Monday, August 27, 2007

Will and Shall

"We will say to the Southern disunionists: We WON'T go out of the Union, and you SHAN'T!"

-Widely accepted end to Lincoln's Lost Speech of May 29, 1856

Reading about the Lost Speech and its probable last, or nearly last sentence reminded me of the old distinction between will and shall. We no longer observe the usage, but Abraham Lincoln certainly did.

The will/shall rule was as follows: To form the future tense, you use the modal auxilliary shall in the first person, and will in the second and third persons. Lincoln appears to be violating that rule.

There is, however, an exception: to add emphasis, the modal auxilliaries are reversed. Thus, "we won't and you shan't."

While contemporary English is simpler in this respect, it is also less precise. It reminds me that even more recent texts contain subtle distinctions that the contemporary reader would not notice.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lincoln's "Lost Speech" and Science Fiction

The business of the convention being over, Mr. Lincoln, in response to repeated calls, came forward and delivered a speech of such earnestness and power that no one who heard it will ever forget the effect it produced. In referring to his speech some years ago I used the following rather graphic language: "I have heard or read all of Mr. Lincoln's great speeches, and I give it as my opinion that the Bloomington speech was the grand effort of his life. Heretofore he had simply argued the slavery question on grounds of policy--the statesman's grounds--never reaching the question of the radical and the eternal right. Now he was newly baptized and freshly born; he had the fervor of a new convert... His speech was full of fire and energy and force; it was logic; it was pathos; it was enthusiasm; it was justice, equity, truth , and right set ablaze by the divine fires of a soul maddened by the wrong; it was hard, heavy, knotty, gnarly, backed with wrath. I attempted for about fifteen minutes as was usual with me to take notes, but at the end of that time I threw pen and paper away and lived only in the inspiration of the hour. If Mr. Lincoln was six feet, four inches high usually, at Bloomington that day he was seven feet, and inspired at that..."

-Thomas Herndon, Lincoln's law partner and biographer, quoted in Elwell Crissey, Lincoln's Lost Speech (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967)

On the evening of May 29, 1856, at at the Illinois Anti-Slavery Extension convention in Bloomington, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech so powerful that no one in the audience wrote it down. The "Lost Speech" has become one of the great mysteries of American history: exactly what did the future president say at Major's Hall that night to inspire such praise as Herndon's? It's a mystery that's been debated for over a century.

While there have been several attempts to reconstruct the speech, most notably that of Henry Clay Whitney, who was at Major's Hall, but did not publish his reconstruction until 1896, in McClure's Magazine. Even if his reconstruction is close to Lincoln's words, it was Lincoln's forceful and emotional delivery which caused so many to remember the speech.

Wilson Tucker, a science fiction writer who lived in the Bloomington area, wrote a novel, The Lincoln Hunters (New York: Ace Books, 1958), based on that mystery. A team of time travelers from a dystopian world six hundred years in the future go back to 1856 in order to record the Lost Speech. It's not great writing, but it's quite good; the brilliance of the concept makes up for the less-than-stellar prose. The book, while out of print, is available. Amazon Marketplace has copies for one cent (plus $3.99 shipping and handling).

Tucker won't tell you what Lincoln said. It's still a mystery.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Two Conservative Bishops

Stacey, a member of my former parish in Philadelphia, the Memorial Church of St. Luke, asked me to write about the church I'm attending now. While I'm still an Episcopalian, I've been going to Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Bloomington because I have to work Sunday mornings. Neither of the Episcopal churches in the Bloomington-Normal area have afternoon or evening services. And when I'm back home in Elkhart, I usually attend Mass at St. Vincent's Catholic church with my family. I've considered converting to Roman Catholicism--even attending RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation) classes twice--but always dropping out. If I believed the Roman Catholic Church were what Father Richard McBrien says it is--a collegial church governed by a consensus of the bishops--I might have joined. But from my vantage point, it's still very much a monarchy headed by the Bishop of Rome. Also, I'm not keen on a church which insists on a male, celibate clergy. Thus while I rarely attend the Episcopal Church, I still consider myself an Episcopalian.

