Stub: W.B. Yeats on Old Stories

“These folk tales are full of simplicity and musical occurrences for they are literature of a class for whom every incident in the old rut of birth, love, pain and death has cropped up unchanged for centuries, who steep everything in the heart; to whom everything is a symbol….They have few events. They can turn over the incidents of a long life as they sit by the fire. With us, nothing has time to gather meaning.”

-Introduction to “Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland,” edited by W.B. Yeats

More on this coming…maybe sometime soon. For now. I enjoy the quotation, especially “the old rut of birth, love, pain and death.” It reminds me that things are not new; they are just new to me.

And I appreciate the value of turning incidents over slowly. Time has a value all its own.

 

How we use Words Mirrors the Trinity: Jesus as the Logos Brings Accessibility to God the Father

In the Bible and in theology, Jesus is the called the Logos, Greek for the divine Word, understood as ordering principle. I’ve always found the term “Word” applied to Jesus to be confusing, even incomprehensible. I accept it, but I didn’t really see the relation of “Word” to the person of Jesus, until recently

Lately, I’ve renewed my time spent on reading, writing and Latin and the uses and effects of language. Goodwriting, to me, puts names to concepts, feelings and experience we hadn’t been able to label accurately and so allows us to think about them more in depth and from the separation of wisdom. This can be fiction, philosophy, theology, psychology, history, any area even math. What the Word calls out accurately is truth. A truth experienced but not named. In a sense, the truth is uncreated by us humans–it was always there, and so we experienced it. But it wasn’t ordered for us to think about or understand until it was named. This naming, or Word, brings order to our minds that enables us to think about and understand the truth that was already there.

This is true in our day to day experience of reading and naming. It is also true of the Second Person of the Divine Trinity. Jesus is the logos, the Word, the naming of God, the unnamable. In his incarnation, Jesus makes the eternal experience of truth in God, that was however removed from our direct experience and inaccessble, accessible in a direct bodily way. As words make vague experiences of truth comprehensible (or orderly) through naming, The Word brings understanding and access to the transcendent Truth of the Father, the First person of the Trinity.

Both are transcendent and eternal and the Word draws its meaning from the Truth, so they do not and cannot exist in isolation, but are intrinsically interconnected. Jesus as the “Word” of the Father makes sense in this way. In the analogy of Truth and Word, perhaps the Holy Spirit would best be represented as communication itself.

-Further thoughts on the Trinity and the limits of Language

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Freelance: 6 Pro-Life Priorities for Healthcare Reform

One of the fruits of my readings on health insurance.

http://truthandcharityforum.org/top-6-pro-life-aims-for-health-care-reform/

“The practice of medicine involves the whole human body, so policies about it inevitably express a specific anthropology or philosophical understanding of the human person. National legislation that includes every citizen will have the consequence of enacting one anthropology as opposed to others. Accordingly, health care law has become a test of America’s ability to balance an authentic pluralism, one that is capable of respecting both individual freedom and the moral commitments of other individuals who become funders of it.”

  1. A clear distinction between insurance and medical care – A glaring, but oft-unacknowledged error of the Affordable Care Act is the difference between having health insurance and receiving needed medical care. The former is no guarantee of the latter. The working poor with incomes that set them above the Medicaid threshold have been saddled with low-premium plans that have exorbitant deductibles of up to $13,000, that leave them de facto uninsured and priced-out of healthcare. This problem reveals a gap in concern for certain social groups; it’s part of an anthropology that gives lip service to covering all people, but actually disregards some. Pro-life means pro-life for everyone, so a pro-life policy should seek to increase access for all.
  2. Adequate funding for the severely ill and dying – Euthanasia is a development that pro-life people need to fight. As physician-assisted suicide gains legal traction, insurance companies have incentives to deny expensive care for cancer patients, such as Stephanie Packer, a mother of four diagnosed with late stage cancer.Legalized suicide inverts the practice of medicine, turning patients into dollar amounts instead of lives worth saving, regardless of long is left. The cultural message about the value and purposes of life that is sent by legal suicide is tragic and irreversible. If lives are only valuable when they are pain-free and productive, most of us will soon be in the crosshairs. As the government sets policy, we must demand that it take care of its citizens rather than killing them, and that it tells Americans that life is worth living. This should be an anthropological no-brainer.
  3. A continuation of Hyde restriction on abortion – Presently, the Hyde Amendment, a rider attached annually to the Congressional budget, prohibits federal funding for abortion. It affects Medicaid primarily, but is also present in the ACA. Insurers are not required to cover abortions. States, by contrast, may add abortion coverage or limit it.The principles of the Hyde Amendment permit a level of personal removal for taxpayers who would be funding the procedure that, for many, amounts to murder. Hyde is one of the key compromises that followed the 1973 legalization of abortion. However, it came under fire this campaign season from the Democratic party platform and nominee, Hillary Clinton. In the first week of his presidency, Mr. Trump passed the Hyde rider into a permanent law. For valuing life, it’s a small but important victory. Abortion is a clear-cut case of difference on what it means to be human and who counts as one. Hyde represents one stab at pluralism, a starting point. A committed pro-life healthcare policy will further demonstrate support for women, babies and families through—
  4. Support for prenatal and neonatal care – Pro-life groups are often criticized for caring more about the baby than the mother. If conservatives have a chance to help shape public health policy, we need to make abortion obsolete. Support for pregnant mothers, new moms, and infants, as well as adoption placement need to be readily available so that women in difficult situations aren’t left alone and without options. Raising a child is difficult and demanding work. If we claim to welcome unplanned children, we need to welcome unplanned children, viewing them and their mothers as essential to the social fabric of our country. That’s an anthropology of life that values people and responsibility rather than seeking to abolish the natural consequences of behavior.

