16 September 2006


Less and less of it around, these days.

I was over at Messy Musings (looking through my bookmarks, catching up), and found this post:
This morning as I was driving the kids to school, my step-son asked that we turn on the radio. I was enjoying the quiet. The boys are not very talkative in the morning and I was having a nice "think."

After that, I started thinking about how little quiet there is in this world. Olivia had a post where she talked about there being televisions in the checkout at WalMart and how people can't seem to go anywhere these days without one. I have said the same thing about cell phones. What do these people have to talk about in the grocery store, the car, the mall, at a restaurant? Olivia was observing how far heaven seems from us at noisy times like her time at WalMart. I think that's a profound and remarkable observation.
At the building where I work, they installed little TVs in the elevators. Then BIG ones in every single elevator lobby. Just business news ... in the elevators, weather and news headlines ...

As I drive home at night, I often see the TV displays hanging from the ceilings of minivans. Yesterday in front of Starbucks a man was talking loudly, gesticulating ... in the old days, one would have thought him either a bit "tetched" or doing a one-man show ... nope, had the little silver doo-dad on his ear.

People are always on the phone. Here in California, in 2008 we'll no longer be able to drive while holding a phone to the ear - good idea.

My ex used to have the TV on constantly. Even - especially - at bedtime.

I live alone now, and almost never have the TV on. I just don't think about it. Big exception: Sunday evenings, when Biography Channel shows Poirot and Sherlock Holmes and Midsomer Murders. I do spend an inordinate amount of time at the computer, however. But at least I'm reading ... thinking ... writing.

The news media on television has made scare-mongering into a fine art. They can do anything with a breathless "Oh, my God" kind of feel to it. If one listens to that too much, I really think anxiety starts to set in.

Even in church, the notion of silence is pretty much old hat. Talking, music, etc ... gotta have something going on all the time.

It is only in the last 60 years or so that we've had all this aural input all the time. That's not too long. We don't know what it's doing to our brains, our nerves, our ways of thought. Is it just coincidental that family life is getting more and more difficult ... ?

I'm gonna break my own rule...

...and comment on Current Affairs(TM).

As we all know, the Pope made a speech in Germany which was erudite and obviously carefully crafted, including a quote from centuries ago to illustrate his point. "...the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way. He simply used it as a means to undertake - in an academic context, and as is evident from a complete and attentive reading of the text - certain reflections on the theme of the relationship between religion and violence in general, and to conclude with a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come." (source)

Amy's been giving it some thought, and I like her latest:
What did he say that was wrong? He said, if you want to bring it all down to Islam, that in Islamic texts, there are passages that forbid compulsion in religion, but that historically, Islam has used violence to force conversions. This, the Pope said, leads to a conclusion about the image of God borne of holding these two realities as one: that God is not bound by his own Word. Such a belief would leave one beyond/outside of reason, for this God would then be totally unknowable.
and I wondered this, too:
What is astonishing about this - or perhaps not, to those who have been paying attention - is that critical thinking, discussions of history, and philosophical analysis is not allowed, apparently, when it comes to Islam. We will wait a few days to pass final judgment on this, but we are waiting for Muslim scholars - and for scholars of Islam to weigh in on this. Will they come to the Pope's defense, as a fellow intellectual, one who has been quite friendly to and open to dialogue with various viewpoints in the past, as friends and colleagues for decades have acknowledged? Will they see this as one more dangerous threat to freedom of speech and intellectual inquiry in the face of barbarians?
She concludes, and her thought parallels mine in these spots:
I have much more to say, but have to go do things. I simply think that in some way, this represents a breaking point - a point of clarity which I can't but think is not completely unintentional.

It is a point of clarity for the Muslim world: Can you discuss the presumption out of which you operate? Can you explain how the expressions of Muslim law, as lived out in your societies, are consistent with other teachings of your own religion, not to speak of thinking about basic human rights, which the rest of the world has arrived as via...you know...centuries of...reasoned thinking?

Or can you not do this? Do the assumptions out of which you operated make this impossible? Then how are we to dialogue with you? Or is that even not what you want?

And it is a point of clarity for the West - we are rooted in a tradition of discovery, exploration, reason, learning and dialogue.

Is this who we are....or not?

