<![CDATA[The League of Faithful Masks - Penultimatum]]>Tue, 17 Oct 2017 03:23:57 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[In Praise of Permanence]]>Sat, 08 Oct 2016 05:13:25 GMThttp://faithfulmasks.org/penultimatum/in-praise-of-permanence
“Why make something disposable, like a building, when you can make something that lasts forever, like a greeting card?”
 
 
In 2009’s (500) Days of Summer (a delightful, and unconventional romantic comedy that reveals from the outset that it is not a love story) the main character, Tom, makes light of his failure to put his architectural training into practice as he spends his days writing banal greeting cards for fabricated holidays and events of little consequence.
 
While Tom uses this self-deprecating line to deflect attention from another embarrassing moment in the movie, he inversely commends the permanent, the physical and the tangible.
 
The disposability of a greeting card is almost a lost reference on those of us (I’m guilty) who have taken to Facebook to wish people a happy birthday with an emoji, meme, or prefabricated electronic message.
 
I was recently speaking with a friend and referencing a story I had read in our local newspaper, and had to correct myself from making a pantomime turn of a large folio newssheet to the mimicking of a swipe of my fingers across my iPad.  Is anything permanent?  Or is everything a giga-something, erasable, modifiable and disposable with a click?
 
Here in cyberland, where we meet many of you through blogs, podcasts, tweets and the dreaded emoji, I can forget that we are all flesh and blood.  A hasty click of a “send” or an ill-conceived idea posted on a message board can haunt you.  They are electronic and impermanent, but they are so easily posted and shared they can leave lasting marks.
 
So what does this have to do with the League of Faithful masks? And this website? And our podcast Virtue in the Wasteland.  We live in an electronic age, and this type of communication can be a boon for us as we share ideas and keep in contact in ways unheard of decades ago.
 
But what about making things more permanent? As you may have seen, I have recently become the director of LFM and I have been tasked with carrying on in the tremendous shadows of Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto and Dr. Jeff Mallinson.  And, whether or not I am a millennial, or whether they even exist, I might be expected to be the first one to push the gas on the “more virtual!” pedal.
 
So please excuse me while I do an about face.  You don’t need more blogs- there are too many already (some very good, some very bad and most of them in neither category).  You get enough emails already from things you signed up once upon a time ago (LinkedIn? It’s still around!)  The initial idea of the “mask” from the League of Faithful Masks was one wherein we, with flesh and blood, did the work of God as his masks.  He doesn’t need to wave a wand and make things magically happen when he has you and me, with our hands and feet and ingenuity to serve and love our neighbor. 
 
As we move forward with both the League of Faithful Masks and Virtue in the Wasteland we are doubling down on our intentions to be as physical and tangible as possible.  Jeff and I have books coming- and while you can read them on iPads or listen to them, they can come to you in actual paper and ink.  While we do the podcast, we are travelling ever more about the country to speak with you and make personal connections that cannot be made in avatars and .mp4 files.
 
Invite us out to your local gathering or have a BBQ and let us join you.  What else can we do that uses “e” formats but can express itself in tangible, permanent things and relationships over meals?  This is what LFM is working on in the coming months. And so while I ask you to check out our newly redesigned websites as we roll them out, and to contact me at danv@1517legacy.comn lets work on making the “e” only an introduction to things more tangible and permanent.  Keep checking us out on our various platforms and we look forward to meeting you in person, printed word or however else we can manage to encourage each other to works of love and service towards our neighbors.
 
​- Dan van Voorhis

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<![CDATA[If You Go Carrying Pictures of Chairman Mao (Reflections on Vocation after a Month in China) by Daniel van Voorhis]]>Wed, 17 Aug 2016 08:22:31 GMThttp://faithfulmasks.org/penultimatum/if-you-go-carrying-pictures-of-chairman-mao-reflections-on-vocation-after-a-month-in-china-by-daniel-van-voorhisPicture
​We were told there would be spies, nothing out of a le Carre novel, but spies nonetheless.  We were told to beware being spat upon by the townspeople who had little regard for our kind, or at least there would be an ungodly amount of spitting in public.  We were told the cuisine might be like prison food, or it could involve intestines and brains and animals we usually consider house pets instead of dinner. 
 
And it was all true.  And more.  So much more, that a recollection of my time in China over the past summer would take up more than an article, and certainly could fill more than an hour of recording time.  And so we put down some of the stories in a recent podcast. Check it out here.

I want to tell you that I have returned and can now report that the Chinese people are just what you thought.  Or I could tell you that they are completely different from what you assumed. But we didn’t have enough time to meet enough people to come back with a complete field report.  I suppose it would be akin to having a foreigner with no English come to the deep South for a bit, jetting them over to Los Angeles for a few days and then letting them recuperate in Boulder before shipping them home and expecting a De Tocqueville-esque account of life in our country.  The most they could say is what I will say: they seem to be a complicated people divided by generations and geography.
 
If we didn’t go to China with the intentions of coming back with a clearer picture of the 1.3 billion people spread out over a land mass larger than the United States, but more densely populated than New York, then what was our purpose?
 
We went to China to teach English, and to do so by using the archetypes in fairytales to talk about virtue.  We were taking the things we talk about on our show and through this organization and putting them into practice. This was the reason, prima facie for going.  But, as with all intentions, they are always mixed and never completely pure.
 
We went anticipating for new experiences and adventures,  I also had personal writing to do.  But, once I got to China I also discovered it would be the perfect place to get some distance from duties back home, and finish my book.  Or maybe by teaching and serving in a foreign country I could write more clearly about vocations and living as a mask of God.  Perhaps a story about a dog, a milk bath, and free laundry service from a hotel I wasn’t staying in, would be enough fodder for podcasts and writing. 
 
Alas, none of it worked out exactly as planned.  Everything seemed half done.  My concentration wasn’t solely in one place and my purpose wasn’t crystal clear just because I got on a plane and went far away (as if distance from my problems wasn’t one of my problems already).
 
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I am now writing at a table inside of a Starbucks. I am at Lat: 33.683947, Long: -117.794694.  A few weeks ago I was doing so, at a different time, but with earth’s rotation similarly situated towards the sun at Lat: 23.021479 Long: 113.121436.  A 7,000-mile difference, and yet the same familiar faux-rustic wooden furniture and cooling venti Americano.  The water and espresso are separating on my tongue, revealing the slightly over-roasted (to my taste) beans, and the air conditioning is on just a tick or two higher than it should be this late at night.  Everything is different and nothing has changed.
 
I’m trying to make sense, now, just as then, what my calling is and how I can, in turn, write to you about the kind of calling(s) you might consider that you have.  And whether my longitude is positive or negative (seriously, what does it mean that my longitude is negative?) I am just as stuck. 
 
I am willing to be vulnerable and tell you every last embarrassing story. 
 
I am willing to write out how bad I am at this so that we can all feel better about not being very good at something. 
 
I could provide three tips that either a) you already know and thus have your assumptions confirmed or b) give you some food for thought until you stub your toe, or your mom calls, or you read something better and think on that instead.
 
I had a calling, for 30 days to serve alongside Jeff and Jared and Stacie and Jourden as well as Dolphin, Cupid, Qing and a host of others to whom I will never stand in the same relationship again.  Whether it was the “right” calling or not is now immaterial.  I would rarely call anything done sincerely, wasted time, but perhaps some time can be spent more responsibly than others.
 
My vocation is always different, depending on the relationship to which I stand to something.  I don’t have one, nor a list of many callings that I rearrange based on my current attitude towards a person or group of people.
 
I could have stayed home and finally painted my patio to get the homeowners association off my back.  I could have fixed the base boards and worked on hanging things on the walls that have sat and glared at me for months.  I could have finished writing the one book, and gone on to start another for the sake of my career.  I could claim that I needed the time off from everything to recharge.  I could have, and should have, done all of those things.
 
This 30-day calling that I took on involved flying half way around the world, with 90% humidity, over four hundred miles logged by my pedometer and both frustrating and fulfilling interactions with a broad range of people in a very different part of a foreign country. 
 
