March 27, 2004

Wisdom about Evil

“Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is the Balladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with the three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see.”

…from T. S. Elliot’s “The Waste Land”

Odin is the main god of Norse mythology – also named “Wodan” (for whom the fourth day of the week -- Wednesday – is named). Odin has one eye; he traded the other for a drink from the Well of Wisdom…and became wise.

Brian M. Carney – the deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe -- wrote of an alternative version to this story in the article “Watch With Both Eyes” -- about Spain’s recent election (on the web site -- Tech Central Station of 3/24/04):

“In his book, ‘On Moral Fiction,’ John Gardner recounts the tale of how Odin lost his eye. In a battle to the finish with the Demon King, Odin gets his opponent in a headlock and demands to know the secret to defending Asgard from the Demon King's armies. ‘Give me your right eye,’ hissed the demon, ‘and I'll tell you.’ Odin did so, whereupon the Demon King gave him his answer – ‘Watch with both eyes.’

“Giving up an eye -- American or Spanish -- will not save Europe now.”

Posted by Rick Penner at 12:26 AM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2004

What Is Behind Us

"We say that the past is behind us and the future is in front of us. To the Greeks, however, the past was before them, because they could plainly see its finished form standing in front of them: it was territory they had passed through and whose terrain they had charted. It was the future that was behind them, sneaking up like a thief in the night, full of dim imaginings and vast uncertainties. Nothing could penetrate the blackness of this unknown future except the rare flash of foresight that the Greeks called sophos, or wisdom. Yet even these flashes of wisdom depended entirely on the capacity to remember what is eternal and unchanging -- which is precisely what we have almost completely forgotten....The past tells us that the next stage of history will be a tragic conflict between two different ways of life, which both have much that is worthy of admiration in them but which cannot coexist in the same world....But the past does not, and cannot, tell us how it will end this time."

From Civilization and its Enemies: The Next Stage of History by Lee Harris (Free Press, 2004).

Posted by Rick Penner at 09:26 AM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2004

Corrosion of the Soul

The Los Angeles Times of 3/23/04 carried a headline on its front page: “Assassination by Israelis Sparks Protests, Outrage.” Written by Mark Magnier and Ken Ellingwood, the first sentence of the article reads:

“GAZA CITY -- Israel’s assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin sparked international condemnation Monday as tens of thousands of Palestinian protesters flooded the streets here demanding revenge.” (Emphasis added)

In another front-page article -- “Sharon Bets on Weakening Hamas” -- by Laura King and Ken Ellingwood, the second sentence reads:

“In eliminating Yassin, the aging, ailing founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sharon has wagered that the strike would leave the Islamic militant group’s disciples reeling and disoriented….” (Emphasis added)

What’s happening?

We’re witnessing a strange sight: some of the top journalists of our time – at one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country – drifting into a black hole of moral incomprehension.

The Orwellian Los Angeles Times pronounces to us that: a hideous mass killer, one of the cruelest terrorists of our age, should be considered a “spiritual leader”! Hamas – which deliberately seeks innocent women and children to blow up -- should be called a “militant group”!

This confusion of the soul – wherein evil is called good – is one of the most frightening developments of the modern age. The inability of the contemporary liberal "eye" to recognize evil – even when evil rips off its mask and leers into our face -- is truly astonishing.


Posted by Rick Penner at 12:54 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2004

thoughts on Iraq

Left this out of my last post - but also from that dinner discussion last night:

We also discussed covered the anti-war protests up in New York. The anti-war people in the group repeated the mantra that it was a unilateral war, and when I pointed out that it wasn't unilateral, their response was that the only countries that supported us were small countries that didn't really merit being called full partners. If my memory serves me right, I seem to remember that Glenn Reynolds debunked that claim last year. They also repeated the claim that our partners were coerced and forced into fighting with us. When I pointed out that evidence was found recently which implicated government officials from anti-war countries (such as France) with receiving bribes from Iraq's oil-for-food program, they hadn't even heard of it, and asked where I had heard it (The Wall Street Journal). These people all read and swear by The New York Times. Is the New York Times so irresponsible that they would not have covered this major story? No wonder I don't miss reading it.

