Vampires of Michigan - the Roar of '84?

I'm once again binge-watching the early seasons of Miami Vice and I'm thinking it would be fun to set the next installment in the World Series Championship year of 1984.  It's an interesting year for a variety of reasons.  Obviously there is the George Orwell angle, but 1984 marked a rare moment of unity in American politics.  The notion of a a presidential candidate carrying 49 states is inconceivable today.

Whether looking at Cold War politics, cultural differences and of course the far superior music and entertainment, I think it would be fun.

As to the plot...well, that's yet to be determined.  I've got a couple of ideas and I'm sure some of the same characters will be represented. 

Of course, nothing may come of it, but that's the fun of being a novelist - not just the ideas that are completed, but the ones that are tossed around for fun.

Memorial Days gone by

I think Memorial Day is the only holiday that has something of a ticking clock included with it.   Independence Day also has temporal significance insofar as it there can be important anniversaries of the date, but that's mostly based large, round numbers.  The bicentennial was a big deal.  The years afterwards, 201, 202?  Not so much.

With Memorial Day, the passage of time is more sublime.  I'm old enough to remember when World War I veterans were honored guests at the parades and ceremonies.   The World War II veterans were well into middle age, but still active.  The veterans of Korea and Vietnam were somewhat ambivalent, and the latter group was struggling to define both their identity and relationship to military service as a whole.

Slowly, inexorably, the demographics changed.  The Great War generation faded away, making its last stand in nursing homes or with single representatives.  The "Greatest Generation" started to slow down, and behind them the "conflict" veterans became more organized and strongly represented.

Today, the Vietnam and Korean War veterans are the old guys, and the World War II survivors are so scarce as to render their reunions pointless.  My Gulf War/War on Terror generation is now moving into the familiar position of recent service, but this time it has a strange twist because our wars took so long.  In my case, "serving for the duration" took 20 years. 

Our losses were also comparatively light, which was probably why the wars were able to drag on as long as they did and end so ignobly.  

All of which leads to feelings not unlike those of the Vietnam generation.  I joked with one of my uncles (who was in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive) that he'd manage to lose only one war; my generation lost two of them




Could the Anglicans and Copts enter communion with Rome?

Two stories over the last few weeks raise the intriguing possibility that not one but to schisms in the global Church could be at long last healed.

The first is the decades-long process of reconciliation between Rome and the Egyptian Coptic Church.  The Copts broke with rest of the Church back in 451 AD because of a disagreement over Christ's humane and divine natures.  Pope Paul VI opened negotiations in the 1970s which have since been continuing intermittently.  Apparently the Christology thing is now out of the way, and a few weeks ago the "Coptic Pope" visited Rom and participated in a Mass with Pope Francis and they also jointly recognized Egyptian Copts killed by Islamic terrorists as martyrs and saints.

This predictably ticked off Francis' usual critics because (they said) it implied that heretics could be martyrs, but of course that's missing the big picture - if one is seeking to have Copts brought back into communion with Rome, this is one of the steps to doing that.

Now combine this with the breakup of the Anglican Communion, and there's a very real (albeit slender) possibility of the Global South of the Anglican Church moving toward reuniting with the rest of the Catholic Church.

GAFCON is theologically very conservative, and the vast majority of Anglicans outside of England carry no particular animus towards Rome. 

It is important to recall that the Anglican Communion is distinctly different from the rest of Protestantism because it still maintains the Apostolic Succession and the ancient bishoprics of England.  Pope Benedict XVI has already created the framework for Anglican clergy and their denominations to enter into the Catholic Church as a group, and of course there are ample examples of "lost" churches of the East returning to communion with Rome.

It would be singularly remarkable if Pope Francis of all people facilitated the end of this ancient and acrimonious schism.

Naturally, there is plenty of room for skepticism, but if the last few years have shown us anything, it is just how fragile long-standing institutions and conventions can be.  In the space of a half-century, the Anglican Church went from a male-only clergy to ordaining lesbian priestesses and homosexual bishops.  Now they are blessing gay relationships.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit will move those Christians who still hold to God's word to come together at long last and present a united front against the Great Enemy.

The top-down schism of the Anglican Communion

While I don't follow politics or the news in general, I am interested in the current state of religious matters.  Last week I decided to check up and see how things were going with the Anglican Communion.

The answer is: not well.

