Simple and Sophisticated Pleasures in the Capitol

While he was driving me to Toronto a few months ago, Jon and I were talking about YA fiction. Somehow in the course of that conversation I mentioned that I understood the Hunger Games films as containing a libertarian subtext, and that I had read an article about how many YA dystopia books have such a subtext. After Jon pressed me for further explanation, I interpreted The Hunger Games as a libertarian film for him; I was certainly not the first to notice its ideological commitments, and you can see some examples linked in my combative annotated bibliography on libertarianism. But part of my explanation is rooted in how The Hunger Games and its sequels depict the wealthy people of the Capitol as both gender-non-conforming and decadent. The luxury and sophistication of the Capitol citizens are intrinsic markers of their moral corruption above and beyond those pleasures’ costs to the poorer Districts, I said, and I went on to allude to a history of anti-luxury and anti-sophisticated-pleasures sentiment in Protestant and American conservatism. Jon has since asked me to write this up further for use in a high school classroom, but it might also be useful to others too.

an image of several elaborate chocolate cakes, including some with rabbit decorations

Karen Roe’s “The Making of Harry Potter 29-05-2012”

I have attempted to write this post a few times with little luck. A large part of the problem is that I do not remember how I came to understand this history of opposition to sophisticated pleasures and its relationship to American-style libertarianism. I do know of a few bits and pieces. There is a passage in H P Lovecraft’s The Mountains of Madness which used “decadence” in a way then unfamiliar to me which only afterwards made sense. There was an academic article I read about the characters of Falstaff and Prince John in 1 Henry IV and 2 Henry IV which referred to competing economic theories of luxury goods (especially “sack,” meaning a fortified wine) in Elizabethan England. There have been perhaps a half-dozen posts on the blogs of Roman Catholics like Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry which observe that Catholic countries have better food than Protestant countries because the former know how to enjoy life’s physical pleasures. I remember less well the dozens of broad generalizations of the effects Protestantism has had on the Low Countries, England, and North America I must have read between high school history classes, undergraduate courses at Queen’s, and graduate courses as UBC, or the lectures on the history of belief in the rise and fall of civilizations, or the articles about the effects all these have American culture today. Moreover there is the pattern of observations I have had in my own rural working-class childhood and in the time I spent in Fort McMurray.1 I cannot begin to summarize all of this. And if I cannot marshal all of these sources appropriately, I cannot make an argument, exactly; I do not expect anyone to just take my word for all of this, and yet I don’t even really know what my own sources are. What I can do is sketch out my position, and gesture toward some related material, and hope that I can supplement this with a better-researched piece later.

I have spent enough time in academia and then in a museum to be leery of making broad claims without substantiating them, but this is a blog post after all; if I cannot do this provisional kind of writing here, I cannot do it anywhere.

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Consistency in Two Traditions of Fantasy, Part 2: The Deathly Hallows

A Second Possible Consistency

In Part One of this discussion, I introduced the problem of appreciating different kinds of consistency in fantasy literature and then I elaborated the planetary correspondences of The Chronicles of Narnia as an example of a fantasy series which uses a different kind of consistency than a logical one. Now, I am not going to argue that L. F. Baum also had planetary correspondences in his work, or that the Harry Potter franchise has some hidden theological depths. What I want to suggest, though, is that each might have something more like a thematic or atmospheric consistency in place of a logical one.

A painting of a thestral

Carol Smith, “Harry Potter-47”

I think it is worth making a distinction between two ways in which that might be true. First, it might have achieved such a consistency which is easy to overlook if you aren’t primed for it; Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, according to Ward, Are an example of this. Second, it might attempt such a consistency but not have achieved it. What I mean by this is that various markers in the text suggest a sort of consistency which it aims at but a careful examination of the text will nonetheless reveal it was not successful. In that case logical consistency of the sort at which G. R. R. Martin excels would not necessarily be the best standard by which to judge the text; however, the best standard by which to judge the text is some other kind of consistency at which it also fails.1 In such a way it might be analogous to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, which really doesn’t work in the sense of logical consistency: the population distributions and the modes of agriculture, resource extraction, and economics are all impossible or at least seriously implausible. However, Tolkien does a sufficiently good job of making all of the cultural aspects look coherent that this is easy to overlook. So it might be more accurate to say that these other texts might be better judged by different standards of consistency than it is to say they are consistent in different ways, because they may have failed to meet those different standards of consistency.

