The Drama of Hallowmas | Sally Thomas | First Things

https://d2ipgh48lxx565.cloudfront.net/uploads/article_58138e8c37f90.jpg?Expires=1543442491&Signature=can6YNqHLakX6wtAbtEsOo6uWQTyRRkepAQILSfrWq6aeGrfjozD9o~~zpAFbIH1qfnarHqk~7keZHP60PKw5irwDgUbalpIJVSze2~ohVxd5eSHYyVXE-p~6Ry-cWrbrV70WXOc2dumLfFLyk6bdODwwgpx2DbxTxpvNHJkQv-D~N3MEH9htkcg65AJ~j4VisljonEU6raDIzQDcfe0IT715pi2Cx4S4grlZS7MbFYsPNgwhyLzYehzsXaRN9mMQVtGeebuLW6Yw~2BmUc5XL4wQ-OfEa9kLj~7W-5983PKcI5n9NXx7iFi-Dsxxr~Lshf2ujOZNdApkfU6HMMfzg__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAIN7SVXNLPAOVDKZQ

“As a friend of mine observed recently, there is something medieval about Halloween…”

Source: The Drama of Hallowmas | Sally Thomas | First Things

A very interesting “take” on Halloween, and the larger Hallowmas season (Eve of All Hallows, All Hallows / All Saints Day, and All Souls Day) of which it is a part. Sally Thomas writes, in this “web exclusive” for the excellent journal First Things,

“As a friend of mine observed recently, there is something medieval about Halloween. The masks, the running around in the dark, the flicker of candles in pumpkins, the smell of leaves and cold air — all of it feels ancient, even primal, somehow. Despite the now-inevitable preponderance of media-inspired costumes, Halloween seems, in execution, far closer to a Last Judgment scene above a medieval church door, or to a mystery play, than it does to Wal-Mart.

“To step outside on Halloween dressed as someone—or some thing—other than yourself is to step into a narrative that acknowledges that the membrane between our workaday, material world and the unseen realm of spirits is far thinner and more permeable than many of us like to think. This narrative disturbs a lot of people, as the proliferation of church-sponsored ‘autumn festivals’ and ‘trunk-or-treat’ parties suggests. To some of those who worry about it, Halloween is either a thoroughly secular or a thoroughly pagan observance, to be avoided by serious Christians…

“Halloween’s emphasis on darkness makes many Christians squeamish, but, to my mind, what my friend observed about the medieval feel of Halloween is more on the money. There is a drama to be played out, like a mystery play in three scenes, and it makes sense only if you observe all three days of Hallowmas — not only Halloween but All Saints’ and All Souls’ days as well. In this context, the very secularity and even the roots-level paganism of Halloween become crucial elements in a larger Christian story.”

She adds,

“What their costumes are is less important than the fact that, for a night, my children will be people other than themselves: each of them will be someone who, regardless of real-life fears about the dark, is not afraid to step out into the night. Armored inside their personae, they can laugh at the shadows, as well they should. On the one hand, the powers of darkness are no joke; on the other hand, although Christians have no traffic with these powers, we do not fear them.”

This is an important lesson to learn, and one of the reasons I get a bit impatient at those Christians – usually on the Evangelical / Fundamentalist Protestant side of the Christian spectrum – who get into conniptions over Halloween, and often refuse to celebrate it at all. They are missing the point. They are also surrendering to the demonic far too much power: as Ms Thomas points out, we have no traffic with these powers, but neither need we fear them: Christ has already won the victory over them.

[These are some of the same folks – doubtless good and well-meaning people – who act as if, even if they may not formally believe, that the Devil is God’s “opposite number,” so to speak. In fact, the counterpart to Satan (Lucifer, the fallen “angel of light,” who became the demon of darkness) is St. Michael the Archangel (see Revelation 12:7–10): God is utterly supreme, omnipotent and ineffable, and has no opponent! That the Devil thinks he is anything close to equivalent with God is but a conceit on his part (hubris: overweening pride), and a heretical error to any human who believes it.]

