Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Hymn to God the Father"

There are moments in literature when a verse of poetry, or a passage of prose, captures the reader's experiences and thoughts so perfectly that it resonates with the clarity of a bell at midnight.  That's literature at its very finest.  This poem, by John Donne, has always caused a "shock of recognition" to run through me that almost renders me speechless.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"A God Who Hates"

"A woman is only a woman," wrote Rudyard Kipling, "but a good Cigar is a Smoke." These words, from his tongue in cheek poem "The Betrothed," express a grand and exalted view of womanhood, compared to that of the savage "religion" of Islam.  No ideology in the history of humanity is more deeply and genuinely misogynistic than the religion of Muhammad.

Once again, we hear from the great Wafa Sultan.  In this brief speech, she is basically plugging her book, A God Who Hates, but also telling of the heartrending experiences of her grandmother - - - and of her own American-born daughter's inability to comprehend such things.  The speech is followed by a brief question and answer session, in which Dr. Sultan expresses her very interesting opinions regarding the state of Israel.




Friday, October 21, 2011

Miss USA vs. the Police State, Part II

Several months ago, we looked at the case of Susie Castillo, the former "Miss USA" who had been sexually molested by agents of the Transportation Security Administration at the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport.  Ms. Castillo's case has received widespread attention, although not from the agency responsible, and it seems that an update might be timely.  

Ms. Castillo's original description of her ordeal, which went viral on the Internet, may be found in our earlier post, here.  But after making that video, Ms. Castillo did not go gently into that good night of police state harassment and intimidation; in fact, although she has a busy modeling and performing career, she has continued to speak out on the erosion of personal privacy and civil liberties in the United States.  Here, she is interviewed on the NBC "Today" show:


One of the saddest parts of this brief interview were Ms. Castillo's final words.  Unfortunately, she's right: this is not merely an issue facing Americans.   If you live in another country, and plan to visit the United States, you should be aware that you are entering a police state, and be prepared to sacrifice your liberty and privacy any time a government employee demands that you do so.


It is not my intention to portray Susie Castillo as a "victim" in these posts (although she is a victim); to her credit, she has courageously thrust that role aside, and is taking the battle to the powers that be.  Neither am I attempting to make her a heroine.  My heroines are people like Dr. Wafa Sultan and Margaret Thatcher.  Ms. Castillo appears to be a pleasant young woman who is engaged in some pursuits that would not be suitable for a Christian lady, such as posing (clothed, not nude) in a certain "men's magazine."  But even if she were a professional whore, which she is not, she should not be molested by strangers, most especially those claiming to be "protecting" her.  Her treatment by the TSA was and remains an outrage.

Cynics, of course, could dismiss her battle against the TSA as a publicity stunt.  Two things mitigate against that notion.  First, she is a successful television performer and cosmetics spokesperson, and doesn't need political controversy.  Second, and infinitely more important, is the fact that she's not the only one telling such a story.  The media, and especially the Internet, is full of stories of women, children, the elderly, and even handicapped people being manhandled by TSA agents.  It is a scandal that has been declaimed in the United States Congress, and will probably be an issue in the upcoming Presidential campaign. 

And what of the TSA agents themselves, the ones who will either irradiate you and your children, or grope you, next time you use a major American airport?  Many are decent people merely doing a job.  Others are .... something else.


One bad apple, it is said, doesn't spoil the whole barrel.  But one wonders: how many bad apples does it take, before the barrel is discarded?  Remember, we are not talking about pencil-pushers at a desk in some hidden agency; these people literally handle our bodies, if we choose to utilize the public airways.


It must be pointed out that the men in the above stories have not yet been convicted of the charges against them.  In criminal matters, we simply must believe in the presumption of innocence, and I hope that both of these men are exonerated, if innocent.

But shouldn't the presumption of innocence also apply outside a courtroom?  In an airline terminal, perhaps?  Or should every citizen be treated as a criminal simply for having the temerity to want to travel? 

