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Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

More on Christmas Music

There are some albums that are standards in my group of friends. Kings College Cambridge is one necessity. A Charlie Brown Christmas and Nat King Cole are a couple of others.

I like the Peanuts connection. A Charlie Brown Christmas was created a year before I was born. It captured so much that is timeless. When I was very young I remember my mom and dad coming back from shopping. My dad handed me a vinyl record. It was a before Christmas present that was very unexpected. It was called Snoopy's Christmas. It included a song called "Snoopy's Christmas" that had originally been recorded by the Royal Guardsman about a fight between Snoopy and the Red Baron on Christmas Eve. I found a CD last year with the original recording, and bought it with a gift certificate.

Yesterday I headed over to Barnes and Noble to check out Christmas music. I had it in mind to buy the Praetorius Mass for Christmas Morning (recommended by John Halton and more recently by Drew) if it was in stock. But I wasn't going to order if they didn't, since I wanted something new to take home with me. Well, they didn't have it.

What I did find was an album by the Chieftains called The Bells of Dublin. The first track opens with the ringing of what sounds like massive church bells. Sold! But there was more—much more. This includes a Celtic sounding version of The Rebel Jesus sung by Jackson Browne. It also has performances by Elvis Costello, Nanci Griffith (hear that Kepler?), Rickie Lee Jones, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and others.

This album provides Christmas mood without the associations of being bloated and drowsy after a debauch of eating. It isn't sugary. But neither does it sound like all the other modern CDs that try to wash out the sweet through acoustic guitar, but which all sound alike.

2:40 pm Pacific Standard Time

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Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

iTunes Christmas Music

Is anyone else putting together iTunes Christmas albums this year? I've only started, and find the process to be beset by something approaching ADD. I click from link to link, artist to album to song and back. Though I'm pleased with the few results I've had. I'm up to four selections. (As I said, this is early on.)

Currently I have the following:

Corde Natus ex Parentis (Of the Father's Love Begotten)
Richard Proulx & The Cathedral Singers

This hymn is sublime. It is on few Christmas albums, so I intend to rectify that for my own.

Il est né, le divin enfant
Cambridge Clare College Orchestra, Choir of Clare College, Cambridge & John Rutter

We sang this in fourth grade. We had French once a week, and around Christmas time, the teacher arranged a French chorus. What I love about this is just how deeply Christian a carol we were able to get away with singing in the public schools back then. Lines that translate to "He is born, the divine child" and

        'Tis four thousand years and more,
        Prophets have foretold His coming,
        'Tis four thousand years and more,
        Have we waited this happy hour.

The teacher also showed us slides of Paris at Christmas, so the carol gets me nostalgic for something I never experienced. (Isn't that convoluted? But so is so much Christmas emotion. Well, there are some things I'll still choose to get sick on. I just have to really like them.)

The Coventry Carol
American Boychoir

These voices sound like a cross between the choir from Harlem that sung for the movie Glory and the Indians who sang in the movie The Mission (without the nasal resonance). They offer an a cappella rendition of this haunting melody. It's nearly seven minutes long. Don't expect brightness here, except perhaps a glow in the midst of the dark stable.

The Little Drummer Boy
Harry Simeone Chorale

This recording reminds me of some that I have heard since childhood. This carol fits right after the last one. These two together take you into the stable to contemplate the Incarnate one who came to very humble circumstances to save us.

If anyone else has compiled some songs in the past, let me know. You can even list your lounge or rat pack lists. But I am especially interested in either more classical fare, or fare that has some kind of memory attached, where you couldn't believe you found the recording after all this time.

[After posting, I noticed Jeremy had begun a similar discussion at Eating Words. His question is more general and people seem to be answering with albums. Mine is looking for specific songs if possible that can be downloaded individually.]