Because if not...there's a force of dhimmitude that's quite willing and ready to absorb you, shut down the voices of those who so unkindly "foment" discord by simply exploring a little history and philosophy.
I believe that what we have seen here is a man - an old man, by his own admission - doing his part to help us win the war against the liar who is trying to bait us into self-annihilating hatred. (Regular readers of this blog will know that "liar" in this context means Satan, who does not discriminate against any religious group when collecting his unfortunate victims - a soul's a soul.)

I think Benedict meant to do this ... or was inspired to do it.

He has made a scholarly, reasoned speech. His point was obvious. The quote was not only taken out of context, it was framed in headlines which were deliberately inflammatory, incomplete, and misleading. "Pope takes private time after slamming Islam."

And two things happened: some Muslims went ape, and the New York Times squatted down and deposited this response:
... In 2004 when he was still the Vatican’s top theologian, he spoke out against Turkey’s joining the European Union, because Turkey, as a Muslim country was “in permanent contrast to Europe.”

A doctrinal conservative, his greatest fear appears to be the loss of a uniform Catholic identity, not exactly the best jumping-off point for tolerance or interfaith dialogue.

The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal.
The Pope's going to Turkey, you know ... at the end of November. Why do this now? Is he really that stupid?

Probably not.

In order to disable the enemy, you need to find his weakness.

Any man who loses control of himself over rhetoric is pathetically weak. He's not only easily distracted, he dissipates his energies in furious gestures and yelling words.

The other enemy preaches peace at all costs, and demands with sombre tone that a "deep and persuasive apology" be issued for speaking about faith and reason.

Benedict has flushed those enemies out from cover. And, now that they're in the open, he's going to walk right onto the front lines, in full spotlight, by visiting a country where a book entitled Assassinating the Pope: Who will kill Benedict XVI in Istanbul is ranked as one of the bestsellers on the Internet! (Yet more proof that celibacy is not equivalent to castration.)

Amid all the "reaction," there was this gem... forgive me, but I laughed out loud in disbelief: "How can (the Pope) imply that Muslims are the creators of terrorism in the world while it is the followers of Christianity who have aggressed against every country of the Islamic world?" prominent Saudi cleric Salman al-Odeh said. "Who attacked Afghanistan and who invaded Iraq?"

Uh, no. More like going next door and saying, "Excuse me, neighbor, but the varmints under your front porch done showed up in my yard and bit my kids. I'm gonna give you a hand to get rid of 'em so we can both be free of 'em. Why don'tchya'll go on down to the hardware store and get some 'Varmint-Not' while we show those pestiferous critters some un-hospitality?"

Someone wise once said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them." Good advice, these days.

02 September 2006

What do people want? Musing about deconstructionism vs. beauty in a couple of areas of life.

JohnL at TexasBestGrok (found while looking over the sidebar at Bookish Gardener) has an interesting post about aesthetics in business. His subject is "Ed Bailey, whose ownership of 61 McDonald's locations in the ultra-competitive Dallas dining market has made him one of the most successful restaurant franchisees in the world." Ed's secret was to spend more money on his stores than anyone else, making them aesthetically pleasing.

JohnL then writes:
Mr. Bailey knew then what Virginia Postrel would later identify as the "aesthetic imperative." In Ms. Postrel's words:

Aesthetics--the look and feel of people, places, and things--is increasingly important as a source of value, both economic and cultural....

Aesthetics shows up where function used to be the only thing that mattered, from toilet brushes to business memos to computers and cell phones. And people's expectations keep rising. New tract homes have granite countertops, so hotel rooms have to have granite countertops too. Family restaurants used to be all about price and food, but now they have to worry about their decor. We've gone from Pizza Hut to California Pizza Kitchen. If you're in business, you have to invest in aesthetics simply to keep up with the competition.
(emphasis mine)
The Catholic Church - may God bless her abundantly - is far too monolithic to keep up with "trends." That's why, in some parishes, you can still hear 70s flower-child songs at Mass, played by guitars, instead of hip-hop and punk riffs. It's not wrong to let holy inspiration suggest new ideas about ways to celebrate in worship. What's wrong is to deny access the Latin Mass, Gregorian chant, and intricately carved altars, or to convince the laity that they were forbidden, which is essentially the same thing.

