gain.
His blood-red banner streams afar,
Who follows in His train?
Who best can drink His cup of woe
Triumphant over pain.
Who patient bears His cross below
He follows in His train.

The middle verses go through the martyr Stephen and the Apostles. My favorite line from the Apostles' verse is "They met the tyrant's brandished steel/the lion's gory mane." For some reason the "gory mane" always makes Eldest Daughter get the giggles. I think that phrase exemplifies some sort of literary form with a Greek name, but I'm not going to guess what it's called. Here's the last verse:

A noble army, men and boys
The matron and the maid
Around the Savior's throne rejoice
In robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of heav'n
Through peril, toil, and pain.
Oh God, to us may grace be given
To follow in their train.

Amen! That's what I mean if I get to church on time of a Sunday morning for the Apostles' Creed in Morning Prayer and say "I believe in the Communion of the Saints." (Middle Daughter, of theological turn of mind, insists the "Communion of the Saints" means we will receive Communion in heaven. I haven't been able to convince her otherwise. I believe hers is the Eastern Orthodox view of the matter, though contrary to Aquinas's.)

Anyway, the Communion of the Saints, that great crowd of witnesses. May grace be given to follow in their train!

Update: Ivan in a thread below tells me that I should try to find recordings of these hymns. I haven't been terribly lucky so far. (I haven't been able to find a good recording of "In Shady Green Pastures" for example.) But here is a page with hymns as found in a Lutheran hymnal, and you can find "The Son of God Goes Forth to War" down the page and hear the tune, if by any chance you didn't already know it. (The harmonization in the Anglican and Baptist hymnals is better, IMO, but ya' can't have everything.)

Collect for the week--Going back to Easter IV

I've decided to call it "collect for the week" when I'm fudgin'. This one is all the way back from Easter IV:

O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

I researched all this years ago and have not looked it up since, but as I recall, the phrase "who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men" was added after the Protestant Reformation, while the rest of it was translated from one of the Latin liturgies. The phrase does have a Calvinist ring to it, but you don't need to be a card-carrying Calvinist to echo the idea: How many times do we try to order our own unruly wills and affections and find that we're right back where we started from? I especially find this to be true when it comes to resenting a wrong done to me in the past. It really is true: You can control your actions, but you can't control your feelings. But God can.

Here again, too, is the theme from the collect I quoted last week: If we love what God commands and desire what He actually promises, as opposed to what we might want, we will not be disappointed.

And there is the inimitable Prayer Book phrasing--"the sundry and manifold changes of the world." Boy, is that ever true. Being emotionally conservative, there are few things I hate more than change, but there are few things more inevitable. Small things: the wallpaper is coming off the walls in my kitchen to such an extent that I'm going to have to have it replaced, which will mean also new linoleum...I hate doing that sort of stuff. And big guys in and out for days doing the work, too. Big things: One loses friends over time. It's a sad thought to remember all the people who have passed out of my life, whether through some actual rupture or just gradually. But this world is not my home and isn't where "true joys are to be found," not even in human friendships.

Autumn thoughts, on a very beautiful autumn day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Songs to Die for--Post II

William Cowper (pronounced "Cooper") was a late 18th century Christian poet who suffered from madness at recurrent intervals. He tried to commit suicide, imagined that people were trying to poison him, and decided that he was doomed to hell. He was a Calvinist, and it's interesting to me to see that Calvinism was a very upsetting doctrine at the time. The Baptist Calvinism with which I was raised (and I'm not even that much of a Calvinist anymore) was a modified version: The idea there was that if you had, on a certain nameable date, accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you could know that you were one of the elect. But if you were a Calvinist in Cowper's time, you were always worrying that maybe you'd been predestined to damnation and just weren't going to find that out for sure until you died.

John Newton, of "Amazing Grace" fame, was a great friend of Cowper's and one of the most unfortunate friends poor, mad Cowper could have had. Newton would write Cowper letters saying that he doubted that Cowper was one of the elect after Newton heard that Cowper had been hob-nobbing with neighbors of whom Newton disapproved. I seem to recall that they were Catholics. Newton seems to have considered them "worldly." This is not the sort of thing you should be saying to a person who goes mad periodically thinking he's damned. Cowper's letters, which I've read with great profit, make sometimes lovely reading and sometimes terribly sad reading, because at the end of his life he was on the seashore and thought that the ships he saw coming were coming to take him away to hell.

Anyway, one of the most famous hymns with lyrics by Cowper is "There is a Fountain Filled With Blood," and two verses of it fit well into my series on songs about heaven. They are joyful verses to sing if you know Cowper's story, because you can think to yourself that now he knows the assurance he felt only temporarily when he wrote these verses. Now he doesn't have to be afraid anymore.

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more.
Be saved to sin no more, be saved to sin no more.
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I'll sing thy power to save.
I'll sing thy power to save, I'll sing thy power to save.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song I'll sing thy power to save.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Trinity XIV Collect

I don't have to argue with myself about whether to have the "collect of the week" this week be the real collect of the week. Some weeks I may fudge on that, if there's a different collect I'd rather talk about. But this is one of the best, for the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity.

Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is a theme in a number of the collects. That for Trinity X, for example, asks that we may "ask such things as shall please thee" in order to obtain our petitions. But it's stated even better here: If we love what we should love and want what we should want, we will have what we want. God's promises surpass all that we could desire or deserve, but that doesn't mean that they are what we imagine or wish them to be.

When I was little, I was always bugging my mother about whether there would be horses in heaven. I figured if I couldn't have a horse on earth, I should get one in heaven. She used to imagine with me that perhaps I'd get to tend the white horses who would be ridden by Our Lord and his armies of the Apocalypse. This seems to me to have been rather catering. But I get similar questions from my girls today, "Will there be dogs in heaven?" is still a burning question for Eldest Daughter, even in her teens, for pretty much the same reason I asked about horses. Only she loves dogs more than horses.