9:59 pm Pacific Standard Time

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Monday, November 20th, 2006


The latest issue of Addenda, the newsletter from Mars Hill Audio, hit my inbox this morning. There is always a lot of great material to consider. From Addenda I hit the link to the back issues and the past conversations. One that caught my eye was a conversation with Dr. Russell Hittinger on whether society exists. This conversation occurs as an answer to Margaret Thatcher's claim that society does not exist. There are individual people and families, and it is those that the government must work through. Hittinger says that both conservatives and liberals failed to question Thatcher's assumption that society must mean government. He says that Catholic social teaching offers a robust and developed answer to this idea.

As a libertarian, I had a tendency to make Thatcher's mistake in the past. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I made this mistake back in my Republican days, and had been delivered from it before becoming libertarian. I want to explain some of the development of my own thought on this matter.

One idea that worked its way slowly against this was actually the writing of John Stuart Mill. In On Liberty, Mill argued for a minimal state. But alongside his argument for the minimal state seemed to be an argument for a strong society with other kinds of sanctions against bad behavior. I realized that this is was often the missing element in modern life. If threat of jail is the only restraint you have on behavior, you won't be able to expect much from people. But social pressure can have all kinds of power over people in situations the state would not consider meddling in.

Another point of reconsideration was when I was at Gordon-Conwell and we read Habits of the Heart for Os Guinness's class. The phrase "habits of the heart" came from Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Such habits were internalized ways of thinking about one's place in society. Without them, there was very little to restrain behavior. But de Tocqueville was impressed because in America, where there were fewer external constraints on behavior than you would have found in other places, society seemed to be quite healthy.

The part of Habits of the Heart that really challenged me was the discussion of "ontological individualism." The authors asserted the position was wrong. I was inclined to find their case against it unconvincing. But I decided to think more on the subject. I wondered what could count against ontological individualism. I soon hit upon a very clear one: language. Language was an objectively existing factor which would serve to bring together one society, or wall one society off from another. Individuals were not such self-contained units that just any group of individuals would function together as well as any other, even if they self-selected their grouping on shared interests and values.

Later, in the early days of Christians United for Reformation, Mike Horton had a reading group on Postmodernism which met at his house. In some of the discussions I remember one member bringing up the importance of mediating institutions between the individual and the government. The church was such an institution. I found this to be a very important idea.

From my current perspective, I am surprised to find conservatives, whether Libertarians or Republicans, suggesting that there is no society. I'm sure that what they're trying to achieve is often important. They want the individual's "pursuit of happiness" to be unhampered by a state which will spend the individual's money on ends it thinks best—that is, ends which give those running the state a sense of vicarious philanthropy to spend on. But I don't want "pursuit of happiness" to devolve into mere consumerism, either. I want individuals to be free to associate in mediating institutions that will bring individuals into contact with broader traditions that have histories and cultures of thinking that make the current political questions seem ephemeral. I want to see weaker government in large part because I am convinced that society does exist, and makes demands on us. Those demands may not be legalistically enforced. But it is close enough to us that it does not need the long arm of the law to extract tribute from us. Face to face with us it will compell in other ways.

2:08 pm Pacific Standard Time

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Friday, November 17th, 2006

YouTube Discourse

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, I wanted to comment a bit on the discourse on the comments found underneath the video on the page at YouTube. I find it truly scary. It seems that a majority of the posts are some variation of either "Fascist pigs!" or "He should have been tazed more times." (Or "Republican" or "They should have tazed you.") Few are the thoughtful comments on either side. I find this disturbing because I want to live in neither a police state where everyone is okay with any police action whatsoever, nor an anarchic place where one year citizens throw rocks at the cops when they are doing their job and the next we're living under Sharia.

What I want is a place where this gets discussed in a civil manner. It can be heated. I see some room for heat on both sides. A lot is at stake in both directions. As the level of discourse descends, it seems more likely that authorities will feel the need to treat the populace like children.

