After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I've spent the last two days listening to my favorite Beatles songs, for the first time.
Just released are newly remastered versions of the Beatles catalog. The difference, even between previous CD versions and these, is stunning. The new masters are so alive, so nuanced and so full of presence that they are truly better than the originals. If you are a Beatles fan, you owe yourself to spend the money. And please, listen to them on something other than Ipod earbuds. (I bought my first Beatles album, Rubber Soul, in 1965, and listened to it on a small portable record player with a 3" speaker. While I appreciated the musicianship, I could not appreciate the recording until decades later when I listened to the CD on a high-end stereo system).

Concurrent with the Beatles releases, a newly remastered version of The Wizard of Oz has just been released. Available in Blu-Ray and standard DVD, it promises the same sort of experience as listening to The Beatles. One benefit I am looking forward to: the new version has 6.1 surround sound; all the previous releases were monophonic, since that was what movie theaters were equipped to play in 1939. (Trivia: What was the first multi-channel movie soundtrack?  Walt Disney's Fantasia, in 1940. When did the Abbey Road recording studios, made famous by The Beatles, open? 1931.)

And in other remastering news, God is continuing to improve on Wayne S, model 1. As the song says, 

I've got to admit it's getting better
A little better all the time
It can't get no worse
I have to admit it's getting better, it's getting better
Since you've been mine.
(Lennon-McCartney, 1967)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's personal

Salvation is personal. Jesus didn't die for church people. He didn't die for a country, or a race. He died for you. And He didn't do it just so you could be a good person, a good family member, or a good citizen.
Jesus didn't die to make you good. Jesus died so God could show you what good is. He wants to love you, and have you love Him. — W. S.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Helter-Skelter and Grace

This past August marked the 40th anniversary of the Manson family murders—Steven Parent, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate on August 9, 1968, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the next night.
An excellent docudrama on the History Channel brought back the memories I had of the crime, and of reading Vince Bugliosi's account, Helter-Skelter. The story is one of pure and unexplainable evil.
But a perusal of the web turned up an interesting fact: Two of the murderers, Susan Atkins and Charles "Tex" Watson, have become Christians.
No doubt this infuriates some, as it did when infamous serial-killer/cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer also professed faith in Christ shortly before his murder in prison.
But the truth is, grace is available to anyone. Anytime. As much as we would like to say that Jesus died to keep people like Atkins and Watson from killing, the thing we must all accept, if grace is unmerited, is that it always follows sin. It is the only know antidote.
So, rejoice. As William Camden wrote in Remaines, speaking of a dissolute man who died when he fell from his horse:

     My friend, judge not me,
     Thou seest I judge not thee;
     Betwixt the stirrop and the ground,
     Mercy I askt, mercy I found."

W. S. 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A dangerous trend

Exaggerated self-criticism would be a harmless luxury of civilization if there were no enemy at the gate condemning democracy's very existence. But it becomes dangerous when it portrays its mortal enemy as always being in the right. Extravagant criticism is a good propaganda device in internal politics. But if it is repeated often enough, it is finally believed. And where will the citizens of democratic societies find reasons to resist the enemy outside if they are persuaded from childhood that their civilization is merely an accumulation of failures and a monstrous imposture? - Jean Francois Revel, How Democracies Perish

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Some have it. Some don't. At a church cemetery near my home.

Click photo to enlarge.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pure and undefiled religion

There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, "Business as usual." But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.
These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their detriment, not God's, that the self-righteous should rush. — Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit  orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.— James, in the New Testament letter that bears his name. (v.1:27)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lunch in the rain

Four Chipping Sparrows enjoy some seed in the rain on my back deck. We have been blessed (?) with some 6 or 7 inches in the last two days, with more to come. Roads are closed. Our basement is leaking (I will wet-vac again in a few minutes). Nice to know that life goes on for some. Click image to enlarge.

Seeing the tables and chairs

A few verses in Proverbs, chapter 3, seem to offer an interesting insight into how certain people view the world, and sin in particular. They read as follows:

       "But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know over what they stumble."

Only the cruelest, most adolescent among us would find humor in a blind person trying to negotiate a living room without benefit of cane or directions. So why are we surprised when the spiritually blind among us trip over or break things? If anything, we should be more surprised, more dismayed, and even more baffled when the spiritually sighted trip over something that they can actually see. That, to me, seems to be the essence of grace and the promise of sanctification: not that we will never stumble or break things, but that, as the light gets brighter, we will recognize more and more what we must avoid.

In a letter entitled 1st John, the author says, in verses 6-8 of the first chapter, "If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us."

So for those among us who are spiritually sighted, the challenge is not to save the china or avoid the cat's tail--it is to have our "eyes" open enough that, at best, we avoid some obstacles, and, in general, confess our "clumsiness" (sin) when we stumble.

