Friday, April 30, 2010

The Most Quoted Comedy of the Last Decade? Pikers...

The young, hip, smart bloggers at Lawyers, Guns, and Money--for whom I've expressed both admiration and envy before--are finding Beaks's belief that Anchorman was "the most quoted comedy of the last decade" to eminently plausible...yet are seeking rival nominations. To which I say...hmmph.

Let's not limit ourselves; let's go for the most quoted comedy ever, people. Not "movie," period (so, no Star Wars's Tashi station, no Princess Bride's land wars in Asia, none of that), but "comedy." I'll start us out, shall I?

"Lord loves a working man; don't trust whitey; see a doctor and get rid of it."

"You take drugs, Danny?"

"You might say we had a passion for shells. That's why we named the oil company after them."

"And stop calling me Shirley."

"Of course it isn't only physical! I deeply respect you as a human being!"

"Don't you blaspheme in here!"

"Riots in the streets, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!"

"Edwina's insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase."

"You can't dust for vomit."

And, of course...


Add to the list or contribute commentary, as you feel so inclined.

Friday Morning Videos: "Close to Me"

Damon, among others, has wondered why I still haven't done any videos by The Cure. Well, wonder no more.

Man, they're creepy. Cool, but creepy.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thoughts on Teaching Wendell Berry

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic]

Tuesday was the last meeting of an upper-level course I'd designed this semester on theories of political economy, titled Capitalism, Socialism, and Localism. The class went well for the most part, I think. I began with a general introduction to the historical roots of the modern marketplace, concentrating on Western Europe and the decline of the feudal order, the rise of centralized nation-states, and the conflicts and struggles which came along with those drawn-out, wrenching transformations (the peasant revolts England and Germany, the enclosure acts and rebellions, etc.). Then it was, to a degree, by the numbers: Rousseau, Smith, Bentham, Marx, Mill, Spencer, and then a rush of 20th-century theorists, economists, and activists: Keynes, Schumpeter, Hayek, Walzer, Cohen. Hayek (whom I'd never taught extensively before) went over very well with the students; Keynes too (though, of course, this video helped). But the fellow that I most wanted the students to really get, and which, I think, only a few of them did, and then only partly, was Wendell Berry.

I'm not terribly disappointed; I came to realize, as we plowed through the final weeks of the class, that most of the students were burned out from the large amounts of difficult reading that I'd given them. Moreover, introducing the ideas of Berry--who is first and foremost a localist and agrarian; beyond that, depending on how you read him, he's a bit of a distributist, pacifist, traditionalist, socialist, communitarian, anarchist, and New Deal Democrat as well--probably should have been to be set up better, perhaps by reading some of his fiction before examining his ideas. Because, kind of like starting off the whole parade of theorists with Rousseau, his view of the world presumes, or puts into question, or both, a huge range of values and beliefs, some of which your typical modern American university student fervently accepts, and some of which are so deeply embedded in our socio-economic and political order as to require some real excavation and imagination to even be able to present as issues of discussion.

For example, the very notion of "local knowledge." Living in Wichita, Kansas--which is a wonderful mid-sized city (Melissa and I love it here), not at all a busy, global cross-roads for business and innovation--I have a fair number of students with agricultural backgrounds, as well as a fair number of students who have roots in this part of the country going back a couple of generations or more. (Frequently, and not unexpectedly, these groups often overlap.) Sometimes I am able to get some of these students to nod their heads in recognition when I attempt to sketch out the kind of knowledge which being in a particular place, or inheriting a particular vocation, makes possible. Berry, of course, is not the first or the most philosophically eloquent of the defenders of traditions of local knowledge; I ended up making use of arguments drawn directly from the works of Alasdair MacIntyre and Michael Polanyi to elaborate the idea of what it would mean--structurally, politically--to be able to make moral judgments about and exercise real responsibility over economic idea which neither of those others, nor anyone else I am familiar with, has expressed with such fervor as Berry does in passages like this:

The dilemma of private economic responsibility, as I have said, is that we have allowed our suppliers to enlarge our economic boundaries so far that we cannot be responsible for our effects on the world. The only remedy for this that I can see is to draw in our economic boundaries, shorten our supply lines, so as to permit us literally to know where we are economically. The closer we live to the ground that we live from, the more we will know about our economic life, the more able we will be to take responsibility for it. The way to bring discipline into one's personal or household or community economy is to limit one's economic geography ("Conservation is Good Work," Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, p. 39).

Perhaps I managed to plant some seeds that will develop in years to come...but for the moment, the connection between knowledge and tradition and places and economies was just, I think, beyond my students' grasp: they are used to knowledge as a product, as expertise, as a credentialed matter which is locked into a scheme of individual experimentation, improvement, and choice. Even knowledge that is directly relevant to the preservation of small communities, or the defense of local economies, or the stewardship of the land is accepted by them, so far as I can tell, as a collection of methods and procedures and facts, all of which will be in fact even better served by expanding one's economic reach, because that will mean--or so they accept, and the essential functionings of the world they know do not prove them wrong--even more opportunities for experts and others to put that knowledge to work.

Of course part of this is that they are young, smart, but not, for the most part, religiously or philosophically serious kids; the basic awareness that some knowledge is, and should be, zuhanden, something lived and ready-to-hand--which, in turn, implies a necessary concern for the sort of life and work and economy which does not disrupt the conveying of such ready-handed knowledge--is something that perhaps will come to them with time, with marriage and children and adult responsibilities (assuming that is the path they choose--there's that word again!). But for our class, trying to carry these ideas over into the realm of political economy, attempting to make a point about limits, connecting the modern capitalist division of labor to the significance of what Berry recognizes as a "sort of divorce, in our economy, and therefore in our consciousness, between production and consumption" ("The Whole Horse," The Art of the Commonplace, p. 246)...well, it was a hard row to hoe. My student were older students, mostly, looking to graduate, looking to travel, looking to graduate school and leaving Wichita (Washington DC! Los Angeles!) and finding careers in law and entertainment and government work that will disconnect them entirely from the traditions of local knowledge of their home town...traditions that, for the most part, assuming they could even identify any such (and, to be fair to them, in the global economy of today, hardly any city of any size can long maintain any in the first place), struck them as nice enough...for the people who choose such things. But they won't be, probably, for them.