During April, the Global Anglican Future Conference  (GAFCON) convened in Kigali, Rwanda to discuss the conflicts that now exist between them, and the leadership of the Church of England.  GAFCON subsequently issued the following statement:

Despite 25 years of persistent warnings by most Anglican Primates, repeated departures from the authority of God’s Word have torn the fabric of the Communion. These warnings were blatantly and deliberately disregarded and now without repentance this tear cannot be mended.

The latest of these departures is the majority vote by the General Synod of the Church of England in February 2023 to welcome proposals by the bishops to enable same-sex couples to receive God’s blessing. It grieves the Holy Spirit and us that the leadership of the Church of England is determined to bless sin.

Since the Lord does not bless same-sex unions, it is pastorally deceptive and blasphemous to craft prayers that invoke blessing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There is no way to sugar-coat these disagreements.  Either Scripture and sacred tradition are binding, or they are not. 

Since those who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1), we call upon those provinces, dioceses and leaders who have departed from biblical orthodoxy to repent of their failure to uphold the Bible’s teaching. This includes matters such as human sexuality and marriage, the uniqueness and divinity of Christ, his bodily resurrection, his promised return, the summons to faith and repentance and the final judgment.

We long for this repentance but until they repent, our communion with them remains broken.

And there it is - the Archbishop of Canterbury has been excommunicated by 315 bishops and approximately 85 percent of the global Anglican Communion.

Even though I'm on a "news diet," I figured something of this magnitude would be big enough that I'd have heard of it before now, but of course "news" these days is what the ruling class wants us to know (which may or may not be true).  It's probably deeply disturbing for them to know that the Western hedonist agenda is so deeply unpopular.

The Anglican Church is of course an odd creation, a relic of Henry VIII's obsession with producing a male heir.  It's missionary activities generally followed the expansion of the British Empire, and there is a certain deep irony in the way that the C of E has now become so heretical that the fruit of its labors now reject its leadership.

There's also a certain absurdity to the fact that the specific flashpoint for this crisis is the desire of the Church of England to legitimize sodomy of all things.  This is right out of a Monty Python skit.  I'm imagining John Cleese standing in full episcopal regalia announcing that his faith cannot be shaking, and like Martin Luther stating "Here I stand.  I can do no other."  And then camera frame broadens and you see he's in a gay bar and "It's Raining Men" starts playing.

However one feels about homosexuality (or for that matter, Christianity), GAFCON's position is irrefutable:

The Bible is God’s Word written, breathed out by God as it was written by his faithful messengers (2 Timothy 3:16). It carries God’s own authority, is its own interpreter, and it does not need to be supplemented, nor can it ever be overturned by human wisdom.

Yes.  Over the past five centuries, Protestantism has increasing turned into "cafeteria Christianity," where one can take only the things one wants.  That's now how it works.

Of course, there have been plenty attempts to insist that the Bible was "of its time" and that in our more enlightened age, we can see how archaic and out-of-date it is.

Certainly that's what the Catholic bishops in Germany claim, and it tells us a lot more about them than they think.  For a senior clergyman to claim that homosexual impulses are simply too powerful to contain is (to me at least) grounds for their immediate removal from office.

This assertion is both insulting since it states clearly that people who feel same-sex attraction are incapable of self-control and blasphemous because it assumes that God will not assist those prayerfully seeking His aid in remaining morally pure.

What is more, if the sexual urge is implacable, why are only homosexuals granted a dispensation?  What about married individuals who feel tempted to commit adultery?  Should we offer blessings for committed lovers and mistresses?  Where does this nonsense end?

Well, we now have an idea - schism and dismay.  I believe GAFCON are doing what it is right.  As I've said many times, there comes a point where differences in doctrine cannot be swept under the rug.

Since I brought up the German bishops (and let us not forget that they have support from American bishops as well, as well as the Jesuits), I can't help but notice that both of these drives to heresy coming from the leadership, not the laity.  It is a top-down revolution, and such things rarely succeed.

Indeed, this ill-considered move by  Canterbury may be the catalyst that finally ends the schism with Rome.  After all, Anglican practice and theology is so similar that many senior clergy have already turned to the Catholic Church.  The late Pope Benedict XVI created an Anglican Rite and ordinariate specifically to serve these people.

It would be very  appropriate if this schism ultimately results in greater overall unity. 


Gardening side-quests

This year I decided to make another dedicated attempt at a garden.  Unlike before, I did careful research regarding crops, their location and essentially started the plot from scratch.  My plan was to have the fencing up and the crops in the ground by late April.