Since posting last night, it has become clear, in part through UCLA student Kepler's comment, that requiring ID was standard procedure, demonstrating that this was not the singling out of a foreigner. If I still have problems with what I saw they are on another level. Not the requiring of ID. Not the removal of the man from the library. But this kind of use of power is still troublesome. If more Arab men make more demonstrations like this, it can go one of two ways. Either people decide to back down from security, or they decide they still need security, and we become used to watching people dragged off by police. I think the latter is likely. I want to say that perhaps the latter can be justified. Yes, in each case it might be argued that what was done was just. But when we become hardened towards this, what will the result be? Do you want to live in a world where if you were dragged from the library yelling nobody would even look up from his or her laptop?

I think the police could have used less force to achieve their results. If the cost proved high, then I think the university should have expelled the man.

I will say that whatever their motives or positions on the matter, the UCLA students were not docile workerbees. They filmed the incident and questioned what was going on.

We're living in a world of quick fixes. The airlines are at risk? Federalize them. But people still feel threatened. And so the issue of profiling comes up. But I have to wonder if we're really looking at risk in a broad enough manner. When we federalize and say we're going to bail out airlines that get hit by terrorism, we're saying the airline is not really the party at risk. And what can the Federal government lose if their plan fails. An election? Probably one much later than the responsible parties have to worry about. The only way to have real freedom is for people to recognize the risks, and then plan accordingly.

I look forward to the day when some Arab man decides to attempt an honor killing in our country, and some Arab woman with a concealed carry permit shoots him dead. That will clarify all kinds of things.

12:12 pm Pacific Standard Time

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Thursday, November 16th, 2006

UCLA Student Tazed in Library

Watch this video of a student being tazed at UCLA. Can you think of a good reason for this? Several things come to mind when I see things of this nature. One is that we don't have a context for what came before. I will often have to cut slack for police when I see things like this without knowing what provoked the situation. But this is in a library. What reason could they have for tazing someone? Do you feel safer watching this, or more like you don't know what may happen to you in a public setting?

From what I read, this had to do with the student refusing to show an ID card. When police tried to escort him out, he went limp.

The idea behind the ID cards is that this is one way to ensure that students are safe on campus late at night. Given that young women are likely a substantial part of the student body, this is a genuine concern.

Here there are a number of social values that come into conflict. Young men like the freedom to come and go as they please. For many of them, that is a primary value. Being scrutinized by armed authority figures is not something they submit to happily. For the security-conscious among us, this is not easily understood. Or people are quick to say, "Well, your desire for freedom is well and good. But there is real danger in the world, so you have to give up some of that for the safety of everybody."

The question is, should people know when they are walking into such situations? Is every state owned school such a situation? Would we face the same situation at a private college? Are people informed of such policies during orientation? Can a situation like this rightly be sprung on someone without prior warning? Students who came to the library to study got an education in a subject they didn't know they were enrolled in.

Are there other, better ways to ensure security? Unless he later turns out to be a terrorist, which I highly doubt, I admire this young man for bringing to light what actions the police are willing to take in a situation like this. It may get the school to reconsider how it maintains security. I won't say that I think I have a perfect alternate plan for them. I'll just say that at a time when people are making these decisions too smoothly, some bumps in the road may serve a good purpose.

For those of you who think I've gone soft, I think a very different prescription may be in order for European capitals where honor killings are going unpunished. Maybe we could have an exchange program for cops. Send ours over to Europe where more toughness is needed, and bring theirs over here where respect for civil liberties should not be a lost cause.

8:32 pm Pacific Standard Time

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Monday, November 6th, 2006

Hypocrisy: Did He Practice What He Preached?

The Ted Haggard scandal is by now pretty universally known. I felt like registering my own position on this. I do this knowing that each day might change the look of the situation. I do this more to discuss general principle than to get to the bottom of the actual situation.

First, what is likely new information to many. I found a recently updated wikipedia entry on him. Some of the details suggest that as bad as aspects of this situation are, Haggard is not to be classed in the "hardcore hypocrite" category like Swaggart. Yes, he lived a double life, including deception. But his stance on homosexuality was not quite what media coverage had led me to believe.

