Saturday, September 28, 2013

More from Lizette Woodworth Reese

I finally got my copy of Lizette Woodworth Reese's Selected Poems through interlibrary loan. [Digression concerning silly bureaucracy: I got no notification that my ILL book was in at the branch where I'd chosen to pick it up. Eventually I called the main library and asked. The extremely nice and helpful reference librarian informed me apologetically that it had been sitting and waiting for me at the branch for so long that it might have already been sent back to its home library. The reason that I had not been notified? I had set up notifications by telephone rather than e-mail. As it turns out, ILL notifications go out only by e-mail. So if you don't have e-mail notifications enabled, in effect you can't really use the interlibrary loan service, because your requested books will just be sent back without your knowing they ever arrived. The reference librarian quite agreed that this is a senseless procedure. When I went to pick up the book and was musing with the librarian at the branch, however, she cheerfully advanced the hypothesis that perhaps telephone notifications aren't sent on ILL books because they are sometimes unreliable. You know, sometimes people's numbers have been disconnected. Um, I see, so sending no notification at all is preferable to the unreliability of telephone? Makes sense to me. Anyway, I rescued it before it was sent back to its home library. End of digression.]

The book has many real gems, and I ought to write up a longer appreciation some time. Here is one:


BATTLES nor songs can from oblivion save,
  But Fame upon a white deed loves to build:
From out that cup of water Sidney gave,
  Not one drop has been spilled.

Here is another:

                                     Wild Geese
The sun blown out;
The dusk about:
Fence, roof, tree--here or there,
Wedged fast in the drab air;
A pool vacant with sky,
That stares up like an eye.
Nothing can happen. All is done--
The quest to fare,
The race to run--
The house sodden with years,
And bare
Even of tears.
A cry!
From out the hostelries of sky,
And down the gray wind blown;
Rude, innocent, alone.
Now, in the west, long sere,
An orange thread, the length of spear;
It glows;
It grows;
The flagons of the air
Drip color everywhere:
The village--fence, roof, tree--
From the lapsed dusk pulls free,
And shows
A rich, still, unforgotten place;
Each window square,
Yellow for yellow renders back;
The pool puts off its foolish face;
The wagon track
Crooks past lank garden-plot,
To Rome, to Camelot.
A cry!
One of the best things in the book is a single stanza of a poem that is otherwise not as strong, the poem "Growth." Here is the stanza, which deserves to stand by itself:

Nor is the last word said;
Nor is the battle done;
Somewhat of glory and of dread
Remains for set of sun.
That one has appeared in my latest post at What's Wrong With the World. The post is on the subject of the glory of lost causes.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

CPS post at W4

Just in case I have any new readers here who don't regularly check the group blog I belong to, What's Wrong With the World, here's a nudge: I have a new post just up at W4 (short for "What's Wrong With the World") about the "forced home visitation programs" you may have been hearing about in Obamacare. No time to cross-post here, but do go and read it if interested.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Walk On

Continuing in my never-ending quest to bring more unexpected things together, here's a quotation from C.S. Lewis paired with a song by the Isaacs, one of Gospel music's most musically talented groups.
No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Egalitarian anti-materialism [Updated]

[Update: See commentator Chris's remark below. Turns out the comic was drawn by an admirer of Watterson, based on some comments Watterson gave in a speech, not by W. himself. My apologies. I do, of course, stand by my point that the comic is tacitly, in fact almost matter-of-factly, feminist in its view of the relations of the sexes and that Christian conservatives should at least make some objection to this in approving of the comic.]

A couple of my friends on Facebook have linked this cartoon recently, apparently with approval. I don't quite have the 'net savvy to figure out how long ago Bill Watterson drew it. Is it new or old for him? Don't know.

Now, the reason everybody, including my Christian friends, likes this cartoon is because it glorifies staying home with the kids and because it warns against materialism. In the abstract, these points do have value.

But it bothers me a leetle bit that the evangelical world, at least, has become so inured to feminism that the unstated egalitarian/feminist message of this cartoon goes unnoticed and isn't even permitted to color their enthusiasm for it. Not even to the point of putting a little caveat at the beginning to the effect, "It would have been better if it were the wife that quit her job to stay home and have the baby, but I still like the message." And one friend did put a caveat when he posted it, but only about the phrase "invent your own life's meaning." I will grant that that has an ominously "sweet mystery of life" sound about it, but c'mon, what about the elephant in the room?