Halloween is (or should be; admittedly, there are some who use it to celebrate darkness to a psychologically and spiritually unhealthy degree, but Christians should know better) about mocking the forces of darkness, not embracing them. It is, in a sense, a victory parade for the battle that was won for us on the Cross of Calvary – a celebration in which some may choose to wear the uniforms of the defeated enemy.

Pyramid of captured German helmets, New York, 1918 (2)
Pyramid of pickelhauben (captured WW I German helmets), Grand Central Terminal, New York, 1919. While I do not necessarily applaud this sort of display, it does speak to the point of emphasizing the defeat of one’s enemy by displaying his “stuff.”

And it is also, of course, a harvest festival, celebrating the turning-point between the season of warmth and light, and that of cold and dark… between, that is to say, the seasons of life and of death, or seeming death. And this, too, is a Christian mystery!

For just as the myths of the “dying gods” recorded by Frasier in The Golden Bough, and others, were reflections of the seeming “death” (actually dormancy) of the natural world in the Winter, only to be “reborn” in the Spring, so that very seasonal cycle is a reminder of what C.S. Lewis called the “true myth” of Christ’s death and resurrection:

“Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself . . . I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose ‘what it meant.’

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference — that it really happened.”

Thanks be to God! Just don’t forget that All Saints and All Souls are yet to come – the drama is not yet complete:

“On All Saints’ Day, our parish holds a children’s festival, hugely attended, at which children and adults alike dress as their favorite saints… The party is such fun that we could almost dispense with Halloween, whose festivities, as we observe them, are minimal by comparison. But the cumulative iconography of being, first, a secular character confronting darkness, and then a saint in light, is imaginatively powerful and valuable.

“As our Hallowmas ends, the pageantry and excitement of Halloween and All Saints’ Day give way to the comparative quiet of the feast of All Souls. This final solemnity is a day without costumes. Having been denizens of the night and citizens of the household of God, the children step back into themselves to contemplate their own mortality and pray for our beloved dead. In three days they have enacted the story of their own eternal lives: from darkness to the hope of heaven and the joy of the saints who await them in glory. From mystery to mystery, it’s a drama I would not have them miss.”

Amen, and amen!

Advertisements

The Anglican Beer Club| theoldjamestownchurch blog

Source: The Anglican Beer Club | theoldjamestownchurch blog

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
Wherever I travel I find it so,
Benedicamus Domino!

— Hilaire Belloc

While I was in Nashville, Tennessee, studying at Vanderbilt Divinity School for my Master of Theological Studies, I attended a very traditional, Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church in, somewhat paradoxically, a very spare and somewhat modernist building. Its Rector commented at one point that Anglicans value the gifts of God in Creation, and in particular, “like a glass of good port, a pipe of good tobacco, and a good steak!”

I think he would have been much in accord with the thoughts of Belloc, noted above, and also the author of theoldjamestownchurch blog entry linked above, who happens to be a (Facebook) friend of mine, as well as a fellow-priest, albeit of a different traditional Anglican jurisdiction.

I grew up in a teetotaling Methodist household (to the point that I used to tease my devoutly Methodist mother about Christ “turning the water into Welsh’s grape juice” in the Wedding at Cana), so it was something of a relief to find myself in a Church which does not frown upon imbibing, intrinsically, so long as one does so in moderation.

The fact is, Anglicans are not Puritans, nor should we mimic Puritanism. We celebrate the good gifts God has given us in His good Creation, beer, wine, and spirits included – celebrate them, not misuse or abuse them. As C.S. Lewis put it,

“Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance’, it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion.

“Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he wants to give the money to the poor, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying.

“One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons — marriage or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning…”

Those of us who are clerics, in particular, should strive to set a good example for our flock; and needless to say, if we become intoxicated to the point that we become indiscreet or lose control of our faculties, that is not setting a good example. But conviviality and good cheer are a different matter, as this blog post explains:

“The teaching of Holy Scripture on the question of alcohol consumption is pretty easy to understand. On the one hand, habitual drunkenness is condemned, but alcohol: 1) consumed in small amounts for health reasons; and 2) consumed in larger and sometimes mildly to moderately intoxicating amounts on celebratory occasions is considered a gift of God. See Prov. 20:1; Psalm 104:15; the [Wedding at Cana linked] above, I Tim. 5:23 and Eph. 5:18 for representative texts from the Old and New Testaments.”