Full article  (and the other 2 ideas here): http://truthandcharityforum.org/top-6-pro-life-aims-for-health-care-reform/

Question: Why do you think healthcare exploded onto the political scene during Obama’s presidency? What is at stake in the debate?

When Truth is Disturbing: Another Look at Wuthering Heights and the Purpose of Literature

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Flannery O’Connor

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, drew me in immediately, pulling me through every lurid page. Yet I felt oddly uncomfortable about how much I liked it as it is populated by selfish, angry, dysfunctional characters, only one of whom possesses much of a moral compass.

Like a good Catholic (I say that sarcastically), I tend to want to spend to time reading things that will edify or offer some great insight or meaningful lesson to take away, which I usually look for in Christian themes or uplifting messages. But this is exactly the attitude that Flannery O’Connor excoriated in her 1965 essay, “The Catholic Reader and the Catholic Novel,” in which she skewered the legions of “pious trash” that Catholics have written and that Catholics read. O’Connor argued that good art or literature has to be good in and of itself–that is, it must also be true. Something that disregards basic truths or doesn’t testify to them fully will inevitably be bad–no matter how pious.

She says, quoting Aquinas, “a work of art is good in itself…this is a truth that the modern world has largely forgotten.” When she cites him, she (and he) mean “good” in the metaphysical sense–that is the worth of the art comes from itself, not just from its relation to ideas we approve of. Goodness is one of the transcendentals; the others are truth, unity and beauty. Goodness, in this sense, is its desirability in so far as it exists, its ability to attract and move the will. It is a property co-existent with being, one that is not dependent on our feelings about it. To my judgement, “goodness” in a work of art will correlate with one or both of two things: its beauty and its truth.

In written work, with the exceptions of certain poetry, the value defaults to coming from truth. Then the value of being a Catholic writer or a Catholic work doesn’t come from having “uplifting” themes, but from being true, of offering real insight into reality and human understanding. Many secular works succeed at this; many Christian ones fail.

But, Catholic belief should be an effective instrument that contributes to a work’s goodness. Far from a shackle, O’Connor says, “dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality.” She further explains: “It is one of the functions of the Church to transmit the prophetic vision that is good for all time, and when the novelist has this as a part of his own vision, he has a powerful extension of sight.” Thus the Church’s understanding of the span of natural and supernatural realities is a magnificent insight that aids the artist or viewer in seeing and composing a true picture of the world.

Nevertheless, she says, the artist must still use her own eyes. The Church offers an extension of sight, not a replacement. O’Connor cautions that “When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous.” Just like grace does not exclude free will, the Catholic vision still demands the vision of the writer him or herself. Her insight is that Catholic literature is really anything that is true, but that something that pursues the whole scope of reality will inevitably be better. I think here of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Having established that good art is true. That leads me back to Wuthering Heights. Someone as wretched as the abusive Mr. Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights still offers us a great catholic value; Healthcliff shows us a dark side of humanity, an anti-hero whose love, while real, is distorted and disordered and plays out to the harm of the generations, the cast of characters whom he taints.

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Two Old Freelances: Prep for Trump; Pro-Life is Definity still a thing

Here are two of my freelance pieces that were published (online) in December.

One was a way to think about being Catholic under a Trump presidency. His pro-life policy changes are great and we should celebrate them, but we shouldn’t forget his problems, such as fear mongering about immigrants.

