Friday, August 22, 2008

How compromise changes us

I have a new post up at What's Wrong with the World. Since we have at least one very strong McCain supporter on our roster there, and for other reasons too, I have hesitated to put up any free-standing posts on the subject of what's wrong with voting for McCain as the "lesser evil." That he is the lesser evil is not something I dispute. But my position that pro-lifers (and conservatives generally) should not vote for him could have been easily inferred from my comments on many other threads, both some on What's Wrong with the World and some on Zippy Catholic's blog.

In this post, I discuss a little-known series of events in which the National Right to Life Committee voluntarily decided to shut up about the use of tissue from aborted fetuses in scientific research--an issue they had been very vocal on for many years before. I imply, not so subtly, that a factor in their shut-down was their support for George W. Bush, who made it clear early on in his presidency that he had no intention of trying to restore the ban (from the era of Reagan and of Bush, Sr.) on federal funding for such research. In fact, he and his NIH officials considered themselves required to fund such research, or at least not to refuse to fund it because the tissue involved had come from aborted fetuses. And NRLC defended his stance. And now we hear nothing more about the issue from them, nor will we. It's dead.

And why did they do this? They said, because ESCR was so, so, urgent, so wildly important, that everything else must go to the wall for that. But Now they support a candidate who supports not only the existence of ESCR but federal funding for it. So what will they shut up about next?

What does compromise do to us? What it does in the political arena is not unimportant, but fundamentally, what it does in the political arena is a function of what it does to us, of how it subtly changes our priorities, our agenda, our speech, and finally, our worldview.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hymn of the week--Beneath the Cross of Jesus

We sang "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" for our Communion hymn this morning. An excellent pick, and kudos to the rector (who is on vacation) for picking it before he left. This verse especially jumped out at me:

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

As I sang it, almost against my will, this story came to mind. Via Dawn Eden, I learned this week of an "artist" (I use the term with some hesitation) in Australia named Adam Cullen who was at least short-listed for (and it appears may have won) an award known as the Blake Prize for his deliberately mocking and cartoonish painting of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

One judge, Christopher Allen, resigned from the judging panel in protest when his colleagues insisted on including Cullen in the short list. I find it at least notable that originally Cullen was not on the short list and that Allen resigned when the other judges changed their minds and included him. I wonder if the clue to this about face might be found in the words of the chairman (I assume, of the judging committee), "The Blake Prize...embraces diversity in its entries and it is important to us that we remain open to the many styles through which artists engage with the subject area." Uh-huh. Perhaps we could rightly interpret this as, "Even if it means giving prizes to work of no artistic merit, we have to include at least one and maybe more works mocking Christianity every year to prove our transgressive credentials." Hats off to judge Allen. Is it just barely possible he was making an artistic judgement here? (Side note: Somehow I missed the Christian riots over this deliberate offence to what they hold holy. Perhaps someone could give me the links to those news stories...)

But the story doesn't stop there. As Dawn Eden says, the real kicker is in the final line of the Telegraph story, when Cullen gives us his response to the brouhaha: "How can he be so offended? It's just a Jew on the cross."

Um, yeah. Huh. And that's supposed to mean what, exactly?

The more you think about that line, the more unintentional resonances it has. It reminds me of what St. John tells us about Caiaphas--that when he said it was expedient that one man should die for the people, he prophesied though he did not know it. And when Jesus died he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." "It's just a Jew on the cross." Pontius Pilate himself couldn't have said it better. Shaking it off. Telling himself it doesn't matter. How could it matter? How could this obscure Jewish teacher, crucified by the Romans in the first century A.D., matter? Just another of the victims of the cruelty of man in history. Lots of Jews were crucified by the Romans. It's just a Jew on the cross. "All they that see me laugh me to scorn. They shoot out the lip, saying, 'He trusted in God that he would deliver him. Let him deliver him, if he delighteth in him.'" "Come down from the cross, if thou art the son of God."

Cullen is in a long line of the mockers of Jesus on the cross. And all their mockery God Incarnate, the Jew on the cross, took upon himself, and by it they did the will of God against their own will. "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities."

Upon that cross of Jesus, mine eye at times can see the very dying form of one who suffered there for me. (And for Adam Cullen, too, hard as that may be to believe.)

And by his stripes we are healed.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ad blocking software--highly recommended

For some time now I have been getting increasingly annoyed, not to mention alarmed, by the nature of the video ads coming up on Yahoo. I use Yahoo a lot, both for e-mail and especially for weather. (I have a touching and irrational conviction that if I stare at the fancy Yahoo weather report and maps long enough, I can make it rain. It's the modern version of a magic rain dance and is doubtless the result of some atavistic racial memories that have been passed down to me from paleolithic forebears.)

I'm not going to go into detail on these ads, but suffice it to say that the girls dancing the Achy-Breaky or whatever it is to celebrate the current mortgage rates are not my chief concern, though that's mildly annoying in its own right. Some of the worst came up when I was innocently shopping for a new bread machine, on consumer's review sites.