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Consistency in Two Traditions of Fantasy, Part 1: Narnian Astrology

A Problem with Harry Potter

Due to the news that in the latest Harry Potter film the snake Nagini is revealed to be a human woman transformed, there has been a recent popular re-evaluation of the seven novels which originated the franchise. Many of the observations that I’ve seen on Twitter have focused on Rowling’s troubling use of racist stereotypes and her very Anglocentric errors. I have little to add as far as that goes because anything I’d have to say has been said already by others; the most relevant Twitter threads are Alexandra Erin’s and Shivam Batt’s. There is an assumption in some of these threads, however, that the world of Harry Potter could be or ought to be logically consistent in much the same way that our own is, which I consider to be mistaken. Take, for instance, questions of scale: of course it is logical nonsense that a school the size of Hogwarts is the only wizarding school in Britain given what the population of wizards in Britain seems to be in the books. And by the standards of something like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Five Gods series or G. R. R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire, which have admirably plausible, intricate, and well-developed worlds, that’s a problem. The assumption that fantasy worlds must be built on some sort of logical or plausible structure is very characteristic of how mainstream fantasy1 does often operate, but I think it is worth observing that there have always been other kinds of fantasy which do not share this assumption: Barrie’s Peter Pan books, Carrol’s Alice books, and Baum’s Oz books come most readily to mind. These books’ lack of logical consistency does not mean that they lack any internal consistency; rather, they may have consistency of a wholly different kind. I think the best way to begin exploring this other kind of consistency is by examining Michael Ward’s interpretation of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, which I will spend the rest of this post doing. In a subsequent post I will speculate about possible consistencies in Harry Potter and other fantasy.

A reproduction of one of the original illustrations of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, depicting a faun with an umbrella and a girl walking through forest.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA are in the public domain in Canada, and my understanding of Canadian copyright law is that the original illustrations therefore would be as well. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong in this.

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The Study of Anglicanism, Excerpts

Along with my first-ever set of gaming dice I recently ordered and received The Study of Anglicanism (1988), an anthology, edited by Stephen Sykes and John Booty, of articles on Anglicanism. Three or so years ago my then-priest recommended it along with A Passionate Balance as a way of getting to know the tradition better. Now that I have begun to read it, I thought I would write brief responses to its articles.

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Photograph my own.

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MacIntyre on Sophoclean Tragedies

Amod Lele of Love of All Wisdom, in the comments of my second to last post, “A Partial Apology for Liberalism,” recommended that I read Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. Though I was skeptical for the first few chapters and I found some of the prose unclear, I wound up quite enjoying it. I’m not convinced of the demonstrative half of his argument, but I will discuss that in greater length later. Right now I want to focus on his discussion of Sophoclean tragedies.

dp67Vf

Source: UCI UC Irvine at flic.kr/p/dp67Vf

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Open to the Light’s Leading: Birkel’s Quaker Tradition

I went into Michael L. Birkel’s Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition with very little knowledge about Quakerism beyond half-remembered depictions in the Underground Railroad historical fiction I read in school as a kid1 and the odd tidbit I came across in comments sections.2 I knew they were pacifists and had been abolitionists and I knew a Quaker founded Pennsylvania as an experiment in committed religious freedom. And yet, even though I had very few expectations about the tradition, I found myself not just charmed but surprised throughout my reading of the book.

6evvft

Source: TCDavis at flic.kr/p/6evVft

One of the things that I did not expect was how much Quakerism resembled certain non-Christian religions. Especially early on in the book, Birkel’s description of Friends’3 spiritual experiences often used the word “the Light,” referring either to God or to God’s activity in the soul; nerd that I am, this reminded me of Warcraft’s Church of the Holy Light and the various non-theistic religious traditions it suggests. And Birkel himself notes the resemblance the Quaker practice of silent sitting (some groups of Friends sit in silence, or near-silence, during their worship services) has to Buddhist meditation: in both cases the ones sitting try to get past their egos and thoughts to something truer. In the end notes, however, he is careful to note that Buddhists meditating in groups are still in an important way meditating alone (one sitter achieving enlightenment does not improve the meditation of the others) while Quakers understand that they sit in silence together (when one Friend is especially able to reach the Light Within, a sense of peace and holiness pervades the whole assembly). Now that I’ve read the book it makes sense that not all Friends have been Christians, but that was another surprise for me.