But there is more to sight than that. While we may see the obstacles, we may also see something else the blind cannot see: the table, set for a feast, and the feast-giver Himself, holding an outstretched hand to an empty chair.


Feast of Simon the Pharisee by Peter Paul Rubens,oil on canvas, ca. 1618, 
189×254.5 cm, Ermitage, Sankt Petersburg. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tolerance vs. Patience and Empathy.

I think “tolerance” is a much-abused word when applied to the church. A true church would not be tolerant as much as patient and empathetic. Patient because we know from experience that maturity in faith is a long process, much like a slog through an endless muddy field with a full backpack. And empathetic for the same reason—we are all more alike than we think. Everyone struggles. Everyone fails. Tolerance implies a turning of the head and a wink, as if to excuse mere human nature. That’s the point God is always trying to make—it IS mere human nature, but as His child you are no mere human. -- W. S. 

Illustration: "Empathy" by Lora Shelley

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Speed the mind

The word “awakening” may be more than a figure of speech here, for such “trips” have surely to be compared with dreams. I have occasionally, it seems to me, lived a life between my first alarm, at 5 a.m., and my second alarm, five minutes later.Sometimes, as one as falling asleep, there may be a massive, involuntary jerk — a myoclonic jerk — of the body. Though such jerks are generated by primitive parts of the brain stem (they are, so to speak, brain–stem reflexes), and as such are without any intrinsic meaning or motive, they may be given meaning and context, turned into acts, by an instantly improvised dream. Thus the jerk may be associated with the dream of tripping, or stepping over a precipice, lunging forward to catch a ball, and so on. Such dreams may be extremely vivid and have several “scenes.” Subjectively, they appear to start before the jerk, and yet presumably the entire dream mechanism is stimulated by the first, preconscious perception of the jerk. All of this elaborate restructuring of time occurs in a second or less. — Oliver Sacks, from the essay Speed, in Best American Essays, 2005.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Two billion beats

Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two-hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.

So much is held in a heart and a lifetime. So much held in the heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one, in the end -- not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think they will come one person who will save us and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by a force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in a distant, felled by a woman's second glance, a child's apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words "I have something to tell you," a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, and the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of her father's voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children. — Brian Doyle, from the essay Joyas Valadorus, in The Best American Essays 2005 (The Best American Series)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Goodbye, Mary

Mary Travers 1936-2009
We lost an amazing voice today. Mary Travers was the beautiful alto voice of Peter, Paul and Mary. She was my first crush as a singer (the second, Linda Ronstadt), and she has remained a favorite all my adult life. With long, bright blonde hair and bangs, she was modishly beautiful, yet sang decidedly un-modish folk music. She was not only a voice in music, but in social justice as well who, along with her bandmates, worked tirelessly for civil rights in the 1960s and beyond. She was also an accomplished and published poet. On her post-PPM solo album, entitled Mary, she read one of her poems:

Erika with the windy yellow hair
Dancing through the day or moping by the stair
My joy to know my Erika with the windy yellow hair

Yesterday I met her running home from school
Her face was tear stained, she didn't know I knew
But I do, I do

But today she had a song to sing and a poem she knew
And with a kiss and a hug she just dashed away, she had things to do
I do too, I do too

Lithesome child, I turn with care
When viewing you on step or stair
All my hope and love for you,
My Erika of the windy yellow hair 
You will be missed, Mary. All my hope and love for you, our Mary, with the windy yellow hair.--W.S.

Encountering Art

Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain works of art? Admiration is born with our first gaze and if subsequently we should discover, in the patient obstinacy we apply in flushing out the causes thereof, that all this beauty is the fruit of a virtuosity that can only be detected through close scrutiny of a brush that has been able to tame shadow and light and restore shape and texture, by magnifying them—the transparent jewel of the glass, the tumultuous texture of the shells, the clear velvet of the lemon—this neither dissipates nor explains the mystery of one's initial dazzled glance. 
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Still-Life with Oysters, c.1633, by Pieter Claesz. Click to enlarge.

Facts in fiction

Facts can help evoke emotion, especially those that transmit texture, tonality, and sensual detail. But facts can't drive a piece. Research, no matter how compelling, may give me the bones of a fiction, but never the breath and the blood. It's a wonderful, sometimes immensely useful tool that helps give me something to write about. But without the transforming force of the imagination, the result is only information.
In 1936, when a different war was looming on the horizon, Walter Benjamin wrote this:
  • Every morning brings us news of the globe and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation. In other words, by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information. Actually, it is half the art of storytelling to keep the story free from explanation as one reproduces it... The value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new. It lives only at that moment; it has to surrender to it completely and explain itself to it without losing any time.
Slowly I began to relearn something I’d once grasped but had lost sight of: that emotion -- that central element of fiction -- derives not from information or explanation, nor from a logical arrangement of facts, but specifically from powerful images and from the qualities of language: diction, rhythm, former, structure, association, a metaphor. And sometimes I also had glimmers of another thing I'd once known: how effectively information can be used to wall off emotion. — Andrea Barrett, from the essay The Sea of Information, in The Best American Essays 2005 (The Best American Series)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Agnostic