That hasn't happened, and there are three reasons for it.

The first is the weather.  Michigan has had insanely inconsistent weather this spring, veering back and forth between the sunny 70s and snow showers.  It has also rained much more than normal, making yard work difficult.  (My plot is well-drained, so standing water isn't an issue.)

The second is my grandchildren, who are spending more time with us.  This isn't generally a problem per se, but it acts as an amplifier to the first reason because when the weather has been good, they want to go to the playground or play in the yard.  Gardening can wait.

But the third reason - and probably the most important - has been the endless "side-quests" necessarily to get my garage and home back in proper order.  Here again, the toll of 21 years of National Guard weekends is apparent. To be fair, about three years ago I burned a week of vacation time to do a major reorganization, fixing problems that had persisted since we moved in.  There is no denying my progress, but it is also true that the hectic schedule since then compromised those gains.

Hence the side-quest reference: just as in a role-playing game, I can't tackle the 'main quest' - putting the garden in - until I can first reorganize the tools.  That requires me to move all the bicycles, which require maintenance and that in turn requires me to find their tools and the air pump, etc.

Thus, while my progress towards the main object remains painfully slow, I am knocking out real improvements.

I also had the foresight to assume I would run late, and so chose the most low-skill plants that would also mature in 60 days or so - making late planting not much of an issue.  Indeed, I'd rather get it done properly.

I will add that I am far better off physically and mentally spending my time on this than rage-stroking over the latest bombshell on the news sites.  When I meet people in person who still follow things, the conversation is a bit difficult.

"Did you hear about such-and-such?!  It's an outrage!"

"Oh, no, that's too bad.  My weeping cherry was beautiful this year, hardly needed trimming at all.  When we moved in, we didn't know how to care for it, and it was choked with old growth.  We had some tree trimmers in doing other work and they said they could work on it, but the shock might be lethal, so I did a little each year and now it looks great!'

"Uh, okay, but about the president-"

"I can't help that.  I can help my tree."

People talk about Chesterton's Fence, and I think that very much applies - having lived here for a decade, I'm seeing what needs to stay and what should go.

And if the garden doesn't work out - at least my house and garage got organized!



The lost (and found) TV adaptation of Parade's End

One of our commenters made a mention of a 1964 BBC adaptation of Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End book series (which has three or four books, depending on how one feels about it).

A careful internet search revealed that such a thing did exist and that a DVD was produced not long ago.  I picked one up on ebay for less than $7 (including shipping), which tells you it was not much of a commercial success.

I've touched on the books before (including a lengthy comparison with Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy), and so this review is more of a discussion of the content and quality of the adaptation than a discussion of what's in it.

In terms of the packaging, it's a slapdash production, made in Mexico and featuring generic "wartime" graphics that are actually from World War II and completely inappropriate.

The quality of the transfer is better than I expected, but still flawed.  The audio is particularly challenging, no doubt a function of its minimal production quality.  There seems to be a single microphone on the set, close to the camera, and as characters move farther back, it becomes difficult to hear them.  There is also some distortion rising to static, which gives the sense of actually watching a broadcast with some mild atmospheric interference.  I kept wanting to adjust the rabbit ears.

As to the cast, it's excellent.  This was apparently a breakthrough role for Judi Densch, who is very good as Valentine Wannop.  I didn't recognize anyone else in the cast, but they were all solid in the various roles.

Unlike the HBO production, this gives much more prominence to Christopher Tietjens' time in the trenches, which I liked.  Alas, the BBC also did some bizarre graphics, both for the title credits and also to segue into battle which are dated and cringe-worthy.

While I enjoyed it, I can't say as I would recommend it.  If it were cleaned up and properly restored (especially the audio), that would make a big difference.  As it is, Ford fans will enjoy it, but I can see why they're practically giving these away.




Sci-fi that's too heavy on the allegory: C.S. Lewis' "space" trilogy

Given my interests, one would think that I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis.  While I do admire some of his religious writings and particularly enjoyed The Screwtape Letters, I find his work a little too heavy on the allegory.  Like his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, I didn't approve of him mixing mythologies in the Narnia books.  Moreover, I came upon them late in life, and while the kids enjoyed them, I did not get much out of them.