When it comes to Anglicans – a branch of the Church Catholic, whether our neo-Calvinist party, on the one hand, or our Roman and Orthodox brethren, on the other, agree or not – our history is one in which conviviality figures largely. Both in England and America, Anglicans have not been afraid to enjoy the fruit of the vine or the barley-field, a pipe of Old Dominion leaf, or a well-laden groaning board (*).

In any case, the point is to enjoy such pleasures responsibly, in moderation: to exercise temperance, that is, in the old fashion. Some may not be able to manage this, and so, of course, should abstain entirely (no less a personage than the famous General Robert E. Lee, a model of self-discipline, temperance, and sobriety if ever there was one, once commented that “I like whiskey. I always did, and that is why I never drink it”).

But if one understands oneself and one’s limitations, and honours them appropriately, there is no intrinsic reason to deny oneself the good gifts of God’s good Creation, be one clergy or lay. And as the linked blog post points out, it may even be an opportunity for evangelism:

“I know for a fact that when we left that establishment, we had planted seeds in the minds of some – ‘Here were some Christians drinking beer, not shunning us, and friendly besides.’ Exactly what Jesus did when he attended the feasts that earned him the scorn of the Pharisees...  Those who object to collared Anglican clergymen showing up at the local pub or microbrewery need to take the matter up with Jesus, and explain to him exactly why it was inappropriate for him to do what he did at the wedding in Cana.”

To which I can only add, Amen!


* It is arguable whether “groaning board” originally referred to a “board” (trestle table) so heavy with delicious foods piled upon it that the wood itself groaned with the strain, or whether consumption of too much of said tasty victuals (usually pronounced “vittles”) resulted in groaning on the part of those partaking – possibly both – but either way, it refers to the enjoyment of good food in substantial quantity!

Plausible distractor: gun control, contemporary culture, and school shootings

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 10.49.51 PM

Many or most, if not all, of my readers will be aware that there was a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, which resulted in 17 deaths and wounded 14 others. I shall not here identify the perpetrator, who appears to be a deeply disturbed and sinister young male – I certainly will not dignify him with the title “man.”

It has not taken long for the left-wing media – following Rahm Emanuel’s infamous dictum “never let a good crisis go to waste” – to politicize this latest tragedy, and use it as the latest argument in favor of stripping Americans of our God-given and Constitutionally-guaranteed right to defend ourselves. The irony in that will not be lost on those who have not succumbed to leftist ideological indoctrination.

Fortunately, not everyone has, and a good friend of mine posted the above on Facebook. I shared it, with a few added points which I reproduce here:

  1. Automatic weapons were available to civilians for a brief period following the First World War, and prior to the National Firearms Act of 1934, after which they were and are NOT available to anyone who is not the holder of a Class III Firearms License – which is very hard to get, and requires extensive background checks and monitoring (and expense). When they WERE available, use of them in crime was limited to gangsters, which in those days meant organized crime families (which is why they were limited). So “automatic weapons” or “assault weapons” are a non-issue: as regards the civilian population, they do not exist.
  2. And lest you say, “b-b-b-but large-capacity magazines and semi-automatic rifles…!” let me remind you that the Texas Tower shooting, the first “mass shooting” by modern standards, which occurred in 1966, was committed largely with bolt-action and pump-action firearms.
  3. Let me remind you further that mass shooters are highly motivated individuals, who are unlikely to be deterred by such minor details as lack of availability of their preferred (or any) firearms. The Oklahoma City bomber did not need guns to kill 168 people and injure 680 more. The 9/11 hijackers did not need guns to kill nearly 3,000 people and terrorize a nation, scarring its psyche in ways that still linger. Terrorists in various locations, including New York City last year, have not needed guns to kill large numbers of people by ramming them with vehicles. Someone who is sufficiently determined to cause a massacre will find a way of doing so. And while banning guns may make them think a little harder for a little longer, it’s not going to prevent it; it is going to make things more difficult for law-abiding citizens who want to defend themselves and their families, or use firearms for sporting purposes.
  4. And that “18 school shootings in 45 days” meme that’s making the rounds? That includes eight incidents with no injuries or fatalities, two attempted suicides, one shot fired during the course of a fight, and two others that resulted in a single student being slightly wounded. And that is according to records found at “Everytown for Gun Safety,” Michael Bloomburg’s anti-gun advocacy group, which uses a very lenient (one could argue, highly misleading) standard: “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds,” it counts as a school shooting, regardless of whether or not the shooting results in injury or death. While any and all of these are regrettable, placing them in the same category as what happened in Florida is disingenuous, to put it mildly.