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 10:18 PM | Comments (0)

Reflections on Iraq, and on truth

Last night Amy and I took Rebecca to a dinner with some people from the Unitarian Universalist church we (without Rebecca) used to attend.

Part of the discussion was started by someone who doesn't like those people who claim to know the truth and push it down other peoples' throats.

My response: What we believe does not change what is true; the truth is true whether we believe it or not. And if one is dedicated to a search for truth, it seems only logical to me that one should consider the possibility of finding it.

And finally, one reflection on my spiritual journey, why I became a Christian rather than something else: When I rejected atheism, I had many choices to consider, but Christianity offered one thing many other religions, (those presenting a pantheistic or deist viewpoint - which is what most UUs who are not outright atheists believe), don't offer: A chance to not only believe in God, but in a God who believes in me, who even considers and thinks about me.

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 06:23 PM | Comments (1)

Two items from UM Action

Texas Conference Protests GBCS Support of Pro-Abortion Rally

Press Release: Methodist Pastor Gets "Married" Just Before her Church Trial

Also regarding the UMC trial of Rev. Karen Dammann:
from Christianity Today:Methodist Trial Opens With Arrests, Comparison to Crucifixion
from Comcast News: Congregation Hails Decision on Gay Pastor notes that Rev. Karen Dammann was acquitted.

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

Culture War

Mike Murdock wrote an excellent post last week in an exchange with Tim Bednar discussing the "culture-war".

Amen, Mike, and let me add that you expressed what was going on in my mind three years ago when I decided to become a Christian. Now that our family is three, I know it even more so.

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 06:10 PM | Comments (0)

Josh Claybourn's blog was 2 last week

Happy blog-anniversary, Josh!

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 05:57 PM | Comments (0)

Rebecca Walking Photo

Here's that picture of Rebecca walking we were trying to get. Finally had to rely on the help of Amy's friend, Ren, to snap the picture.

This is my 1000-word essay on why I'm pro-life.


Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2004

The Power of Jesus Bleeding into the Devil’s Music

“As a kid, I would get chills when we used to sing the old 1899 Lewis E. Jones hymn, ‘There is Power in the Blood.’ The women, trying to out-falsetto each other, would sing ‘There is power, power, wonder working power in the blood, of the Lamb.’ The men would double-time, walking a steady bass-line underneath, with ‘There is power, power, power, power, wonder-working power.’ And there is, in fact, power, listening to Jesus bleed into the Devil's music.”

So says Matt Labash in an article at weeklystandard.comGoodbye, Babylon: A new collection of old-timey gospel music shows everything that's right about praising God and everything that's wrong with the contemporary Christian music scene.”

My sentiments upon reading this: Amen!

I can stand only so much of contemporary Christian “praise music.” It’s too bland, too…anemic. Better a classical hymn – darkly grand -- that encourages brooding and contemplation; or a gospel romper that sings about sin and judgment and hell. There’s too much sugary contentment goin’ on.

This isn’t the direct subject of Labash’s piece, but there’s something in all this about spirituality and religion itself – and not just the music. That is: if religion is not about being at the end of your rope, if it isn’t about tears, suffering, and blood – what is it?

Labash is of the opinion that the old-timers didn’t mess around: “they portrayed a fierce God -- one of redemption, but also of vengeance -- not the simplistic elbow-patched grandpa, or open-armed hippie-Jesus of the modern superchurch soundtrack. In a 1930 song called ‘Memphis Flu,’ Elder David R. Curry, pastor of the Oakley Street Church of God in Christ, and his congregation sing over barrelhouse piano runs, handclaps, and interjections of ‘Praise Jesus!’: Yes, He killed the rich and poor / And He's going to kill more / If you don't turn away from your shame.”

Labash’s article is a review of a new 6-CD boxed-set collection of 135 songs and 35 sermons -- the largest collection of sacred music ever assembled: old recordings of Christian gospel and Pentecostal tunes from America’s neglected heritage of religious song. Much of the material is newly discovered – retrieved from old records getting dusty in attics and basements. The collection is entitled Goodbye Babylon and was produced by Lance Ledbetter, a 27-year-old Atlanta software installer and former DJ.

Labash’s enthusiasm about it is invigorating....