However, I had heard good things about this "space" trilogy, which is a someone curious body of work.  It was written during the Second World War and could credibly be counted as "hard" science fiction in terms of how it explains space travel (which is confined to our solar system).  It is quite inventive and combines spiritual concepts in an interesting way.

That being said, it is not a conventional trilogy insofar as the plot only somewhat builds during the series.  Most trilogies (this includes my Man of Destiny series, which started out as a trilogy) are basically a story arc spread out over multiple episodes or periods.  The "space" books differ greatly in tone and character, and in the author's forwards (and sometimes in the epilogues) this is explained.

All of which is to say, there are good points to the books, but to me there is a fatal flaw that finally brought my reading to a halt, and that is the excessive use of allegory.

Tolkien himself was a sharp critic of using this method of storytelling, and made a point of separating stories that were applicable to other areas from ones that were simply extended metaphors for making a point.  The latter is what the "space" books are.

The first book is the worst in this respect.  Out of the Silent Planet features three remarkably thin characters who are really nothing more than placeholders for points of view.  There is vivid description, lengthy discussions, and not much else of interest.  Lewis loves language, and major part of the book discusses how other life forms would utilize it.  At the end is a note promising the next book will be less heavy-handed.

It isn't.  Like the first book, Perelandra had a remarkably inventive setting (the first book was on Mars while this one is set on Venus) but apart from an attempt at better narrative framing, it is mostly description and long-winded philosophical discussions.

That Hideous Strength concludes the series but can also be read by itself.  Maybe that's what I should have done, because by now my tolerance for symbolism was non-existent.  I'm about 100 pages into it and have completely lost interest.  None of the characters feel in any way real - they are all archetypes placed in the story to make a political, philosophical or religious point.

Of course it is possible to do this while retaining vibrant and fascinating characters.  Tolkien certainly did it, as did Evelyn Waugh.  Indeed, the strength of Waugh's writing is that it feels like a real story and the sense of meaning and purpose only gradually makes its presence known.

That Hideous Strength is basically a Nineteen Eighty-Four style tale written in a much more elaborate way.  Indeed, George Orwell was one of the few writers who did allegory well, and his secret was he kept it brief.   Animal Farm is a very quick read, and while Nineteen Eighty-Four is more detailed, the doomed romance keeps it interesting.

Yesterday I reached the breaking point.  It was the perfect time for a good book, and yet after reading only a few words of That Hideous Strength I had to set it down.  Instead I reached for a Joseph Conrad anthology and started reading The Shadow Line, which actually held my attention.

I suppose I could soldier on and at least skip and skim my way through the remainder of That Hideous Strength, but I feel that's dishonest.  Since I'm not required to do a paper on it, I'm going to simply stop reading and perhaps at some later date I will decide to pick it up again.

Wartime propaganda done poorly: Commandos Strike at Dawn

I decided to dig deeper in a set of WW II-themed DVDs I picked up on the cheap.  This is the same set that contains the utterly awful Castle Keep, but I had hopes that Commandos Strike at Dawn might be decent.

Compared to the pointlessly raunchy Castle Keep, it was what one might call "decent," but that is a remarkably low bar.

Commandos Strike At Dawn is a British wartime production, geared to whipping up sentiment for a campaign to liberate Norway.  It didn't happen.

But there were raids, and the British people needed to be reminded that the Norwegians were decent enough fellows, and it was a shame what happened to them and so on.  Hence the movie.

The core problem with the film is that it tries to do too much.  Like many films, it starts in peacetime so that we see how awful the German invasion and occupation are.  There is also a poignant love story about a Norwegian widower, his daughter, and the daughter of the "English Admiral" who wins his heart.  All well in good in terms of human interest, but the problem is that it goes into tons of unnecessary detail, to the point where one wonders if the commandos will ever show up.

When they do, its almost as an afterthought.  They launch a bold raid, give the Nazis what-for, but they also leave when they are done, which doesn't do much for the poor Norwegians.

It's an interesting period piece, particularly from the perspective of war nerds like me.  I was fascinated to see what the British troops were equipped with and also the odd fixation of the action scenes with bayonet drill.  Who knew that this still had fans in 1942?

That being said, I can't recommend it as anything other than a study of British wartime propaganda.  Sometimes wartime films can be quite good, and Sahara is a great example of this.  Yes, it's all about the M3 tank, but it's still fun to watch.  Commandos Strike at Dawn simply isn't as interesting.


