Sunday, April 27, 2008

New Post on W4 plus the Amazing Disappearing Sent Items

My blogging time this week went into a new post at What's Wrong with the World on a disturbing thing--disturbing to me anyway--I'm starting to learn about forced upward mobility in the corporate world. It's here.

Plus, my conservative soul is vexed to find that Yahoo has changed my e-mail format. Why do they do that? It was fine. Of course, they play it as a great improvement. Can't say I see it. One nifty new aspect is the disappearance of the "save sent items" feature. The "sent items" folder is still there. You just can't turn it on. I haven't found out yet if this is a judgement for my having had it turned off. I don't like to save everything I send, so I usually have it off. Now there's no way to turn it on anymore. I've written to Yahoo help about this three (count 'em, three) times. Each time I get a cute note from what is obviously a computer calling itself George (I hate computers with names) telling me that, because Yahoo likes to provide fast and efficient service, they aren't going to answer my question. It's a pretty simple question: "Has the save sent items feature really disappeared, or is the button just moved? If the former, could you please put the feature back again? I was using it sometimes." But no answer. Just a repeated link to a help page which, of course, doesn't mention this topic.

I definitely think they need to get some good, capitalist customer service going at Yahoo. And they should fire George. I don't think he has a wife computer and baby computers at home to support.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Easter IV

The collect for the fourth Sunday after Easter reads as follows:

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.
Why is this such a great collect? I'm gilding the lilies even to talk about it, but I feel that not enough attention is paid to the great collects of the Prayer Book and that they deserve that we should stop and think about them and, of course, pray them.

Verbally, it is one of those works of liturgical genius which really cannot be improved upon--or at least can't be improved upon anymore. Cranmer translated it from the Latin, but in 1662 the Restoration Prayer Book revisers added the invocation "O God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men." As is so often the case with the Prayer Book, it is amazing that men spaced hundreds of years apart in history should have worked so well together to create the final product. Any sensible person nowadays should shudder at the words "liturgical revision." But the 1662 guys could put something in that really worked.

For the rest of the collect asks God to do something for us that we know from experience is very hard to do. Do we most of the time love and desire what we are commanded by God to love and desire? "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness..." Oh, bother the kingdom of God and righteousness! I want another cup of coffee! I want some potato chips and a fun book! I want some time to myself. I want lovely weather. I want a day off. I want, I want, I want. Not bad things. But not the kingdom of God, either. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above....Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." (The epistle reading for Easter Day.) But how can I seek those things which are above, when I can't even picture them? I don't know what heaven will be like. I don't know what I'll be doing. I don't know what, exactly, it means to desire union with God or the Beatific Vision. So how do I set my affections on them and not on things on the earth?

And so forth. So the revisers were on to something when they put that bit in there about how God is the only one who can order our unruly wills and affections. And Cranmer describes, then, what we want God to do for us--make us love the things that God commands, and desire what God promises. To fix our hearts there where true joys are to be found.

What does God promise? That he will wipe away all tears from our eyes; that there will be no more death nor crying. That he will make us holy and like himself.

Sometimes we have to take it on faith that these are the true joys, because we don't naturally feel that way. Other times, it's easy. It doesn't matter. As Lewis said, our feelings are only things that happen to us. But our hearts are more than our feelings. Our hearts include our unruly wills. And that's why God sends so many sundry and manifold changes into the world. Or at least allows them. They make us long for the patria: "They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city."

What that means is that praying this collect may be inviting some unpleasantness in life, as unpleasantness does, unfortunately, seem sometimes to be required in order to make us love what God commands and desire what he promises. But part of the genius of the collect is that it works, like all great rhetoric, upon the emotions and will. Praying it quiets one's heart and makes one realize that, yes, indeed, true joys are to be found somewhere else, and we should desire to have them, whatever that takes.

So I offer you the collect for the fourth Sunday after Easter, which the editors of The Collects of Thomas Cranmer call "one of the high points of Anglican theology." And I hope it will be of value to you.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

It's okay to push molecules around

I apologize to my long-suffering readers here at Extra Thoughts, if I retain any, for my silence in the last couple of weeks. Spring has finally come to this part of the world, very beautifully indeed. This does not make me any more busy, but it does lead me to drink my afternoon coffee outside and soak up a little sunshine instead of blogging. Which is probably all to the good.

You will see another post or two in the next couple of days, especially since tomorrow's collect is one of the very best in the whole Prayer Book, so I have to blog it. (There, I'm committed.)

But over at What's Wrong with the World I have a deliberately provocative post up about divine and even human intervention in nature. Not very profound. More in the nature of a rhetorical sock to the jaw for people who get all icky about the idea that anybody might push molecules around. Molecules, in my opinion, were meant to be pushed.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Hymn of the Week--Onward, Christian Soldiers

About five years ago a friend said to me, quite confidently, "Do you know what the subtitle of 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' is? 'Crusader's Hymn.'"

It's surprising that so short a statement can contain more than one egregious falsehood, but this one manages it, rather as if I were to point across the room and say, "My uncle over there is a dentist" when in fact I have no uncle and the man across the room is a hockey player.

To begin with, and as my readers probably know, hymns do not have subtitles, and the words under the title of the hymn actually are the name of the tune. Tune names make it easy for hymnodists to mix and match. The practice of naming tunes separately and writing words for them evidently goes back at least as far as the Psalms, where we sometimes find directions at the top of a Psalm along the lines of, "For my chief musician. To be sung to the tune 'Lilies'." The connection between tunes and hymn words is exceedingly varied, and most of the time the tune name has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the words with which we most often sing the tune.

But it doesn't end there. The actual name of the tune to which we now sing "Onward, Christian Soldiers" is not "Crusader's Hymn" but rather the entirely unmilitary and humorous "St. Gertrude." The words were originally sung to a different tune, until the famous Arthur Sullivan wrote this tune to go with them in 1871 and facetiously named it after the wife of a friend of his. I don't know whether he told everyone that this was the origin of the name or whether he was trying to create a puzzle for posterity as everyone hunted for a fictitious connection to St. Gertrude, but if the latter, he has been foiled by, inter alia, the information age. (Search "Gertrude" on the page.)

As a matter of fact, "Crusader's Hymn" is really the name of the tune to "Fairest Lord Jesus," than which nothing less militaristic can be conceived, either musically or in terms of content. Just to make things thoroughly confusing, this tune is also sometimes called St. Elizabeth. I have no idea why the one tune has two different names.

As Darwin observed, false facts are an injurious thing. I never did find out where my friend got that particular factoid. I must assume that it circulates along with other unchecked statements in a sort of spoken version of Wikipedia among slightly leftish evangelical Christians who dislike military language.

By the way, I discovered my favorite verse of this hymn last evening when someone chose it at our hymn sing. Here's verse 2:

At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.

I like that image of hell's foundations quivering and Satan's host fleeing. May it be so.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Latimer supporters threaten Mark Pickup

...but he does not submit. See Mark's story about Robert Latimer, who murdered his disabled daughter and is proud of it, here. I've also blogged about the attempts to silence Mark at What's Wrong With the World, here.