So, you want the moral of the story?  The payoff? The thesis to my “What I did over my summer vacation” essay? 
 
There’s never enough time to do it perfectly.  I’ll accept some callings for selfish reasons and others out of an actual altruism.   I’ll have to fight hard not to regret choosing A over B.  That mirror and those pictures aren’t ever being hung. 
 
And in all of these lukewarm, half hearted attempts to fulfill my callings, I can remain faithful to a proposition: I’m a mask of God trying to serve a broken world. A larvae Dei, but a clumsy one at that, in Irvine or China or anywhere else Starbucks plunks down its automated espresso machines.
 
My callings, and yours, are mundane and invisible punctuated with a little excitement and soured by a few regrets.    And in all of it, wherever I stand in relationship to the various things in my life, I will serve my neighbor as a mask of the God of the creation who uses imperfect vessels to bring light and life into the world.  I will do so for vain reasons and with impure motives, and sometimes with a modicum of success or a flash of brilliance.  Maybe, someday, I’ll hear about how a teacher or student’s life was changed by a little act of then unrecognized charity.  Or I’ll realize how much spending that much time in a compressed space with someone with son-of-an-alcoholic tendencies and my recovering-alcoholic tendencies can cause me to think uncomfortable thoughts about how I perceive myself and treat others.
 
What’s difficult can seem simple, and what’s easy can seem hard.  Most of the time, things are boring, only to be interrupted with brief thrills or gasps.  Sometimes you get to eat the whole dog and sometimes you need to paint the deck so your HOA doesn’t come after you.

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<![CDATA[Post-Apocalyptic Beach Party]]>Thu, 07 Jul 2016 01:32:15 GMThttp://faithfulmasks.org/penultimatum/post-apocalyptic-beach-partyBy Jeff Mallinson
My friend and podcast co-host Dan van Voorhis and I have long been fascinated by the Salton Sea. In this beautiful wasteland, remnants of broken dreams remain scattered on the shores that once drew affluent vacationers. I can imagine the quarrels spouses must have endured, as they struggled to determine if this new recreational boom area was worth the money. 

In the photo above, I'm walking to the edge of its southern shore. The stench was oppressive, which was no surprise, given the temperature was 110 Fahrenheit, and the rotting fish were rolling back and forth in the tiny waves that lapped up onto the sand. 
It wasn't conventional sand, but a finely broken mix of sun-bleached barnacles, fish skeletons, and plastic refuse. At one point, Dan started to sink into something like quicksand. It turned out to be a mush of fermenting tilapia.
This photo (above) is one of the few remaining establishments along the shore. Another on the northern shores was featured in an edition of Grand Theft Auto. Dan and I walked in, and met a feisty but lovable proprietor. A sign on the wall read "Lady's night." When I remarked that I should go get our wives to take advantage of the $2 beers, she ripped down the sign. Apparently, they could only stay open on Thursdays, the day we fortuitously walked in. Lady's night didn't make as much sense if it was the only night the place was open. Moreover, a regular showed up, a single woman. No need to give the regular a deal, she must have figured.
When asked about the economic hardship in town, as illustrated by a thrift store we wanted to visit, but had a sign inviting us to call the proprietor over should we want to browse.

"It's all the Mexicans who moved in," was the response. "They just kill a goat in their yard and drink in the garage."

"Maybe you should get into the goat business, then," I suggested playfully.

Both ladies threw disapproving glares my way. A waitress walked in. Unfortunately, there wouldn't be too many folks to serve as the barkeep's phone announced that the wind was coming. It would come to sweep up the fishbones and throw them onto cars and anyone who might be interested in walking to the bar. 
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She got another notice on the phone. Somebody was coming. He wasn't the sort of fellow who was ready to keep the place in business. 

"He came here twenty-five years ago to die," said the barkeep. Even morbid dreams didn't seem to come true in these parts. He just wandered the land with a big stick, with an assortment of feathers on top. He had become blind, but was in surprisingly good spirits. 

He asked if there was anything to eat, and scoffed after he learned the only thing on the menu that day was a Cobb salad. On his way out he gestured to Dan and me and said, "Good afternoon gentlemen ... though I use the term loosely." Off he went into desert, past salt-encrusted remnants of spent dreams, frozen in time.

Many of us might think things couldn't get worse, in terms of a place to live. For the barkeep and the former barkeep, things could get worse. "If Hillary Clinton becomes president," said one, "then everything really is going to go to hell." Who knows what that would look like for these delightful women, whose company I would have enjoyed for hours more were we not heading back for dinner with our families. 

In any case, Dan and I still dig the place. It has a tranquil beauty, especially at sunset. I bet it's beautiful in the cooler months, from that bar which has a window to the water. The barkeep seemed only to pretend to lament the old man's appearance. On the outside, she seemed as salty as the nearby sea. But on the inside she was a gem. She was almost bashful about the fact (or at least my suspicion) that she gave some money and a cold glass of water to the old wayfaring stranger with failing eyes and a quarter-century battle with cancer.
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On our way out, we swung by the golf course. It still seemed to get occasional use, though the grass was gone and had become 9 holes of sand-trap. Vocation gone wrong, the whim of fate, the government, the American dream itself? Who's to blame for this little apocalypse? 

Instead of blame, maybe its better to meet interesting people, walk through life in the setting sun, and do the best we can to be the faithful masks of God to everyone we encounter. Dan and I at least remember this trip with genuine grins. If we can find virtue in the wasteland, maybe there's hope for the rest of our towns too.

Even when things seem bleak, we can sit back and enjoy the sunset over the wasteland, dreaming of goodness, truth, and beauty. A toast to humanity with all its penultimate flaws; raise a glass and enjoy the post-apocalyptic beach party!

Jeff Mallinson, D.Phil., is part-time director of the League of Faithful Masks, a 1517 Legacy Project, Prof. of Theology and Philosophy at Concordia University, Irvine, and co-host of Virtue in the Wasteland.
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<![CDATA[Shaped by What You Love]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 19:04:08 GMThttp://faithfulmasks.org/penultimatum/shaped-by-what-you-lovePicture
What do you love, and how does that shape your life with others?  How does your love affect your ethical existence? Three speakers recently addressed this topic at a barbershop/pub in Costa Mesa called the Eagle and Pig. The event was put on by Cross of Christ Church, Costa Mesa. 

We live simultaneously in two kingdoms: one rooted in nature, the other in grace. While it is generally important to avoid confusing the two kingdoms, this doesn't mean that there isn't a powerful witness in the world from those of us rooted in a heavenly citizenship, the (kingdom of the right). 

Check out the videos below to hear how the gospel relates to sex, fitness, and storytelling. The first is on sexual ethics by LFM director Jeff Mallinson. The second is from David Zahl, director of Mockingbird. The third is on story telling, from author Mike Cosper.

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<![CDATA[‚ÄčThe Global Importance of Bach Today]]>Wed, 23 Mar 2016 18:14:38 GMThttp://faithfulmasks.org/penultimatum/the-global-importance-of-bach-todayPicture
(By Uwe Siemon-Netto, originally presented at the “Bach in Today’s Parish” conference, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN, November 2, 2009)

A few caveats are in order before I speak to you about the  global significance of the music of Johann Sebastian
Bach. I am not a musicologist, nor a musician; you’ll hear from these eminent scholars and artists later. I am just a
journalist, and as a journalist, I’ll start with hometown news first -- before going global.

I was born in Leipzig, virtually in the shadow of the Thomaskirche. When I was four, my parents began taking me to the motet or cantata services in the Thomaskirche every Friday or Saturday. This might sound alien to present-day parents, Lutherans included, who do not introduce their kids to music saying that they were “too
busy” for that and preferred to spend some “quality time” with their children, like munching hamburgers together.
I spent most of  World War II in Leipzig. This is why a blend of two kinds of acoustical impressions has been resonating in my head ever since my childhood – the sound of bombs and sound of Bach.

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Often the two dovetailed. Often an air raid followed a cantata service or an organ recital. Or an air raid interrupted a house concert in our home. It was during one of these weekly concerts that I was first introduced to the Art of the Fugue, to which I shall return several times this morning.

