Archive for March, 2009

The Lady of the Lake

Dear Bill,

As I prepare for classes tomorrow, I notice that a number of good and interesting things have been written about President Obama’s forthcoming visit to the University of Notre Dame to deliver the main address at this year’s commencement exercises.

As someone (at the age of 13) who watched President Ronald Reagan deliver his famous address there on May 17, 1981, and who graduated from there in 1990, I’ve been especially interested in the controversy.

Most recently, Father Schall of Georgetown published his reflections at Catholic World Report.

Jim Otteson (U. of Notre Dame, class of 1990), a professor of philosophy and economics at Yeshiva University in New York, has published this.

Greg Scheckler (U. of Notre Dame, class of 1990), a professor of visual arts at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and an avowed atheist, has published this piece.

The bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, John D’Arcy, has issued this condemnation.

As of 4:30 today, 223,607 persons have signed a petition protesting President Obama’s visit to Notre Dame.

The University of Notre Dame holds great significance and meaning to American Catholics.  This visit clearly reveals profound tensions within American Catholicism, broader American Christianity, and American politics and culture.

It’s worth ending this post with Reagan’s masterful words, delivered at Notre Dame nearly 28 years ago:  “When it’s written, history of our time won’t dwell long on the hardships of the recent past. But history will ask — and our answer determine the fate of freedom for a thousand years. . . . Did a nation borne of hope lose hope? Did a people forged by courage find courage wanting?  Did a generation steeled by hard war and a harsh peace forsake honor at the moment of great climactic struggle for the human spirit?”

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Brideshead Revisited

A friend of mine gave me a box full of Evelyn Waugh books about a two months ago.  I brought them home, reached deep into the musty box and pulled out Brideshead Revisited.  I had never read the book.  My only previous exposure was the movie poster at the local Borders books.

From the opening page I was captivated.  I must admit that, at times, my somewhat redneck sensibilities were shaken… what is with this bunch of flaming homosexuals?!  But the plot continued to draw me into its impressive unfolding of God’s grace amidst hard providences.  This is not evangelical happy-clappy.  I was floored by the eucatastrophe, the transcendent mix of sorrow and joy which inspires us to tears as we consider the greater glory of our heavenly inheritance, even against the competing claims of various earthly allegiances, some noble (family, inheritance, tradition, aristocracy) some vain (the pleasures of the bottle, the flesh, and the “new”. 

Where is the body of Protestant literature that grasps the deep, biblical piety that Waugh expresses in Brideshead Revisited?  Could it be that evangelical culture cannot stand to much reality?  Although Reformed Protestants embrace our Augustinian heritage, do we embrace the tragic implications of earthly loves inextricably tied to the fortunes of the city of man even as we struggle to reorient our hearts toward our higher allegiance to the Heavenly City?  Where is the literary proof?  Where is the Protestant sense of the tragic?

Brideshead begins and ends amidst the wasteland.  World War II with all its centralizing destructions was shredding the very fabric of the world that protagonist Charles Ryder finds himself to drawn toward and repulsed by.  But the wasteland is not only the product of the external forces of war and modernity, but spiritual rebellion and the excess of our baser desires.  The world is broken.  Our lives are broken.  Even great families fall.  Great estates are lost.  Even our most noble earthly loves are fixed upon things passing away. All is vanity.  Everything is dust.  BUT… even in the midst of wasteland, God grace shines forth and Christ’s rule over tragic providences is affirmed.  He will fix all that is now broken.

Good stuff.  Read the book.

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Movement Conservatism

The kind editors at DRC (among them, my friend and former pastor, Charles Brown) invited me to make an occasional contribution to this blog. I’ve enjoyed following the discussions here over the past couple years, and it’s a great privilege to be able to contribute in any small way I can. My own plans for the near future (graduate studies this fall at Notre Dame, plus the birth of my firstborn in May) may prevent me from any strictly regulated posting, so to speak, but I’ll do my best.

