Literary prizes

Bethany gets the Flannery O’Connor prize in yesterday’s virtual contest. O’Connor writes about the grotesque–often involving the clash between a fierce religion and a clueless secularism–and this case is certainly grotesque. I’m sure she would have a field day with presenting a child with a weird religion, being futilely plied with childish trinkets from a sentimental modernity, who totally thwarts his kind-hearted but soft-headed foster parents by excommunicating his 5 year old brother.

Tickletext was close to the other answer in guessing some Romantic poet. Indeed, it was William Wordsworth. He thought England needed another MILTON! And they sure did, and we sure do now. It’s interesting how the Romantics, so sick of the Enlightenment sensibility, put that Puritan Christian on such a pedestal. I offer the poem, Wordsworth’s sonnet entitled “England, 1802,” for your pleasure and edification:

MILTON! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
O raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Excommunicate all Obama supporters?

Douglas Kmiec is a pro-life conservative Republican, but he is supporting Barack Obama for president. For this, a Catholic priest has denied him communion.

The California law professor is a leading “Obamacon,” the new term for a conservative who is in favor of Obama. Kmiec says he is voting for him in spite of the candidate’s pro-abortion views, thinking that his call for sexual responsibility will reduce the number of abortions while still keeping them legal. See E. J. Dionne Jr. – For an ‘Obamacon,’ Communion Denied.

Do you think this priest went a little too far? Denying communion to a lawmaker whose actions to legalize abortion contribute to the evil is one thing, but should this extend to someone who votes for that candidate?

According to the official policy of the Catholic bishops, it can be permissible to vote for a pro-choice candidate as long as your “intention” is not to promote abortion. That would seem to rule this priest’s action as being out of line, but is this distinction just an example of Catholic casuistry? On the other hand, would excommunicating voters constitute an impermissible interference of church with state?

Hey, Bo Diddley

When I was growing up in a little Oklahoma town, white people lived on one side of the tracks, literally, and black people lived on the other. The black folks had a dance hall for Saturday nights. Bo Diddley used to play there from time to time. We white kids were scared to go there, but I sure wish I could have heard him in his prime. The rhythm ‘n’ blues man who turned the guitar into a percussion instrument and helped invent rock ‘n’ roll died at age 79.

Here he is from around that time in 1966. Notice that in the crowd whites are one side and blacks are on another, but it is the white teenagers who are really going wild at this sound.

Flannery O’Connor! Thou shouldst be living in this hour.

According to this article, Polygamous Sect’s Children Begin to Return to Parents, the polygamists’ kids who spent two months in foster care were plied with pizza, bicycles, and information about space travel in an attempt to make them “normal.” While the children apparently enjoyed some of those perks of modernity, they were glad to return to their parents, who were required to take “parenting classes” as a condition of getting their kids back. (Doesn’t this bother you?) Also, during the two months that the children were kept from their parents, the older boys took on the task of organizing regular prayer meetings for the young refugees. They also exerted religious discipline, going so far as to excommunicate some five-year-olds for not paying attention (making them sit outside).

[What work am I alluding to in the title to this post? And why am I saying Flannery O'Connor should be writing about all of this?]

St. John Paul?

Here is a fascinating account of the attempt to canonize the late Pope John Paul II, that is, to declare him a saint: Charting a Path to Sainthood. Catholic scholars are looking for a medical miracle caused by praying to him–and have apparently found at least one–but must work through the counter-arguments by the devil’s advocates, which amount to mainly that he was too conservative. But the process shows that the old Catholicism challenged by the Reformation still remains.

Feminists vs. Blacks

Here is an interesting historic account, occasioned by the current conflict in the Democratic party between advocates of the first black president vs. advocates of the first woman president: When Disadvantages Collide. It seems that the early suffragettes opposed giving black men the right to vote before white women had that right. I won’t even repeat what feminist icon Elizabeth Cady Stanton said on the subject.

Who wrote “Footprints in the Sand”?

You know that “Footprints in the Sand” inspirational tidbit, about walking with the Lord, seeing only one set of footprints, and getting the revelation that “I carried you”? Of course you do. It’s everywhere, on posters, coffee mugs, greeting cards, and quoted in countless sermons. Now three people are suing each other, claiming to be the author, with rights to the gazillions of dollars worth of merchandising the little story can earn. For the rather sad but also rather humorous account of this dispute and these claims, see Search to Divine Authorship Leads ‘Footprints’ to Court.

Here is my analysis: One of the litigators claim that his mother wrote it decades ago. He found a manuscript in her handwriting that dates from long ago. But the key bit of information is the scholar who traced the story to a sermon preached in the 1880′s. I doubt that even that was original. Sermons promulgate more urban legends, unattributed quotations, and oral traditions than any other art form. I suspect the mother heard the story somewhere, maybe from her preacher, and wrote it down.