The first time I heard the Art of the Fugue, it was played by a string quartet in the music room of our downtown
apartment, which was destroyed on Dec. 4, 1943. Two of the musicians were members of the Gewandhaus orchestra, and two were amateurs. In the middle of the performance the sirens howled, and we all rushed to the basement.

There is something else I must tell you about these extraordinary events. They suspended on a very private level the artificial division between Jew and non-New imposed on us by the Nazis. Often Jewish relatives or friends came out of hiding a night to perform Bach or Beethoven, Pachelbel or Pastorius with us before joining us in the air raid shelters or disappearing into the night.
From that the very moment I heard the Art of the Fugue at home, the opening bars of its Contrapunctus One returned to my inner ear virtually every day – while being bombed, while fleeing from Soviet-occupied Leipzig
after the War, while sitting exams at school, while feeling lovesick or covering the Vietnam War as a reporter,
while suffering from a writer’s blocks.

O, I sang Lutheran hymns in my head too, and I still do, none more often than “Abide with me.” But most of all I
am fixated by these fugues! They order my mind and my soul.

​In my prayers fugues join the hymns my grandmother sang into my ears during the air raids. And this has been so for nearly seventy years now.

But that’s enough about me for the moment. Let’s stay in Leipzig for a while longer, though, in Leipzig, cradle of
the peaceful revolution that brought down the Berlin Wall exactly 20 years ago. Did you know that this monumental event in history has a strong Bach connection?

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The protest movement that ultimately snowballed into the bloodless revolution of 1989 started with young Christians, and even though it developed into a mass movement involving more non-Christians than Christians, it was the Church that provided the umbrella for its growth.

Here is a significant bit of information you will rarely find in your media: This protest movement had its roots in the popular anger over a barbaric act committed by the regime of East Germany’s Communist leader Walter Ulbricht. Ulbricht was a former bordello bouncer.
On his orders, the Communists blew up Leipzig’s graceful late-Gothic university church. It stood on Karl-Marx-
Platz, formerly – and now again - called Augustusplatz. Ulbricht, also a native Leipziger, had big plans for
transforming this largest square in Germany into the biggest proletarian parade ground in Europe. In Ulbricht, a church had no business standing at such secular venue.
The university church, symbol of Leipzig’s academic life, as murdered on May 30, 1968. Three weeks later, the
Third International Bach competition took place in Leipzig. During its opening session in the Congress Hall of the
Zoo, All the Communist bigwigs sat in the front rows, next to prominent personalities of the international Bach community.

Suddenly, invisible hands unrolled a yellow poster from the ceiling of this concert hall causing a gasp. The poster
showed the outline of the murdered church, the year of its death --1968 – and the words, “Wir fordern
Wiederaufbau” (“We demand Reconstruction”).
This spectacular incident drew the attention of the world’s musical elite to a Communist outrage. The authors of
this demonstration were four young physicists, all Christians. One was eventually betrayed by a West German leftist to East Germany’s secret police and sent to prison.

It was this stunning episode that ultimately spawned the resistance movement whose success in November of
1989 Germans are commemorating in these weeks.
I must still beg you to remain with me in Leipzig for a little longer for it is, after all, the capital of the global Bach community, the number one pilgrimage site for Bach lovers from all continents. Of the 850 students at Leipzig’s Hochschule für Musik und Theater Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Germany’s oldest state conservatory, almost one quarter hails from Asia. Asians fill the pews of the Thomaskirche during its motet and cantata services.

Japanese in particular have been flocking to Leipzig even in Communist days. One of them was musicologist
Keisuke Maruyama. He became a Christian by studying the impact of the weekday pericopes in the 18th-century
Lutheran lectionary cycle on Bach’s cantatas.

After he had finished his research he told my friend Rev. Johannes Richter, then the superintendent (regional
bishop) of the half of Leipzig’s Lutheran parishes: “It is not enough the read Christian texts. I want to be a
Christian myself. Please baptize me.”

When Richter told me this during one of my rare reporting stints to Leipzig, atheism was the state religion of East
Germany. On the same occasion I interviewed the members of the Thomanerchor, whose director Bach had been from 1723 until his death in 1750.

Since the Reformation, the Thomanerchor has been a municipal institution, and so it was in Communist days.
But under Communism, for the first time in the choir’s history, no chaplain was allowed to provide pastoral care
to these boys in their boarding school. For the previous 800 years, their predecessors received their instruction in
the Christian faith in their dorms; now even table prayers were forbidden. To be catechized they had to go to a
nearby church.

But when I asked several of these children whether they were believers they replied: “O yes, almost all of us are.
You cannot really sing Bach without faith.”

These two examples show that in an era of darkest atheism Bach worked as a missionary – to a scholar from
far-away Asia, and to kids raised in a godless environment, and even a ranking Communist functionary.
I remember interviewing the director of the Leipzig Bach Institute of that period. He was a member of the
Communist hierarchy. He told me that he could only be an atheist only as long as he did not have to listen to Bach.

“It is strange, though, how quickly this changes when I hear Bach’s music.”

This now really does take me to the global significance of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. I have made the
fascinating discovery that whenever I write about Bach for the Atlantic Times, my regular client, these articles
automatically appear in its sister paper, the Asia-Pacific Times.

Why should this be so? Because the editors of both publications know that Bach is one of the hottest topics in the Far East. You write about Bach in Germany or in France or in the United States, and Asians gobble it up – so much so that features like these sell advertising space more easily than many other topics.

My wife and I spend our summers in the Dordogne in southwestern France, where towns and villages are
gradually restoring their Romanesque parish churches; there are about one thousand of them in the Dordogne
alone. These sanctuaries are usually empty, largely for lack of priests. But this changes during the summer thanks to a concert series organized by Ton Koopman, the great Dutch organist and Bach performer, who owns a home there.

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Then busloads of music lovers pour into the Dordogne from all over the world, Dutch, Belgians, Germans,
Scandinavians, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese. A French count sleeps in a car parked immediately in front of ancient churches where the musicians store their ancient instruments. He protects those instruments literally with his own body against thieves and vandals.

French peasants devoid of musical education suddenly appear in their churches they and their ancestors had
ignored for at least two centuries. Their children, until recently ignorant of any form of classical music now join
choirs whipped into shape by Koopman, the star, and hitherto unknown instructors.

Wealthy Frenchmen like my friend Francis Vigne, a retired engineer, buy orphaned organs from the Netherlands and Germany and install them in these rural sanctuaries that had never held any instrument since they were built a millennium ago. Now slowly the locals, intrigued
by their alien sounds, pop into these churches they had never seen from the inside. And more and more often do I hear them sigh: “All we need now is a pastor.”

It is my impression, which I cannot substantiate with statistics, and for which I must beg you to trust my
experienced journalist’s nose, that all this is a manifestation of what many French call la grande soif pour Dieu or, more sophisticatedly, la soif pour la transcendence.

I claim that the music of Bach and his contemporaries lures the thirsty to a place where they will be refreshed -- to ancient edifices where they sit tightly packed on narrow benches, often without backrests, and listen to Koopman’s Baroque ensemble, more and more and more every year – so much so that many copycats are now imitating Koopman’s initiative.

When I see and hear all this I cannot help thinking with enormous sadness and anger of one big Lutheran church
near St. Louis, which proudly proclaims: “Here you will never hear the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.”

Well, let me tell you this: In southwestern France people might not fill the pews every Sunday but they have also
not replaced the altars with sets of drums; they swing along not with praise bands but with Bach, Telemann and
Pachelbel, Schütz, Schein and Scheidt. And I have noticed that when the concert season is well over, some of the
churches, once so empty, remain packed.

Yes, I do believe that Bach is busily at work as an evangelist, to paraphrase Nathan Söderblom, the former
archbishop of Uppsala in Sweden. I also share a similar view expressed by the late Arthur Peacocke, one of the
most significant figures in the burgeoning dialogue between Faith and Science.

Peacocke, an Anglican canon and a noted biochemist, sounded much like Martin Luther who once described
music as a tool of the Holy Spirit. He specifically made a point to which I am inclined to subscribe to heartily:
The Holy Spirit Himself dictated The Art of the Fugue into Bach’s plume.