But while we adults may think ourselves less crude in what we hope for from heaven, which really means more vague, we (or at least I) still imagine all too often that God exists to serve us and that the wonderful thing about heaven will be that we don't have to do uncomfortable things anymore. All peace, bliss, joy, and so forth. But "in his will is our peace." The real hope is that we ourselves shall be changed. That is the promise. And that we may obtain it, let us in this life try to learn, just a little, to love what God commands.

Hymn of the Week--Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone

Whether I can keep up a "hymn of the week" feature every Saturday or Sunday remains to be seen, but for this week I'm talking about "Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone." I can't find today on Google the history I found for this a few years ago, but that version said that Thomas Shepherd was a Church of England minister in the late 1600's and wrote only the words to the first verse. (This fits with internal evidence, too, as the other verses sound quite different.) The story went that he preached a sermon for Good Friday about Simon of Cyrene and that the original words were "Must Simon bear the cross alone, and other saints go free?" If so, I'm glad it's been changed, because Jesus said we should take up our crosses and follow Him. Apparently other anonymous folks came in and wrote the later verses, and the tune is a good deal later (mid 1800's), with a sound of "Amazing Grace" to the chords.

Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free?
No, there's a cross for everyone, and there's a cross for me.

Just that first verse is enough to make me squirm a little, and perhaps all the more when I hear my kids singing it. After all, I don't want there to be a cross for me, much less for them. But St. Paul said that if we suffer with Him we will reign with Him. And our Lord said that if we deny Him He will deny us. So I guess we'd best get to it.

Which means no second cup of coffee this morning...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Collect for Trinity IV

So now that I've started this so late in Trinitytide, I'll have to throw in some extra posts on collects to bring in some of the best that have already gone past. Here's perhaps the very best one of the liturgical season (though it's hard to choose):

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

C. S. Lewis has had not one but two comments on this. He has Screwtape say, "Nothing is strong. Very strong." This is when he is picturing for Wormwood the patient grown old and sitting around doing nothing, not even needing pleasures to tempt him to damnation anymore--chilling picture.

Lewis's other is in his wonderful little essay "A Slip of the Tongue," where he says he accidentally prayed that he might so pass through things eternal that he would finally lose not the things temporal. Ouch!

I can't think of much more profound to say about this one, but merely that it bears meditation. Historical note: "things temporal" in the Latin collect translated and modified for the Prayer book was "the good temporal things." (I don't have the exact Latin phrase to hand.) That's striking. That we would pass through the good things of this life in such a way that we finally lose not the things eternal.

I'm off. Gotta get to sleep early tonight before the electric company turns the power off for some mysterious reason. Let's hope they don't make a habit of it! At least they forewarned the neighborhood.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Songs to Die For--Post I

I was once told about a man who would go to the hospital and sit with anyone he knew who was dying. While he sat there, he would sing all the songs he could think of about heaven.
This got me to thinking about all the songs I know about heaven, that I sing around the house pretty frequently. There are so many. Even if they were in the 1940 Hymnal (which none or almost none of them are), they couldn't all be sung at my far-distant funeral. Probably none of them will be. But I'd like to list them somewhere, sometimes a bunch at once, sometimes one at a time.

Here's one: The old spiritual "Poor Wayfarin' Stranger." This one makes a great lullaby. Babies love it. I hope it's burned into my girls' brains from being sung to them in a rocker at ungodly hours of the night, in illness, and during the day to comfort scraped knees. It alludes to Hebrews 11, "They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth... But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly, wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city."

I'm just a poor wayfarin' stranger
A-travelin' through this world of woe,
But there's no sickness, no toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go.
I'm goin' there to see my Savior
I'm goin' there no more to roam.
I'm just a-goin' over Jordan.
I'm just a-goin' over home.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Hymn of the week, collect of the week

This post represents my breaking down and admitting that there are things that can't be done with group blogs that I still want to do. But first, hurray for the new group blog on the block, What's Wrong With the World, and all my colleagues over there. (Hi, guys!)

But one thing I just do not feel I can do over there is to associate my friends there directly with my rather unusual passion for Protestant hymns. The collects from the Book of Common Prayer would be okay, and I expect to put up a post or two there mentioning my evangelical friends and music, but not just saying, "Hey, isn't this a great hymn?" when it's so very, very low.

So I'm breaking down and starting here a feature, which perhaps scarcely anyone will read (unless I advertise it elsewhere), called "Hymn of the week" which will sometimes also include Collect of the Week.

The collect of the week for this week is actually the collect for last week, Trinity XII:

Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

The hymn of the week. Gosh, there are so many that are so good. But you have to start somewhere. So this week it's "God Leads His Dear Children Along." (I warned you. I love "A Mighty Fortress." But everybody knows "A Mighty Fortress." And I'm fortunate enough to be at a church where they don't butcher it, so I don't have to write about the horrible mess the revisers made of it. So the hymns I'm more likely to talk about are the Baptist kind that they don't sing at my church.) Here's the first verse and chorus:

In shady green pastures so rich and so sweet
God leads his dear children along.
Where the water's cool flow bathes the weary one's feet
God leads his dear children along.


Some through the water
Some through the flood
Some through the fire
But all through the blood.
Some through great sorrow
But God gives a song
In the night season and all the day long.

See, if you just read the verse, you'd think it was just a "feel-good" song, wouldn't you? The other verses make it even clearer that it isn't, but the chorus always does. And a good, singable tune, too. Next week, maybe I'll make it "Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone."

Hey, this personal blogging isn't so bad...