Labash says:

“What these salvagers have preserved is a gospel hodgepodge, everything from Sacred Harp singing to hillbilly romps to field holler/prison chants to front-porch blues to jubilee quartets to old timey country to Sanctified congregational singing to Pentecostal rave-up's. They all come down in a rain of clamoring tambourines and bottleneck slide guitars, clawhammer banjo-picking, booming jug band-blowing and barrelhouse piano rolls. The songs come from many traditions, though the overwhelming influence comes from both the black and white strains of Holiness music -- which resulted from the merger of the Fire Baptized Holiness Church and Pentecostal Holiness Church in 1911. This came five years after the 1906 Azusa Street revival, in which the black holiness evangelist William Joseph Seymour sparked a movement which church historians say resulted in thousands receiving the ‘Pentecostal baptism with the Holy Ghost with the apostolic sign of speaking with other tongues.’….

“In a recent piece for the Washington Post, Eddie Dean, one of the great chroniclers of lost America -- which isn't a crowded field -- interviewed Dick Spottswood, who, at Ledbetter's behest, served as both music and liner notes wrangler on much of the Goodbye, Babylon set. Spottswood, himself a Washington, D.C., institution as host of the local public radio station's invaluable Obsolete Music Hour, is no holy-rolling Bible thumper. But he perfectly nailed the difference between the old and new sacred music: ‘It's not like contemporary Christian songs, which are all praising Jesus, with nothing about sin or guilt. They've turned Jesus into a very cheap, off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all Jesus. There's nothing of substance left, and the music reflects this sort of mindless cheerfulness. With the old-time gospel songs, like (the Monroe Brothers') “Sinner You Better Get Ready,” there are dark clouds and tragedy and death and all the unpleasantries you have to go through before you can stand in line at the redemption counter.’"

One more quote: referring to the composer and choir leader Thomas A. Dorsey – known as the “The Father of Gospel Music” – Labash offers a line from Dorsey’s masterpiece, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”: “Precious Lord, take my hand / Lead me on, let me stand / I am tired, I am weak, I am old.”

He adds: “There is something ennobling about watching fallible man -- tired and weak and old… stumbling around to find God in the dark.”

Posted by Rick Penner at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2004

Spanish History Lesson...Again

The Spanish election results are stunning – but they shouldn’t have been. We’ve known of the continental European (and Spanish) predilection for weakness when fascism threatens -- for quite some time.

The majority of Spanish voters opposed their leader’s support for the invasion of Iraq; but we still assumed that the Spanish opposed radical Islamic terrorism. Guess again. This election reveals that the Spanish do NOT want to actively confront Islamic-fascist terrorism; they prefer to PLACATE IT.

This is called appeasement, historically, and can be seen in the behavior of European governments during the 1930’s.

It also means that the European Left is taking a leadership position now in specifically seeking to calm terrorism by trying to give it what it wants. Obviously, the European Left thinks it’s dealing with a benign and temporary aberration, here. This mistake was made once before.

As the blog Belmont Club says in its entry "The Dark Night of Spirit":

“The victory of the Socialist Party in Spain and its probable withdrawal from an active alliance with the United States in the Global War on Terror…establishes the iron linkage between Eurosocialism and militant Islam, indeed demonstrates for all the world to see the subordination of the Euroleft to the Global Jihad. The last claim of Marxism-Leninism to the leadership of history is gone.”

My philosophical question: why is the soul of Europe today longing so for obliteration?

Posted by Rick Penner at 12:26 AM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2004

Superb blog: New Partisan

The following by Tim Marchman -- from a column entitled “The Hollow Man” -- appeared in the blog/magazine New Partisan on 3/11/04:

“For generations the young have been taught to emulate the romantic, clandestine life of the artist, to seek out that fabulous place where everyone knew each other and anyone who didn't was dead inside and nothing mattered because the modern had obviated convention.

“I do not share that belief; I do not think that modernism's legacy is the cluster of like-minded young persons imagining they are changing a world irredeemably set against them, even if (as occasionally happens) they are. I believe that modernism is T.S. Eliot being baptized into the Church of England, forcing himself into the steady discipline of reconciliation to a world that had changed beyond understanding. The problem is not that the world does not comprehend us, but that we do not comprehend the world; the way to reconciliation, as Eliot understood, is through conventions.”