When I wrote this on my blog site I got into deep waters with Lutheran coreligionists who believe themselves to be
more orthodox than I.

What infuriated them was not only my reference to the Holy Spirit’s authorship of the Art of the Fugue, but even
more so a story of mine describing how Glenn Gould’s rendering of the Goldberg Variations, another very
abstract work by Bach, had triggered the interest of Masashi Masuda from Hokkaido in northern Japan in Christianity.

Masuda told me on the telephone one day that he wanted to discover the source of this wonderful composition –
and was guided to the Christian faith, thus supporting Arthur Peacocke’s theory.

Masashi Masuda became a member of the Society of Jesus, and ultimately a professor of systematic theology at Sophía University, a Jesuit-owned school in Tokyo.
You cannot believe the furious electronic missives aimed at me across the internet in response to this report. “Sir,
did you not know that the Holy Spirit only works through the Word?” one angry reader chided. I replied, “I thought we had learned in Systematics III that the Holy Spirit blew as he wished.

I apologized saying that I was unaware that the Third Person in the Trinity was under any obligation to study the Book of Concord before blowing? So now we know: The Holy Spirit has no right to use an abstract composition by Johann Sebastian Bach as a shoe ladle for the Word of God.

Another email correspondent seemed ready to burn me at the stake, if only this could be done in cyberspace, for
implying in my Masashi Masuda story that the Holy Spirit might have guided this former non-believer to a
denominationally incorrect target. “See? Now Siemon-Netto even asserts that Bach has driven this man to the Antichrist."

Rare in a journalist’s life are such wonderful occasions when divine irony refutes absurdity with swift fury. On the
very day I received this email a friend from Portland, Oregon, sent me this beautiful bit of news: She had a
grandson, who used to be a godless lout. Then one day his father gave him a Glenn Could recording of Bach’s
Italian Concerto, another work without words.

A few months later, this young man surprised his father by playing the Italian Concerto on the father’s piano, from
memory. Until that point Dad had had no idea that this teenager even knew how to handle a piano. Next, the boy informed his grandmother that he would now like to learn how to play the organ.

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So from that day on he accompanied her every Sunday to her Lutheran church, and now he can play the organ and
has become a Christian. I just copied this bit of her email to my angry interlocutor, self-righteously adding three of
the first Latin words I had ever learned: “Quod erat demonstrandum.”

As Prof. Robin Leaver told me this morning, Johann Olearius, the 17th-century German mathematician and
librarian, called the Holy Spirit “der grosse Kapellmeister” (literally, the great orchestra donductor). Again: Quod
erat demonstrandum.

This leads me to a fascinating question others are probably more competent to answer than I: How come that the most destructive and tasteless forms of music and the very best have an almost equal ability to
transcend ethnic, cultural and geographic barriers while others don’t.

How come you see people twitch to the same inane beat whether you are in Iceland or Okinawa, in Berlin or Bali?
If Arthur Peacocke is right that the Holy Spirit disseminates Bach, what do you call the spirit that promulgates rap and Hip Hop but not, for example Schubert’s lieder, on a global scale?

We might have to consult psychologists here, perhaps even physicians. After attending a genuine – not touristy – Voodoo séance in Haiti back in 1964 my wife told me that this experience had literally put a spell on her,
mesmerized her, changed her physically at least as it was happening.

One physician said that this intense drumbeat actually changes your breathing or your heartbeat. I don’t know
about that. I was there too, and it did nothing for me. But like my wife, and evidently like huge audiences in
Tokyo, I feel profoundly changed when listening to the Art of the Fugue or the final chorus of Bach’s St. John’s Passion.

There might well be some kind of spirit involved in Rap and Voodoo, in addition perhaps even to temporary
biological and physiological transformations. Others might be more competent to opine on this. But what about the Spirit who made sure that the Japanese with their entirely different musical background grasp the significance of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, whereas most of us Westerners might find the traditional tunes of Japan charming, exotic, an alien delight, but not really overwhelming.

About ten years ago, I put this question in Tokyo to a couple of musicologists, whose names, I am ashamed to say, I have misplaced in my messy archives. They came up with the following theory that might in part explain the
current Bach Boom in Japan and other parts of Asia for several decades now.

When Francis Xavier and other Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries landed in southern Japan in the mid-16th
century, they brought with them Western-style church music, especially Gregorian chant, and the organ. In fact
they built pipe organs from bamboo, and before the sixteenth century was out, some Japanese princes were so accomplished on the Queen of the Instruments that in the 1560s three of them toured European courts playing
before kings and princes and before the Pope.
Christianity was eradicated in Japan in the early 17th century. Christians were crucified, burned at the stake, and scorched to death while hanging upside-down over cesspools.

But my Japanese interlocutors told me that while the Christian faith was wiped out, elements of Western music
infiltrated Japanese folk song. This influence evidently remained strong enough to help Bach’s music sweep
Japan four centuries later.

I like this theory. I am sure Arthur Peacocke would have loved it. It comforted me in my perplexity throughout the
last four years in St. Louis when I listened to Robert Bergt’s spectacular Bach at the Sem performances, and found the huge Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus filled with white heads.

Most of these heads belonged to members of outside communities. I was grateful to see them there. But where
were the seminarians in whose theological tradition the music of Johann Sebastian Bach played such a towering
role? Where, for that matter, were most of the faculty members?

These concerts were recorded and then repeated over KFUO-FM, this marvelous gift by faithful German-
American Lutherans to the larger St. Louis community, a jewel of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod whose
reputation is otherwise not really one of winsomeness.
Now this KFUO is being sold for an apple and an egg. The church body whose founder had linked music and the
Holy Spirit so closely glibly jettisons one the Comforter’s most splendid tools. Ladies and gentlemen, by all means
grill me electronically for this outburst: This unfathomable act reminds me hauntingly of Walter Ulbricht’s
massacre of our University Church in our mutual hometown of Leipzig in 1968.

I have been invited to talk to you about the Global Significance of the Music of Johann Sebastian Bach. You cannot do this without contemplating the Third Person of the Trinity, and I cannot help noticing that He is being mocked in our own family of faith.

Of course you can try to keep the Holy Spirit and his toys out of reality and replace them with kitsch. But be warned. The Holy Spirit will still blow as he wills, perhaps not on Founder’s Way in St. Louis, but -- Japan and
Korea, in once abandoned Romanesque churches in southwestern France, in the head of a formerly godless lout in Oregon -- and in my head, which keeps finding order and comfort thanks to Bach’s incomplete masterpiece, the Art of the Fugue.

Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto is founder and Director Emeritus of the League of Faithful Masks, a lay theologian, and a veteran journalist. You can buy his recent book on the War in Vietnam here​​​

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<![CDATA[Honoring Justice Scalia]]>Tue, 16 Feb 2016 04:40:12 GMThttp://faithfulmasks.org/penultimatum/honoring-justice-scaliaPicture
By Russell P. Dawn, D.Phil., J.D.

Several years back, a poll in the U.K. asked respondents to name history’s greatest enemy of the British Empire. The winner of the poll was George Washington. As an American then living in England, I was delighted by the choice. The British people inadvertently paid Washington a great honor, for they named him the bane of an empire, which, at least in his time, had become an enemy of liberty. Washington was, as the poll unwittingly acknowledged, a truly great man.
 
Societies, even exceptional ones, produce great men sparingly, and true greatness seems to be in particularly short supply these days. Alas, the supply grew even shorter last Saturday. It was then that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died.
 
It is not difficult to find homage to Scalia on the Internet. There are lists of his most notable takedowns of opposing points of view, discussions of his finest juridical achievements, paeans to all he has meant to the highest court in the land. My offering will differ from many of these, examining instead the foundation or fundamental character that made him great. That foundation was his approach to authority.
 