Being Catholic Under a Trump Presidency

“If this election of Mr. Trump is to be a true victory for people of faith, advocates for life and for all Americans, much work needs to be done in understanding, not demonizing, the other side, in building the hard linguistic, philosophical and relational bridges that alone can lead to mutual understanding, even if not necessarily agreement. Finally, as citizens and as Catholics, we must all be willing to do the actual work of enacting the basic human values that respect the Image of God imprinted into each person. ”

http://truthandcharityforum.org/being-catholic-under-a-trump-presidency/

Pro-life Politics Are Not Obsolete or Fringe

This piece is a bit dated now that Trump has been inaugurated and changed some of these things but still. The point was to recognize that pro-life politics still matter even though Roe v. Wade still stands. A lot of conservatives are wont to be disillusioned with Republicans who claim to be pro-life “but don’t do anything.” I understand that, but it’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of little pro-life compromises that pro-life politicians fight for, and even those would be a lot to lose.

“There are two quiet pieces of U.S. law that mount a stand for the lives of unborn infants by prohibiting federal funding for abortion: the Helms and Hyde Amendments. These legislative acts are protected in Congress each year by pro-life Republicans, who do not always receive obvious credit or press accolades. The Helms and Hyde Amendments are not guaranteed features of American civic society and they came under fire from the Democratic candidates during the 2016 election both from Bernie Sanders and from nominee Hillary Clinton. The fight to protect all lives is far from over, and the issue of federal funding still looms precariously.”

http://truthandcharityforum.org/pro-life-politics-are-not-fringe-or-obsolete-the-hydehelm-amendments/

So to you: What do you think of Trump so far? Has he done anything you like? Don’t like? Why so?

And–the politics of abortion are far from settled. Much to the chagrin of those of you on the left. I know it’s considered a tough issue. I’ll have another piece with more explanation of my views on abortion soon. For those of you on the right, what do you think of Hyde/Helms amendments. How much do you think they matter?

Might TV Contribute to Millennials’ Emotional Fragility?

Image resultDavid Brooks has noted that Millennials, while more accomplished, are more “emotionally fragile” than previous generations. He is backed up by this article which includes reports from Psychology Today, that “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”

This fits with my experience. People my age have battled spiraling depression and anxiety since early adolescence or before. I do agree with Brooks that it’s in large part because many of us lack deep convictions and a narrative about what is really meaningful.

In his book, “The Road to Character,” he identifies inside everyone an “Adam I” and an “Adam II.” Adam I is the external person, the face we show to the world, the bearer of “resume virtues,” as he puts it. Adam II is the internal person, the inner compass of wisdom, maturity and kindness or of fragility, shallowness and self-righteousness. Adam II is bearer of the “eulogy virtues.” Brooks says and I agree that the great struggle of being a good person is to bring these two aspects of ourselves together.

I would like to introduce a contributing factor that Brooks does not explore: the saturation of TV, movies and visual media in our lives. In my (limited) experience, development of the Adam II, the inner person, relies on refining our emotional processing of external realities. Yet, in our culture, we almost lack entirely a vocabulary to express this inner thought process and dialogue. Our language is much better suited to the roles of Adam I – naming nouns, like rocks and buildings, and discussing clear, observable markers of achievement such as job titles and salaries. If our words have trouble explaining Adam II, our visual mediums struggle even more and this contributes to the difficulty we have in developing Adam II.

In mediums such as TV shows and films where characters hash out their differences or conquer adventures in visual theatrics, there is almost no method for depicting the inner-transformations that go on in order to develop that wisdom and maturity that characterizes Adam II. Even writers, artists of the silent medium, today criticize older models of novel-writing that spent paragraphs and paragraphs detailing a character’s motivation. In today’s sitcoms or romantic comedies, a character experiencing emotional distress almost always runs away and pouts–be it a child nervous before a performance or a woman scorned. Then, the father, teacher or boyfriend character seeks out the distressed child or girlfriend, listens patiently, gets passed the walls and offers reassurance. This is the model of any TeenDisney or Jude Apatow movie.

From an artistic standpoint, it makes sense. When two characters interact, there is something to display on the screen. When they speak to one another, their thoughts and emotions can be revealed. Dialogue is the Holy Grail of good story-telling.

But when this example permeates our lives, we encounter a problem: it is not realistic. These portrayals set-up the expectation that there will always be a kind mentor to rescue us from our emotional distress or at least help us to process it. But in real life, the mature person must often process her own emotions rather than expect others to do it for her. (It’s not that we can never ask for help, but that sometimes we can do it ourselves and we grow when we try).