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Top 10 Books of 2016 (+1)

2016 has been a rough year for many of us; the election in the United States of an incompetent and misogynistic shag carpet beloved of white nationalists, and the intimidation and violence which followed it, loom large in any list of the year’s misfortunes, but I’m sure we can each add our own. Personally, thinking I might die in a fire was one of them. (The Beaverton‘s recent joke, then, hit close to home.) That said, for me 2016 has also been a very good year for books.

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Source: faungg at flic.kr/p/aMPX71

In reverse of order of how much I enjoyed them…

 

10. Robertson Davies: Man of Myth, by Judith Skelton Grant

I have lately come to quite appreciate Robertson Davies’s novels (though the only one I read this year, the very CanLit Murther and Walking Spirits, won’t make this list), so when I saw this biography in Fort McMurray’s only used bookstore, I bought it. Two particular aspects of this book were particularly interesting to me: first, I am always interested in seeing how an artist’s skills and preoccupations develop over time, and when that artist is himself interested in the development of personality and artistic skill particularly, the topic begins to reflect on itself; second, I was fascinated by the depiction of arts and culture—and the relative lack of them—in the rural Ontario of a particular time. Perhaps my own biography made me enjoy the book more than I otherwise would have done: I had just moved to Fort McMurray from Stratford/Toronto and I saw myself more than a little in Davies’s sense of exile from artistic community.

 

9. Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone

To be frank, I far preferred Gladstone’s first novel in the Craft sequence, Three Parts Dead. Still, Two Serpents Rise is an enjoyable book if you like the general idea behind the Craft sequence: a legal thriller set in vaguely steampunk world in which magic and miracles are a) commonplace and b) structured much like modern high finance. In Two Serpents Rise, Caleb Altemoc, risk manager for the warlock cadre Red King Consolidated, tries to discover the source of a shadow demon infestation in Dresediel Lex’s water reservoirs; he also follows a cliff runner (think magic-enhanced parkour) named Mal who is ambiguously involved in the plot and tries to deal with his father, the last priest to the city’s old gods and a wanted terrorist. I found the characters less appealing and the religions less interesting than those in either Three Parts Dead or Full Fathom Five, but Caleb’s attempt to develop a working moral system that took honest stock of both the old religion and the new craft, was engaging.

 

8. Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted, by Richard Beck

(I already mentioned Reviving in a review of a different book.) I was expecting to like this book more, but unlike much of Beck’s work it lacked the grounding effect of peer-reviewed psychological research. It was a more colloquial book than, say, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality or The Slavery of Death; it was also more personal, framed as it was by his encounters with the more charismatic spirituality among the attendees of his prison bible ministry. Reviving Old Scratch mostly shares the moral impulses of progressive Christianity (that subset of Christianity which shares many priorities with social justice and leftist movements) and attempts to argue that progressive Christianity would be strengthened with a much greater focus on Satan and the demonic. As usual, Beck’s blogging-influenced style includes a tendency to repeat his points in various forms and an abundance of analogies and (mostly dated) pop culture references; he shows a real concern that the reader can grapple with a somewhat unfamiliar set of ideas, but if you are relatively quick on the uptake or are already aware of some of his argument, it can get frustrating. His stories about prison ministry are the best part.

 

7. Fort Chipewyan and the Shaping of Canadian History, 1788-1920s: ‘We like to be free in this country’ by Patricia A. McCormack

You might be able to tell from the book’s title that McCormack is an academic. As books of academic history go, I found it quite readable… but my gauge for readability is likely misaligned. As a history of Fort Chipewyan, the topic may seem too niche to be of general interest, yet I found it has informed my understanding of more than just Athabasca region history: the chapter on the fur trade mode of production helped add some nuance to my understanding of “modes of production” generally, while the chapter on the signing of Treaty 8 taught me a lot more about the Treaty process in Canada generally, mostly by contrast. Furthermore, it is an interesting case study in the creation and maintenance of national sovereignty: Canada’s attempt to claim and tame its frontiers differs from the American story we might be more familiar with, but I think you’ll find McCormack will challenge your assumptions about Canadian nationhood as well (if you have any). It is part one of two; the second, taking us from the 1920s to the present, is not yet released.