There was one element of our discussion about Berry that connected quite well though, I think. I took the students back to Plato, as the distinction he has Socrates make in The Republic between a simple city and a "feverish" one while discussing morality and justice (372a-373c). With a couple of exceptions they were all with Glaucon: Socrates first city was a pathetic, boring one, not one fit for individuals who want to live a life more fulfilling than that of animals. But many of them were caught, I think, as we saw where that change immediately led: to hunters, artists, nurses, nannies, hairdressers, barbers, poets, advertisers, actors, producers, prostitutes, savories, perfumes, incense, pastries, and more. This was the division of labor, in all its modern and complex--and, as Plato's language clearly implies, superficial and exploitive--glory. Berry's humble model for an agrarian economy may involve many unattractive things, in their view, but more than a few of them noticed that it would also mean the absence of certain kind of vicious and invasive busyness, a busyness which my female students, at least, recognize pretty well.

I've never hidden--either from my students, or on this blog--my contempt for a market which is "free" to align its avenues for the pursuit of profit so thoroughly at the expense of one half the population...the same half of the population which my four daughters are members of. The speaker here, Jean Kilbourne, is the author of Deadly Persuasion, a book which radically changed how my wife and I came to understand our responsibilities to our daughters in a media-drenched, borderline-pornographic, image-equals-virtue, everything-can-be-branded and anything-can-be-sold world. But the students didn't need any half-traditionalist, half-feminist rants from me to get the point. One thing that truly is a benefit to young people in our fast-paced, skeptical world: they know when they're being sold something, and they can recognize that much of that selling is not about making them better people, but rather just about making them even more dependent on those who will tell them what to buy and how to look. And with Wendell Berry, the man who begins the book I assigned to my students talking about "The Joys of Sales Resistance"...well, I think--or at least I hope--that on that lecture day, there was some real connection and learning after all.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Small Can Succeed

Can you ever hear the words "solidarity, flexibility, and entrepreneurship" in a single sentence? When the sentence is about a small, egalitarian, democratic, and highly profitable employee-owned, open-book business named SRC, you can.

(Hat tip: John Médaille.)

A World Traveler I Am Not

Fun little game that I found online; worth playing around with, if you have a moment.

visited 31 states (62%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

Now regarding my own country, I suppose I'm fairly well traveled. There are some major blank areas--the far northeast, the upper midwest, the deep southeast--but, allowing for the way you get to color in a whole state on the basis of visiting only one part of it (New York City and Long Island gets me all of the Hudson Valley! The Dallas-Austin-San Antonio corridor gets me all of Texas west of the Pecos!), I think my pattern of exploration across the United States holds up. Only a couple of areas of real embarrassment: by refusing to count a state that I have only driven through (or landed at an airport to transfer planes in), as opposed to having actually visited for some specific purpose, I am reminded to my chagrin that I never once visited the Atlantic coast during all those years we lived in DC (the Eastern Shore of Maryland, sure, but for the rest, Delaware and New Jersey were just places to drive through), and I am further embarrassed that we have traveled to and visited places all around Kentucky, but never actually gone there. We'll have to rectify that, someday.

visited 18 states (8%)
Create your own visited map of The World

Now as for the whole planet, I'm a piker; no more so than your average middle-class American, I suppose--indeed, on the basis of the folks I know here in Kansas, actually must less so--but looking at it starkly like this really hammers home just how much there is to see, how little of it I'll likely ever experience personally, and how so many of the places I have been occurred because of luck or opportunities outside of my control. Mexico is there because of a trip to Tijuana my family made during a visit to San Diego 25 years ago; Israel, Egypt, and Italy are there because of a BYU-sponsored church trip I went on after my senior year in high school; some of the Caribbean nations are there solely because of a grand cruise that my parents once took all their married children on; Germany is there because of my graduate school work and the generosity of DAAD; South Korea is there because that's where I served a mission for my church. That just leaves Canada, which we have actually visited by choice a few times. As for the rest of the world? Well, I guess that's where Michael Palin comes in...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Morning Videos: "Voices Carry"

Admittedly, this tune and video were massive hits; they were everywhere my junior and senior years in high school. But the band itself was never a great fit with the mainstream, as Aimee Mann's subsequent career has demonstrated. But anyway, I just put up a video which tells the story of a woman sticking co-dependently beside her drunken, self-destructive man; I might as well put up this one about feminist defiance as compensation.

My wife and old friends from my freshman year will not let me get away without mentioning my "Kiss This Guy" moment with this song; until I arrived at BYU, I thought the lyric (completely nonsensically, but what did I know?) wasn't "Keep it down now / voices carry" but was "let's go downtown /it's so scary." Pathetic, I know. I hope if I ever meet Aimee she'll forgive me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Now That's Clever

A friend of mine who lives in Japan found an advertisement for an exhibition of this fellow's work on a train he was riding, and he couldn't resist snapping a picture and sharing it with friends. I don't blame him--the photo captivated me too.

Apparently the artist--Yasumasa Morimura--is a pretty big player in the contemporary art world...big enough at least to have a major exhibition at a prominent Tokyo gallery. Intriguing, to say the least. As my friend commented, "Who said the Japanese don't have a sense of irony?"

Monday, April 19, 2010

Populism, Plebiscitarianism, and the Tea Parties

Over the weekend, Samuel Goldman and Daniel Larison had an exchange relevant to one of my annoyingly constant pre-occupations: defending a notion of populism which is local, democratic, and egalitarian, all at the same time. Picking up on an argument made by Peter Beinart--namely, that those who support the Tea Party movement "are today’s version of the California suburbanites who rose up against their property tax bills in the late 1970s...[t]hey’re the second coming of what Robert Kuttner called 'the revolt of the haves'"--Goldman allows that the Tea Party movement isn't a true populist least, not on the first, more historical definition of populism. But what about the second? He writes:

On the one hand, populism can refer a particular tradition of redistributionist, anti-corporate, usually agrarian political ideas. Most Tea Partiers reject that tradition. On the other hand, populism can describe a conception of the appropriate relation between governors and governed in a representative democracy. On this view, policy should be much more closely tied to public opinion, or to direct popular decision, than to the judgment of legislative or bureaucratic elites. Many of the Tea Partiers, it seems to me, are populists in the latter sense. If you prefer, call them plebiscitarians rather than populists.