It is very easy to place the blame for tragic incidents like the recent Florida shooting on firearms. But – although the military is working on autonomous (AI) weapons (a concerning development, but tangential to this) – no firearm currently available to civilians is capable of engaging a target on its own. It requires a human being to make that decision and act on it.

modal-4_heritage_rifle_club
The 1931 girls’ rifle team outside Huntington High School, Huntington, New York.

In the 1950s and 60s, it was commonplace for students to bring firearms to school, for hunting purposes, often leaving them plainly visible in gun-racks in their pickups on the parking lot, or sometimes keeping them in their lockers. Yet there were no school shootings. During the same period (and for decades prior), high-school shooting teams were common. Again, no school shootings. Teenaged students even carried firearms on public buses and trolleys, on their way from their homes (or schools!) to the outskirts of town to hunt. Again, no shootings resulted.

The issue is not a gun issue. That’s an obvious but a misleading target – a “plausible distractor,” in testing terms. The issue is a societal and cultural issue, and a moral issue. It is a whole lot easier to say “ban guns” than it is to wrestle seriously with where we, as a culture, might have been going wrong – might be continuing to go wrong. And there is no single answer to that question, either; it is almost certainly a multiplicity of wrong steps, in a variety of areas.

These include, but are not limited to, the failures of parenting Sandy mentions, plus breakdown of stable family units in general, the rise of media and recreational opportunities (including music, videos or other visual media, the video gaming Sandy mentioned, etc.) that glorify amoral or immoral violence while minimizing its consequences, the breakdown of traditional religious observances and the moral guidelines religion has traditionally provided (see Washington’s Farewell Address), and the breakdown of cultural cohesion – and the stability that provides – in a variety of ways. There are probably many others that I have missed.

And until we seriously and constructively address these issues, the problem will continue. Banning or limiting (any more than they are already limited, which is severely) firearms will not solve it, it will only make things more difficult for law-abiding citizens, and chip further away at our freedom.

P.S. I have seen a number of worthwhile comments come across my newsfeed today. Here is one:

“We have to understand that even if we secure every school to were a mouse couldn’t get entry with a pea-shooter, it’s a band-aid. What then: shopping malls, fast-food restaurants, hospitals? We have a much more fundamental, philosophical and spiritual problem. When was the last time the great works of western philosophy and ethics were taught in our schools? When did we last focus our children on the big questions of the human condition, questions addressed by the great thinkers of Western Civilization? Could it be back in the last days when we had no mass school shootings? Do we really believe we could turn our back on the great projects of Western Civilization and not loose a hold on civil society itself?”

Indeed. To tear a plant up from its roots and not expect it to whither is the height of insanity. And of course, the diminution and marginalization of traditional religious faith – particularly the Judeo-Christian religious tradition – and the moral standards which come from it has played a major role in stripping our society of its moral compass.

And then there was this comment, from a Washington sheriff, interviewed today:

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 10.57.05 PM

Here is the video clip, in which he reinforces a lot of what I’ve said, above – only a lot more succinctly:

We have viewed abandoning traditional social and cultural norms, traditional moral values, traditional religious faith, traditional child-rearing practices, and much more, as being “progressive,” and trumpeted this abandonment as great advances in the human experience. But as C.S. Lewis presciently put it,

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it’s pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We’re on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”

C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity

Amen.

Throne, Altar, Liberty: Christianity in the Age of Unbelief

A sympathetic review of God in the Dock, a compilation of essays by the late great author and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis.