And I've tried to follow church news, which almost always concerns the consecration of gays and lesbians to the episcopate, the blessing of same-sex unions, and the imminent breakup of the Church.. The Episcopal Church holds a general convention every three years. In 2003 the convention upheld the consecration of Gene Robinson, a gay man in a committed relationship, to be Bishop of New Hampshire. Three years later the General Convention elected Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supported Robinson's consecration, to be Presiding Bishop. At present, my legal residence and home during during rest days and vacations is in the Diocese of Northern Indiana, while my workplace and workaday residence is in the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois.

The bishops of my two dioceses are both very conservative on this issue, but they couldn't be more different. The Right Reverend Peter Beckwith, Bishop of Springfield, seems extremely eager to break with the Episcopal Church. In a radio interview, he referred to then-Presiding Bishop-Elect Jefferts Schori as "gnostic" and "New Age." In a June 30, 2006 pastoral letter, he repeats the name-calling, though expanding it to the church as a whole: a Church we have adopted a Gnostic theology and a New Age spirituality; and, since relativism is the order of the day, we are unable to assent to the Lordship of Jesus and the authoritative teaching of Holy Scripture.

The letter is followed by a resolution of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Springfield. It accuses Jefferts Schori, "by clear statements... to be outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and the clear parameters of the Christian faith, as understood from an Anglican perspective" and goes on to call for "our Bishop to intentionally and deliberately explore avenues for alternative primatial relationship, and, as appropriate, oversight, notwithstanding this Diocese's status as a constituent member of the Episcopal Church."

In so many words, Bishop Beckwith is calling for schism. He wishes an"alternative primatial relationship." In Anglican terms, that means he wishes to find a new primate, or leading bishop to serve under. (The Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of All England, while the Presiding Bishop is the Primate of the American Episcopal Church.) Presumably this means Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who appears to be working to set up a conservative Anglican church in the Unites States outside the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Beckwith makes the unsupported accusation that the Episcopal Church has traded Christianity for "Gnostic theology and New Age spirituality." I'm not certain he has any idea what those terms mean. Gnosticism, condemned as heretical by the early Church Fathers, was not one single theology. We know more about Gnosticism since the1977 translation of the Gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945, and the publication of The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels in 1979. Some of Gnosticism is compatible with orthodox Christianity, but Gnostics believed there was some secret knowledge necessary for salvation:

Jesus says: "The one who seeks should not cease seeking until he finds. And when he finds, he will be dismayed. And when he is dismayed, he will be astonished. And he will be king over the All."

-Gospel of Thomas, saying 2, tr. Stephen J. Patterson and James M. Robinson

One variation of Gnosticism involves an evil divine creator, or Demiurge, who is at war with the spiritual forces of Christ. Such Gnostics saw the Demiurge as representing the material world, and Christ, the spiritual.

Orthodox Christians have rejected both the need for secret knowledge and the characterization of the material world as evil. We believe the Creator is God, not the Demiurge. Bishop Jefferts Schori has no more embraced Gnosticism than has Bishop Beckwith.

The New Age label is essentially meaningless. Because New Age religion is eclectic, it embraces many different traditions, including some Christian ones. The fact is that one can find New Age in virtually every religious tradition, and vice versa. But just as with the Gnostic label, Bishop Beckwith provides no specific examples.

Bishop Beckwith's condemnation of the Episcopal Church, though , has more to do with sex than spirituality. In an address to the diocesan synod in October, 2005, he berates his fellow bishops for talking too much about helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina and too little about the Church of England's Windsor Report, which deals with the consecration of gays and lesbians to the episcopate and the blessing of same-sex unions:

Our presentation to the Anglican Consultative Council this last June was an embarrassment. Finally, with an opportunity to do something constructive, the House of Bishops met at the Ritz Carlton Resort in San Juan, Puerto Rico last month. All that was and continues to be needed is: 1) Recognize that the Windsor Report is the prescribed way forward if we are to remain a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion; and 2) Commit ourselves to adhering to and following its directives. But instead of doing that, most of the time and energy was given to discussing what our Church’s response should be to the hurricane devastation which occurred late this past summer. Certainly, that consideration is important and appropriate but not at the expense of dealing with what has been even more destructive to our Church, and that is the hurricane winds we created in the ’03 Minneapolis Convention.

Didn't Jesus say something about loving one's neighbor as oneself?

The Right Reverend Edward Stuart Little, Bishop of Northern Indiana, takes a different approach. (An aside, here: Edward Little became bishop at the same time the movie Stuart Little was released. It turns out that Little's father was a friend of E.B. White, and the book about the precocious mouse was named for him. He jokes that he's "the son of a mouse.")

