Saturday, December 17th, 2005
For anyone who got excited about John Halton's announcement of Radio 3 on the BBC's all day Bach programming, but then forgot about it in the meantime, here is your reminder.
Click here and then look for a yellow speaker icon on the upper right-hand portion of the page, next to which it says "Radio Player", and click.
There's some nice programming on right now.
11:37 am Pacific Standard Time
Wednesday, December 14th, 2005
I saw The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe last Friday. I was neither as thrilled as I had hoped, nor deeply disappointed. I was on-and-off satisfied, something I did not quite expect.
The best moments for me occured when Lucy stepped into the Wardrobe for the first time and found herself in snowy Narnia. Everything looked as it should, and the movie basked in the sheer possibilities that presented. Her first encounter with Mr. Tumnus surpassed my expectations.
As many will likely say, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver were also good beyond hope.
The most disappointing scenes were the additions to the story, although some early additions were quite nice. Added scenes in England were welcome. Added scenes in Narnia were not. I can at least say the characters acted in character during those scenes. In some cases, I can even imagine that if Lewis had written such scenes at all, he might have written similar dialog for them. I can imagine that when the DVD comes out with extra material, we will hear the screenwriter explaining what these added segments were supposed to do, what questions they answered that C.S. Lewis hadn't thought to answer. I generally find such discussions contrived. The screenwriter has not surrendered to the world of the book at those points, and wishes to know things that are not pertinent to the world the author wishes to present.
The transition of King Peter from a modern child to King of Narnia was a bit too gradual for me. They made him into a 21st century boy, rather than a 1940's boy. His slowness to use even the flat of a sword do defend his sisters from wolves was something that I thought needed explaining. And I suspect one of the added scenes at the river was an attempt to show that the kid gradually found that a sword could be useful for something. This is Peter Pevensie, not Eustace Clarence Scrubb!
If the movie was missing one thing that would have made it to my A-List, it was a score as good as that of the Lord of the Rings. I have a good mind when I get the DVD to play some of it with my Henry V soundtrack in the background.
How did Chrisianity fare? Better than many expected. Some of the reviews were right in suggesting that the battle scene at the end seemed to make the children appear more important than Aslan. Others were probably wrong in suggesting that Aslan was not a very Christ-like Lion in his joining of the battle. (They haven't read the book of Revelation, apparently. Though Roger Ebert has, and notes this parallel.)
Another favorite scene of mine, which suggests what we might enjoy in later movies (Walden has optioned all of the stories.), was the hunting of the white stag. I was anticipating it, and hoping they wouldn't skip over it by second-guessing Lewis's way of returning the children to England. No. They gave us our hunt. And in the very few minutes we were allowed to see the children as grown kings and queens, we could see a chivalrous, happy, and medieval world that we rarely get to see on film. This gives me hope that odd moments in some of the other books may prove to be favorites in later films.
Don't go into this movie expecting it all to be on the level of the Lord of the Rings. But do expect to see some flashes of brilliance. The good moments are worth the admission price.
2:45 pm Pacific Standard Time
Tuesday, December 13th, 2005
I'm currently reading a book called The Political Writings of William Penn. In it, there is a piece called "The People's Ancient and Just Liberties Asserted". It concerns trial by jury, and records a case where William Penn and his friend William Mead were hauled into court on charges that they "unlawfully and tumultuously did assemble and congregate themselves together, to the disturbance of the peace of the said Lord the King." There is an old saying that he who defends himself has a fool for a client, but it proves false here. Not that Penn had the opportunity to seek legal counsel.
I became interested in this book, as Penn's writings on liberty were recommended by David Hackett Fischer in his magnificent Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. According to Fischer, the Pennsylvania Quakers came from a part of Britain that had some unique ideas on liberty that made Quaker doctrines of equality less foreign than they were in other parts of England. Fischer for instance argues that woman preachers among the Quakers wielded an authority that was similar to that wielded by the women of Viking culture, a culture which heavily influenced the North of England (Fischer, pp.490-498).
Penn and Mead had to wait in court for five hours of other cases before their case was heard. Then an officer of the court put their hats on their heads. Soon afterwards, the men were fined for contempt of court for wearing their hats in court. It was not Quaker custom to make outward acts of deference, so the court was depending on their defending an act they did not choose. It is interesting that each man took a different strategy.
RECORDER. Do you not know there is respect due to the Court?
RECORDER. Why do you not pay it then?