When our real-life father, teacher and boyfriend (or opposite sex) figures do not always deliver the expected emotional rescue, we are often left distraught, without options–hence the spiral of depression and anxiety. The Washington Post describes the story of Amy, a 30-year-old in therapy who suffered break-downs in college “unable to do laundry and often stayed up until 2 a.m. trying to complete homework because she didn’t know how to manage her time without her parents’ keeping track of her schedule.” We have few models for healthy self-reliance and care in our cultural models of TV and film.  It’s not as simple as pointing the finger at mom and dad, though. The issue is more pervasive. If TV and movies are our cultural models, and I think they are, there are no cultural models even to guide parents for effective development of Adam II, of healthy maturation or emotional processing.  Continue reading

Book Review: L’Engle’s Walking on Water – Overly Lofty

9780804189293In one sense, Madeleine L’Engle’s “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art,” was pleasant to read and stroked my ego as as a wanna-be writer. Parts of it were inspiring. Overall, however, I found it insipid and overly foofy; it talks of writing and art in the loftiest of idealistic prose, as the highest reaches of human meditation and striving.

In a sense, I agree with most of it. But an idealization of the writing vocation is only a tenth of the story. The other nine-tenths are work, the basic discipline of hitting the nail with the hammer every single day. In this sense, it’s like any other skill or job, one where talent and know-how deepen as experience progresses.

Here’s an example of what I didn’t like:

“The world of fairy tale, fantasy, myth, is inimical to the secular world, and in total opposition to it, for it is interested not in limited laboratory proofs but in truth.” (46)

I love fairy tales and fantasy far more than the average fellow, but science is not something to dismiss. I am not a scientist, but I suspect that a tech-minded reader might react defensively, “Hey that’s what my lab tests are all about–truth.” Of course scientific methodology excludes philosophy, meta-narrative claims, but the whole purpose is to learn true things about how the universe works in order to understand it better. This mentality oversteps when we view ourselves as masters of the universe, meant to tame it. But in general, I would say science and laboratory experiments are at the service to truth, a different approach to understanding our world. I think it throws the baby out with the bathwater to pit science in opposition to truth, as if creative types have some sort of lock on that.

Then there was this:

“In art, we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.” (47)

Bleck. I am an idealistic person, and I am sympathetic to what she is getting at, which I take to be that art or creativity is an attempt at knowing or expressing truth. Seeking the fullness of truth can be understood as a sort of prayer or connection with reality aka God. That striving to speak truth can bring the speaker to the heights of human calling.

But. I find L’Engle’s language so over-the-top as to discredit it. It’s as if she divinizes the artist himself rather than showing him as a mere human glimpsing at participation with the divine–which is really the intention. Much of life, and I suspect much of an artist’s life, is spent in murky misunderstanding, darkness and trials, and the prosaic daily activities of buying materials, preparing food and changing sheets. Even the highest peaks of sublimity in creation pass unnoticed because the artist is so absorbed in the act. Never is she really conscious of “moving unfettered among the stars.” Maybe L’Engle is, and that sounds amazing.

But the work of other writers and artists, such as Stephen King and Flannery O’Connor, who have explained their craft, spend more time focusing on the process, on the work, of being surprised by the product despite their best plans. So while the artist does do some amazing co-creation, it is rather unknowable. My concern is not that L’Engle is wrong, but that the tone is deceptive.

Artists are not really a breed set apart for transcendental experience, but rather fellow stumblers along the road. More accurate would be Oscar Wilde who said, “We are all lying the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Continue reading

Why Old Magic was Innocent, According to C.S. Lewis

As I’ve mentioned, That Hideous Strength dealt with a number of things, and there is one of them I’d like to explore more in depth, as it is a topic that interests me a lot and is relevant to the general enjoyment of literature and other of my favorite works such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Arthurian tales such as The Once and Future King by T.H. White and the more recent Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which I hope to begin soon.

Through the character of Arthur Dimble, a professor of ancient languages and mythology, C.S. Lewis speculates on the role and place of magic in ancient times as contrasted with its place today. Here is an abbreviated version of the discussion on the subject between Dimble and his wife:

“Everything is getting more itself and more different from everything else all the time….[For a man like Merlin] there were still possibilities for a man of that age which there aren’t for a man of ours. The Earth itself was more like an animal in those days. And mental processes were much more like physical actions. And there were–well, Neutrals [spirits] knocking about…A conscious being is either obeying God or disobeying Him. But there might be things neutral in relation us [humans]….There used to be things on this Earth pursuing their own business, so to speak.”

“I think there was room for them then, but the universe has come more to a point.”

“In Merlin’s time…though you could still use that sort of life in the universe innocently, you couldn’t do it safely. The things weren’t bad in themselves, but they were already bad for us….Like polygamy. It wasn’t wrong for Abraham, but one can’t help feeling that even he lost something by it.”

