Sunday, September 28, 2008

Merry Michaelmas

I figure it's late enough on Michaelmas Eve for me to put up a Michaelmas post here. Be sure to look over at What's Wrong with the World tomorrow for a deluxe version with the reading from the Apocalypse for Michaelmas in both English and Latin.

The thing I like about the above image of St. Michael the Archangel is that he looks undeniably masculine. It's true that he looks maybe a bit too much like a fantasy hero on the cover of a book, but even if so, he's a classy fantasy hero. Too many St. Michael images, even those with a really cool picture of Satan being stabbed by Michael's spear (which unfortunately this one lacks), make Michael's face look feminine. That drives me crazy, because if there is one masculine person in the Army of Light, it's St. Michael.

As C. S. Lewis said, the true opposite to Satan is not God but St. Michael. Both of them are angels, only Satan is a fallen angel, and Michael is a good angel. It looks, if we take Revelation relatively literally, as though God has given to Michael the special job of defeating Satan, and even though the reading refers to Satan's original fall, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if St. Michael were heavily involved in the final binding and throwing into the Lake of Fire at the end of the story when the good guys finally win.

I have a quarrel with John Milton: When he does the war in heaven, he has the Son come in a chariot and throw Satan out of heaven. Now, it's surprising that Milton should allow himself to be unbiblical, Puritan and biblicist that he was. But I think that here Milton's Arianism got the better of him. For in Milton's theology, the Son is the true opposite of Satan. The good angels are not able to defeat him, and heaven is getting all ripped up and such, so the Son has to come with irresistible might and fling him and his armies over the battlements of heaven. The flinging over the battlements ("with ruinous combustion down/Who durst defy th'omnipotent to arms") is great. But it should be Michael who does it.

Michaelmas--specifically, the reading from Revelation--reminds us of several important things: 1) At the end of the book, we win. That is, if we are on the side of God. 2) It's not wrong to win by fighting. Evil should be fought. 3) Things aren't going to be pretty between now and the end, because Satan has been given the freedom to roam around down here on earth and cause all kinds of trouble. 4) From a God's-eye view, Satan's remaining time is short. That's a comfort even for those of us whose threescore years and ten will be long over before it's all over.

Blessings to all my readers, and in particular, a Merry Michaelmas!

Hymn of the Week--"Deck Thyself, my Soul"

This morning we sang in church one of the loveliest communion hymns the 1940 Hymnal contains: "Deck Thyself, My Soul, With Gladness." I've been searching around the web for something that gives the harmony correctly.

The cyberhymnals have all the words--indeed, an extra verse I didn't even know--but the music just sounds so awful. The best way to show anyone who doesn't know the hymn the way it should sound is to link this Youtube video of an Episcopal congregation and choir singing it during a procession. The only PC change I detect in the words is in the second verse. The line "Joy, the sweetest man e'er knoweth" has been altered to get rid of 'man'.

The hymn tune and, I assume, the harmonization, are by Cruger (with an umlaut over the u). Bach apparently wrote several things "based on" it, but while this one is very beautiful, I have to confess that I can detect only a distant relation to the original tune.

If you sing the hymn with attention, it's really impossible to come away gloomy. It has the effect that its words intend--inviting us to "leave the gloomy haunts of sadness" and rejoice in the opportunity to come and receive the Holy Communion, which Christ has provided for us by his great goodness and humility. Here is the first verse:

Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness;
Come into the daylight’s splendor,
There with joy thy praises render
Unto Christ Whose grace unbounded
Hath this wondrous banquet founded.
Higher o’er all the heav’ns He reigneth,
Yet to dwell with thee He deigneth.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

New W4 post on the Problem of Evil

This is my blogging contribution to the world for the moment. I was away all day Friday, which is of course most unusual.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Autobiography--My debt to the Rev. Frank Buckley

I've neglected this personal blog a bit lately, but for those of you readers who check in from time to time or trickle by, I've decided to start to be a little more autobiographical.

Many a year ago (but not too many) I was a bratty, funny-looking small child. My parents were not wealthy, not by a long shot. They always insisted that we were middle-middle-class, but looking back now, I don't think I would say that. My dad was a wood finisher and unionized in Chicago, so he made a decent-enough wage for someone with no education beyond high school--the kind of job that I understand is increasingly rare nowadays. But sending two children to Christian school was a huge drain on the family finances. So in dealing with my peers I had to contend not only with my own unpleasant personality but also with the odd clothes which were the only things we could afford. For several years, when I outgrew a dress, it became a shirt, to be worn over pants.

I have a tiny, dark, black-and-white photo of myself at age seven or eight, in one of these dresses-turned-shirts, my hair in two ponytails, sitting on the knee of Rev. Frank Buckley, a child evangelist who came every year to the camp we went to in the summers. (As you can see, the photo above is not this one but a clearer one.)

That camp, Camp Manitoumi in Lowpoint, IL, was the most beloved, beautiful spot on earth to me. I won't go on about it at the moment but may do so in a later post. Suffice it to say that my greatest sympathy for people who talk about "patriotism as loving the soil" comes not when I think about my actual home, which was in the ugly and smelly megalopolis of Chicago, but when I think about the place where I spent every possible moment in the summer--Manitoumi.