Trying to copyright that story after the fact and after its wide publication is surely futile, and no court should allow it. It’s like trying to copyright jokes, sermon illustrations, and internet forwards. If you write something, copyright it BEFORE sending it out on the internet; otherwise, consider it a gift to humanity.

Erasmus, Tyndale, & Contemporary Christian artists

My student Nathan Martin, at Patrol Magazine, launches off after an account of hearing John Piper contrast Tyndale and Erasmus, relating it to contemporary Christian music and other expressions:

The incredibly truncated quote:

…”I linger over this difference between Erasmus and Tyndale because of how amazing it sounds to me like today. Tyndale wrote his books and translated the New Testament and there was a thundering effect, Erasmus wrote his and there was an entertaining effect a, high brow, elitist, layered, nuanceing of church tradition. They satirized the monasteries so they had a ring of radical nature about them, clerical abuses they criticized, but the gospel wasn’t at the center. I’m not going to name any names but there are elitist cool avant-garde, marginally evangelical writers and scholars today who…(feel) as if to be robust and strong and full about what Christ has achieved feels rather distasteful…it is ironic and sad that today supposedly avant-garde writers strike a cool, evasive, imprecise, artistic superficially reformist pose of Erasmus and call it post-modern when in fact it is totally pre-modern, because it is totally permanent.”

Whether it’s in Relevant, Blue like Jazz, or in the Black Cat, it’s hard to find Christians who will explicitly admit that they are Christians, or what exactly being a Christian means. Now, I know why many of these artists and writers have trouble identifying themselves with the particularities of doctrine and teaching; too many of them have been burned by the church in the past and too many of them are still trying to figure out what being a Christian truly means. What I’ve struggled with is when any type of doctrinal or philosophical certainty is greeted with skepticism and condescension, when the gospel is reduced to little more than well-meaning, philosophically vague platitudes that carry no true implications for belief or non-belief.

It’s a difficult thing to get labeled as a Christian in the mainstream or independent art world today, and inspires no end of questions and incessant, sniping prattle. Ask Sufjan Stevens what it’s like to never make it through an interview without his faith being mentioned, ask Dan Layus of Augustana what it’s like to make music with the weight of the faith of his family, church and college hanging over his head. I’ve talked to, and hung out with a number of other artists who face that problem on a day to day basis; what does it mean to be a Christian artist? Or perhaps more precisely, “How much of my faith can I admit to, without being completely labeled as a conservative fundamentalist freak-out?”

I have no great all-encompassing solution to this problem, but I think there are some things you can’t get away from. I’d argue, along with Piper, that Christianity is comprised in the gospel and the gospel is a message that necessarily excludes many other philosophical standpoints from legitimacy. I’m trying so delicately to not make this be a discussion about all these specific points of theology, but at some point and time, Christians have to be willing to be dogmatic about their “theology” because the implications of that theology provides the entire basis for their faith.

The implications of that faith should extend outside of doctrine and into vocation, as another speaker said, the purest theology should produce the most beautiful and excellent art.

Notice how Nathan gets the connection between the gospel and vocation.

Drunken Lutherans?

Wisconsin leads the nation in people who admit to drinking and driving. The rest of the top five in this particular list of shame are North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota. Utah has the least problem with this, followed by a number of Southern states. One reason, according to this AP article is religion:

Eric Goplerud, research professor at George Washington University Medical Center, said cultural and demographic issues probably have a role in the higher rates of driving under the influence in certain states. He said that religious affiliations in the Southeast often strongly discourage drinking, but that doesn’t occur so much in the upper Midwest.

What is mercifully unspecified is what the religion of those Northern states is. According to, the five states with the highest proportion of Lutherans are THOSE very states (in this order: North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska).

And it is true, in something that surprised me when I became one (and later came to appreciate), that Lutherans–for all of their theological, social, and moral conservatism– have NO problem with drinking alcohol. (At least not in the LCMS, though I’m aware there are more pietistic Lutherans that do.) Yes, drunkenness and alcoholism are considered wrong, as is alcoholism, but Lutheranism posits not the slightest guilt or stigma about social drinking. Indeed, beer is often served at church dinners. (I have often wondered why Lutherans don’t promote THAT in their church growth efforts.) And yet, I have not witnessed in my congregations any major problems with this, no more than in my earlier anti-alcohol liberal and evangelical congregations down in Oklahoma. When I was growing up, we actually were in a “dry” county, and yet drunkenness was rampant.

Drinking and driving, of course, is wrong, but there is another part of the story (in addition to questions about how the survey defined the transgression–it may be that citizens in these states are, like good Lutherans, more open to confessing their faults than driving while actually impaired). The fact is, Wisconsin has FEWER TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS than the average. (I don’t have statistics for the other top four.) See this and follow the links.

What are we to make of all of this?

Polygamists’ children

In an issue we have been following, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the children of that polygamist Mormon sect should be returned to their parents. I agree. Consider the precedents and how they could be applied against Christian families.