So I tried turning off all pictures and other multimedia possibilities on the advanced internet options for IE. That just made the perfectly inoffensive lighthouse on this very blog disappear, as well as all the buttons on blog comments boxes and other legitimate and useful items, but video ads on Yahoo were still swimming into view--literally, because in that case it was a fish swimming around in a bowl. No problem in itself, but an indication that the problem was not solved.

My beloved husband said, "Ask Todd." Well, I tried to be independent for a while but finally gave it up and asked the all-things-computers-omniscient Todd McKimmey via e-mail. And sure enough, he immediately informed me that there is (who'd a thunk it?) ad blocking software out there. He recommended Ad Block Plus for Mozilla Firefox. (I rather gather that his attitude is, "Who would use IE when you could use Firefox?" I have to admit to seeing that point of view.) In the process of stumbling about, I more or less accidentally also downloaded Ad Block Pro, which is for IE. That one is only a 30-day free trial, but it looks like it's just $19.95 to register it after the 30 days, which is nothing for the service. I got the one for Firefox, too, which appears to be free.

Well, I can't begin to say how much nicer a web experience I am now having. All the tacky junk, and even just the ugly and annoying junk, is gone. Even though it isn't exactly bad, I really was getting tired of seeing all the ugly "avatars" I could choose from by clicking on some ad. I would rather be caught dead than be represented by any of the females pictured there! And I hate all that blinking stuff in my face. Plus I don't have to worry about having the kids in the room when some ad for Victoria's Secret ("Mommy, why does that lady have no clothes on?") or something worse comes up. Youngest Daughter is just learning to read, too, and reads everything she sees. Phew! It's a great relief. And the ads disappear nearly without a trace, too. It's not like there are big white blocks in the visual field on the weather site. You really have to look to try to figure out even where those ugly ads would be. Not that I care. I'm just glad they are gone. It's great!

It doesn't solve all Internet problems, but it's one big step in the right direction, especially for those of us who are careful about the sites we go to anyway.

Varia--Clothes, Pharisees, etc.

The gospel reading today was Jesus' parable of the publican and the pharisee. (The epistle was I Cor. 15, which is tremendously important and about which I've been talking recently elsewhere, but I'll stick to the gospel for this post.)

In the 70's and 80's I was a big fan of Ken Medema, and I still like his old material. It's very hard to find anymore. His version of this parable is "Mr. Simon." I love the 70's recording, which I have on both tape and CD, but unfortunately it's not available anywhere that I can find on-line to link to. Ken has re-recorded the song with, in my opinion, a much inferior musical accompaniment. The 70's accompaniment was just piano and illustrated Ken's inimitable piano style. The vocals on the new version are also not as good, IMO, being exaggeratedly sarcastic rather than letting the words speak for themselves. But you can't get around the words. I'll let you listen to it in the new version if you're so inclined. The last lines are the best: "Two men walked into the church upon that Sunday morn. One left slightly wrinkled; the other left reborn." Ouch.

One of the best fictional treatments of the parable comes from an unexpected source. Agatha Christie wrote a number of straight (i.e., non-mystery) novels under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott. Her novella Absent in the Spring, written under that name, makes excellent use of Christ's parable. The main character actually thanks God that she is not as an old schoolmate whom she meets again unexpectedly after many years. I highly recommend the novel, without claiming that it is great literature. But it is well-crafted and unexpectedly convicting.

Finally, I hope this will not play into the "Pharisees" theme in any ironic fashion, but I do want to tell my lady readers about another clothing site I have found that has the potential to supply a lot of clothing needs, not just dresses. No children's clothes, unfortunately, but they have a good line of petites that really are petite, which is useful to know for present or future teen daughters. The company is Blair, and they have classy, modest jeans for women as well as nice dresses and skirts. I've just bought several pair of excellent-fitting jeans for Eldest Daughter in their smallest petite size, which is smaller than the smallest petite size I've been able to find anywhere else. This skirt is really nice--the cloth a little thin, but the style modest and pretty, and incredibly comfortable. (A good price, too.) It reminded me (and this is high praise) of what C.S. Lewis says about clothes in Narnia: "In Narnia your good clothes were never your uncomfortable ones. They knew how to make things that felt beautiful as well as looking beautiful in Narnia: and there was no such thing as starch or flannel or elastic to be found from one end of the country to the other." I have to admit that this does have an elastic waist, but it's a gentle one, and the skirt sounds nice and swishy when you walk. I recommend the navy floral. The selection at the site is wide-ranging, and the clothes remind me roughly of the clothes you could buy, but can't find there any longer, at J.C. Penney's some fifteen years ago.

I found Blair linked from a sort of link consortium at one woman's site to which I wish I could give a hat tip, only I didn't save her URL. She had a whole bunch of "modest clothes" links. Lilies Apparel, which I have featured here before, was mentioned there, but none of the others except Blair seemed super-useful, especially since it's not clear that they are active sites. (I e-mailed a query to one of them and didn't get a reply.)