Bishop Little, though he opposed the consecration of Bishop Robinson, is not threatening to break up the church. In a response to a Christianity Today article which appeared to favor schism, he wrote a reply, "Living With Tares." The title refers to the Parable of the Tares, (Matthew 13: 24-30). A farmer plants his field with wheat, but in the night, an enemy comes and sows weeds (tares) in the field. His servants offer to pull up the weeds, but the farmer says to let both grow, and at the harvest, the wheat will be gathered and the weeds burned. Bishop Little chooses to stay in the church with people he disagrees with, and let God sort it out in the end:

Yet I stay: not simply by default, or as a matter of blind institutional loyalty. I have decided to stay, and to throw my lot in with people with whom I am often in profound disagreement. The editorial dismisses John 17 as a basis for such a decision and says, in effect, that it does not pertain in our present situation. But Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper does not simply provide a rationale for unity: it also includes an implied warning. Jesus prays “that they may all be one . . . so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (v. 21). In other words, Jesus invites the world outside the Christian community to make a decision about him on the basis of our unity. The world is watching us, Jesus says. How we deal with one another in the midst of crisis has eternal implications – not simply for ourselves, but also for those who do not yet know him.

And he does not proudly say that his opponents are the tares:

Nor are our divisions as clear-cut as they may seem. It is not the case, in the Episcopal Church or in any other, that you’ve got believers on one side and heretics (or apostates) on the other. I know many in my church who love Jesus, confess him as Lord and Savior, believe the articles of the Christian faith as summarized in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and seek to follow Jesus in costly ways – and who, at the same time, affirm the decisions of the 2003 General Convention. As a matter of principle, when people claim to be disciples of Jesus, I will treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ, Bishop Gene Robinson among them. He is not only a colleague; I count him as friend and fellow pilgrim. I will commit myself to him, and to them, even when I am convinced that they are wrong. I will seek to manifest a godly forbearance, and ask that they do the same toward me.

Bishop Beckwith would do well to follow the lead of his colleague from Northern Indiana. And those of us who supported the consecration of Gene Robinson should also follow his lead, treating our opponents as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sarah and Desh

Some good news: My daughter Sarah recently announced her engagement tho her longtime boyfriend. She'll be a graduate student and a teaching assistant at the University of Maryland, while he works for Freddie Mac in northern Virginia. They've found an apartment in Washington, D.C., near K Street (next door to lobbyists?).

They met on a train in the spring of 2003, just after Bush invaded Iraq. I was there, so I'll tell the story. Sarah was a high school senior, and she and I were on the way back from a visit to Hollins University, just outside Roanoke, Virginia. We had turned in our rented car at Staunton (prnounced Stanton), Virginia after visiting the school. (Sarah spent one year at Hollins, but then transferred to Knox College.) It was a strange time, when much of America gung-ho for the war and angry with France for opposing it. A roadside restaurant in Staunton advertised "Freedom Vanilla" ice cream to go along with the more famous "Freedom Fries."

Amtrak's Cardinal, so named because the cardinal was the state bird of all the states it passed through on its original route, was not terribly late that afternoon. We found seats together and settled in to watch the beautiful countryside of western Virginia roll by. At Clifton Forge, the train stopped for a crew change and to give the smokers a chance to for a fix. Sarah looked out the window and said, "Look at those hot Indian guys." One was having a smoke, while the other was keeping him company. Whether Sarah would have gotten to kinow Desh (the nonsmoker) would have been unlikely had not a boulder fallen from a mountain just outside a tunnel. It wasn't on the track, but it was so close to the track that moving the train might be dangerous. We were delayed until maintenance crews from the CSX railroad declared it safe to proceed slowly by.

Up at the head of our coach, a middle-aged woman, who was probably a flower child in her younger days, had a guitar, and was softly singing folk songs. Sarah gravitated up there, and it turned out that the two Indian men (the smoker was actually from Bangladesh) were up there too. Desh was from Bombay (like a lot of people from that city, he called it Bombay, and not Mumbai, the official government name) and was getting an MBA at the University of Maryland. They were heading for Cincinnati, to see a cricket match.

