June 14

Time for some remarks on national characteristics, mostly offensive.

The British don’t like music very much, but they do like the noise it makes. – Sir Thomas Beecham

The serpent, the origin of all ill, who first beguiled mankind by various frauds and illusions, that he might draw them to perdition, perceiving in these latter days, that the French nation was more capable of wickedness than any other, has poured without measure into their souls the poison of apostacy; and having first instigated them to civil war, and barbarous regicide, has finally plunged them into every species of impiety and ungodliness . – Patriarch Gregory V  of Constantinople on the French Revolution

The English are the people of consummate cant. – Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

Pakistan has many of the characteristics of mid-Victorian England – few, unfortunately, of the better ones. – John Bushell, British Ambassador to Pakistan

A few years back there was an opinion poll which asked the gentlemen of Italy, France, Germany and so on which country’s women they would most like to sleep with. If I remember rightly, the Italian babes came top, while British women – perhaps on account of their slatternly behaviour, weight problems, screeched obscenities and propensity to vomit – were at the bottom. However, when the question was turned around a little and the men were asked which country’s women they had already slept with, British girls topped the poll by a mile. – Ron Liddle, The Spectator

Canada is all right really, though not for the whole weekend. – Saki (H.H. Munro)

In New York every rainbow has an empty pot of gold at the end with a chalk outline of a dead leprechaun. – Bob Sarlatte

November 12

1940

The hideousness of the First World War (1914-1918) had made statesmen extremely reluctant to resort to armed force and in the late 1930s British and French foreign policy aimed at securing peace by giving into the demands of Adolf Hitler. At the Munich Conference in 1938, President Daladier of France and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreed to let Hitler dismember Czechoslovakia if he promised that this would be his last claim to alter the map of Europe. The very next year Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to invade Poland and World War II was launched. Chamberlain was discredited and in 1940 he was forced from office, to be replaced by Winston Churchill.

Rather than heap any more shame on the head of his predecessor, Churchill paid tribute to him in the House of Commons, showing a generosity of spirit that many politicians today lack. On announcing Chamberlain’s death he said:

It is not given to human beings, happily for them — for otherwise life would be intolerable — to foresee or predict to any large extent the unfolding of events .… History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions….

It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart—the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, even at great peril and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity….

November 8

Some quotes from the 20th century’s greatest English writer, P.G. Wodehouse.

She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.

She had a penetrating sort of laugh. Rather like a train going into a tunnel. 

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

He looked haggard and care-worn, like a Borgia who has suddenly remembered that he has forgotten to put cyanide in the consommé, and the dinner gong due any minute.

Unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing-glove.

There has never been much difficulty in telling the difference between a Scotchman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.

The lunches of fifty-seven years had caused his chest to slip down into the mezzanine floor.

The Circumcision of Jesus

From Larry Hurtado’s Blog

From about the 6th century or so in the Western churches, 1 January was designated as the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus (eight days after 25 Dec).  Luke 2:21 mentions Jesus’ circumcision and formal naming.  In the medieval period, however, the date was treated as another feast dedicated to Jesus’ mother, Mary.  This is indicative of the growing centrality of Mary-devotion in the medieval period (in practical terms, overshadowing Jesus in popular piety), and it may also reflect a certain lack of concern or even an uneasiness about Jesus’ Jewishness.

The readiness to acknowledge Jesus the Jew has varied, with much of church history appearing to ignore or have little to say about the topic.  This is even evident in church art.  If you go through the many paintings of the infant Jesus (often pictured with the infant John the Baptist), typically a nude Jesus with his genitals showing, it’s interesting to note how many appear to show an uncircumcised Jesus.

So, I think that it’s important in historical terms to have in the church calendar a reminder that Jesus was not some generic human, but a quite specific person:  male and most definitely Jewish.  Perhaps especially in light of the sad history of Christian treatment of Jews, it’s particularly appropriate.  It at least does justice to history.

