I have, I’m happy to say, finally developed a rudimentary ability to sleep on airplanes over the last few years — if conditions are precisely optimal. So I logged a solid forty-five minutes of slumber, accompanied by several incursions into selected country and classical music, a couple of movies, and, of course, reading. My reading focus was on Richard E. Turley, Jr., and Barbara Jones Brown, Vengeance is Mine: The Mountain Meadows Massacre and Its Aftermath (New York: Oxford University Press, 2023), from which I will eventually share a few extracts. The movies that I watched were The Jesus Revolution and, conveying rather a different theme, John Wick — Chapter Two.
Several friends had recommended The Jesus Revolution to me, and I did, in fact, enjoy it. But I have to admit that it left me unsatisfied. The idea (at least in its first hour) seems to have been that the “Jesus Revolution,” the “Jesus People,” would heal a divided nation, bring “hippies” to Jesus and bring generations together. Much of the film, which is based on a true story, is set in the area of Newport Beach, California, which I know well. I grew up not too far away, though, and I was never conscious of any real mass transformation of the kind hinted at by the movie, not locally and certainly not nationally. Nor, sadly, does there seem to have been much lasting impact. Still, I rather liked The Jesus Revolution — I found it personally thought-provoking — and I want to be supportive of Christian cinema. (I am, by the way, really, really looking forward to the forthcoming movie Sound of Freedom.)
I had never watched anything about John Wick until a fairly recent flight, where I needed something with lots of action that would help me to pass the interminable time. The two films in the franchise that I’ve now seen offer little of permanent value, and they’re extremely violent and sometimes even brutally graphic. But the mythical hitman subculture depicted in the movies is, I think, quite funny. It partially redeems them.
We went out to dinner with friends on Saturday night and then, at Abravanel Hall, caught the very last concert conducted by Thierry Fischer as music director of the Utah Symphony. His farewell was entirely given over to a performance of Gustav Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 3 in D minor, assisted by the Swedish mezzo-soprano Anna Larsson, choristers from the Cathedral of the Madeleine Choir School, and a group of sopranos and altos from the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. Maestro Fischer was greeted by a standing ovation when he first appeared on stage and, when the performance ended, by another standing ovation that continued for a very long time.
I’m something of a Mahler fan, having been introduced to his work by my high school German teacher, Lenore Smith. As a reward for those who stayed with the language for the third and fourth year, she devoted those classes to art and architecture (for one year) and to music (for the other). I didn’t exactly come from an artsy family, so this was really my introduction to Albrecht Dürer (whose work I love, and whose sites we have visited in Nürnberg), Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, and (another personal favorite) Lyonel Feininger, as well as a number of other Germanic painters. And it was my introduction not only to the titans of Austrian and German music like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms but to Dietrich Buxtehude, Georg Philipp Telemann, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Anton Bruckner. Miss Smith had earned a degree in piano performance before going on to a master’s degree in German and, eventually, to another graduate degree from the Universität Heidelberg. My debt to her is incalculable. She became a lifelong model for me of a genuinely cultured person.
The fourth movement of Mahler’s Third includes a text taken from the so-called “Midnight Song” in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra:
O Mensch! Gib Acht!Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?‘Ich schlief, ich schlief –,Aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht: –Die Welt ist tief,Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.Tief ist ihr Weh –,Lust – tiefer noch als Herzeleid:Weh spricht: Vergeh!Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit –,– will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!’
Here is my rough translation of the piece, which Anna Larsson sang on Saturday night:
O Man! Pay attention!What does deep midnight say?“I was asleep, I was asleep –,I have awakened from a deep dream: –The world is deep,And deeper than the day had thought.Deep is its sorrow!Joy, even deeper than heartache!Sorrow says: Perish!But all joy wants eternity –,– wants deep, deep eternity!”
It was especially the declaration that “all joy wants eternity . . . wants deep, deep eternity” (alle Lust will Ewigkeit . . . will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!) that arrested my attention. I confess to being puzzled by people who say that survival of death holds no interest for them. I realize, of course, that our desire to live beyond the grave doesn’t prove that we actually do. But to not regret the transience of beauty and happiness and of human relations seems to me exceedingly odd. And, although I realize that he speaks it as part of a wager with Mephistopheles, the sentiment expressed by Goethe’s Faust toward a single passing moment — Verweile doch! du bist so schön! (“Stay for a while! You are so beautiful!”; in Faust 1, line 1700) — has always resonated powerfully with me.
Yes, we’re overseas again. Entirely at our own expense. No Bolivian tithes were used to pay for this trip; no rural Congolese were exploited for it; no purloined Interpreter Foundation gifts subsidize it; no African colonialism underwrites it. My wife and I plan to do a little bit of poking around into her family history both before and afterwards, but the basic reason that we’re here is that we’re meeting a group of neighbors, former neighbors, and friends for a tour of Scotland, England, and Wales that has been in the planning for well over a year. The trip will certainly offer an occasion to some for righteous indignation (or, at least, for the pretense of such indignation), and it certainly will be the cause for offended clucking in at least a certain quarter.
I learned yesterday on the Peterson Obsession Board that, as an apologist, I may have been given “sweetheart deals” (by the Church or, anyway, by somebody) for my cars and my house. Do I really need to say that I never received any such “sweetheart deals”? Since, in that quarter, I’m presumed to be lying every time my lips move or my fingers type, would it do any good?
Posted from Edinburgh, Scotland