Source: Throne, Altar, Liberty: Christianity in the Age of Unbelief

This is a blog post which is a review (well, more of a recommendation, but with commentary) of a blog post which is a review of a book. Such things may become problematic! At what point do they become circular, and self-referential? At what point, in contrast, do they stray too far from the thing itself? All I can say in response is, read this post, if you so desire, but then read Gerry T. Neal’s excellent essay – and then, above all, read C.S. Lewis’s God in the Dock! Don’t take our word for it, see for yourself.

Like most (if not all) other writings by “Jack” Lewis, it is well worth the time and effort required. Time, because although the individual essays are fairly short, in the main, the collection itself is fairly lengthy. Effort, because although Lewis is a superbly gifted and engaging writer – at times provocative, at times witty and entertaining, and often both at once – he engages deep subjects, worthy of deep thought, and gives it to them.

As is common with deep thoughts, well-expressed, they often evoke feelings of “But of course! Now, why didn’t I think of that?” And although I purchased and read God in the Dock way back in 1998, and have referred to it many times since, Mr. Neal’s essay has provided me with some fresh perspectives on Lewis’s work – and a few “ah-ha!” moments, as well. Continue reading “Throne, Altar, Liberty: Christianity in the Age of Unbelief”

C.S. Lewis – on being progressive

C.s.lewis3

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Words of wisdom… whether or not from C.S. Lewis!

See this Instagram photo by @thesoutherninstitute • 14k likes

Source: Jenny Yarbrough on Instagram

It seems that these words are not attributable to the great C.S. Lewis, after all, but they are excellent words, nonetheless, and very much in his spirit! Highly apropos, given our current political situation here in the U.S., too.

“Romantic Conservatives: The Inklings in Their Political Context”

Romantic Conservatives: The Inklings in Their Political Context

romantic-conservatives-the-inklings-in-their-political-context

A very interesting treatment of the political philosophy of a fascinating group of writers and thinkers — the Inklings, whose number included both J.R.R. Tolkien and his friend and sometimes foil or rival, C.S. Lewis. The pendulum has swung again, of course, and Romanticism has for many today a sort of “airy-fairy,” unrealistic air to it. But as this essay points out,

“To begin with, just what is Romanticism, anyway? There do seem to be as many definitions as there are writers; but it is as accurate a one as any might be to call it Europe’s artistic and philosophical reaction to the arid rationalism of the Enlightenment, the horrors of the French Revolutionary Wars, and the centralising hand of Napoleon Bonaparte.”

It’s important to note that Romanticism is a reaction against, and response to, rationalism — not rationality, that is to say reason, properly understood and exercised. The Romantics, and certainly the Inklings who were among their heirs, understood and valued reason as one of the faculties with which humans have been gifted by a loving Creator. But like everything else, it was to occupy its appropriate sphere, not either more or less.

One of the definitions of a “heresy” is a truth which is carried to such an extreme that it becomes no longer true. By that standard, the rationalist heresy is the idea that unaided reason is the only way one can, or should, understand the world, and everything must be subjected to the test of reason. If you cannot reason (or experiment, as empiricism is part of this) your way to a conclusion, it is suspect at best, or to be rejected absolutely. This is a view common to both Modernist and, to a very significant extent, post-modernist thought as well.

Romantics, and the Inklings, would have argued for Mystery, and the possibility of, not the irrational, but the trans-rational, the supra-rational: that which is beyond all that our minds can grasp. “My ways are not your ways, nor your thoughts, my thoughts,” as the prophet Isaiah expresses the Divine message. Reason can only take us so far; as St. Thomas Aquinas said of his exquisitely researched and argued “Summa Theologica,” following a mystical experience at the Eucharist, “It is all straw.”

The fruits of reason are not to be despised, then, but merely understood within their own context, and neither expected to take us beyond reason’s proper sphere, nor to be meekly accepted when they attempt to do so. The deification of Reason, the assumption that it is the be-all and end-all of existence, was for the Romantics and the Inklings, and is for me, to be rejected: it is like the wings of Icarus, that take us too high, too close to the sun, so that we fall to our doom. It is the very definition of hubris, of arrogant over-reach: the pride that goeth before the fall, the creature seeking to pass judgement on the Creator.

But these are just my own meanderings on one piece of the puzzle. The whole article is fascinating, and only touches on the rationalist heresy as it applies to the Inklings’ political philosophy. Read and enjoy!