* * *

Over at my homeblog, I mentioned a piece from the Washington Monthly which profiles the rise and fall of the webzine Culture11. If you’re not familiar with the journal, it’s worth poking around the archives. C11 sold itself as an outside voice of conservatism, one not afraid to challenge the reigning orthodoxy or talking points of movement conservatism. However, the autumn 2008 release of the new journal could not have been timed worse, economically speaking, and it closed up shop in January. Prior to its demise, C11 made practice of leveling scattershot attacks at both the liberal and conservative establishment. Sarah Palin was dissed right along side John Maynard Keynes. But the diverse range of the editorials was my favorite part of Culture11. Besides old-liners like Bill Bennett, you had crunchy cons like Rod Dreher, localists like John Schwenkler, and libertarians like Peter Suderman. 

After C11 failed, the general diaspora of talent extended into other blogs: Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, et al. And perhaps that’s for the best. But part of me still hopes (with self-defeating irony) for a central hub of anti-movement thought. The conservative monolith — represented by Fox News, talk radio, and a host of establishment journals — could use a strong outside voice.

With that in mind, I wonder sometimes about the legitimacy of conservatism as a movement. Movements tends to value unity over debate, whereas it seems to me that the primary value of political conservatism is its ability to provide a dose of social skepticism. Conservatism counters utopianism. Perhaps it’s better to view conservatism as a disposition, rather than an ideology.


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I realize this blog is somewhat expanding beyond the twelve tribes of NAPARC . But I thought this was as good a place as any to draw attention to a recent conference sponsored by the OP Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada on animus imponentis and confessional subscription.  This topic was indirectly raised here before.

Speakers were Alan Strange, John Fesko *, George Knight, John Muether.

Aside from the specific content of this conference, it seems commendable that presbyteries should sponsor such activities.

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I am chewing on Brad’s canons.  He will forgive me if I try to start referring them as De Regno canons!

Here is a question and I am open to answers from all sides- 

how do we set the boundaries for a “metaphysical, theological, and poetic” understanding of history? The Reformed Presbyterian Church used to confess what it referred to as a “Historical Testimony.”  The Historical Testimony was an attempt to provide a metaphysical/theological interpretation of history, although I dare say that it could not be called poetic.  

Rather, it was a dramatic representation of what Herbert Butterfield  called the Whig Interpretation of History. Butterfield warns against the temptation to view history as anything but a lying old reprobate.  Dawson certainly seems to disagree.  Having swallowed down my fill of the Whig Interpretation, I am cautiously skeptical.  At the same time, how can the historian not help to guide his students to grasp the mysterious hand of God at work… even when His works are inscrutable from our perspective. 

Can Butterfield be reconciled with Dawson?  Or is Dawson’s catholic interpretation the other side of the coin to Whig Interpretation of history?

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Lucky Geitner?

Has Lucky Geitner found a pot of gold?  Here is a link to my comments at the Upstate Conservative.

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Dear Bill and the other fine folks at De Regno Christi,


I’m deeply honored to be a part of this group; thank you for the invitation.  I would write more at the moment, but I’m in the middle of central Kansas, typing on my mother’s computer (the only one in the house with an internet connection).  Additionally and more importantly, we’re about to celebrate my wife’s fortieth birthday.  


Happily, we’re here (back home) in Kansas on spring break.  Not surprisingly, the time with my family, the clear and open Kansas skies, and the very traditional values and genuine friendliness of central and western Kansans have done wonders for a tired soul.


I look forward to writing more in/with/on this much needed little platoon, this Christian Republic of Letters, De Regno Christi.


I will add one more thing to this email.  Here are six tenets I’ve been thinking about, to add to Russell Kirk’s conservative canon from 1953, in an effort to bridge the divisions within Christendom and to reclaim the culture for those who love, admire, and worship the One True King.