PENN. I do so.
RECORDER. Why do you not put off your hat then?
PENN. Because I do not believe that to be any respect.
RECORDER. Well, the Court sets forty marks a piece upon your heads as a fine for your contempt of the Court.
PENN. I desire it might be observed, that we came into the Court with our hats off (that is, taken off) and if they have been put on since, it was by order from the Bench, and therefore not we but the Bench should be fined.
MEAD. I have a question to ask the Recorder. Am I fined also?
MEAD. I desire the jury and all people to take notice of this injustice of the recorder, who spake not to me to pull off my hat, and yet hath he put a fine upon my head. O fear the Lord and dread His power, and yield to the guidance of his Holy Spirit, for He is not far from every one of you.
Another interesting exchange happened when Penn demanded to know what he was being charged with, and the court recorder was evasive:
PENN. I affirm I have broken no law, nor am I guilty of the indictment that is laid to my charge. And to the end [that] the Bench, the jury, and myself, with these that hear us, may have a more direct understanding of this procedure, I desire you would let me know by what law it is you prosecute me and upon what law you ground my indictment.
RECORDER. Upon the common law.
PENN. Where is that common law?
RECORDER. You must not think that I am able to run up so many years and over so many adjudged cases which we call common law to answer your curiosity.
PENN. This Answer, I am sure, is very short of my question, for if it be common, it should not be so hard to produce.
This argument goes back and forth a few times. Suffice it to say that Penn outargues the recorder. It continues:
RECORDER. The question is whether you are guilty of this indictment?
PENN. The question is not whether I am guilty of this indictment, but whether this indictment be legal. It is too general and imperfect an answer to say it is the common law, unless we knew both where and what it is. For where there is no law there is no transgression, and that law which is not in being is so far from being common that it is no law at all.
RECORDER. You are an impertinent fellow. Will you teach the court what law is? It's lex non scripta, that which many have studied thirty or forty Years to know, and would you have me to tell you in a moment?
PENN. Certainly if the common law be so hard to be understood, it's far from being very common; but if the Lord Cook in his Institutes, be of any consideration, he tells us that common law is common right, and that common right is the Great Charter privileges, confirmed 9 Hen. III, c.29; 25 Edw. I, c.1; 2 Edw. III, c.8; Coke Inst. 56.
This argument is quite amusing. The recorder appeals to common law, but the law proves to be too uncommon for him to remember. Then he claims it is unwritten law. Penn argues that the law goes against the fundamental law of the land, which he is able to cite.
In the end, the jury refused to convict. For this they were jailed. This miscarriage of justice was remembered when the American jury system was instituted.
Trial by jury is among our most precious rights. And it is always in danger. A friend of mine was called up for jury duty and the judge asked him if he would follow the law as given, even if it violated his conscience. He said he would not. He was dismissed. His wife was frustrated, as she wanted him to get on a jury so he could be a good juror. "Surely you could have agreed to whatever they said just to get on!" she argued. Then she came up for jury duty. "He was right. What they asked of me was every bit as bad as he claimed," she said. "I couldn't say that!"
Some interesting material on this subject is available at the Fully Informed Jury Association, or FIJA.
1:31 pm Pacific Standard Time
Thursday, December 8th, 2005
Christopher Atwood and I have had some discussions of Romans 13 and the American Revolution. I think Atwood is inclined to the position that, though the American government was a legitimate authority once it was established, the insurrection was wrong. I am inclined to believe that the Revolution could be justified. (I am not so clear on when I would feel justified in taking up arms.) Henry Melchior Muhlenberg is known as the father of American Lutheranism, and I found a some journal entries of his from 1776 that suggest yet another reading than either of us offered:
JULY 4. Today the Continental Congress openly declared the united provinces of North America to be free and independent states. This has caused some thoughtful and far-seeing melancholi to be down in the mouth; on the other hand, it has caused some sanguine and short-sighted persons to exult and shout with joy. It will appear in the end who has played the right tune. This remains as a comfort to believers: There is One who sits at the rudder, who has the plan of the whole world before him, to whom all power in heaven and on earth is given, and who has never yet made a mistake in government. He it is who neither sleeps nor slumbers and who has asked his people to pray, "Hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done."
AUGUST 22. This morning, about eight o'clock, two companies of Colonel Pott's battalion from up in the country stopped at the Providence church. I was asked to give them a word of admonition in English and German in Augustus Church, for they were on the march to the camp in Jersey and were members of the Episcopal and Protestant churches.