I can well imagine an athiest's last words: "White, white! L-L-Love! My God!"—and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, "Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain," and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story. — Yann Martel, Life of Pi.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The faith of last resort

There is no inherent superiority in being a Christian. C. S. Lewis was once asked, “Which religion is the best?” He replied, “While it lasts, the religion of worshiping oneself is the best.” The point I think Lewis was making was this: Christianity is the faith of last resort. It is one you choose when all the others have proved inadequate. It is the one you choose when you have run out of choices that allow you to run the show.
And the reason it is the last choice is simple—it expects all of us. Properly devoted to, it requires us to die.
-- W. S.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Morality and Freedom

A moral code does not suppress choice, but educates and forms liberty. But for some, morality is opposed not only to evil choice (sin) but any choice at all, any personal act of the will, any initiative, and obedience is therefore a compulsion, not an act of love. For them God is not love but power, obedience is not freedom but submission and inertia. — Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Man as a creature of purpose

The efforts that men make to bring about their own happiness, their own ease of life, their own self-indulgence, will in due course produce the opposite, leading me to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that human beings cannot live and operate in this world without some concept of a being greater than themselves, and of a purpose which transcends their own egotistic or greedy desires. Once you eliminate the notion of a God, a creator, once you eliminate the notion that the creator has a purpose for us, and that life consists essentially in fulfilling that purpose, then you are bound, as Pascal points out, to induce the megalomania of which we've seen so many manifestations in our time - in the crazy dictators, as in the lunacies of people who are rich, or who consider themselves to be important or celebrated in the western world. Alternatively, human beings relapse into mere carnality, into being animals. I see this process going on irresistably, of which the holocaust is only just one example. If you envisage men as being only men, you are bound to see human society, not in Christian terms as a family, but as a factory--farm in which the only consideration that matters is the well--being of the livestock and the prosperity or productivity of the enterprise. — Malcolm Muggeridge, in an address at Hillsdale College in 1979.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The birth of a character

As I have pointed out before, characters are not born like people, of woman; they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about. — Milan Kundera, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Friday, September 11, 2009


In our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart until, 
in our own despair, against our will, 
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God. 
Aeschylus, from Agamemnon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Half in and half out

You know, it's a funny thing, but when you're old, as I am, there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen to you. One of them is, you realize that history is nonsense, but I won't go into that now. The pleasantest thing of all is that you wake up in the night at about, say, three a.m., and you find that you are half in and half out of your battered old carcass. And it seems quite a toss-up whether you go back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body, or make off toward the bright glow you see in the sky, the lights of the City of God. In this limbo between life and death, you know beyond any shadow of doubt that, as an infinitesimal particle of God's creation, you are a participant in God's purpose for His creation, and that that purpose is loving and not hating, is creative and not destructive, is everlasting and not temporal, is universal and not particular. With this certainty comes an extraordinary sense of comfort and joy. — Malcolm Muggeridge, in an address at Hillsdale College in 1979.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The depth of the gospel

“The gospel has been described as a pool in which a toddler can wade and yet an elephant can swim. It is both simple enough to tell to a child and profound enough for the greatest minds to explore. Indeed, even angels never tire of looking into it " (1 Peter 1:12)
Dr. Tim Keller

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Fear of falling?

What is vertigo? Fear of falling? Then why do we feel it even when the observation tower comes equipped with a sturdy handrail? No, vertigo is something other than the fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which temps and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves. — Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Monday, September 07, 2009

Reaching out from solitude

Writers live paradoxical lives, spending much time alone in an attempt to connect to others. — Philip Yancey

Friday, September 04, 2009

Evidence of Life

Poetry is just the evidence of life. 
If your life is burning well,  
poetry is just the ash.  
- Leonard Cohen

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Sometimes I think the early church fathers missed a chance to better describe the Trinity. All of the major creeds—The Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian—infer that God is three-in-one; Father, Son and Spirit. Yet they go on to describe them as pretty much different entities.  
How better would it have been to simply say, for example in the Apostles Creed:  
"I believe in God as the Father Almighty....
"I believe in God as Jesus Christ the only Son...
"I believe in God as the Holy Spirit..."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

God and Man

God doesn't learn from experience, does He, or how could He hope anything of man? — Graham Greene, from Our Man in Havana

Morning Prayer

I thank you for the noise
my dew-wetted shoes  
make on the linoleum.  

I thank you for the smell 
of coffee  
and the promise therein.  

I thank you for my soul  
both content 
and restless.  

All proof of life.