•First, that the preservation of the seven cardinal virtues of the West, best understood through the stories of the exemplars of these virtues, is a sacred duty.  


•Second, that one must understand history in metahistorical, theological, and poetic terms as did Virgil, St. Augustine, and Christopher Dawson.  


•Third, one must embrace a proper anthropology, defining man by both his inherited sin and his received grace.  The person, at root, is a being endowed with rationality, reason, and passion.  He must, to be fully human, balance each of these tensions.


•Fourth, Christians (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant)—in alliance with believing Jews and even virtuous pagans—must sanctify the world through the Grace of God.  For men of good will to fight amongst themselves squanders precious time and resources, and it leaves the field to the many enemies of the humane.


•Fifth, the real struggle in the world is not between left and right, but between Christ and anti-Christ, between that which is humane and that which is anti-humane.


•Finally, true remembrance, preservation, and advocacy of all that is Good, True, and Beautiful, comes from a recognition that our highest form of understanding is derived from the reflection of the light of the Logos (Gospel of St. John 1:9) in our souls through the faculty of imagination.  In this point, one must follow not just St. John, but Mary: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  Or, as St. Augustine put in it in his sermon on Psalm 58: “Of itself it hath no light, nor of itself powers; but all that is fair in a soul is virtue and wisdom; but it neither is wise for itself, nor strong for itself, nor is itself light to itself, nor is itself virtue to itself.  There is a certain fountain and origin of virtue, there is a certain root of wisdom, there is a certain, so to speak, if this also is to be said, region of immutable truth; from which if the soul withdraws it is made dark and if it draws near it is made light.”


Well, I’m off to honor my wife and her grace, strength, and beauty.


God bless and thank you again for including me, Brad

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Missing out on Lent

dark-chocolate-easter-eggWhile most of Christendom is in the midst of the Lent and are preparing for Easter, I cannot help feeling like I am missing out on something.

No, I am not going soft on my Presbyterianism, the regulative principle, ect… but I do find something attractive about the traditional church calendar.  I love the Lord’s Day, but I do tire of only getting to enjoy feast days marked by secular standards.

More to the point, I wonder if we are missing out on something that causes our tradition to be less rooted, less organic, and, well, less human.  Less human?  Just so.  The Genesis account tells us that God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.  And let them be for sings and for seasons, and for days and for years…” (Genesis 1:14).  What did God mean by setting the sun, the moon, and the stars for signs and seasons?  Judging by the the way Israel’s agrarian feasts and their cult feasts melded together, I am tempted to think that God’s creation, with its rhythmic cadence of seasons as they point us from new life, to death, to resurrection are to be embraced, not only as weather patterns but as spiritual guideposts.  The more man, as a creature, is alienated from a sense of unity with the rest of the creation, the less human he becomes.

The ancients knew this to be true.  Farmers know this to be true.  Protestant farmers may be safe but what about what about the suburbanite Presbyterian professor?  Has he lost something from his life that makes him, I fear, less human.  

Besides, on a more frivolous aside, I wonder… do those who eat Christmas cookies from November 25 to December 25 really taste the joy of Christmas morning?  Do those who eat sweetbreads and chocolate in March really know the exuberance of easter morning?  

Are those without a church calender more vulnerable to the ravishes of sterile modernity? 

These are questions that tempt me, as our liturgical brethren being tempted by chocolate.

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The DRC has always been an ecumenical enterprise… a slug feast of diverse opinions softened, at times, by shared traditionalist sentiments.

Today the ecclesiastical opinions become much more diverse as we introduce Dr. Bradley Birzer, Russell Kirk Professor of American Studies History at Hillsdale College, and author of the excellent The Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle Earth and Sanctifying the World: Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson.

Brad is a Roman Catholic deeply rooted in the Augustinian tradition.  We are looking forward to his contributions to our continuing discussion about the essence, relevance, and future of Christendom.  Thanks Brad.

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