 

6. Lila, by Marilynne Robinson

Lila is the third of three companion novels covering a small domestic drama between two neighbouring families in Gilead, Iowa, USA. Gilead is introduced in Gilead by Reverend John Ames, writing a letter to his son; Home is an uneasy re-writing of the parable of the prodigal son set in the Boughton’s house, next to the Ames’s. Lila provides earth-tone shading between Gilead’s ecstatic greens and reds and Home’s sombre blues and despairing greys. It tells us the story of Ames’s quiet wife Lila, a perpetual stranger and faltering convert (she tries, for instance, to wash her baptism off), and her inability to trust not just the world around her but also her own constancy. In my opinion, the last three pages are among the most incandescent and theologically acute passages in the Gilead trilogy, and this is saying something. Although the books can in theory be read in any order, I would highly recommend publication order.

 

5. Islam in the World, by Malise Ruthven

I have already written a reaction to Islam in the World here. I have little more to say except that I deeply appreciate it.

 

4. The Year of Lear: 1606, by James Shapiro

Man of Myth, above, was one book I read situating the artist’s work in a historical context. The Year of Lear was the other. It is in a sense the sequel to Shapiro’s 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. In 1599, though, Shakespeare was just coming into his own as a playwright and a poet; in 1606, Shakespeare was a mature writer remaining relevant in a milieu which was starting to consider him passé. Therefore 1606 does not examine the genre-breaking (and –defining) struggle which Shapiro depicts in the 1599. However, what 1606 offers is a political and cultural environment surprisingly like our own: persecutions of religious minorities, arguments about the definition of torture, fear of politically-motivated attacks on heads of state and symbols of power, cults of nostalgia, and the threat of pandemics define London in the year Lear was written. Some of Shapiro’s claims seem a stretch or less certain than he makes out, but overall he is an astute critic who reads Shakespeare well and makes connections between the Bard’s images and his surrounding culture without rendering Shakespeare a mere political allegorist.

 

3. Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans

Like Reviving Old Scratch, Searching for Sunday is partly a plea for progressive Christians to go back to church. It is, however, far more personal. Evans is a memoirist more than anything, and here she offers her initial enchantment with evangelical Christianity, her difficult departure from it, and her well-researched and very public attempt to find a church that worked for her. It is also more than a memoir: each chapter offers a historical background on one of the Christian sacraments, a poetic explication of it, and various quoted material in addition to some portion of her memoir. Because her journey took place in conjunction with her popular blog and involved meeting quite a lot of people, it is also a thoroughly social book; Evans’s acute awareness of the effects spirituality can have on other people in the world means her own religious journey involves many interactions with strangers, friends, and whatever you’d call the people you know on the Internet, and many of those are recorded in the book. This book spoke to me in a way few books do.

 

2. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A recent blathering article about Hamilton and the purported liberal elite called Between the World and Me something to the effect of “that book by Ta-Nehisi Coates which you bought but didn’t read.” If you have purchased this book but haven’t read it yet, I insist that you fix this situation immediately. Perhaps you are not interested in its piercing insight into American whiteness (insights that are applicable north of the 49th, too); perhaps you do not care to learn what it is like to grow up black in Chicago; perhaps you do not want to appreciate the varieties and the extraordinary creativity of that American blackness; perhaps you do not wish to unlearn the middle-class illusions about Malcolm X and the Black Panthers which I know I held; perhaps you prefer to remain untouched by the story of Prince Jones; even so, you should read this book for its remarkable structure and remarkable prose. This is a glorious example of the art of creative non-fiction; this should be on creative writing syllabi as well as all bookshelves. Read this book.