I just discovered New Partisan; it calls itself “an urban-based journal of politics, culture, and the arts.” The Editor-in-Chief is Harry Siegel; the Senior Editor is Tim Marchman; the “Gal Friday” is A.R. Brook Lynn; other columnists are Jonathon Leaf and Richard O’Keeffe.

From this conservative site emanates an understated, classical sophistication; a subdued, sterling polish. Its intelligence and literary quality reminds me of The New Criterion blog: Armavirumque (from where I got the link).

I love the style.

Posted by Rick Penner at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2004

Do I Understand the Liberal Mind or What?

Re: AP story of 3/8/04 by Jim Wasserman (on -- “California lawmakers propose lowering voting age to 14 for state elections” -- wherein California State Senator John Vasconcellos says that 16-year-olds should be allowed 1/2-votes and 14-year-olds should be allowed 1/4-votes in state elections; he’s introduced a state constitutional amendment to this effect.

The question pops up: why only 1/2-votes and 1/4-votes? Why not allow everyone their full rights? Isn’t a partial-vote the mark of a “second-class citizen”? Judges today would be open to the argument that the (federal or state) constitution demands a full vote for every eligible voter.

I don’t see why the reasoning can’t be extended; 14 is an unusual age, here: shouldn’t the more logical age be 12 -- the “age of consent” in traditional societies? Undoubtedly, a progressive understanding of the sacred rights of every person will lead to 12 as the voting age.

But then, isn’t it true that persons younger than 12 are impacted by the political issues of the day as much as anyone else? Just because they cannot understand everything, does that mean that they aren’t a part of society? Are their rights judged to be less important because they don’t have the power to assert them?

In truth, the right to vote should -- ideally -- be extended to all people down to the moment of birth. While such elections seem impractical at first, there are ways to overcome this ---

Those too young to read could be given “proxy” votes by the government: court judges would make decisions as to how infants and young children would vote if they could -- taking into account the “needs” and “concerns” of these voters for better day-care, better educational opportunities, better health-care, more equitable wealth distribution policies, and so on.

Since American judges might be partisans in these decisions, it might be even better to have a neutral party handle this -- perhaps an official commission at the UN.

The commission could report to the US authorities for each election; giving information on how the infants and children “voted” -- based on international law and the consensus of the international community. This would improve American relations with the multi-cultural world and eliminate the regressive practice of having “unilateral” US elections (wherein only Americans vote).

The only thing I don’t understand about Senator Vasconcellos’ proposal is: why is he bothering with a state constitutional amendment?

This could all be set in motion by a few judges from Massachusetts!

Following that, enlightened mayors throughout the country could declare their understanding of the US or state constitution, and how it allows for the new proxy-votes process. Why be delayed by the old-fashioned, bourgeois notion of the rule of law?

Isn’t it about high time that we COUNT ALL THE VOTES?!

Posted by Rick Penner at 12:16 AM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2004

Rod Dreher writes on Federal Marriage Amendment

Saw this column by Rod Dreher last week on the Dallas Morning News website (registration required).

Gay marriage: Unaccountable courts just intensify culture wars

Here's a key paragraph, a response to those who seem to think the Christian voice should be ignored because it represents the so-called "religious right":

I don't believe 60 percent of my countrymen are Bible-thumping rednecks. But even if they were, they still are American citizens who deserve a say in how they will be governed and how we as a society will live.

I've read many columnists who seem to think that same-sex "marriages" should be allowed in the civil arena while allowing churches to maintain their own standards. I don't think such an arrangement would be workable given today's PC culture. There is the issue of how "tolerance" has been redefined to mean "enthusiastic approval" by the activists. Churches that have stricter standards than civil law will be marginalized as intolerant bigots, be sued on equal-employment and related issues, lose money to legal expenses, and may well lose their tax-exempt status.

Posted by joelfuhrmann at 09:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2004

Arrogance of the City

Barnard Weinraub has an article in the 3/4/04 issue of The New York Times -- "UPN Show Is Called Insensitive to Amish" -- that reports that Viacom is producing a reality show for UPN (a sister network to CBS) that will make fun of the Amish on national television. (This link may require registration.)