By the time the train finally reached Cincinnati, Sarah and Desh had traded e-mail adrresses, and began a relationship that's going on for more than four years. They'll probably have two ceremonies--one in India, probably in January, and one in the States.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Anselm vs. Albus, and other thoughts on The Deathly Hallows

I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The following passage reminded me of Anselm of Canterbury and his ontological argument for the existence of God:

"Tell me one last thing," said Harry. "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry's ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?" (p723)

If you've taken an introductory philosophy class, you've probably learned St. Anselm's argument. Here's a brief version, courtesy of Wikipedia:

God is, by definition, a being greater than which nothing can be conceived (imagined).
Existence in reality is greater than existence in the mind.
God must exist in reality; if God did not, then God would not be that than which nothing greater can be conceived (imagined).

J.K. Rowling takes on Anselm's argument by denying the second premise: for Dumbledore, existence in the mind is also existence in reality. If Dumbledore is right, a God who exists in the mind also exists in reality. But then, so do a lot of other things.

A couple of other thoughts: I suspect everone who's read the Harry Potter books wonders which House he or she would be in if placed in that magical world. I knew I wasn't brave enough for Gryffindor or sly enough for Slytherin. But I was proud enough to believe that I'd be in Ravenclaw, where the really intelligent witches and wizards go. But then I read the following, in which Luna Lovegood (my favorite Potter series character, and a Ravenclaw) and Harry are trying to enter the Ravenclaw lounge:
Luna reached out a pale hand, which looked eerie floating in midair, unconnected to arm or body. She knocked once, and in the silence it sounded to Harry like a cannon blast. At once the beak of the eagle opened, but instead of a bird's call, a soft, musical voice said, "Which came first, the phoenix or the flame?"
"Hmm... What do you think, Harry?" said Luna, looking thoughtful.
"What? Isn't there just a password?"

"Oh no, you've got to answer a question," said Luna.

"What if you get it wrong?"

"Well, you have to wait for someone who gets it right," said Luna. "That way you learn, you see."

"Yeah... Trouble is, we can't really afford to wait for anyone else, Luna."

"No, I see what you mean," said Luna seriously. "Well then, I think the answer is that a circle has no beginning."

"Well reasoned," said the voice, and the door swung open. (pp. 586-587)

I suspect I'd be standing outside the door quite a bit. No, I wouldn't be in Ravenclaw, but in Hufflepuff, the House that takes anyone who doesn't fit into the three other houses. I take comfort in the fact that it's clearly the most democratic of the Houses, as has no litmus test, except for magical ability. Then again, in Rowling's world, desires are taken into account. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Philospher's [Sorcerer's] Stone, when Harry is Sorted, the Sorting Hat hears his thought, "Not Slytherin," and places him in Gryffindor. And Hermione, who seems to belong in Ravenclaw, but said on the Hogwarts Express that Gryffindor was her preference, was Sorted into Gryffindor. So I might still be in Ravenclaw. Just standing outside the door a lot.

Kurt Vonnegut, in his nonfiction book, A Man Without a Country, says, "Never use a semicolon." Rowling uses semicolons often, and she knows how to use them. She also has no problem with adjectives and adverbs. In other words, she is a British writer outside the tradition of Hemingway, Mailer, and Vonnegut. Kathleen (my wife) is even more emphatic about this distinction, and has also said that the current crop of excellent writers from the Indian subcontinent derive at least some of that excellence by having been brought up on the likes of Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope as opposed to the Hemingway school of writing.

As the son of a Hemingway scholar, I'm conflicted. Kathleen has read more Victorian British literature than I ever will. And I really like the Hemingway style. It's journalistic, for one thing. In fact, some of the best Hemingway I've read has been nonfiction, or semi-nonfiction, such as A Moveable Feast. As somone who "reads" a lot of books on tape and CD, I'll say that Duke Ellington's "If it sounds good, it is good" applies to literature as well as music. Both Rowling and Hemingway sound good. They're writing in two different genres, so other comparisons are shaky. They both sound good.

One last thing: it wouldn't be On the Slow Train if I didn't mention Rowling's trains, from the first Hogwarts Express journey to Harry's dream or vision of Heaven as King's Cross Station. Apparently Rowling conceived of the Harry Potter series on a train to Manchester, and her second husband proposed to her on a train. So if and when I write my time-travel novel featuring a mage in Chicago's Union Station, I'll be in good company