Since I could not with good conscience refuse, I acceded to their request, for one should in charity be impartial and emulate the heavenly Father, who makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. I have not been charged with the task of investigating and comprehending the matter in controversy, nor is it possible for me to determine which party has the highest and best right, whether the one has a better right to make serfs of the inhabitants of America by force and to reap what they have neither plowed nor sowed, or whether the Americans have as good or even better right to defend the rights and privileges granted and stipulated to them by the highest God and by former crowned heads. Contending parties cannot be their own judges, and private persons possess no infallible scales to weigh without error the preponderant arguments of both sides.
This is evident in this controversy in the many writings pro and contra, indeed, even in the speeches made on both sides of the conflict in parliament. Therefore, since the ministers neither can nor should be arbiters in such a conflict, they do best if they commit the whole thing to the only and highest Judge of heaven and earth and follow the rule of the Spirit of God given through the Apostle Paul, Romans 13, "Let every sould be subject unto the higher powers," etc. If God's governance ordains or suffers that a king or a parliament or a congress should have power over me, then I must be subject to and serve two discordant masters at the same time.
The English address I based on 1 Samuel 17 and the German on Psalm 27. The mothers and relatives wept over the departure of their loved ones.
[Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman ed. by Tappert and Doberstein (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1959), pp. 161-164.]
Several things are to be noted here. One is that Muhlenberg sees the American case in a better light than the English case. The English, at best, are pressing a right to make the Americans into serfs. The Americans, at their best, are defending God-given rights.
But more interesting to me is how he sees Romans 13 played out. He doesn't see us as subjected only to a victorious party. No. This is more pragmatic a vision. We are subject to the one in power. And that may be a day-to-day matter. It has more to do with who has control of the town than who has the right to rule. In a sense this may sound more demanding than another view of Romans 13. But in another sense it does not. You don't end up with the same numinous view of authority if powers that be mean whoever happens to have more guns to threaten you with. In Muhlenberg's reading, there were two governing powers. The King and the Congress. Both called for soldiers. Fighting on either side could be argued to be right. It wasn't the pastor's job in such a case to try to adjudicate in a case like this.
Muhlenberg's son John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg was one of George Washington's generals in the Revolutionary Army. He left his pulpit to go off to war. I would love to read his interpretation of Romans 13!
11:30 pm Pacific Standard Time
Thursday, December 1st, 2005
Hat tip to Jeremy Abel regarding Yahoo Avatars (Click the picture to make your own). But I don't want my whole entry to be on those. I can do a tie-in to something else.
The 1620 Plymouth Rock tie-in is that I have finished Mark Noll's History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, and am busy reading in the area of American Church History. (I've mentioned a couple of the sermons already.) Today I stopped at the Concordia University library and read a bit in Henry Melchior Muhlenberg's Journals. They have the whole three volume set. When I saw just how much information was in the three volumes, it was easy to settle on the idea of ordering the one volume abridgement. (They had that on the shelves, too.) I learned about how Muhlenberg was involved in the Great Awakening, and how he had cordial if not always easy relations with the Reformed. (To my eye, that part looked good. Staunchly Lutheran, but wanting broader connections. And willing to credit his neighbors' strengths.) His disapproval of dancing struck me as being a bit strict. But the Great Awakening has to be understood as a phenomenon. I think it created a pervasive atmosphere in any churches touched by it that we don't rightly consider. I found that when I was in Boston. Sites where the Second Great Awakening took place had a distinct feel to them. Like the pleasures of this world had been burned out of people with a blowtorch. It was difficult for me to figure out how to evaluate this, as I had grown up in a more life-affirming West Coast evangelicalism. In any case, whatever I learned about Muhlenberg and early American Lutheranism today, I certainly had the breadth of the Great Awakening confirmed.
10:51 pm Pacific Standard Time
Over at nbcnews.com, I found a link about the Vatican's proposed new guidelines concerning unbaptized babies in Limbo. I found that quite funny. Similar to reading a headline saying "Presbyterians Veto Hell." As if it were up for a vote. When I got to the video, however, it appeared the church was coming to a more Scriptural way of talking about the subject. "We commend them to the mercy of God, and don't have to state explicitly what happens to them." That is the kind of answer I am used to hearing Lutheran pastors give.
Click here for video.
7:35 pm Pacific Standard Time