The show, called "Amish in the City," will feature Amish teenagers brought into the big city; the "fun" would be in watching their reactions to the "sinful" and shocking aspects of modern urban life.

You may remember that CBS already tried to do a reality show called "Hillbillies" in which rural young people were going to be given the same treatment in Beverly Hills. That show was put on the back burner because of public outrage.

The article in The New York Times said:

"Herman Bontrager, secretary-treasurer of the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom, a group of lawyers, ministers and academics who support the Amish, said there are about 200,000 Amish in the nation, mostly in eastern Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern Indiana. 'The Amish are probably more knowledgeable about the world than the CBS and UPN people give them credit for,' said Mr. Bontrager, an insurance executive from New Holland, Pa., who grew up Amish and is now a Mennonite.

"Mr. Bontrager said emphatically over the phone, 'I just find it reprehensible that corporations, especially media corporations in this country, would find it acceptable to make a mockery of a religious group. They just plain don't get it. For Amish people, their religious faith and everyday living are totally intertwined.'"

I grew up as a Mennonite (Amish are related to Mennonites); so I can comment: the problem, here, is actually not just caused by "corporations"; the problem is caused by companies run by the media elites of Hollywood. We could say that the media people comprise the production staff for the pop culture machine of contemporary America. In general, these people are extreme-leftists, cynical, disrespectful of tradition and traditional people, and have NO sense of the sacred.

I know this because I came from a rural Mennonite community in the 1960's as a young man. I went to the big city (Los Angeles and Hollywood) to explore and taste the pleasures of the modern megalopolis. Today I live in Burbank.

I finally grew up. But I don't consider the experience merely amusing.

There is a flash and energy to the big city that is exhilarating. Arts flourish there like nowhere else. But that's not how it advertises itself....

The temptation of the avant-gaard lures rural youth into Beat, hippie, or urban punk culture -- or just into the general big-city freedom -- with ferocity. It promises much. The emptiness and disappointment that follows upon the years, chews up idealism. It's discovered eventually that there is a lack of real community among city "progressives," that urban sophisticates have a shallow maturity, and that narcissism itself is passed off by the urban milieu as "wisdom."

I'm quite outraged that Hollywood would pick a peaceful and religiously devout people of integrity -- the Amish -- for public amusement. This is another example of liberal arrogance. This is part of the reason we have a culture war.

Posted by Rick Penner at 01:23 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2004

Gay Marriage -- the Plastic Exploding Inevitable

I’ve borrowed Warhol’s term because before our eyes the exploding definition of marriage is ushering in the inevitable yet plastic idea of gay marriage.

Conservatives are shocked, but shouldn’t be: they could have seen this coming from a long way off. Marriage has ALREADY been redefined by heterosexual culture during the last few decades -- an idea conservatives have written about.

Marriage is no longer a complex system of obligations, restrictions, and rewards that fuse a couple with the psychic diversity of each other (male and female), with the children, with the in-laws, with religious institutions, and with the wider community; rather, the new marriage is an exchangeable, temporary, utilitarian, legal and emotional commitment for each others’ convenience and self-fulfillment…the relatives, the community, the religion, and the kids be damned.

Gays are not redefining marriage; rather, marriage has been redefined by society to the point that it has become tailor-made for gays and their communities.

In extending this watered-down version of marriage to gays, the judicial system is just reflecting this new reality. At this point: why not? What’s the dif?

But those most surprised will be the gays that are supporting this turn of events -- for in the long run they’re helping to push out of existence exactly what it is that they want: acceptance.

Gay couples want to be accepted by society like society accepts the ‘ole traditional married couples -- but gays are trying to take a short cut; to get there via the new definition.

The new definition of marriage does not include social acceptance -- in fact, THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT OF IT!

Keith Burgess-Jackson -- in his blog AnalPhilosopher -- recently linked to an article “For Better or for Worse?” by the Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon (in The Wall Street Journal of 2/25/04). Glendon said:

“Same-sex marriage will constitute a public, official endorsement of the following extraordinary claims made by the Massachusetts judges in the Goodridge case: that marriage is mainly an arrangement for the benefit of adults; that children do not need both a mother and a father; and that alternative family forms are just as good as a husband and wife raising kids together.”

Check it out.

Posted by Rick Penner at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)