First, Haggart, though he opposed gay marriage, was open to the idea of civil unions. That removes him from the far reaches of the right wing on the issue. Second, in his ministry to gays, he would go to gay bars and invite the men to church. (Okay, joke all you want here. But then get serious.) This suggests a lower level of homophobia than media coverage might lead people to expect.

The scandal has been discussed at National Review Online. David Frum wrote about how hypocrisy is not such a bad thing. His post mentioned how someone who has chosen to fight such inclinations is to be thought of more highly than one who gives in and makes it a lifestyle. On that I agree. But he went further to say "In every other avenue of life, we praise people who rise above selfish personal wishes to champion higher principles and the public good." Yes. The question for me, however, is whether or not a personal battle in this area should change the nature of how someone engages in the fight.

Now, my initial reaction to Frum's post came at a point where there were more admissions of guilt on Haggard's part than when Frum wrote, and when I knew less of Haggard's actual stance in his fight on gay marriage than I do now. I don't know how to view Haggard's life as a whole at this point. And as a Lutheran, I don't feel called to offer a judgment. If this issue is valuable for anything, it is valuable for what it says about principles. (As a sidenote, though it should be a definitive argument by itself, we cannot agree with Frum that hypocrisy is a virtue when Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees over it. We hate it because he hated it first.)

My argument will be that Frum has missed a principle here. It has to do with the fact that you cannot separate the public from the private and argue that the good done in public, through communication, outweighs the evil done in private. Perhaps on some calculus of effects in the world, this is true. But when we look at a person to decide how good or how evil—and I would suggest we not do this for the sake of judging, but for determining whether WE should act according to such a calculus—we must give more weight to personal behavior. If some dietician on the radio makes a living telling women, "No food tastes as good as being thin feels," and then we find out later she regularly gorged, it suggests she really doesn't believe her own lines.

With Haggard, however, I find that my question has shifted. I am not inclined to excuse any hypocrisy. I may forgive it. But it is not to be excused. I think the better question is whether or not what he did was really hypocrisy in the first place. Was his preaching a preaching he did not practice? I don't know. I have no idea what his pulpit ministry was. But if he was inviting gays to church, his preaching may have been you need to be forgiven of sin. In which case, he was only being a hypocrite if he failed to accept forgiveness himself.

Jimmy Swaggart was a hypocrite. He preached moralism. He preached that God would save people from their sins, but not in their sins. And he sought out prostitutes. I don't know what Haggard preached. So at this point I don't know whether or not he was a hypocrite. So, according to the Lutheran reading of the Eighth Commandemnt, I'll try to put the best construction on things.

In the meantime, some advice to the evangelical community. In Lutheranism, we preach the lectionary. There are assigned texts to preach, and in the three year lectionary, you preach the Bible over three years. There are a limited number of passages which discuss homosexuality. And most of these, though they do mention it as sin, are not, on the whole, about homosexuality. Which means if you preach the lectionary you will offend the culture by calling homosexuality sin. But you will not have room to preach topical sermons on the subject singling out homosexuals for special treatment.

My Presbyterian pastor from the church I grew up in used to say we needed to think of church as "Sinners Anonymous." By that he didn't mean he had a twelve step program to offer us to get us to stop sinning. What he meant, and he made this clear, was that when we walked in, the first thing we had to be able to admit was that we were sinners. When that is made very clear at the outset, there is less room for charges of hypocrisy. Does anyone who gets caught drinking get accused of hypocrisy for going to A-A?

I am worried for Haggard at this point. I hope his marriage survives. I hope he doesn't decide that now that things are public it's easiest to live in open sin. He's going to need a lot of support and prayer. While I'm glad he's no longer in leadership at his church, I hope he doesn't get made into a pariah. He needs a lot of help, and the people helping him had better understand that they probably don't know how to help him very well. I have doubts as to how effective any "restoration program" might be. But keeping him involved in the congregation—assuming the Gospel is preached there by his successor—may have great healing power, whether his personal battle can be brought to any conclusion or not.