For Larison, this only goes to show how poorly thought out are most of the slogans which the Tea Partiers brandish; looking at the polling support which most Tea Partiers appear quite willing to give to established entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, he suggests that their plebiscitarian rhetoric is highly confused, as no one, not even themselves, appear to be taking seriously what building a truly anti-federal government majority would actually entail (for one thing, convincing majorities of the American people to reject social welfare entitlement spending). Goldman isn't terribly disturbed by this; he allows that the Tea Partiers may suffer from "extreme cognitive dissonance," but that such doesn't compromise their longing for a more direct democracy, as they understand it, all the same.

An important point needs to be added here, I think: namely, that Goldman's two definitions of populism are complementary--in fact, are historically entwined. The redistributionism, agrarianism, and anti-corporatism of William Jennings Bryan and those who supported him was grounded in a particular notion of democracy-as-sovereignty...or, to use more classically republican language, of self-rule. As expanding industrial technology, mobility, and complexity came to characterize the post-Civil War American economy--economic activity which both followed and supported the centralization and urbanization of America's primary generators of wealth and prestige--what the farmers and small town residents of states from Georgia to Kansas to Montana recognized was that their ability to maintain a decent livelihood was becoming dependent upon the decisions of bankers and railroad moguls who lived far away, in New York City and Philadelphia and Chicago. The corporate monopolies of the Gilded Age were deeply undemocratic, not because (or at least not only because) their wealth and power enabled them to buy influence outside the normal democratic procedures of the American polity, but because their very size forced other, small, less prestigious economic actors to orient the control over their own lives--lives focused upon what historically had been more or less self-sufficient communities--to the whims of others. It was, very simply, the replacement of self-government with a free-market oligarchy. And that was what turn-of-the-century Populists hated: being obliged by the rules of the market economy to consent to the rule of a distant minority of wealthy robber barons, a rule which made meaningless the willingness of majorities of people, all across the American South and West, to work in accordance with economic rules they themselves had set. Populism, in the end, was, as Norman Pollack has argued, all about attempting to erect a different, more responsive "framework of democratic power."

For numerous reasons, that framework would almost certainly be inoperable today--but the relationship between demanding greater democratic empowerment and redistributionist, egalitarian policies remains very real, even if it is rarely expressed in populist terms....or when the connection is noticed, it is noticed in highly confused ways. The frustratingly wrong-headed complaint which Megan McArdle made about the passage of the health care bill being an example of the "tyranny of the majority"--a complaint which, if one thinks about it, seemed to suggest that the solution for such tyranny would be for elected politicians to be...even more responsive to popular majorities!--is a case in point. If one dreams of more plebiscitarianism, I'll support it, not the least reason for which being that a little more direct parliamentarianism in our government, a little more willingness to empower voters to direct the government towards specific ends--and, then, giving elected representatives the tools to do so--would very likely (or so I would argue, anyway) result in a more responsible and less poisoned movement towards that which can be popularly and broadly expressed and responded to, in terms of votes. (To use various Western European parliamentary states as examples, the results could easily include both greater social welfare guarantees, and more restrictive, common-sense abortion laws.)

To be sure, a little more listening to voters would have its own political complications and pathologies; there is something to be said, sometimes, for government bureaucracies which often lack both the funds and the political accountability to accomplish what they understand (sometimes poorly) themselves to have been directed to do. But if the primary complaint of the Tea Partiers really comes down to a mildly incoherent plebiscitarianism, I can't complain too much. Whether they realize it or not, they're presuming, or demanding, a more populist democratic whose ends--especially if directed to local targets--are much more likely to be amenable to an empowering, egalitarian democracy than their own noisy libertarianism.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Morning Videos: "Joey"

Now here's another one that was just a little too alternative to be properly categorized: Concrete Blonde. I first heard their music a year or two after their big album, Bloodletting, came out; I think my old friend Matt Stannard had a copy. My favorite track off it was "Tomorrow Wendy"; I'd never heard anything like it before--but then, the Goth style didn't have much of a presence in Provo, Utah, in 1991. I wish they'd made a video of that tune. "Joey" is really good too, though.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why Michael Palin is, and isn't, My Favorite Python

Having recently finished reading the wonderful, revealing, and somewhat curious first volume of Michael Palin's diaries, and having recently finished watching the last of his many television journeys around the world, I feel a need to say something about Mr. Palin. He's a fabulous writer, a witty conversationalist, a skilled media performer, and a very funny man. My favorite Python, though? That's hard to say.

If you claim that Michael Palin is your favorite member of Monty Python, you're not really saying anything controversial. His enormous popularity speaks for itself--the Royal Geographic Society didn't invite him to be their honorary president for nothing. He's the key player in my all-time favorite Flying Circus skit (if I can ever say "no" to a student with half the timing Palin demonstrates at 2:16, I'll die a happy man). He has a tremendous range, from flustered weakness to strong-armed smarm. All of the Python's express nothing but fondness and admiration for him as a man and a co-worker; John Cleese himself has said that there's no Python he'd rather work with than Palin.

And yet...maybe that's too easy; maybe Palin is to Python as Paul McCartney is to the Beatles. He wasn't Python's best comic actor (that was Graham Chapman), nor its fiercest visionary (that's the two Terrys, Jones and Gilliam), nor the best at wordplay (Eric Idle). And then there's Cleese--a near-unmatchable physical comedian and, more than that, someone whose whole comic perspective has been profoundly shaped (or so it has often seemed to me) by his own sometimes-angry, sometimes-aristocratic engagement with Britain's class system. Perhaps that's it: Cleese--and, to greater or lesser degrees, all the other Pythons--seem to be willing, on occasion, to get angry; to engage in critique. Palin isn't.

This comes out, again and again, in his diaries. Now to be sure, my knowledge of Britain (and, specifically, England and London) in the 1970s is minimal at best. And moreover, it's not as though Palin--whose diaries are a marvelous display of an inveterate record-keeper at work--had any kind of obligation when he was writing this entries to systematically critique or evaluate his social, cultural, or political environment(s). Still, as much as I loved all his little idiosyncratic and insightful observations on the pop culture world which he and the Pythons came to dominate through the 70s--Bruce Springsteen comes off like Billy Graham (pg. 266), Ringo Starr is dangerously deep into booze (pg. 484), Mark Hamill looks like a chirpy delivery boy (pg. 560), and more--I kept waiting for him to, well, say something about the world that was changing, and changing in ways that could not be turned back, all around him. Changes that he was, in fact, very much a part of, though perhaps I can only say so now that spent years thinking about the connection between culture and economy.