Let's parse this: I won't even call the man in the cartoon "Bill Watterson," though I presume it's supposed to be autobiographical. But let's just call him "the guy." So the guy is bored in his job drawing for a big advertising company. He's tired of climbing the corporate ladder. His co-workers are shallow, and people expect him to work his tail off doing stuff he doesn't care about and then get drunk with the boys at the office at the end of the week. (I don't know if getting drunk the minute the clock strikes five is really all that common in the corporate world, but I'll take Watterson's word for it.) So he quits his job to "create his own meaning" by drawing dinosaurs. Thing is, his wife is pregnant. Heavily pregnant. But not to worry. The wife doesn't say, "You what? You quit your job to draw dinosaurs? But we're just about to have a baby!" No, his quitting his job to have a baby (ahem) is apparently just the same as her quitting a job to have a baby. We're supposed to ignore the fact that, y'know, he's not actually having a baby; she is. No, she puts on her power suit and trots happily off to her job. Apparently her job doesn't bore her like his job bored him. The baby's neonatal infancy is tactfully skipped over. Presumably Mom was able to get back into her power suits lickety split after the baby was born and felt not the slightest tension with her maternal instincts about going off and being the breadwinner. After all, Mr. Mom was at home drawing dinosaurs and taking care of Baby.

We're supposed to applaud all of this as anti-materialist just as we would presumably approve it as anti-materialist if a woman quit her job to focus on her family. Ain't that sweet? Nobody says, "Look, buddy, your wife is pregnant. Man up and draw the jeeps, already. What? You expect her to have the baby and support you, too?" Nah. That would be crass and, I guess, materialist. Not to mention insufficiently egalitarian. I guess his income was just providing unneeded extra cash or something.

I fully understand that perhaps the guy's marriage really is egalitarian, and perhaps his wife really would not have wanted to quit her job, and perhaps they really could do just fine as far as supporting themselves on her income alone.

But I think that Christians who also happen to be political conservatives should at least notice the cartoon's assumption that men and women are simply interchangeable in their roles in the home and in the workforce. It's certainly true that we conservatives applaud if a woman quits her job to stay home with her kids and the family is supported on the husband's income alone. And it's also true that it would be tacky under those circumstances, when hearing the wife rhapsodizing about how much more fulfilling it is to be home with the baby than to be climbing the corporate ladder, to ask how her husband is enjoying climbing the corporate ladder himself. Why? It would be tacky because he's the husband, and she's the wife. She's supposed to stay home with the kids, which of course plenty of women don't think is fulfilling. We're glad to hear of one who does think it's fulfilling. And, yes, that may mean that the husband has to do something that isn't his "dream job." We applaud him for that, too. We don't suggest that he should have stayed home instead, or that they should have flipped a coin to decide which one would continue to work at the boring job. That's because men and women are different.

Watterson thinks of the whole thing solely in terms of the anti-materialist meme, and he presents it as such. It's true that conservatives have rightly appropriated that meme to advocate the one-income traditional family, the family that tightens its belt so the kids don't have to go into daycare or public school. But when we start mindlessly holding on to the anti-materialist meme and cheer heartily for the one-income non-traditional family, and worse, don't even seem to notice that we're doing so, then we have a bit of a problem. Then we're veering towards becoming the semi-conservative, pro-family feminists.

The Watterson cartoon is nice. It's sweet. Really. I say that without intending snark. Better for the little girl to be home with Daddy than to be in daycare. And hey, maybe he'll even home school her. I suppose the feminist, semi-hippy, anti-corporate types might have something in common with us countercultural conservatives after all. But one still has to feel it a bit odd that Mommy is apparently not working in a hippy-owned natural foods store. She looks like she's working in the despised, materialist corporate world! Well, maybe somebody has to in their family to put food on the table. Maybe there'd be a problem if they tried to go back to the land. I'd be the last one in the world to blame them for drawing that conclusion. But at that point the question, "Why the mom and not the dad?" cries out to be asked.

Watterson cheerfully evades that question by having it serendipitously turn out that both parents can "follow their dreams." Not to mention the fact that back in the real world those Watterson dinosaurs proved to be pretty successful in material terms after all. A happy surprise.

Lots of people in the real world don't get to follow their dreams. So they have to ask who works the job and who stays home and changes the diapers. Which means they can't evade the gender role question forever. We might as well face that question now, even if it means not being entirely enthusiastic over Watterson's high-quality, pro-family, anti-materialist cartoon.

O Lamb of God Still Keep Me

Time for a hymn. We sang this in church this morning. It goes to the tune of "Beneath the Cross of Jesus."

O Lamb of God! still keep me
near to thy wounded side;
'tis only there in safety
and peace I can abide.
What foes and snares surround me!
What lusts and fears within!
The grace that sought and found me
alone can keep me clean.

'Tis only in thee hiding,
I know my life secure;
only in thee abiding,
the conflict can endure:
thine arm the victory gaineth
o'er every hurtful foe;
thy love my heart sustaineth
in all its cares and woes.

Soon shall my eyes behold thee
with rapture, face to face;
one half hath not been told me
of all thy power and grace:
thy beauty, Lord, and glory,
the wonders of thy love,
shall be the endless story
of all thy saints above.

I love those words, and they are sung so much less often than "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" that they are still fresh to me.

Related: Tony Esolen has this column about some unimaginably bad songs that, he assures his readers, are actually sung in some churches. (These happen to be Catholic bad worship songs, but that doesn't of course mean that the Protestants don't have examples too.) Just reading it made me thankful beyond measure to attend a church where we sing real hymns.