“Merlin…is the last vestige of an old order in which matter and spirit were, from our modern point of view, confused. For him every operation on Nature is a kind of personal contact, like coaxing a child or stroking one’s horse. After him came the modern man to whom Nature is something dead–a machine to be worked, and taken to bits if it won’t work the way he pleases.”

(from That Hideous Strength, p. 284-285)

Lewis, who like Dimble, was an expert in languages and in English literature especially would have encountered this issue theologically and in explaining the value of the myths from various cultures that engrossed him so much.

His answer regarding the status of pre-Christian or early post-Christian magic is that the world was a bit different back then, when distinctions about power and agency were perhaps less clear. It was a time, he says, when angels or other spirits may not have had a position towards humans and when the spiritual, even animal, realities of nature could be tapped into innocently, though he adds not safely. Continue reading

Healthcare stub: Increased consumption not driving costs

[So, I know healthcare isn’t usually a blog topic of mine, but I’m oddly interested in it, and my blog is a good way for me to keep track of articles and research.]

“Many believe that we in America are using too much health care. They argue that because many lack ‘skin in the game,’ they consume too much care. This report shows that actual utilization is stable to decreasing in many areas. It’s the prices per unit of care that are going up, pretty much across the board. That will continue, even if we find new ways to incentivize people to avoid care. That’s a dangerous trend. If it continues, it means that we will be getting less and less health care, but paying more and more each year. –Aaron Carroll Dr. Aaron E. Carroll is an associate professor and vice chair of health policy and outcomes research in the department of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine.”

http://www.academyhealth.org/blog/2012-05/dont-blame-consumption-costs

I was really pleased to stumble across this research summary–there are more details in the link–because it fits with my experience–which is that just having a baby, a normal life medical event, has wiped out our health savings completely in each year that one of our kids was born.

“Well, it turns out that care in America is extremely expensive. The average inpatient admission to the hospital cost $14,662 in 2010. If you were admitted to the hospital for a surgery, the average cost was $27,100. The average newborn delivery – if things went well – cost $7,371. Instruments like cost sharing and high deductible health plans that are designed to empower consumers lose much of their appeal when confronted with numbers like these. If you have a baby, or need to go to the hospital just once in a year, you’ve likely already spent as much as allowed out-of-pocket, meaning that any cost-sharing incentives to reduce spending are gone. Moreover, it appears that prices, not utilization are the cause of increases in spending:”

This seems accurate. Most plans nowadays are high deductible, which in my opinion is anything over $1,000.00. As quoted, that means that one hospitalization or birth will wipe out the alleged value of saving money through HSAs and high deductibles. It means that we are incentivized not merely to “price shop,” though anyone who has tried it knows what a tangle it is, but to avoid care. That’s what many families do, frankly, even those with “good insurance.” It can be dangerous.

I appreciate the stats here that show that we American’s aren’t just getting unnecessary tests, office visits and hospitalizations. Many of those measures are down. The prices have just spiked.

That means that as America turns its eye again to healthcare legislation, the issue of access and affordability is far more complex that the lip-service would have us believe. As I’ve said before, a basic truth of modern life, unpopular and unacknowledged, is that healthcare is a high quality, high cost modern resource, a limited resource; it is not infinite. And our society lacks a consensus, and in my opinion even a firm understanding, of what a fair distribution might look like or if it is even possible.

 

 

Book Review: C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength – The Real of Religion

that-hideous-strengthThat Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis opens with a grumbling wife and goes onto weave in realities of marriage, science, the supernatural, morality, magic, politics, violence and animals, all under the auspices of exploring, through story, what a well-lived life looks like. The answer it settles on is surprisingly warm and domestic.

This was the first of the Space Trilogy (which began with Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra), which grabbed me from the beginning and pulled me right through the pages; it is far more character-driven and less allegorical than the others, while equally thoughtful. It is one of those life books that encompasses so many experiences, states in life and realities that it is grand and revelatory such that every page seems to reveal more to me of own soul. Another book I have read like this was The Once and Future King by T.H. White, which was my book of the year for 2015. I loved it so much I couldn’t decide what to write about it, so I never wrote anything, a tragedy.

Anyway, the themes addressed in That Hideous Strength were manifold, though very pointed and specific, such that I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers did not connect with this book because it does feel located in a very concrete time and place, with very precise philosophical concerns–those of C.S. Lewis–a small university in a quiet, English town and the rising onslaught of scientific materialism. While I find the academic setting relatable and generalizable, not all readers might agree.

Here is a short list of themes worth noting; their breadth is the pleasure of the novel: Continue reading