Scalia was a good Catholic, and a sine qua non of good Catholicism is the recognition that one is under authority. Under God, under the pope, under authority. In his vocation on the Court, he also rightly saw himself as under authority – that of the United States Constitution. First and foremost, the Constitution separates the various powers inherent in government. The power of the Court is not the power to make laws, nor is it the power to execute them. Those powers the Constitution reserves to those who must face political consequences for infidelity, overreaching, or foolishness.
 
The judicial power, that of interpreting the law and applying it to particular cases, is at once greater and, more importantly, less, than the legislative and executive powers. It is greater in that it can undo what the other branches have done. Carried out properly, it is the last defense against predatory, unconstitutional government, save the people themselves. It is less than the others because it rightly can do nothing against unwise government, unenlightened government, or even unjust government, to the extent the injustice is lawful under the Constitution. Scalia understood all of this, and lived it. His judicial conservatism was, above all else, a refusal to violate the Constitution’s separation of powers, to extend his own power beyond its authority.

Scalia might have chosen otherwise, reading his own ideas, or those of the modern world, into the Constitution. Had he done so, he would have been a bright but otherwise unremarkable adherent of today’s dominant judicial philosophy of constitutional progressivism, the belief that the Constitution is a living or evolving document. He described the living Constitution as “a document whose meaning changes to suit the times, as the Supreme Court sees the times.” He regarded this progressivism as “profoundly undemocratic” for its effective judicial confiscation of legislative powers (or, as he said, “super-legislative”), and likened it to a cancer. He was remarkable because he chose instead the path of originalism or textualism, interpreting the Constitution to mean today what it meant in its original context. This placed him under the authority of the framers’ ideas as enshrined in the Constitution, and most importantly under the Constitution’s separation of powers. It placed him under authority.
 
Justice Scalia’s approach to authority was also of central importance in that he did not shy away from carrying out the authority he did have. He was not merely a professor or a pundit, free to comment flippantly or thoughtfully as he saw fit at the moment. He carried the weight of his office honorably: agreeably and efficiently taking on his share of the countless mundane tasks of the Court that never make it into the public consciousness, while fighting publicly and unrelentingly to preserve democratic government under law, including the fundamental law of the Constitution. He excoriated progressivist depredations, lamenting for instance in Obergefell v. Hodges that “today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.” In his most notable judicial pronouncements, it seems he sought to drag the whole Court, indeed the whole government, kicking and screaming back to its rightful place under the authority of the Constitution. A herculean task, carried out by an intellectual Hercules.
 
Finally, Justice Scalia knew who and what did not hold authority over him, and he refused to let himself fall under their sway. He did not seek to please the mainstream press, or Hollywood, or law professors at Harvard or Georgetown, or even the President. He rejected, in essence, the authority of the culture. This rejection, and his unapologetic expression of it, made him not only unpopular but positively vilified by many progressivists (one notable exception being his personal friend, progressivist jurist Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg). My first exposure to Scaliaphobia came in 1991, during my first semester of law school. I didn’t yet know much about Scalia, but when I expressed agreement with the good Justice on an obscure case, my more enlightened peers ridiculed me. I grew to bask in such ridicule, marveling at the feverishness of progressivist hatred toward the man. And not even his death has stemmed the flow of venom, as news of it was met with numerous Twitter posts cursing him to Hell.
 
Such hatred, now as then, reveals more than is intended. For if those who would eviscerate the Constitution, that most laudable of human documents, have viewed Scalia as their greatest enemy, then they have unwittingly honored him as great. Just as the British did for Washington. We will miss you, Justice Antonin Scalia. I will miss you. For the loss of a great man always comes too soon.
 
Dr. Dawn is Associate Professor of History and Political Thought at Concordia University Irvine

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<![CDATA[How Bach became a Hit in Japan]]>Mon, 28 Dec 2015 20:27:13 GMThttp://faithfulmasks.org/penultimatum/how-bach-became-a-hit-in-japanPicture
By UWE SIEMON-NETTO

Forty years ago when there was still a Communist East Germany, I interviewed several boys from Leipzig’s Thomanerchor, the choir once led by Johann Sebastian Bach. Many of those children came from atheistic homes. “Is it possible to sing Bach without faith?” I asked them. “Probably not,” they replied, “but we do have faith. Bach has worked as a missionary among all of us.” During my many journeys to Japan I discovered that more than a quarter millennium after his death Bach is now playing a key role in evangelizing that country, one of the most secularized nations in the developed world.

When Bach died on July 28, 1750, after two botched eye operations performed by John Taylor, a quack from England, his last major work, The Art of the Fugue, remained incomplete. It culminates in a quadruple contrapunctus bearing his signature, for it is formed from the letters b-a-c-h (in German musical terminology b-natural is called “h”). Just as you might expect the final section of Fugue 19 to begin, the music stops eerily. The blind man no longer had the strength to pull together its various themes to a perfect ending. Instead he dictated to his son-in-law a powerful last chorale--Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich hiermit (Before thy throne I come herewith)—and then he departed.

The Art of the Fugue is perhaps Bach’s most abstract and intellectually challenging work. Yet its pristine grace led Arthur Peacocke, the English theologian and biologist, to aver that the Holy Spirit himself had written it, using Bach’s hand. This quality of his music provides Christianity with a curious inroad to a group of people who in the past had resisted evangelization more effectively than any other: Japan’s elite.

Masashi Masuda, from Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, told me how Glenn Gould’s interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations had first aroused his interest in Christianity. “There was something about that music that prompted me to probe deeper and deeper into its spiritual origins,” he said. Masuda is now a Jesuit priest and a lecturer in Systematic Theology at Tokyo’s Sophia University. Yoshikazu Tokuzen, the former rector of Japan’s Lutheran seminary and president of his country’s National Christian Council (NCC), echoed Peacocke: “Bach is a vehicle of the Holy Spirit.” As evidence Tokuzen cited an astonishing statistic. Although less than 1 percent of the 127 million Japanese belong to a Christian denomination, another 8 to 10 percent sympathize with this “foreign” religion. Tokuzen explained: “Most of those sympathizers are part of the elite, and many have had their first contact with Christianity through the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.”

”I fit into this category,” said my interpreter Azusa, a twenty-five-year-old law student. She pulled a CD out of her handbag. It was a recording of Bach’s cantata Vergnügte Ruh’, beliebte Seelenlust, whose lyrics explain that God’s real name is love. “This has taught me what these two words mean to Christians,” she explained, “and I like it so much that I play this record whenever I can.”

Azusa made it clear, though, that while she recognizes Christianity’s beauty as a phenomenon going far beyond cultural aesthetics, she is not yet a convert. In this she typifies perhaps millions of highly educated Japanese who resist taking the leap of faith—or admitting to it—although they are painfully aware of what Tokuzen calls the “spiritual void” into which their society has slipped.

Two-thirds of all Japanese profess no religion. However, of this vast majority, 70 percent deem religion important for society. “Yet Buddhism and Shintoism, Japan’s traditional faiths, have long lost their credibility,” said Martin Repp, a German Lutheran theologian who was the deputy director of the NCC’s Center for the Study of Japanese Religions in Kyoto. “Today their roles are only ceremonial, and most of their temples are mere tourist attractions. Churches could pick up the slack if they were not so self-absorbed, especially the mainline Protestant denominations, to which most Christians in Japan belong,” Repp continued. “Most wealthy congregations are only thinking of themselves and give little money to missions; meanwhile, international mission societies are curtailing their budgets for Japan.”

Kummi Tamai, a successful American-trained evangelical pastor, called most of his colleagues lazy evangelizers. He chided them for not providing a challenge to the young who, according to Repp, feel hopelessly alienated from their parents’ generation. “In their frenetic pursuit of production, speculation, and consumption,” Repp said, “the older Japanese have provided their offspring exclusively with materialistic values. But the youngsters are yearning for something more. The result is an enormous gap between the generations; they are no longer able to communicate with one another.”

The ensuing spiritual crisis manifests itself in many ways. No other country in the developed world keeps as many palm readers busy. None produces as much pornography; nearly half the world’s smut is made in Japan—and openly consumed in trains and subways. An average of 70 Japanese, including many teenagers, kill themselves every day; according to government figures, a total of 18,048 youngsters under the age of 18 took their own lives between 1972 and 2013. Opinion polls show that 60 percent of the population admit to being afraid every day. Most fear bringing shame on their families, teachers or superiors by failing at work or in school.