Miss USA molested

IPDATE: I was mistaken in my prediction: the TSA never became a major issue in the 2012 Presidential election campaigns.  To the best of my knowledge, the only candidate who even mentioned the issue in passing, in one of the endless television debates, was Ron Paul; but he didn't mention it very often.  The American people have made their choice between inconvenience and servitude, and servitude has carried the day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Without one plea

One of the most beloved hymns of the Christian faith, and one of its most familiar, is, paradoxically, one of its least known.  The hymn "Just As I Am," sung here by the incomparable Mahalia Jackson, is included in virtually every Christian hymnal, but not in its entirety: most hymnals contain only four verses, and the song actually contains seven. Most Christians have never heard the entire song.

The story behind the song, in the words of the great Christian devotional writer Watchman Nee:

The story of Charlotte Elliott's protracted struggle against the oppressive power of sin provides a helpful lesson to Christians and non-Christians alike. At an early age, Charlotte began to be aware of her sinful nature and of her impotence to resist sin's enticements. Growing up, Charlotte felt herself increasingly unworthy of God's grace and incapable of facing a perfect and righteous God. She visited many churches and solicited the help of many pastors, all of whom counseled her simply to pray more, to study the Bible more, to perform more noble deeds, and to resolve to do better. However, all the advice she received was unavailing. For seven or eight more years, Charlotte continued struggling in vain against sin, all the while mired in self-condemnation. She experienced at length the despondency of the human condition described in Romans 7:18: “I know that in me…nothing good dwells; for to will [the good] is present with me, but to work out the good is not.”

 After some time, Charlotte Elliott met an eminent preacher named Dr. Caesar Malan. This encounter would prove to be a great turning point in Charlotte's life. She asked him, as she had asked many others, how she might be saved. Sensing the enormous burden weighing upon her conscience, Malan responded compassionately, “Go to God just as you are.” Charlotte asked him incredulously, “Do I not have to do better, make more progress, and improve more before I believe in the Lord Jesus?” Malan simply repeated this simple, priceless phrase: “You must come to Him just as you are.” These few liberating words of fellowship had a deep and indelible effect on Charlotte Elliott and would later inspire the composition of her best-known hymn, “Just as I Am.”

The song was written in 1835. I regret that Mahalia Jackson's rendition doesn't include all seven verses, but it's the most authentic version I could find, and her rendition is as pitch-perfect as ever. 


Just as I am, without one plea,
 But that thy blood was shed for me,
 And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee,
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not,
 To rid my soul of one dark blot,
 To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, tho' tossed about,
 With many a conflict, many a doubt,
 Fightings within and fears without,
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind,
 Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
 Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
 Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
 Because Thy promise I believe,
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, Thy love unknown,
 Hath broken every barrier down;
 Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, of that free love
 The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
 Here for a season, then above,
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The Pilgrim"

It's generally acknowledged that John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress is, along with Milton's Paradise Lost, probably the most universally beloved of all Christian writings,apart from the Bible itself,  as well as one of the truly definitive works of English literature.  Published in 1678, a mere 67 years after the King James Bible, The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which is to Come has been a source of joy and deep reflection to every Christian who reads it.  Culturally, it has had an enormous impact: such expressions as "Vanity Fair" and "slough of despond" came from the work.  The following brief excerpt should make those of calling ourselves Christians to pause, and consider our lives.


Monday, October 10, 2011

"There is only one Islam"

We are constantly assailed by the monstrous cliché, propogated by politicians, "professional clergymen," and even well-meaning but ignorant people, that Islam is "a religion of peace" that has been "hijacked" or co-opted by militant fanatics.  In the following interview, the indescribably courageous Wafa Sultan puts paid to such clichés, even reponding to certain statements by the current President of the United States  and his immediate predecessor.  The questions posed are at about a fifth-grade level, but Dr. Sultan's answers are basic truths that must be understood.

Incidentally, I am not a fan or admirer of Pat Robertson.  He just happens to be conducting the interview. As my Mother always said, "A cat can look at a queen...."


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Popular expressions that I despise

I am not a purist when it comes to the English language (although I love the language).  I understand that languages grow and evolve, or they die.  And I'm aware of the ever-changing nature of what Mencken accurately called "the American language" in his great book on the subject.  But there are certain expressions in common coinage in the United States (and elsewhere in the English-speaking world) that simply infuriate me.  They drive me to distraction; as Brutus said, they "make my blood cold, and my hair to stare."  Here are a few of them.