Early on Palin is contemptuous of the Heath government, and describes himself as a "fervent socialist" (pg. 71)--but he's a socialist with a sympathy for and a love of the kind of local life that his neighborhood in London affords him; when he talks about his ideal form of urban planning ("open play area[s] at least twice the size of the car park...severe restrictions on cars in central indoors and outdoors, where people would want to stop and gather"--pg. 66) he sounds very much like he was anticipating New Urbanism. And yet...he never seems to reflect upon what kind of costs or limits which preserving or promoting such environments might entail. On the one hand, he's a cosmopolitan: a trip to Dorset leads him to write rather condescendingly of the "oppressive weight of years of tradition" experienced in the country, and describes himself as "hopelessly and happily corrupted by the richness of London life" (pg. 200). On the other hand, he grouses about the decimilization of English streets and phone numbers (pg. 55), and leans towards a "no" vote in the 1973 referendum about whether Britain should stay in the European Community (pg. 238). He celebrates the liberation of British culture, taking delight in the new freedoms of expression and sex around him (pg. 326), and admits that he feels like a fraud when speaking with the vicar who performed his first son's christening (pg. 56), but is never really able to figure out if he believes in God or not (pg. 594). Meanwhile, the strikes and power-outages of the late 70s are grist for morbid humor for him, and when Margaret Thatcher arrives in 1979 and lowers tax rates, he figures he's probably become about 10,000 pounds richer in a single day (he admits that "there is some inescapable lack of social justice" in the budget, but that "it doesn't keep me awake"--pg. 559).

Palin, in short, comes off, slowly but surely, entry after entry, as a smart but uncritical man, or at least not a man at all interested, ultimately, in orienting his life or his commentary about such around a critique of his and his friends' and his country's situation. He's not ideological; he's not a troubled person; he's living the best ordinary life he can. Which, of course, makes him great fun to read--not to mention showing off his own devotion to his children and family. But given the troubled times he lived through, I wanted something more.

Of course, for those who are intellectually inclined (like myself), any period of time can be understood as a time of crisis, a troubled time in need of diagnosis and assessment. So it's really rather foolish to be bothered to discover that an excerpted collection of diary entries, three to four decades old, written by a comedian and television and film actor, seems to lack much of that at all. Yet I am still somewhat bothered by it, by the lack of anger or regret or resolve which comes through Palin's basically generous, optimistic, pedestrian prose. Perhaps I can blame Crooked Timber for this. My knowledge of Britain in the early 80s was, for years, the product of the Reagan-era American conservative celebration of Margaret Thatcher; I'd heard about the Miner's Strike and such, but had no appreciation of what it seemed like to those who were there. Two CT bloggers--Chris Bertram and Harry Brighouse--have shared their thoughts and memories of that traumatic event often, and the firm conclusion I've come to from talking with them and following their links is pretty simple: that by the early 80s Britain had become so transformed, so urban and advanced in its needs and expectations, so capable and presuming of economic flexibility, that the rigid particulars of the postwar British social contract--a contract in which the National Union of Mineworkers played a huge role--simply weren't workable any longer. In 1974 Palin considered the Three-Day Week a tool in the Tory propaganda war, and saw the Heath government's moves against strikers as sinister and Orwellian (pg. 156); by 1979, Palin was delighted to learn that, thanks to Thatcher's spending cuts, Shepperton Studios (which Palin was a board member of) could rent an additional stage from the surrounding community (which was desperate for income) for cheap (pg. 572). I'm not saying his views changed; I have no evidence of that. I'm saying the terrain shifted under his feet, making what worked for the miners in 1974 incapable of replication in 1984...and that meant that, for better or worse, Britain was a different sort of country by the time the decade ended: a stronger country, perhaps, but also a harsher one. Unreasonable demand though it may be, I wanted to see Palin recognize that.

Some people did, even if they were artists and entertainers. The following passage, from a tribute to Morrissey, seems to express it well:

1983, the year of "This Charming Man," is the year the '80s became the '80s. Up until that point, Thatcherism in England and Reaganism in the United States had been little more than hollow promises. Then interest rates fell, the two economies thawed, and spandex was everywhere. It was the year of Flashdance at the box office, of "Every Breath You Take" and Thriller on the Billboard 100; the year of Risky Business and The Big Chill. If this list doesn't make you want to crawl into your bolt hole–well, you are probably not a Smiths fan. I think the word that best captures the times is heartless, as evident in the stupid rictus of Sting's face, circa 1983, as it was in Margaret Thatcher's budget cuts. No wonder Morrissey's voice sounded so fresh, so slyly subversive. As much as he publicly avowed a hatred of Thatcher, culminating in "Margaret at the Guillotine," it was Thatcherism that made Morrissey. The Iron Lady represented a hardness of purpose, a pitilessness that would allow England once again to produce winners. But also, inevitably, losers.

A country of winners and losers, as opposed to the mostly poor, compromised-but-still-traditional, apologetically-egalitarian-but-not-really country that, if Palin's diaries are any guide, was an empty shell by the end of the 70s. And who knows? Perhaps it was terminal, just waiting for the final crisis to knock it over, for much longer than that; perhaps one of the reasons the Pythons saw relatively little need for active satire, and instead preferred outrageous absurdity, was because the world around them, the pretension that the Queen was on her throne and all was in its place, already seemed by the end of the 60s simply ridiculous: a fallen social structure, just ripe for being kicked when it was down, especially since the powers that be didn't know that it was already gasping for breath on the floor. (It is revealing, perhaps, that one of the few times Palin does come of as genuinely angry is in his recounting of his and Cleese's infamous "debate" over The Life of Brian with Malcom Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark; in Palin's words, Stockwood sat there, "resplendent in his purple bishop's cassock...fingering his spectacles and cross with great dexterity," accusing Palin and Cleese of wicked mockery "with all the smug and patronising paraphernalia of the gallery-player, who believes that the audience will see he is right, because he is a bishop and we're not"--pg. 595.)

Well, Thatcher's Britain, the Britain after the Miner's Strike, the Britain of Morrissey and more, was certainly a land of winners and losers--and by the time Palin and the bishop clashed in 1979, it must have been obvious to just about everyone who the winner of that contest was going to be. The writing must have been on the wall for years; indeed, in a sense Palin's diaries are themselves a transcription of such: of the slow, perhaps inevitable gestation of the modern capitalist Britain, needing only the neoliberalism of Thatcher and Co. to kick away the legs of a social order that, thanks in no small degree to Monty Python itself, was probably already hollowed out through and through. So in the end, I guess I'm saying I wish Palin's writings showed a little self-consciousness; a little awareness of how his own life choices and work were part of the trouble (and, of course, the gains and the laughter) of a changing decade. If nothing else, such a realization would certainly make for a good joke.