”What people need in this situation is hope in the Christian sense of the word, but hope is an alien idea here,” says the renowned organist Masaaki Suzuki, founder and conductor of the Bach Collegium Japan and a former organ student of Ton Koopman, one of the world’s leading Bach interpreters. He has been the driving force behind the “Bach boom” sweeping Japan during its current period of spiritual impoverishment. “Our language does not even have an appropriate word for hope,” Suzuki says. “We either use ibo, meaning desire, or nozomi, which describes something unattainable.” After every one of the Bach Collegium’s performances Suzuki is crowded on the podium by non“Christian members of the audience who wish to talk to him about topics that are normally taboo in Japanese society—death, for example. “And then they inevitably ask me to explain to them what ‘hope’ means to Christians.”

Like Georg Christoph Biller, Leipzig’s departing Thomaskantor and Bach’s sixteenth successor in that position, Suzuki sees himself as a missionary. “I am spreading Bach’s message, which is a biblical one,” he said, echoing the Swedish theologian and Lutheran archbishop Nathan Söderblom (1866-1931), who called Bach’s music “the fifth Gospel.” A member of the Reformed Church, Suzuki makes sure his musicians, mostly non-Christians, get that point. During rehearsals he teaches them Scripture. “It is impossible to say how many of my performers and listeners will ultimately become Christians,” Suzuki said. He believes, however, that Bach has already converted tens of thousands of Japanese to the Christian faith.

Suzuki assembled his Bach Collegium nearly 25 years ago. Since then, he estimates, “anywhere from one hundred to two hundred other Bach choirs have popped up around this country.” Suzuki is even responsible for introducing the German word Kantate (cantata) into the Japanese vocabulary; it is currently a highly fashionable term. Suzuki’s concerts are always sold out. Every Good Friday more than two thousand Bach enthusiasts pay hundreds of dollars each for a ticket to his ensemble’s performance of the St. Matthew Passion. “It is very moving to watch this enormous crowd follow the Japanese translation of the German lyrics word for word,” Professor Tokuzen said. “Where else in the world do you find non-Christians so engrossed in biblical texts?”

Japan’s Bach boom does, however, have one baffling aspect: how is it possible that melodies and rhythms from eighteenth-century Germany should please people of an entirely alien culture thousands of miles to the east? Tokyo musicologists have come up with an astonishing answer: Bach’s appeal to today’s Japanese is directly linked to a Spaniard’s first attempt to evangelize their ancestors 450 years ago.

In August 1549 the Spanish Jesuit Francis Xaviér (1506-1552) became the first Christian missionary to land in Japan. In the decades that followed, the Jesuit and Franciscan fathers baptized 20 percent of its population, including members of princely families. It soon became fashionable to promenade around Nagasaki carrying rosaries.

But in 1587 the shogun Hideyoshi expelled all missionaries, and a murderous persecution of all Christians followed. Believers were crucified, burned at the stake, tortured to death, or hanged upside-down over cesspools to intensify their suffering. Few Japanese were aware of this sinister aspect of their history until in 1999 the Tobu art gallery in Tokyo commemorated the 450th anniversary of Francis Xaviér’s arrival with a massive exhibition spread over three floors.

The enormous crowds filing through this show were horrified by the cruelties its images portrayed. But there was one thing they did not learn at the Tobu Gallery: Western music managed to survive the persecution. The Jesuits had introduced Gregorian chant to Japan and built organs from bamboo pipes. They trained Japanese children so well in handling the queen of instruments that in the 1560s three princely wunderkinder from Nippon were competent enough to be sent to Europe to play the organ before illustrious audiences, including one in the Vatican. By the time Christianity was totally outlawed in Japan in the early seventeenth century, elements of Gregorian chant had infiltrated Japan’s traditional folk music. That influence remained strong enough to help Johann Sebastian Bach’s music sweep across the island nation more than four centuries later.

Uwe Siemon-Netto, a native of Leipzig, Germany has been an international journalist for 60 years. He holds a doctorate in theology and sociology of religion from Boston University. He and his British-born wife, Gillian, divide their time between their homes in southern California und southwestern France.

Note: An older version of this essay appeared in the periodical First Things.