November 9

“Oh, Jeeves,’ I said; ‘about that check suit.’
‘Yes, sir?’
‘Is it really a frost?’
‘A trifle too bizarre, sir, in my opinion.’
‘But lots of fellows have asked me who my tailor is.’
‘Doubtless in order to avoid him, sir.’
‘He’s supposed to be one of the best men in London.’
‘I am saying nothing against his moral character, sir.”

Listen up

I gave a little talk at my church the other night about one of my favourite folk, a man before whose altar I daily offer my admiration, my gratitude, and the still-pumping heart of one of the indentured servants on my estate who has grown old and whose existence would otherwise serve no purpose. I refer, of course, to Dr Samuel Johnson, late of Lichfield and London, writer, thinker, talker; foe to hypocrisy, liberals and Americans; friend to corporal punishment, learning and prayer.

Since Christmas is fast approaching, I am going to quote from a sermon the Great Man wrote on the necessity of charity.

This was written over 50 years before Charles Dickens created the character of Ebenezer Scrooge but observe how closely Johnson’s description and Scrooge’s life and personality coincide:

When any man… has learned to act only by the impulse of apparent profit, when he can look upon distress, without partaking it, and hear the cries of poverty and sickness, without a wish to relieve them; when he has so far disordered his ideas as to value wealth without regard to its end, and to amass with eagerness what is of no use in his hands; he is indeed not easily to be reclaimed; his reason, as well as his passions, is in combination against his soul, and there is little hope, that either persuasion will soften, or arguments convince him. A man, once hardened in cruelty by inveterate avarice, is scarcely to be considered as any longer human; nor is it to be hoped, that any impression can be made upon him, by methods applicable only to reasonable beings. Beneficence and compassion can be awakened in such hearts only by the operation of divine grace, and must be the effect of a miracle, like that which turned the dry rock into a springing well.

Scrooge was indeed fortunate that such a miracle, or rather a whole series of miracles, intervened and turned the dry rock of his soul into a springing well. But few of us will be frightened into a change of heart by ghostly visitations. Why therefore should we become dispensers of charity? Listen closely, because Johnson is speaking on this very subject:


The chief advantage which is received by mankind from the practice of charity, is the promotion of virtue amongst those who are most exposed to such temptations as it is not easy to surmount: temptations of which no man can say that he should be able to resist them, to estimate the force, and represent the danger.

We see every day men blessed with abundance, and revelling in delight, yet overborne by ungovernable desires of increasing their acquisitions; and breaking through the boundaries of religion, to pile heaps on heaps, and add one superfluity to another, to obtain only nominal advantages and imaginary pleasures.

For these we see friendships broken, justice violated, and nature forgotten; we see crimes committed, without the prospect of obtaining any positive pleasure, or removing any real pain. We see men toiling through meanness and guilt, to obtain that which they can enjoy only in idea, and which will supply them with nothing real which they do not already abundantly possess.

Did you get that? The chief beneficiary of charity is the giver! It saves him from becoming someone he should not want to be — someone insensitive to what is truly important and a slave to an obsession that will bring him only meanness of spirit. We often see a character on television cry with an impassioned sneer: “I don’t need your charity!”Perhaps not. But we need to give it.

Nationalism and chronic back pain

Canadians often point out that while the American constitution promises “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the constitution of Canada–written in the 1860s in England–sets a more modest goal: “Peace, order, and good government.” This difference reaches into every corner of the two nations.

My favourite example is a book of medical advice. It was written by a Canadian, Judylaine Fine, and published in Toronto under an extremely modest title, Your Guide to Coping with Back Pain. Later, American rights were acquired by New York publishers; they brought out precisely the same book under a new title, Conquering Back Pain. And there, in a grain of sand, to borrow from William Blake, we can see a world of differing attitudes. Our language reveals how we think, and what we are capable of thinking. Canadians cope. Americans conquer. Canadian readers of that book will assume that back pain will always be with them. Americans will assume that it can be destroyed, annihilated, abolished, conquered. Americans expect life, liberty, happiness, and total freedom from back pain. Canadians can only imagine peace, order, good government, and moderate back pain.

– Robert Fulford