Though actually, in fact, it did:

I suppose I need to read the second volume of Palin's diaries, to see if there's any behind-the-scenes story to that gag. If there is, whether it reveals any self-consciousness or not, I'm sure Palin will be able to tell it well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Once More Into the Breach...

Because I can't resist books, or lists, here's one more, despite have done this twice already.

So all while so many people (including me) spent the month of March talking about the books which had most influenced their thinking, or whatever, my wife has been regularly updating me as to a much bigger project which children's-and-young-adult-literature power-blogger Fuse #8 had taken on: establishing the top 100 children's books (novels or stories, one should say, not picture books) of all time, via a poll of both children and adults. It was a pretty impressive bit of work, and Melissa would excitedly share with me the results as she slowly unveiled them. And now, of course, Melissa and other bookbloggers are talking about how many of the list they've read, which ones they agree with, and which ones they don't. I'm not children's or young adult literature reader myself, these days, but whom am I do deny the lure of one more list?

Thing is, in my previous lists, talking about influential books both prior to my university education and during it, I was able to easily come up with 15 that have really stayed with me. When it comes to kids' books of all sorts, I can only come up with half that number. I simply didn't read a lot of that stuff when I was between the ages of five and ten; half of my reading material then, or at least half that of what I can remember, was actually adult stuff (like Watership Down or The Lord of the Rings) which I struggled with, but which stayed with me all the same. But, after giving it some thought, I can think of eight (well, seven and a half, really) that deserve a place. As always, in alphabetical order

Lloyd ALexander, Taran Wanderer. All of The Chronicles of Prydain are wonderful, but this is the one that stuck with me. Adventure, thrills, and moral introspection, pitched at the perfect level for a 10-year-old. It didn't make Fuse's list.

Roald Dahl, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The Dahl I like best are his various grown-up short stories, like "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar," and such. But of all his children's fiction, this was my favorite. It didn't make Fuse's list.

Ingri D'Aulaire, D'Aulaires's Book of Greek Myths. My older brother Daniel and I tore this book apart, memorizing it, and acting out the stories. I got to be Hermes. It didn't make Fuse's list.

Norman Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth. I loved the puzzles in this book, the wordplay and wit. In some ways, it haunted my imagination in much the way Harry Potter came to. It came in at #10 on Fuse's list.

E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Simply adored it--in particular, adored the way it situation an adventure and a quest in a world that seemed as close-by to my ordinary life as the local library. It came in at #5 on Fuse's list.

Sterling North, Rascal. Made me want to be more independent, to live in tree houses and be friends with animals, to be able to identify bird calls and be able to smell pine trees. If I was any kind of Boy Scout, it's probably because of this book. It didn't make Fuse's list.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit. In many ways, a superior book--if not a superior work of imagination--to The Lord of the Rings itself. It came in at #12 on Fuse's list.

And finally, any or all of Donald J. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown books. I mean seriously, if Fuse wants her list to be taken seriously, how can you not include these? Sally Kimball will beat you up, otherwise.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Mormon Testimony (Or Something Like Unto It)

A month ago Hugo Schwyzer, a blogger I've read pretty regularly for years, wrote a post on why he is a Christian. It was what we Mormons refer to as a "testimony"--a testifying of what he believes (namely, in the salvific power of Jesus Christ), and why. Testimonies have become, over the decades, both essential and routine in the Mormon faith. We speak regularly of having, or seeking, or sharing with others, our conviction--our personal revelation, if you will--of the "truth" of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon or what have you; in our popular rhetoric (if not always in our specific doctrines) the possession of such a testimony is generally held to be a crucial distinguishing mark which separates Mormons from other Christians (after all, anyone can read the Book of Mormon and perhaps find it interesting or gain some message of hope from it, but how many accept it fully for what it purports to be?). For those within the faith--as well, obviously, for many outside it as well--being able to testify of something strikes a powerful, even necessary, spiritual chord.

I liked Hugo's post very much, in part because of the approach he took. Every testimony will, of course, be different, but I was particularly struck by the fact that Hugo felt it important to talk about how much he didn't know; how much, that is, he believes without really understanding what it is he believes:

I’ve never been concerned with proving God exists. God for me is something I experience in a way that isn’t particularly rational--it’s sub-rational, or extra-rational. It’s more emotional and sensory than it is logical. I believe the stories about Jesus--including the bits about his conception and his resurrection--despite my wariness of the miraculous. I believe the stories because they spoke to me as no other stories have. What seems absurd on an intellectual level makes good sense far deeper in my core.

That's a testimony, an expression of belief, right there. But when you're a Mormon, and you're brought up to accept the possibility of receiving personal revelation--of having a truth revealed to you, removing all doubt--is belief enough? Some would say yes; others no--they would argue that belief is good, but conviction is better.

A group of Mormon scholars a while ago put together a website, collecting the testimonies of various academics and others involved in intellectual pursuits, asking them to express--to borrow the parlance of Hugo's post--why they are Mormons. They asked me to write up something, and I was happy to do so...though I fear it reveals me as mostly a boring self-interlocutor, always trying to understand why I believe in, and feel attached to, something, even though I doubt I have have a firm, revelatory conviction of the truth of that which I nonetheless believe in and am attached to. Anyway, this is what I wrote (it's also posted here). It will be long and self-indulgent for many of you, and will make reference to Mormon practices (missions, patriarchal blessings, etc.) that you probably won't understand. But who knows? Perhaps, as with Hugo's post, something in it will resonate within you. And besides, you've already read this far, so how bad can it be?