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<![CDATA[Education & Augustine's Confessions]]>Mon, 07 Dec 2015 20:20:34 GMThttp://faithfulmasks.org/penultimatum/education-and-augustines-confessionsPicture
By Samantha Leanza, guest contributor.
---
 St. Augustine’s Confessions is often viewed as a personal account of spiritual development in the early church, but its implications for education are hard to miss. On the first page of the text, Augustine pleads to God: “Grant me Lord to know and understand” as he seeks to rest his anxious heart. Education, for Augustine, is not merely of an academic nature.[1] Rather, “education signifies the process, concerted activity, or achievement that befits or capacitates one for a more perfect or complete performance of some desirable or wished-for activity.”[2] This stands in contrast to the educational philosophies of his day that focused on rhetoric, philosophy, and in general, the liberal arts. It is not contrasting in form, rather in content. His Confessions provides its reader with a picture of Augustine’s own intellectual development as well as an educational philosophy that illuminates the soul on its path to God. 
            This philosophical tract is important given Augustine’s historical context. He was born in Thagaste, a small town in North Africa, in 354 to a Christian mother and a pagan father. His mother, Monica has a significant presence within the text as a symbol of piety in the young Augustine’s life. Confessions was written between 397-400, just following the reign of Theodosius I. Just before Theodosius I ascended to the throne, Julian the Apostate was the emperor. In 362, he issued an edict that “forbade Christian professors to teach classical literature in the schools throughout the empire.”[3] This meant material hardship for Christians who lost their teaching positions; it also meant that Christians needed to get creative in light of having the institutional rug pulled out from beneath them.
            Confessions is part of the larger patristic response to the liberal arts tradition of the day. Augustine was the first major Christian thinker “to analyze systematically the traditional liberal arts curriculum known within the ancient world, which he went on to transform for the purposes of Christian instruction.”[4] In doing so, he both appropriates and rejects aspects of pagan learning as he integrates the model within his Christian worldview. It is not the formal presentation of it, however. Augustine’s educational model is articulated in his De doctrina Christiana, which was published about the same time that Confessions was written. Further research could ask if De doctrina Christiana is the Confessions’ theory applied to practice. 
            His educational theory must be viewed in light of his Neoplatonism. Ryan Topping, a Catholic theologian, writes that Augustine sees education as “a training in both the knowledge of the proper end and the knowledge of the right method that could bring that end into actuality.”[5] In terms of Christianity, where education takes the form of catechesis, one realizes the end of being with God and how one is saved. Augustine wants to move along the platonic realms of reality to the incorporeal, contemplation of God.
            Because of the work’s first nine books of biography, the reader sees Augustine go through the stages of life much like one would see an undergraduate turn into a scholar. His education begins in boyhood, as seen in Book I. He begins his studies with disdain, for he “had no love for reading books and hated being forced to study them.”[6] The older narrator interjects to claim that “this aversion must have been sin and the vanity of life.”[7] Indeed, Augustine sees his youthful laziness as the punishment of his own disordered mind. His serious, rigorous educational pursuits are clear attempts to reorder the mind to God.
            The education that reorders is not one of mere emotion and aesthetics. That is what comprises the curriculum of his day that he rejects. Augustine does this when discussing Virgil’s Aeneid and the foolishness of weeping over Dido’s plight. Instead of feeling sorry for Aeneas’ lover, he claims that the tale caused him to abandon God “to pursue the lowest things of [his] creation.”[8] Still, he values the vividness of the Latin language to be found in the Aeneid because it was his in his primary tongue. That he struggled with the Greek texts showed him that education ought to be characterized by free curiosity, which has “greater power to stimulate learning than rigorous coercion.”[9] After this realization, he prays again, asking God to use what he learned in boyhood for his service.
            That his dedication was a service to God becomes clear in looking at Augustine’s vocations before and after his conversion. As a boy and young man, Augustine witnessed the hypocrisy of his pagan teachers. He says that it is no wonder he was led away from God in his youth: he had horrible role models. These men "would be covered in embarrassment if, in describing their own actions…they were caught using a barbarism or a solecism in speech. But if they described their lusts in a rich vocabulary of well-constructed prose with a copious and ornate style, they received praise and congratulated themselves.[10] Here, Augustine is broadening education to include virtue, or at least a proper ordering of the appetites. These men are too concerned with rhetoric, as Augustine was in his early life, to be bothered with their immoral lifestyles.
            Augustine’s disordered mind is further evident during his time at school. In Book III, he gives his account of his time studying in Carthage. While there, his curriculum had him reading Cicero’s Hortensius, which encourages its readers to study philosophy. The illuminating effects of philosophy are important for Augustine, as they begin to correct his mind, even if it is just a minute turn. He says that “the book changed my feelings. It altered my prayers, Lord, to be towards you yourself.”[11] For the first time in the text, Augustine as character rather than narrator is valuing something for its content rather than its superficial style. This further inspires him to study Scripture. At this juncture, the reader sees Augustine slide back into his ways. With pride, he deems the Scriptures as “a text lowly to the beginner but, on further reading, of mountainous difficulty and enveloped in mysteries.”[12] He initially is blinded by the Bible’s simple prose, but he later realizes that the Bible’s mysteries have been tamed for the reader and grow with him over time.
            His conversion experience at thirty-two shows the height of his relationship with the Bible and its mystery.[13] In an almost mystical encounter with the supernatural, Augustine hears a small child chanting in the distance, repeating “Pick up and read, pick up and read.”[14] At this command, Augustine reads the first chapter of Scripture his eyes find. Far from his pre-converted scoffing, Augustine sees the Bible as an educational tool that causes “all the shadows of doubt [to be] dispelled.”[15] Here, one sees the ultimate consummation of Augustine’s educational ideals. His passions have been reordered, while not completely in this life, to God and his mind has been illuminated to the source of goodness, truth, and beauty.
            The less-studied Books X-XIII are a treasure trove of Augustine’s philosophical musings. He moves away from the elementary, corporeal things of his life to the abstract. Book X examines the conscience, as Augustine has previously reported on his own sins for nine books, and the nature of the memory and the happy life. On the happy life, Augustine defined it as “joy based on truth.”[16] It is the judgment of this truth that proves intellectually difficult, but Augustine’s educational philosophy would argue that “divine illumination comes into play when ideas are held as truth that men ought to hold. It explains the sources of the universality and necessity of knowledge.”[17]
            This consideration of truth, especially divine truth, serves as the launch pad of Augustine’s deeper intellectual discussion of time in Book XI. He asks uncomfortable questions, as scholars should when making intellectual judgments, but he continues to weave in prayers that plead for God’s constant presence. Book XII continues the discussions from Book XI, but uses the preceding topics to comment on the creation account in Genesis. Augustine tips his metaphorical hat to the different readings that scholars have, and he contributes to that conversation in the rest of the book. Finally, the theme of the Genesis account presents itself in allegorical form in Book XIII that Frank describes as “an account of the stages of spiritual conversion by which all spiritual beings are called back toward the rest and peace of life with God.”[18] Even Augustine’s Genesis account lines up with his educational philosophy of spiritual progression and illumination on the journey to eternal blessedness.
            The illumination that comes from seeking God over prideful study without God leads to brighter understanding of the truth and a deeper love for God. At the conclusion of the text, Augustine has not completed his scholarly journey, but he has made incredible progress. Frank summarizes Augustine’s journey well: "Augustine decides to love God wholeheartedly, to prefer altogether the love of God to the range of past loves that had claimed parts of his soul, as it were, to the exclusion of God. With that decision, ‘a peaceful light streamed into my heart, and all the dark shadows of doubt fled away."[19] 
            Not all study is harmful, but when it upsets the order of one’s loves, it can be dangerous. Confessions begins with a groaning heart that is lost apart from God. In the early days of his education, Augustine sees that his teachers are more concerned with winning that with the truth. His journey to illumination shows him the value of the truth, that leads him to close with a supplication to the only source of truth and knowledge: “What man can enable the human mind to understand this?...Only you [God] can be asked.”[20] For Augustine, education is appealing to God to understand the truth and living that out in faithful, but critical study.

For Further Reading                                                                                                           

Frank, William A. “A Reading of Augustine’s Confessions and Its Implications for Education.” Arts of Liberty no. 1 (2013): 26-50.

Gilson, Etienne. The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine. Trans. L. E. M. Lynch (New York: Random House, 1960.

Howie, George. St. Augustine on Education. South Bend, IN: Gateway Editions, LTD. 1969.  

Topping, Ryan. N.S. Happiness and Wisdom: Augustine’s Early Theology of Education, Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2012.

Saint Augustine. Confessions. Trans. Henry Chadwick. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

End Notes

[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008): 1
[2] William A. Frank, “A Reading of Augustine’s Confessions and Its Implications for Education,” Arts of Liberty no. 1 (2013): 44.
[3] Ryan N.S. Topping, Happiness and Wisdom: Augustine’s Early Theology of Education, (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2012): 19.
[4] Topping, Happiness and Wisdom, 1.
[5] Topping, Happiness and Wisdom, 2.
[6] Augustine, Confessions, 14.
[7] Augustine, Confessions, 15.
[8] Augustine, Confessions, 16.
[9] Augustine, Confessions, 17.
[10] Augustine, Confessions, 20.
[11] Augustine, Confessions, 39.
[12] Augustine, Confessions, 40.
[13] George Howie, St. Augustine on Education,
[14] Augustine, Confessions, 152.
[15] Augustine, Confessions, 153.
[16] Augustine, Confessions, 199.
[17] Frank, “A Reading of Augustine’s Confessions,” 36.
[18] Frank, “A Reading of Augustine’s Confessions,” 42.
[19] Frank, “A Reading of Augustine’s Confessions,” 33.
[20] Augustine, Confessions, 305.

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<![CDATA[JUST WAR AND ISIS]]>Mon, 16 Nov 2015 21:35:58 GMThttp://faithfulmasks.org/penultimatum/just-war-and-isisPicture
The Christian tradition has a long history of pondering the circumstances under which, if at all, war might be justifiable. Augustine, Aquinas, and modern ethicists have developed several important criteria a nation should consider before engaging in armed violence. For the most part, the idea isn’t that just war theory is easy to apply; indeed, most will concede it has rarely, if ever, been successfully applied in history. Nonetheless, just war theory asks us to ponder several important questions both before and also during the waging of war, and these questions at least help us to mitigate the potential evils that inevitably flow from armed conflict. In recent casual conversation with my two sons, we discussed the wars into which I would have been reluctant to see them go into combat. I also shared with them that, while I’m no dogmatic pacifist, I didn’t think we should have invaded Iraq. Nevertheless, all of us agreed that the current threat of ISIS might be important enough to justify increased U.S. engagement, and thus our own family’s engagement should the need arise.

To work through the prudence of a boots-on-the-ground fight against ISIS, permit me to list the criteria for just war (here, I’ll only address jus ad bellum or justice related to going into war, setting aside jus in bello, or the principles of moral action within war) and ask whether the current ISIS crisis deserves more aggressive military action.

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1.     Just cause. Here, we ask whether the purpose is selfish or in defense of the innocent. ISIS has demonstrated an unflinching willingness to execute, torture, and enslave innocent people from various backgrounds. While there might be economic interests behind the scenes, to fight ISIS would not be to trade blood for oil. It would be to respond to the call to oppose manifest evil. 

2.     Competent authority. This criterion seeks to ensure that wars are declared by lawful means and with governments and coalitions that proceed along the lines of international law. Unlike some past unilateral involvements, things are shaping up such that this would be a sincere coalition of multiple nations like France and Russia. Likewise, I believe, despite the national fatigue related to foreign entanglements, it would seem possible to muster bipartisan support for serious involvement.