We need both. I'm open to both. But I'm convinced that all Catholics have the right to experience their heritage, which includes the beauty and, yes, majesty, of liturgical art and music from prior ages in the Church.

The zeal of wreckovators to purge the Church of architecture of previous ages makes one wonder if their real reason is because what they're putting in its place is ... ? (tawdry and ineffectual? ... oops - did I say that out loud? shame on me!)

Beauty is not the enemy!

This Church is ancient. It is the original. We are told that to be old is to be out of date, worthless, not relevant; however, this Church was already ancient - over 100 years old - when Trajan took the Roman Empire to its maximum extent, 300 years before the Western Roman Empire would fall.

The Latin Mass - that arcane ritual which was tossed aside so casually 40 years ago - fed the spirituality of millions people for almost 2,000 years. If it was so inimical to faith, how did the Church manage to toddle along without the fresh ideas of those who didn't read (or dismissed as "not going far enough") the documents of the Council??

|| Memorandum ||

From: God
To: All who think the Catholic Church needs lots and lots
of busy tinkering with architecture, literature, philosophy, theology, et al.

Cool your jets.

YHWH:(various secretaries in His employ)

* * *

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Concours d'Elegance at Pebble Beach. This is considered the premiere event of its type in the United States.

You could say that it's all about old cars, and you'd be right. You hear people say lots of stuff about old cars. Like, old cars - who wants 'em? They don't have air conditioning. They aren't sensitive to the car seekers of today. The youth aren't interested. Young people would never show up to see old cars.

Oh yeah?

(image found here)

How about an old car of such beauty and intrinsic worth that it has been restored from the ground up to its original beauty ... and even runs?

(image from Madle)

Yes, those are old cars. No, not everyone would want one at home. They are expensive to keep, etc. But, for car enthusiasts, they are the basics - like learning art history for an artist, or singing bel canto for a future opera star, or learning about roux for a future chef. To see these beautiful autos restored to their former glory - absolutely authentic, right down to the tires, which are specially made - is inspiring.

Those automobiles were built for fashion, of course; but they remain as icons because to experience them is to capture some of what it was to explore the possibilities of automotive transport. The art of their construction re-breathes ideas from prior years, while looking forward to the next. It is one thing to look at an image. It's another to see the sheer bulk of them, the gleam of chrome, the upholstery and appointments, and to hear the engine run. It is to understand what people felt when they bought and used cars in those days. It hearkens back to the history of motoring. Without those carefully-preserved automobiles, we would not have access to the experience.

Not much of a leap to think about how that applies to church architecture.

To experience one of the incredibly beautiful cathedrals in France, say, is to have a clue as to the devotion, faith, tenacity, and priorities of the people who had them built, and the pride they took in their work.

To alter a church on the theory that The Spirit of Vatican Two requires it is to try to seize the elusive winds of fashion.

Why adopt deconstructionism in church art...

(St. Vibiana's altar in 1945, left; Our Lady of the Angels altar at its consecration, right.)

...just as a renewed appreciation for the finer things in life is reviving worldwide?

(St. John the Baptist, Costa Mesa; the stunning result of a renovation completed just this year [h/t Gerald; a commenter on the post wrote, "Wow! It's like someone at that parish suddenly woke up and said, 'Gee, we're not Protestants. Howz about we restore some grandeur and the promise of Mystery?'"] Gerald has been running a series of incredibly beautiful photographs of churches, by the way; do check them out.)

Simplicity can be beautiful, and inspiring:

(image from John Pawson Architecture, of the Novy Dvur Cistercian Monastery, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sept-Fons; Czech Republic 2004.)

The austerity which arrests and focuses the attention can still overflow with beauty.

The Roman Catholic Church is known for her mysticism and her abundant and enduring contributions to the art of the Western world. We need to trust the generations before us which preserved timeless design principles, and let their contributions stand until we can understand them more clearly. To have new does not always mean the old must be destroyed. Truly brilliant design doesn't require that the old be destroyed to allow the new; nor does it compromise one for the other. Instead, it allows the two to mutually complement, support, and inform.

(Maybach image source)

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Found at This Garden Is Illegal, by way of Bookish Gardener.