Pastor Buckley must have been in his forties at that time, though it was hard to tell. His very short, dark hair was just greying at the temples. He loved children as I think it is given to few active, handsome men in their forties to love children, especially when the children are not their own. Every year, year after year, he came to camp and spoke twice a day to large numbers of assembled children for a good, long time. He had a dummy named Charlie, and I never once got tired of their routines, even though I had them memorized after a few years. He led the singing, he did the ventriloquism act, and he gave the sermons. He was the whole show. One man. Occasionally he brought his grown son, and they played snappy trumpet duets, but I don't remember much about the son. As I remember it, Pastor Buckley ran the children's programs for family weeks for many years. That would have been a large age-range, from perhaps seven years old until the children were old enough that their parents took them into the adult services. He did junior weeks for eight- and nine-year-olds, and I was thrilled to find by the time I was in the 11- and 12-year-old weeks that he was doing those, too.

Pastor Buckley was a fundamentalist of the old school. The only type of clothes I can ever remember seeing him wear were dark pants and a blindingly white, starched shirt, sometimes with a tie. As I recall, he dressed like this--without the tie--even when playing softball or riding a horse. There was no air conditioning at camp, and his only concessions to the heat were to unbutton his cuffs, roll his shirtsleeves up, and unbutton the top button of his collar. He gave amusing sermons against women's makeup, sermons that were impossible to take offense at because he wasn't ranting, just telling "stories" (the factuality of which I rather doubt) like the one about the time he said to a woman wearing green eye-shadow, "Excuse me, ma'am, but I think you have something growing on your eyelids." (He had a soft accent that I, Yankee that I was, called "Southern." I would now say it was probably a southern Illinois or a Missouri accent.) Nonetheless, I knew he meant it about the silliness of makeup, and I took it to heart, sort of. When I was twelve, some of the other girls in the cabin shared their eye makeup with me. This insanitary activity made me feel quite grown up and pretty (though I must have looked ridiculous), until I ran into Pastor Buckley. I was petrified. Would he say anything? He wasn't the sort of man you wanted to trifle with. He gave me a hug and chatted a bit. Didn't say anything about the makeup. I was tremendously relieved to think he hadn't noticed. But looking back and remembering his penetrating eyes, I'm pretty sure he noticed everything. And understood, too.

The thing about Pastor Buckley was that he stood no nonsense, but he loved the children so much that they trusted and respected him entirely. He never had the slightest trouble with discipline, no matter the size of his child audience. I do not know how it was with other children, because I didn't pay much attention to other children, but I knew that I could tell that he loved me, personally. He watched me grow up to the age of about fourteen or fifteen, when I saw him last. At that time he was still doing the 11 and 12-year-old weeks. I was a worker at camp. That meant, if I could stand the rather physically strenuous regimen, and if I didn't do anything to get myself in trouble, that I could stay there and work all summer long. I remember now playing a piano solo one of those years for chapel. And Pastor Buckley said to the whole group, "I remember Lydia when she was little. All the other kids picked on her. And look at her now." Little did he know (or maybe he did know, after all) that there was still more than a bit of tension between me and my peers. I still had a long way to go to grow up. But the unconditional love and pride in his voice made me feel that I'd come a long way already, and it helped me to keep going.

May God bless all His servants, including Pastor Buckley, who work to bring children to a knowledge of Himself.

Update: I've managed to scan and upload, above, a different picture from the one I describe. The scan of the black and white turned out very fuzzy, and this one is better. I suppose I am ten or eleven here. The quality still is a bit fuzzy. I see from the picture that Pastor Buckley is not wearing the trademark white button-up shirt here, so obviously my memory on that point was faulty.

Update #2: Commentator Lori, below, reminds me, and my parents confirm, that Pastor Buckley's dummy was named Daniel, not Charlie. Extra Thoughts is happy to correct the error, and it's really neat to have someone stop by whose life was also touched by Pastor Buckley.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"The Touch of the Master's Hand"

I apologize to my long-suffering readers for what appears to have been a couple of weeks' hiatus. I've now finished drafting the article I was working on, and I also put up several posts at What's Wrong With the World.

I woke up yesterday with this song running through my head and started croaking it even before I'd had enough hydration to limber up the voice. If you are from any sort of fundamentalist or evangelical Protestant background you will probably have heard it. I'm not sure what year it was put out, but I remember hearing it quite a bit in the 80's. I heard it on the radio the other day. If you drive the car just right here in my town you can pick up the signal from the fundamentalist radio station Rejoice Radio out of Pensacola, FL, at 91.7 FM. I believe their nearest signal tower is in the city about an hour to the north of us. It's in my opinion the best Christian radio station around here. The others are all going screamy. Eldest Daughter complains a lot about the devolution of her favorite moderately contemporary Christian radio station at 91.3, which is becoming steadily less moderate and playing lower and lower quality music.

Anyway, here is a very nice dramatized Youtube version of the song, made apparently by the Mormons, of all things. I don't go to auctions, but it seems believably done. I especially like the portrayal of the man who appears to be stopped from committing suicide in the last verse, though the hand on his shoulder looks a bit odd. "...auctioned cheap to a thankless world" is a particularly telling line. And the statement that the crowd has trouble understanding the worth of a soul is neither more nor less than the truth.

Eldest daughter opines that the song would be even better without the final verse, leaving us to draw the moral for ourselves. I see her point, but the last verse has some good words, too.

It's a catchy tune, too. I hope you like it and get it running through your head. It will do you no harm.