3.     Comparative justice. With this criterion, we ask whether the lives and values at stake justify the inevitable consequences of war: death, displacement and destruction. In the case of ISIS, it seems that violent intervention is comparatively better than the current situation, which already involves death, displacement and destruction. We aren’t dealing with stifling Sharia laws, but with terrorism and mass executions carried out by ruthless ideologues.

4.     Right intention. This criterion asks us to pursue reasonable and morally admirable goals. We must not seek, for instance, the unconditional surrender or extermination of a people group. We must have a just, peaceful goal in mind. This criterion is tricky, since it makes most sense in the case of wars between discrete nations. Here, unfortunately, we would need to seek a sort of unconditional surrender, but only to the extent that it is a surrender of terrorist planning and activity. 

5.     Last resort. This criterion is extremely important, and too often ignored. We might not have had to experience our current popular opinion fatigue, had we been a bit more frugal with our expenditure of resources and soldiers’ time away from home. Nonetheless, there is no time for diplomacy. ISIS has declared as much. Innocent people are being mowed down. It seems that war in this case, despite it’s nontraditional form, is indeed our only remaining option.

6.     Probability of success. This criterion, like “right intention” is problematic because it makes more sense with respect to wars between nations. If, for instance, Canada wanted to invade the U.S. and make it part of a new empire in the Western Hemisphere, and if, for instance, they had built up enough military machinery to make a march through the Dakotas effortless, there might be an argument that we should simply surrender before countless lives are lost. People might not like socialized medicine and whatever else the Canadians were to bring with their new world order, but the stakes would not be so dire that fighting an impossible war would be worth it. What about ISIS? It seems that terrorism and insurgency are like the Lernaean Hydra, a serpent with multiple heads that, when severed, grow into even more heads. Thus, to fight might be to escalate and provoke increasing attacks. Fair enough. But there seems to be no reason a priori to assume that a patient counter-terrorism effort couldn’t work, especially when there are at least some identifiable locations where ISIS leaders congregate. Moreover, the fight is already on, and were the wicked to have their way, the implications would be dire indeed.

7.     Proportionality. With this final criterion, we must attend to the many costs involved in going to war. Could our national economy sustain a protracted endeavor? How many more people would be displaced along the way? Which countries, if any, would be willing to take in the refugees created by increased warfare? Perhaps, if there were only a few terrorist incidents in regionally isolated spots, we might not want to stir anything up. Unfortunately, however, things have already been stirred. We could hardly cause more disruption than ISIS has already caused, and will continue to inflict on the world. 

Therefore, with a heavy heart, I must conclude that enhanced military action—call it a full-fledged war if need be—is justifiable against ISIS. I believe that Christians should usually be the last to clamor for war. We must also resist unjust short-cuts like indiscriminate bombings and torture. But when innocent people are suffering, to ignore their plight and reject direct involvement outright is no virtue.  Some criteria from just war theory are difficult to apply (such as #4 and #6) because “war” with ISIS would not be traditional. Moreover as the video (below) illustrates: it is not easy to figure out who to back and how to back them in this complicated region. That question calls for wisdom and attention to good intelligence, but it is not the question at hand. What we're after here is the question of whether, if we do finally get a sense of how best to intervene, we would be just in our participation in violence.

In any case, I believe that even a person who is generally a pacifist might want to override their general principle of nonviolence for this particular situation. Every once and a while, kind-hearted people need to awaken to real threats, stand up, and face those threats with the necessary resolve. They need to do this for the defense of the innocent. With ISIS, we are dealing with one of the greatest threats to decent civilization in centuries. People of principle can’t let a couple decades of arguably misguided foreign policy to cloud our calling at this hour. Peace should of course be our goal. Today, alas, we are not at peace. The mortal enemies of decency have already declared war.

--Jeff Mallinson

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<![CDATA[Volkswagen & Germany's Lost Virtue]]>Thu, 24 Sep 2015 19:57:11 GMThttp://faithfulmasks.org/penultimatum/volkswagen-germanys-lost-virtuePicture
“Arrogance is the art to take pride in its own stupidity,” says an astute German aphorism allegedly coined by Goethe. Arrogance comes to mind as the most charitable attribute when considering Volkswagen’s breathtakingly stupid act of hoodwinking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and systematically deceiving eleven million customers who bought its diesel cars worldwide. But much more is at stake here.

The German words, “Ich dien’” (I search) have for centuries articulated a cherished German virtue and been part of the coat of arms of the Princes of Wales since the 14th century (see image above).

By greedily manipulating the emissions control software of its diesels, VW has not only cheated those eleven million but betrayed the very values that had been a recorded German characteristic seven centuries. Whatever their shortcomings, Germans have always been known for as decent, trustworthy, honest, highly accomplished perfectionists, as a people taking delight in serving their neighbors. They were admired for their engineering skills.

That they should have abused these very skills in committing a mass crime on an unfathomable scale seemed atypical for Germans when this happened under a tyranny more than seven decades ago. That it happened again in a democracy, albeit in a less murderous manner, renders me utterly dejected. To understand this despair, a brief excursion into our long history might be helpful to non-Germans.

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But now VW as turned this virtue upside down.

Love of service to others (and not to oneself) was considered so quintessentially German that the German words, ich dien’ (I serve), have been a feature of the emblem of the Princes of Wales since the 14th century. Serving our neighbors in all of our vocations is man’s highest possible service to God, said Martin Luther. This internalized Lutheran doctrine has produced the high quality and reliability of German products, according to Max Weber, one the fathers of modern sociology.

As a Lutheran, I found this faith-based quality reflected in the cars I drove in my 55 years on the road around the world. I learned to drive in a grey VW Standard without synchronized transmission requiring me to double-clutch; a red, right-hand driven bug was my office car in Hong Kong, I owned one of the first Golf diesels, a brilliant white beauty, in France and a beige U.S.-built VW rabbit in Chicago. In California I have a Mexican-built VW Jetta, and of the three Audi diesels in my possession, two-old timers are still purring around the French countryside: a yellow one built in 1982 and a dark-green 1996 Quattro, both making me proud of German workmanship.

There are other examples of German precision I have been immensely proud of: the precision of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach who set to music the precision of Lutheran theology – so much so that I studied it in the autumn of my life at a seminary in Chicago and at Boston University. Yet just as VW has abused the precision of German engineering in order to milk its customers in a manner hitherto typical of lowlife scoundrels elsewhere in the world, the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) is frittering away the beautiful precision of Luther’s teaching, to wit its chairman, Bavarian bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm joining the board of an Islamic Center in Munich instead of following Christ’s Great Commandment, which should compel him to bring the Gospel to the millions of Muslims now pouring into Europe.

PictureMax Liebermann (1847-1935)
As painter Max Liebermann (1847-1935) explained in his marvelous Berlin accent watching a torchlight procession of Nazi storm troopers, “Ick kann jar nich soville fressen, wie ick kotzen möchte” (I simply can’t eat as much as I want to throw up).

The truly terrifying aspect of these two examples of the postmodern betrayal of values by two great German institutions, one secular and one spiritual, is this: They prove the slow-motion, but accelerating, success of the doctrine by the late Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1881-1937) who taught that the revolution can only be brought about by subverting society’s traditional institutions. One of these institutions is the family. In this respect, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling affirming same-sex marriage was a feat of truly Gramscian dimensions.

Where contemporary Germany is concerned, though, Volkswagen and the Protestant Church have been busy fulfilling Gramsci’s vision. Considering this, Max Liebermann’s metaphor seems almost kindly. As a Lutheran Christian, I must refrain from detailing my highly un-Christian thoughts of what I would do with these traitors to their institutions with all the logs the Black Forest could produce – that is, if I took the medieval perspective, which is not mine.

Uwe Siemon-Netto, the former religious affairs editor of United Press International, has been an international journalist for 58 years, covering North America, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe for German publications. Dr. Siemon-Netto is the founder and director emeritus of the League of Faithful Masks and Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in Irvine, California. His latest book, Triumph of the Absurd, is a memoir of his five years as a war correspondent in Indochina.


[This essay was originally published 9/24, on free pressers.com, and is used here by permission of the author.]


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