I have wondered if I have a testimony for as long, I think, as I have been aware of how my fellow Saints around me use the word. I am, for better or worse, an intellectual–and moreover, a doubting and debating one. Statements of all sorts regularly strike me as dubious, and demand further explanation. The statements I’d heard in sacrament meeting talks and testimonies since I was a little child–“I know the church is true” and the like–were no exception; what is it, I wondered, which entails such knowledge, and how do you know if you have it? So I kept my ears open; I asked questions; I studied. The answers, of course, varied greatly; parents and teachers and seminary manuals and Deseret Books publications and general conference talks would speak of a burning in the bosom (Luke 24:32), a peace of mind (Mosiah 4:3), a conviction of truth (John 15:26), a spiritual whispering (1 Kings 19:12), etc. But whatever the terminology, there was almost always--or at least so it seems to me today, as I reconstruct events and arguments (both internal and with others) from over the decades--some reference to or assumption of revelation or intuitive realization: some moment or process of insight, whether pure nous or directly from God. Once we “give place” in our hearts to the possibility that the prophetic claims of Joseph Smith, or the history of the Book of Mormon, or the scripture stories about the Atonement of Jesus Christ, may in fact be real and true, there will come a time (assuming we are striving earnestly and righteously, two huge caveats all their own) when this seed will “begin to swell” within us, to “enlighten [our] understanding” about that which we initially merely “desire” to know the truth of (Alma 32:27-28). Whatever it is, then, I came to accept that a testimony is a gift, something recognized or received or planted within us, a confirmation or a connection that comes to a person, granting them something that wasn’t there before.

At some point, as I continued to grow and study and debate and doubt, I also realized that the language of testimony needn’t be so tied to propositional knowledge: the presumably objective facts of Smith’s spiritual authority, the Book of Mormon’s authenticity, the Atonement’s reality. It could be tied to the simple feelings of fellowship which come along with being a practicing member of the community. Eventually, there came a time when it wouldn’t have surprised me if that (a reliance upon community feeling rather than revealed truth) turned out to be the case for a great majority of my fellow Mormons--indeed, I am still of such a mind. But years ago that realization didn’t much change my thinking, since whatever I thought of the matter, as a committed member of the church I could not easily discount what other members of the community apparently meant when they used the word “testimony.” And their use of that word troubled me. Because through my youth and missionary work, through my young adulthood and marriage, through becoming a father and a scholar, it seemed to me almost certain that I didn’t have one.

Almost certain, I should emphasize, for it has also always seemed to me (or at least, it had always seemed so by the time I had figured out a language and had developed enough of a self-awareness to be able to even ask myself this question) quite possible that I had received or recognized something, but had talked myself out of it. I seemed to be good at that, endlessly talking to myself, and that troubled me even more. For in fact I had had experiences--very rare and idiosyncratic experiences, to be sure, but experiences nonetheless (a lost wedding ring which was found following a heartfelt prayer is one that sticks in my mind)--that made me wonder if I hadn’t heard something, felt something, had something confirmed to me....but then the doubts would return, doubts attached to the same sins I’d struggled with for years, doubts that would loom up in my thinking as a confirmation of themselves--for if I really had recognized within myself or received from God a testimony, wouldn’t I know it? Thus, with frustration and confusion and not a little bitterness, I came to suspect that the gift of a testimony just wasn’t, for whatever reason, going to be mine.

So what changed, in the end? Perhaps nothing changed--I still am unclear as to whether, through all my church service and prayers and scripture study and occasional and careful speaking on fast Sundays, I have ever experienced or felt or heard something that would let me know, for a surety, the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims, or of the Book of Mormon’s historicity, or the actuality of Christ’s Atonement. And, of course, as I mentioned above, a tend to suspect that often other feelings lay behind the words which we Mormons use to speak to each other about such things. But probably more importantly, I have also learned to attend to and appreciate other gifts I have....and perhaps that appreciation does constitute a change, after all.

For you see, I actually do know--with a knowledge which I have learned to identify as discursive and hermeneutic, something known not through revelation or insight, but through dialogue, experience, reflection, and interpretation--that I have one spiritual gift, or perhaps two (they’re related, I believe). My patriarchal blessing describes it as a gift of wisdom (D&C 46:17), but to me the truer description of my gift comes a couple of verses earlier in the revelation: while to some it is given to know “that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world,” it is my lot, I think, to rather believe the words of those who have that knowledge (vs. 13-14), even if it is not something I may ever be blessed with myself.

My conclusion, in other words, is that I have the gift of believing--which is not the same as knowing, but a gift which I have come to feel more and more grateful to be in possession of all the same. While I am uncertain and doubtful as to any direct influence the divine has had in my own life (and, indeed, am often highly--though I hope also tactfully!--critical of the details of many accounts of such influence which populate our culture), I do not fundamentally doubt the possible truth of any of them. I am open to the supernatural; the idea that an omniscient God may take interest in the life of an ordinary individual such as myself seems perfectly plausible. I have tried the atheistic route, and it was a failure: I simply couldn’t pretend to myself that I didn’t believe something, that I didn’t suffer from a sehnsucht or longing for that which I sensed was plainly there, despite my inability to actually apprehend any of it. In short, certainty eludes me, but credibility comes easily. When I see men and women whom I know to be good and loving and intelligent people testify that they have found truth through the priesthood ordinances elaborated by Joseph Smith, or a relationship with God through the words of the Book of Mormon, or healing through seeking the Atonement through prayer, fasting, and compassionate service in the church, I can see no reason to dispute them. I believe them: I believe the words of my father, my wife, and so many teachers and neighbors and friends I have been blessed with. While I don’t think I have within me any great conviction that they are all right, it doesn’t strike me as at all possible that they are all wrong. The way I even frame such questions arise from the community I am part of, and while embracing a community does not mean agreeing with every single part of it, it does mean acknowledging that one’s identity is not wholly separable from the beliefs which it conveys.

Such belief probably sounds somewhat indiscriminate, and perhaps it is to a degree. How do I distinguish the value I attach to the beliefs which arise from my own affective relationships to parents and teachers and friends and spouse from those which may arise for someone else whose loving environment differed from mine–a Catholic environment, a Buddhist one, a secular one? In truth, I do not. This is not to say I do not assess the beliefs I encounter in light of my own, and vice-versa; as Charles Taylor has argued, it is a central feature of all moral reasoning to subject our moral and spiritual intuitions to a “strong evaluation,” to comparative “discriminations of right or wrong, better or worse, higher or lower” (Sources of the Self [1992], pg. 4). I do engage in such judgments, all the time, and the resulting evaluations and distinctions make me, I hope, a better–perhaps even a truer–believer, more capable of expressing, and defending, the grounds and implications of that which seem eminently believable about those convictions others have testified to me of. But I cannot pretend that such evaluations amount to the ability to confidently assert a radical epistemological distinction on the part of my own beliefs over and above all others. Ultimately, the most I can say is that non-Mormon beliefs are not my own, and so I debate with and doubt them (though sometimes, upon consideration, I find sympathy with them as well) from the point of view of a tradition I am affectively–and happily–attached to.