Those who cannot see

My column on Ben Hur at Bleedingfool.com kicked off a modest debate in the comments.  What started as a discussion of the film has now turned into a debate about faith itself.

I'm not interested in litigating my side over here, but the course of the conversation is worth a closer look.

I'm sure most people of faith at some point will encounter an "evangelical atheist."  These people don't believe in God and they don't want anyone else to, either.  Marx had a big hand in creating these creatures, and while they deserve compassion, history has shown they can also be very destructive.

While it is unlikely that we will encounter the next Pol Pot at the bookstore or in an online comment thread, I think it is important that we understand where they are coming from.

In my area, a great many were raised by strictly religious parents and their unbelief is a form of rebellion.  "I refused to be brainwashed into your cult!" is their battle cry.  Others had faith, but for some reason lost it.  Again, the stories tend to have many points in common, but each one is unique. 

Just as converts often tend to be the most fervent believers, apostates are often the Church's worst enemies.  On the psychological level, we can explain this by noting that the same strength of will that can sustain a voluntary life-change can also give it enormous power and zeal.

But if we look spiritually, we a different dynamic.  Converts to the faith are trying to share something wonderful and new to them, something that they had overlooked before. 

The evangelical atheist, by contrast, has nothing new to share, no gift other than envy and despair.

In the last couple of weeks I came across one who explained that there was no God, and that people should just enjoy life knowing that they were going to die and that would be that.  The person insisted that he was perfectly fulfilled, thank you, but that did not explain why he went on a religious forum to spread this message.

I have been seeing this all my adult life.  Again, the reasons vary, but the actions have the same dull similarity.  The most virulent form of this are the ones who want to outlaw all religious practice in the US military.  And that is what gives the game away.

The old secular materialist explanation was that misery loves company, and having had their faith shattered or never being able to find it, these folks seethe with envy and anger when they see smiling religious people find meaning and purpose in their lives.  It's especially obvious when they go out of their way to hinder them - like going to an online religious discussion to spread their message.

But if we use the Spiritual Warfare lens, what we see is something different.  These people have declared themselves against God and therefore any hint of His presence is a threat to them.  That is why they want churches closed, and seek to undermine the faith of others.  They are allied with demons, but too blind to see it.

Such creatures regularly appear in the writings of Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, which shows how far back this particular strain of Spiritual Warfare goes.  Indeed, one of the Enemy's most successful tactics has been creating an artificial tension between faith and science.  Yet there is none.  Faith without reason is merely foolish while science without faith is diabolical.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the Ben Hur exchange with the commenter's refusal to even accept the possibility of miracles.  Given that the oldest writings we have confirm their existence - indeed there is an evidentiary chain leading to the present day - this is perhaps the most irrational aspect of atheism.

There are no magic words to break through to such people, but my hope is that by giving counter-examples to their misery, people who of their own choice embraced faith and found contentment and joy, they may look about themselves with new eyes.



The passage of time

Being a man of a certain age, I've got used to specific routines and comforts.  One of them is pizza on Friday.  It goes without saying the best pizza has pepperoni on it.

Add onto this my extreme dislike of fried fish, and Lent is rather bothersome to me. 

That's a good thing, because we only truly appreciate something when we are at risk of losing it.  I savor that pizza all the more knowing that I will have to go without it around this time next year.

The same is true of fasting in general.  In a society overrun with food, self-induced hunger is more important than ever.  In subsistence economies, fasting is often a necessity, but we're far removed from that.

These were not things I thought much about when I entered the Church years ago, but as I continue my exploration of Catholicism, they have moved from quirks to essential elements of the Christian experience.  The liturgical calendar has likewise moved from a sidebar to the secular one to by far the more important of the two.  Secular holidays are things that are imposed on me, and for the most part require no real effort to observe.  Religious holidays seem to me far more important, and the fact that I often have to use vacation time enhances their value.

In his Sword of Honour trilogy, Evelyn Waugh makes heavy use of the liturgical calendar, often using it as the reference to time rather than the usual month and day.  This was the first time I considered the full import and meaning of feast days, Ordinary Time and the so on.

An additional element in my appreciation is the fact that I am finally getting serious about gardening.  Hitherto I simply cleared some ground, read the instructions on the seeds, and hoped for the best.  This is the first time I bothered to do research, prepare a plan and move forward in a deliberate manner.

And while I have a constant eye on the weather, I'm also noting the interaction with the spiritual calendar and the living world around it.