(That said, read this review of it, too. Also, Between the World and Me is a strong clear example of a World 2 person trying to understand other Worlds, World 1 especially, failing to understand, and knowing he fails to understand.)

 

1. Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold

I read this book for the first time and for the second time this year. It is the sequel to The Curse of Chalion, which my friend Muir Pangolin gave to me as a “theological fantasy.” I remain ever grateful; Bujold’s Five Gods books, in the fantasy of manners genre, explore what an honest, struggling religious life would be like if a polytheistic fantasy religion were indisputably true. Curse is very good; I enjoyed Paladin of Souls much more. Ista dy Chalion—Dowager Roya of Chalion, middle-aged widow, former saint, and recovering madwoman—is a more delightful protagonist than I expected, and most of the supporting characters—the plump dy Cabon, a priest of the Bastard; the quick Liss, a courier girl; the dy Gura brothers, votaries of the Daughter; the sly Lord Illvin, sick abed—complement her well. Blogger ozymandias commented that Bujold is an expert at making protagonists likable, and this book is no exception. Furthermore, it develops the fantastic themes that began in Curse: where the first book explored the divine in this world, Paladin explores the demonic in a way that both gratifies curiosity and leaves enough unexplained that it remains evocative. The third book, The Hallowed Hunt, explores the shamanic, and while I liked that book I did not love it to absolute pieces, as I did this book. Altogether, though, the Five Gods books depict a very engaging theological fantasy world.
(I will also note that all of these books contain a romantic plot tightly woven into the main plot, and Paladin in particular is thick with a particular kind of heterosexual female desire. I don’t know if that’s a selling point or a detraction for you, but either way I figured I should mention it.)

 

0: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

I am adding this book not because I first read it in 2016, but because I re-read it at the very beginning of the year. Therefore it is the zeroth in the list. It is the sort of book I might pick up and read a random chapter out of during an idle moment. It was recommended to me by Melissa and it was well-recommended. Goblin follows Maia, a young half-elf half-goblin man who unexpectedly inherits the imperial throne of the Elflands after the rest of the royal family is killed. The novel follows his attempts to learn court politics and aristocratic etiquette, despite the racial and religious prejudices against him and the intrigues into which he has been thrown, while remaining true to what he thinks makes a good person and good leader. Goblin also has strong themes of social isolation and recovering from physical and psychological abuse. If you want to read fantasy but you don’t because so much of it is either a) straight male wish-fulfillment or b) straight teenage girl wish-fulfillment, then I strongly suggest you read this book.

An Uninviting Invitation: Susan White’s Liturgical Tradition

Susan J. White’s The Spirit of Worship: The Liturgical Tradition (1999) is the second book I have read from Philip Sheldrake’s Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series, and the second that I will review.

SINGAPORE-2010 YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES-DIVING

Source: Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games at flic.kr/p/8v2w86

Mr. Hindley, my Grade 12 English teacher, told us that writing an essay is in some ways like Olympic diving. There are more and less difficult dives; a diver who performs a difficult dive well usually scores better than a diver who performs a simpler dive perfectly. Of course, a diver who performs a difficult dive disastrously scores lower than either of the first. Writing is much the same. An ambitious attempt performed well enough will get higher marks than an unambitious attempt performed perfectly. A mishandled essay will receive low marks no matter the attempt’s ambition—though an ambitious attempt may still fare somewhat better than an unambitious one. Bearing this in mind, I probably ought to appreciate Spirit of Worship more than I do.

White’s attempt is ambitious. In “the liturgical tradition,” she has chosen a rather nebulous subject for her volume, one which is quite difficult to define: “There is no single founder or founding document; there is not even an identifiable point in time at which we can confidently say the tradition was established” (14). Moreover, no one identifies as a member. Instead, White says, they are embedded within other traditions: “they are Cistercians and Benedictines, Dominicans and Franciscans; they are Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans and Quakers” (14-15). Instead, she has defined her tradition thus:

But they all have one thing in common: the liturgical tradition of Christian spirituality is constituted by those who say, clearly and consistently, that the primary source for the nourishment of the Christian spiritual life is to be found in the Church’s public worship. […] ‘We have given the name of “liturgical”,’ a contemporary representative of the tradition says, to that spirituality which … frankly adopts as its own the methods used by the Church when she celebrates the liturgy.’