 "The exact same."  This is simply a redundancy, but not only do you hear it all the time, you see it in the work of otherwise reputable authors.  If something is the same (truly the same, not altered, like a dress), then it is exactly the same. That's what "same" means. This falls into the  category of "a little bit pregnant:" either it's the same, in which case it's unique and exact, or it's not.  When it's not a redundancy, it's an inaccuracy: "Bob and I bought the exact same cars last week!"  You and Bob did no such thing.  They may have been the same make, model, color, etc., but you did not buy the same car, much less the "exact same" car.  You bought cars that were similar.  Even "identical" would be stretching it.  Am I the only person who's bothered by this kind of thing?

 "Just." I'm not referring to the word's adjectival or adverbial uses, which are perfectly legitimate.  I'm referring to its use as a stupid, meaningless, ill-chosen intensifier.  We've all used it this way in common conversation, of course: "I just love that song!" But it shouldn't crop up in literature.  A few years back I read a novel by an alleged writer named Matthew Reilly (an Australian, not an American), which included the sentence: "The missile just whooshed down the hall!" Apart from the ill-chosen italicization of "whooshed," and the childish exclamation point, I would ask Mr. Reilly a question: what, exactly, did the word "just" add to that sentence?  Is he saying that the missile "merely" whooshed down the hall?  But missiles whoosh; that's their common form of motion.  No, Reilly was using it as an intensifier, and he shouldn't have. 

"Back in the day." This was originally a contribution to the language by the black community, possibly the "rap" subculture.  (More about that later.)  It replaced the former expression, "In the old days...." or such personal statements as "When I was a lad..."  Then, as these things will, it was picked up by sportscasters and others, and is now the common term.  Psychologically, this would be understandable, if someone was trying to de-emphasize his or her age.  But let's face it: the rappers weren't in that category; they weren't "senior citizens" (another ghastly expression) trying to sound young.  They were young.  I despise this expression with a purple passion.

"Hip-hop." This was the original term for what is now called "rap music," to use the popular oxymoron.  It had its genesis back in the day, you might say, when break dancing was all the rage. And it sounds so innocent: happy children or teenagers hipping and hopping like in the Ray Charles musical number from "The Blues Brothers."  But it has usually referred to all kinds of rap, including the most sociopathic and misogynistic (which most of it is).  But everyone from Harry Belafonte to the current President refers to the filthiest, most anti-social songs, not as "rap," but by the cuter, cuddlier term "hip-hop," and they refer to scum like Tupac Shakur and T-Pain as "the hip-hop community."  "Hip-hop."  Isn't that a nice, inoffensive term?  Of course, it's nothing but a weasel word - - - and I say that with apologies to every honest weasel that ever slinked through the woods.

"'What up?'"  This, obviously, is a bastardization of the colloquialism "What's up?"  Now, don't misunderstand me.  I like colloquialisms; I even like slang.  They give any language a richness and color that would otherwise be missing.  But the expression "What's up," meaning "How are you" or "what's going on," was just fine before some lazy mush-mouth messed with it.  "What's up" is at least a complete interrogative sentence.  Why remove the verb?  "What is up" would sound terribly stilted; "what's up" is a fine contraction.  But removing the "is" merely turns it into meaningless gobbledegook.  What's up with that?

"Theocracy." This is the worst of all, because it's the most serious.  Newscasters and commentators regularly (and incessantly) refer to any society that is based on a religion to be a "theocracy," whether it's Calvin's Geneva, Saudi Arabia, or Brigham Young's Utah.  Could we use a little common sense, please?  A true "theocracy" would be a government ruled directly by God.  That's what "theos" means.  There has never been such a society on earth since the Garden of Eden.  The newscasters, of course, have an agenda: they're trying to make us think that anyone who believes in a supernatural faith, and has the audacity to participate in civil government, is trying to establish a "theocracy."  They're too stupid to know that such people couldn't establish a "theocracy" even if they wanted to.

I could list many other examples of expressions that make me grind my teeth, but I won't.  It raises my blood pressure just to think about it.