That my beliefs are tied up with identity and attachment does not, I think, reduce their value or force. A willingness to Socratically struggle (with oneself and with others) over one’s received beliefs is not the same as relativism. Socrates himself was no sophist: he was a realist, in the sense that he never appeared to feel that there wasn’t something real to all his constant talking, even if he could never articulate it with certainty (indeed, even if, as was recorded, the most he was ever sure of was that he “knew nothing”). Socrates spoke of his daimon; we might speak of a sort of holistic intuition, or to borrow from the German romantic tradition, of verstehen. When describing King Solomon’s wisdom, the Old Testament record curiously speaks of not only his knowledge, but of his “largeness of heart” (1 Kings 4:29)--which I take to mean not simply his sympathy for others’ claims, but his capacity to believe what it was they said.

The fact that I can get all philosophical about what I suspect to be my most fundamental spiritual condition shouldn’t be taken to mean that I consider it to be an excellent one, as I don’t. Frankly, I’d much rather have conviction. I’d like to be able to speak--as so many I love and have learned from have themselves spoken--with certainty about this thing that I felt, these words which I heard, this miracle which I witnessed, this truth revealed to them. Being critical is often a drag, especially when one’s criticism so often ends up becoming self-criticism. (“You say you doubt that’s true, but don’t you also doubt your doubts?”) So I still pray for confirmation and revelation....though admittedly far less often than I used to, as my contemplation of the implications of my gift for believing, a believing which goes hand in hand with debating and doubting, have brought more contentment into my life as the years have gone by. As I reflect upon those I’ve known whose lack of conviction has led them anyway from the church, and think about how much my children need to see their parents grounded in something, I treasure the fact that somehow or another I am gifted with a naive belief in the Restoration, and the gospel of Christ.

In fact naivete, properly understood, is probably the best way to express all this. Paul Ricoeur described it as a “second naivete,” one which calls us across the “desert of criticism” and makes possible a certain kind of belief in or intuition of the reality of the sacred (The Symbolism of Evil [1967], pg. 349). To Ricoeur such naivete was a function of hermeneutics–which, it is worth noting, was originally a theological (indeed a pneumatological) endeavor, concerned with the role of spirit, or spirits, in the text or symbol or world. While I realize that it is dangerous to wish for things--as you may get what you desire--I still wish that I could be one of those who see and feel, with great immediacy, such spirits. But in any case, I’m glad that I believe they’re there.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Friday Morning Videos: "When Smokey Sings"

ABC was usually pegged as a New Wave band, and they had a few big hits as such, but they were too orchestral, and too willing to really swing or rock (for a while, Roxy Music's rhythm section provided their percussion), to entirely fit into the synthpop genre. Here's a little number they tried later on, under the influence of the Motown sound.

Pretty awesome, I say.

Monday, April 05, 2010

"Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote...."

Raced the rain clouds in to work this morning, but now they've broken apart, and I'm looking out of my third story windows across the Friends University campus, taking in the buds and pear tree blossoms waving in the wind, casting their shadows across the grass, and I'm feeling April all the way down to my toes. I feel like a hippie, that is.

Hard to think about teaching when I have a fence to fix, and a rototiller I need to borrow back from Paul; our garden isn't going to get ready by itself.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Friday Reflections on Mormonism and the Cross

[Cross-posted to By Common Consent. A version of this post previously appeared at Times and Seasons]

This past Sunday, which was Palm Sunday (though so far as I know, no one in our ward made mention of that fact), my second daughter, Caitlyn, was taught in her Primary class that the Atonement which we Mormons accept Jesus Christ to have performed for us--the Atonement which we, along with the rest of the Christian world, particularly honor with our commemoration of His resurrection every Easter--was performed in the Garden of Gethsemane, not (or at least not primarily) upon the Cross. Her teacher's comments, at least as she relayed them to me, might be subject to some quibbling, but in my experience at least, they reflect an easily substantiated reality: in our scripture study, in our worship services, in our rhetoric and in our art, Mormons--at least the American Mormons I know best--do tend to emphasize what we understand to be Jesus's active obedience to the Father, His conscious, brave, loving (and presumably free) choice to take upon Himself an awesome burden of sin while praying in the Garden, rather than His passive submission to the deprivation, humiliation, and death upon the Cross which followed. Our focus, in other words, is upon this...

...rather than the Cross.

This Good Friday, I would like to express my dissent from my daughter's Primary teacher's lesson. Not that I would disagree with the basic accuracy of his description of what the majority of Mormons probably believe, if they were of a mind to pin-down the specifics of their understanding of the Atonement. No, I would, instead, just like to personally dissent from the substance of the claim itself. I'm a Mormon, and for me, the Atonement which I reflect upon at Eastertime is all about the Cross.

It really begins with the Sermon on the Mount, which, in the history of popular Christianity, frequently gets turned into a series of ethical edicts--important edicts to be sure, but still, "merely" ethical, somewhat separate from the heavy theological transformations associated with Jesus's atoning work. But my reading of the Sermon has usually run differently. It is the radical powerlessness of the message that strikes me most strongly. Here is the Savior, telling his disciples not to turn to the courts, not to attempt to turn conflicts to their own advantage, not to expect or seek praise, not to limit one’s charity or forgiveness or love to those who are decent and kind, but to extend it to every person, friend or enemy. At almost every point throughout the whole Sermon, Jesus is telling us to submit to authority, to refrain from judgment, to embrace every burden and confess every sin. The overwhelming message is one of humility--or indeed, passivity. That is, Christ is calling upon those who follow Him to allow the world to act upon them, rather than to arrogate to themselves the authority and power to act upon the world.

Now of course, as alluded to above, the Sermon on the Mount is not the totality of Jesus’s teachings. But the notion that He preached passivity is not some completely incongruous doctrine that somehow sneaked into the tradition through the back door. "Passivity" and "passion" are, at their roots, talking about the same thing--allowing oneself to be used, to be filled, to be moved by and subject to others and their needs. Hence the traditional description of Christ’s suffering and death as His "Passion": He made himself powerless and weak before the mobs, the Romans, the Sanhedrin, the devil, the sins of all human history, He let it all act upon Him, and in that passivity, He transcended the logic of death and hell itself, and thus triumphed. From the ultimate weakness, from submission, comes the power to remake the world.