The tradition White has identified is thus vast and varied. While many Christians these days do not attend church, and thus are likely not part of her tradition, it does not seem like many Christian traditions (that is, Cistercian, Benedictine; Lutheran, Quaker) are excluded.

If in reading that you were worried that theological and attitudinal differences between, for instance, Methodists and Roman Catholics would make such a tradition hard to describe with anything like consistency, White notes that theology is not particularly her concern:

Despite this rather ‘functional’ approach to the spiritual resources of the liturgy, the liturgical tradition is not preoccupied with how the liturgy ‘works’ or ‘what it means’, but rather how it nourishes, sustains, influences, enriches and enlivens the relationship between the Christian believer and God (29).

And this could be a very interesting topic: what precisely are the effects of corporate worship on its participants? White, alas, does not deliver. Despite her early warning, her work is plagued by a madcap patchwork theology, making strange bold claims which most readers, I think, would find hard to swallow; at the same time, she repeatedly asserts that liturgy has particular effects on its participants without giving any reason that anyone should believe her. Here’s a random example:

[The author of the Ancrene Wisse]’s argument is that in the sacrament Christ comes to dwell within the believer, and that Christ and the Devil cannot occupy the same dwelling. […] Or, as the fifth/sixth-century visionary Pseudo-Dionysius says (in a less anthropomorphic view of evil): ‘One cannot participate in contradictory realities at one and the same time, and whoever enters into communion with the One cannot proceed to live a divided life. He must be firmly opposed to whatever may sunder this communion.

Lacking any empirical backing for this claim (or even prima facie plausibility), White would have been far better off explaining “how the liturgy ‘works’ or ‘what it means.’” I did let Bartlett’s A Passionate Balance off the hook for this (he has a whole chapter entitled ‘It Works, Just Don’t Ask Me How’), but I at least had some sense that I could test Bartlett’s claims; most of the book was engaged elsewhere and he was talking about a tradition I could investigate myself. White’s tradition is too slippery for me to look into and she offers absolutely nothing else.

In fact, the whole book is made up of the following sort of argument, repeated over and over in different permutations: a) White describes in brief an aspect of liturgy—its relationship to time, or place, or community; b) she tells us that that liturgy invites us to change our lives in some way; c) she quotes a well-known dead theologian or an unnamed “contemporary representative of the tradition” affirming her claim; d) she moves on. Causal relationships are never clear. In fact, she sometimes muddies the waters by noting that the liturgy alone isn’t enough to effect the change, but rather the person must really live out some virtue (often charity and equality) before the liturgy works. But even if she doesn’t introduce this sort of confusion, I’m left wondering what the relationship between liturgy and the renewed attitude is. Does she think all people who participate in liturgy benefit in this way? That seems implausible. What does she think is happening when people participate in liturgy but don’t see these benefits she claims that liturgy offers? Are they doing it wrong? Only once or twice does she acknowledge this possibility, and she never indicates what causes the disconnect.

I am starting to wonder if White’s claims aren’t really claims at all. Although the sentences White writes are declarative and are therefore on a grammatical level assertions, perhaps it is better to imagine them as a different sort of utterance. At first I was wondering if these were promises more than assertions, but on reflection I do not know if there is much difference between the two. White uses the word “invites” so often, however, that I wonder if that’s what she’s writing: a book-length invitation. If so, I do not find it either an attractive or clear invitation. Without some denominational stakes, I do not know to what she’s inviting us; without some concrete reason to believe her descriptions of liturgy’s riches, I do not find her invitation at all compelling.

There are two ways White might improve her book.

White could be much more personal and rely much more heavily on anecdote. How has the liturgical tradition affected her life? How has it affected the lives she’s known? This sort of writing would necessitate an attention to detail that could only help the book: she would have to look at particular rites and practices in their specificity. The book’s best parts already do this; I especially enjoyed the section on East Orthodox wedding ceremonies.