12:28 pm Pacific Standard Time

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Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

Quote from Max Weber

Max Weber was a great Sociologist (that is ALMOST an oxymoron) from a century ago. While most theories in the field last a few years at most, his have stood the test of time. I learned about him in my undergrad years where Dr. Manske introduced us to his main thesis. He has long been on my "to be read someday" list, but Siemon-Netto bumped him up.

That great historic process in the development of religions, the elimination of magic from the world which had begun with the old Hebrew prophets and, in conjunction with Hellenistic scientific thought, had repudiated all magical means to salvation as superstition and sin, came here to its logical conclusion. The genuine Puritan even rejected all signs of religious ceremony at the grave and buried his nearest and dearest without song or ritual in order that no superstition, not trust in the effects of magical and sacramental forces on salvation, should creep in.
[Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, (New York: Scribner, 1958) p. 105.]

Weber is using the term "magic" here in a pretty broad sense, although I must say, when my Presbyterian pastor explained infant baptism, he said that it was "not magical" in the sense of conveying salvation itself. So in large portions of the Reformed world, Weber's use is standard.

What is interesting here is that once this outlook is adopted, it becomes a ruling understanding that will cause readers of the Bible to read it into whatever the Bible has to say about outward practices. They must always be carefully described lest anyone get the idea that there is any connection between an outward practice and salvation. Of course this tends over time to lessen the importance of any practice, and so then people have fewer instances where this question comes to mind. In the end, the whole of religion is completely rationalized, often becoming mere ethics.

I'll have more to say about this in later posts. We are in a late phase in which Reformed ethics have toppled past systems, been secularized, and then seen the very world that they created turn on Reformed thought. Everything becoming one giant market, though it was never what Reformed theology set out to create, may, if Weber is right, be a by-product of Reformed though, at least in our country.

5:40 pm Pacific Standard Time

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Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Jennifer Aniston, Constitutional Scholar

From my title, everyone expects that this post will be about how another Hollywood liberal has said something stupid in the arena of politics. Actually, this post will head in another direction. In one of my favorite of her roles, that in Office Space, Aniston's character Joanna is discussing the ethical problems with the software scheme being explained by Ron Livingston's character Peter. Peter's software is supposed to round portions of cents from transactions made by the company he works for and transfer them into an account he has set up. (The same scheme, we are told, that was used in Superman III.) Despite the technicalities, Aniston is more clear-headed than he would wish at this point.
      "So you are making a lot of money, right?"
      "Yeah. Right."
      "It's not yours?"
      "Uh, well it becomes ours."
      "How is that not stealing?"
      "I don't think that I am explaining this very well."
That's right, Peter. The problem is not that she understands what is going on and sees what's wrong with it. The problem is that she lacks the technical understanding to see what is going on accurately. Only experts and technicians can understand morality properly.

I thought of this scene while reading a piece on States' Rights. Through various ways, Constitutional Scholars have tried to explain away the sovereignty of the states that came together to form the Union. When it gets right down to it, they don't have a good argument. It's as if they've just said on behalf of the Federal Government, "The states become ours," and that's supposed to be accepted as good enough. We need to continue like Jennifer Aniston, "How is that not stealing?" And not accept it when someone tries to say that this is really a technical question that we are not in a good position to understand.

Questions like this become more urgent as the sovereignty of not only our states, but our nation and many European countries get treated as cavalierly. And further work needs to be done on how human rights relate to the rights of states. Individual right seem more basic to me than states' rights. But I don't want to see vain promises of the vindication of human rights used as an excuse to violate national sovereignty. That seems to be a slippery slope. The world becomes one giant Initech.

And unfortunately, the movie parallels end at some point. If we don't wake up, I don't think that the Feds will send themselves to a Federal "pound me in the ass" prison.

1:04 pm Pacific Standard Time

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