Accepting--even, perhaps, embracing--one's powerlessness, one's dependency upon God and one's disengagement from the world, is not an easy perspective to maintain, especially in 21st-century America, the land of instant gratification and self-righteous complaint. And that is where, I think, I find remembering the Cross becomes most crucial to appreciating the whole work of the Atonement. I sometimes describe myself as a "closet Lutheran": not because I necessarily embrace many elements of Luther's theology (though I do embrace more than a few), but primarily because of Luther’s fundamental description of humankind--simul justus et peccator, simultaneously sinner and saved--and how that line comes closer to capturing my own intuitions about my own condition than any other work of Christian commentary I have ever read. At the heart of the Sermon on the Mount there is Jesus's uncompromising call for us to "be perfect." But that call is not one, as natural men, we can ever fully, completely, respond to. To whatever degree we do succeed in responding to it, it is a function of our becoming...well, passive (or, as the scripture says, "submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father). Which is what we find Jesus exemplifying most thoroughly, most absolutely, upon the Cross.

If the call to perfection, Jesus's ethical call for us to serve and bless and love all of those around us, is bound up with the notion of being able to express that love not only despite but indeed through abasement, powerlessness, weakness, and acceptance, then--I think, at least--the image of a willfully chosen, struggled-with-and-triumphantly-accomplished Atonement can never truly capture what our Savior accomplished for us. We need, much more than Gethsemane, to focus on where Jesus was defeated; where God Himself was beaten, wounded, and murdered, for all humankind. No other could descend so low; consequently, no other could ever provide such grace, such service, to all the rest of us who still, as fallen mortals, pray selfishly and stand defiantly and insist on maintaining our (ridiculously pathetic) power and pride. So taking up the cross--symbolically and otherwise--becomes a way to make oneself beholden to one’s indebtedness, to acknowledge the weak and humiliating end which made and sill makes a new beginning for us all.

Douglas Davies, an Anglican priest, wrote a book some years ago with thoughtfully explored, among other things, Mormon approaches to the idea of Atonement, and its concomitant idea of God's grace, that which enables us all to stand in the shadow of the cross and continually strive to be perfect in God's eyes, however often we (inevitably) fail. At one point in the book he observes: "In the LDS [that is, Latter-day Saint, or Mormon] preexistence, Christ is the clear and decisive voice, accepting his heavenly father's will for the benefit of others. He is the proactive Christ....[while on] Calvary, by contrast, Christ becomes more passive, led, mocked, crucified and killed. The logic of LDS discourse on atonement is grounded in this self-commitment to affliction, and not in an abject passivity as a sacrifice upon whom death is wrought" (pg. 49). David Paulsen and Cory Walker thoughtfully reviewed Davies's book for FARMS, and acknowledged the force of many of his insights, but also took issue with the case that he built for Mormon thought on the Atonement as something overwhelmingly concerned with choice and affirmation, rather than sacrifice and submission. They argue, among other things, that the common Mormon reluctance to use the Cross as a symbol has no theological grounding in Mormon revelations and official statements whatsoever, but is really just a historical accident of where and when Mormon religious culture began to flourish. More importantly, they insist that while the Cross is not mentioned in our sacrament prayers, a fuller consideration of our full sacramental liturgy "should [make it] clear that [these prayers are] a reference to Christ's body which he laid down in death, as a sacrifice." The sacrament, then, is our connection to the Cross, to His brokenness and death, His ultimate passive giving over of Himself to the sin of world, as a sacrifice, for our sakes. They conclude that while the language of the Cross, like the language of grace, may remain mostly "implicit" in Mormon teachings, it is there all the same. Gethsemane and Golgotha, choice and grace, prayer and Cross, together in one act of Atonement. As one great modern-day servant of God has described it, "as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God--I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world."

I like this conclusion, though I suspect in some ways it is too pat. It is one thing to say that submissive weakness and responsible affirmation go hand-in-hand in salvation; it is another thing entirely to understand how to live that way. Which, perhaps, is itself simply another way of pointing out that only Jesus Christ knew how to act perfectly, while yet being acted upon. For the rest of us...well, as we make our way through the world, in the shadow of Jesus’s saving work, I suppose we have to just self-correct as necessary--and if the thought and image of the Cross provides a guide to such correction, then that is a strong enough reason, for me at least, to buck whatever opposing traditions and teachings I may encounter, and turn my eyes, and the eyes of my children, to act great act of acceptance which we all, as prideful, natural men and women, must ever be in need of learning from.

Richard John Neuhaus, the brilliant and controversial Catholic leader and writer, wrote a book before he died called Death on a Friday Afternoon, portions of which I've praised before, as I've pondered Neuhaus's legacy and the meaning of the Christian (and my own Mormon Christian) faith. Some of his words return to me now; they may not be particularly Mormon words, but they appropriate words for today, all the same:

Atonement. At-one-ment. What was separated by an abyss of wrong has been reconciled by the deed of perfect love. What the first Adam destroyed the second Adam as restored. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." We knew not what we did when we reached for the right to name good and evil. We knew not what we did when we grabbed what we could and went off to a distant country. We knew not what we did when, in the madness of excusing ourselves, we declared God guilty. But today we have come to our senses. Today, here at the cross, our eyes are fixed on the dying derelict who is the Lord of life. We look at the one who is everything that we are and everything we are not, the one who is true man and true God. In him we, God and man, are perfectly one. At-one-ment. Here, through the cross, we have come home. Home to the truth about ourselves. Home to the truth about what God has done about what we have done. And now we know, or begin to know, why this awful, awe-filled Friday is called good.

Friday Morning Videos: "Running in the Family"

These guys definitely deserved to be bigger than they were in their heyday; they're one of my favorite bands. And just to prove how completely they missed the brass ring (despite a couple of top 40 tunes in the U.S.), I confess that I have no memory whatsoever of Level 42's 80s music while I was growing up (though I'm sure I must have heard some of it). It was hearing one of my fellow missionaries in South Korea singing their praises that led me to dig up their music once I came home, and giving it serious attention. To say the least, I was rewarded. Simply peerless, smooth, hip, funky, perfect pop sound. So many great cuts to choose from; picking this video was more a matter of arbitrary taste than anything else.