Alternately, White could have been much more psychological and sociological. She could have investigated what is going on at such a level when people engage in corporate worship. She writes, for instance, that liturgy forms a spirituality which enables the creation of true community “by setting out images which shape a holy imagination, an imagination that can envision a joyful and humane future under God” (74); if she drilled down to explain why and how this is so, I’d be more convinced. If she focused on far fewer benefits of liturgy, but developed them more thoroughly, I’d be more excited about. Her ambition makes her scope impossible, and the whole project suffers.

Those two hypothetical improved versions of the book come very close to Rachel Held Evans’s Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church and Richard Beck’s Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted, respectively. Evans recommends that disengaged, doubting Christians return to church and corporate worship, drawing on her own experiences, and those of people she has met, with a wide variety of Christian traditions (including Anglicans, Quakers, and Benedictines); her careful descriptions of different ways the sacraments are performed, including the East Orthodox wedding ceremony, are both beautiful and compelling. Beck, meanwhile, recommends that disengaged, doubting Christians return to church and corporate worship in order to strengthen their commitment to the Jesus-led social justice that attracted them in the first place. Beck makes a strong case that church, worship, and spiritual warfare are necessary to the development of virtue and the advancement of social justice and other forms of the progressive vision. He looks in particular at how these strengthen our relationships with other people and strengthen our allegiance with Christ.

I recommend that you read Searching for Sunday and Reviving Old Scratch instead.

That said: if you have read or want to read The Spirit of Worship and make a case for it, let me know and you can guest post.

Index for the Widespread Hunger series

Anglican Aesthetics

According to Bartlett, beauty is not a luxury.

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Source: Robin Dawes at flic.kr/p/qyDLR

In the sixth chapter of A Passionate Balance, “The ‘Beauty of Holiness’: Worship as the Heart of Anglicanism,” Alan Bartlett makes this announcement:

In this chapter, we have reached the heart of Anglicanism, which is worship; the purpose of Anglicanism, which is to foster Christlike holiness, individually and socially; and the essence of Anglicanism, which is that the two cannot be separated (170).

To be frank, this seems more like Anglicanism to me than all that talk of orthodoxy, ecclesiology, and reason. “It is rightly said,” Bartlett continues, “that if you want to know what makes an Anglican tick, don’t ask her about her doctrine, worship with her” (ibid). Maybe I am being overly autobiographical in my assessment, but it was liturgy that attracted me to the Anglican Church of Canada in the first place (though moral and practical matters are keeping me here). Elsewhere Bartlett notes that Cranmer’s gift as a liturgist, not as a theologian, means that “Anglicans do not define themselves in relationship to a particular body of theological writing but in relationship to the living use of liturgical texts” (171). There’s a reason I chose an image of the Book of Common Prayer to accompany my post on Anglican orthodoxy.

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Anglican Reason

If you’ve read the blurb associated with Bartlett’s A Passionate Balance: The Anglican Tradition, you might have noticed something that I’ve so far neglected to mention, something that is entirely out of character for me to neglect:

Highlighting their complexity, fallibility, humility but also passion Bartlett suggests that Anglican spirituality and theology are not only resilient enough to survive the present malaise but have the potential to be a most effective ‘post-modern’ expression of the Christian faith (emphasis mine).

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Richard Hooker by Wenceslaus Hollar.

Part of the reason I haven’t yet mentioned it is that explicit discussions of postmodernism are rarer in the book than the blurb suggests. The most detailed and extended discussion, however, comes at the beginning of “‘God-Given Reason’,” the book’s fifth chapter, concerning the Anglican cord’s third strand. Here Bartlett gives a history of reason in the Western tradition, from Elizabethan theologian Richard Hooker’s Thomist Christianity (“Reason is received as a gift from God within a God-shaped universe”) through Locke’s Enlightenment thinking (in which “what was believable was what was reasonable”) and modernist reason’s specialized disciplines, up to the postmodern moment:

But now, in the postmodern West, where society is emerging from the modernist world view, belief in the objectivity of the human mind has been severely criticised and confidence in science has been battered. We can add to this the swamping of human minds by a tidal wave of information and complexity, and also a recovery of the sense of people as whole beings, shaped by body and emotion and psyche as well as ‘pure’ thought. (146-148)

In a bit of characteristic understatement, Bartlett concludes, “In this context, the meaning and status of Reason is much more slippery” (148).

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