Monthly Archives: March 2007

From The Past

Margaret and I have increasing numbers of younger friends with small children. Because we care about good parenting, we want to share with our friends some of the benefit of our experience (this trick works especially well on people who actually know our children). In order to complete the prank, though, we need the help of someone who can lay his or her hands on copies of infant books — the kind that kids can’t themselves read, but they love hearing read to them over and over again. And again. “Again, Mommy! Read me, Daddy!”
So we’d be profoundly thankful to someone who can fix us up with that modern classic, Danny Duck. I cite from memory (Nate will correct me if I make a mistake):

Danny Duck loves the water
He belongs to the farmer’s daughter
On the pond he makes his home
But the farmyard’s where he likes to roam
All the animals hear him quack
As he pecks the corn out of the sack
The young farm dog who loves to play
Often chases him away
But out here in the summer sun
All the animals enjoy the fun!

The joy of having that seared in my memory I must share with my colleagues. Please tip me off if you know where I can get a copy or eight.
[29 November 2016 — Correspondent Tracey wants a copy too. She reminds me that the correct thrid lines is ‘On the pond he makes his home’, not (as I had it before I corrected it) ‘In the barn he makes his home’. Thanks, Tracey!]

Long Day in Durham

Margaret, Pip and I kept busy today, wandering around the Duke campus and Margaret’s neighborhood in Durham. I have about enough energy to blog some highlights, accompanied by appropriate photos.

First, after we woke up and had a breakfast, we went to the Nasher Museum at Duke. It’s new even to Margaret; it was under construction the last time Pippa and I were here. Only one gallery was open, but even that was a treat. In the permanent collection I found a painting of The Feast of Herod, which I photographed for my New Testament II class (which spent a good class session probing that pericope in Mark).

Feast of Herod

Toward the center of the room that includes the painting, the museum displays a statue of St. Matthew that delights me. I’m not quite sure why; I suspect that this one strikes me for its lack of axegrinding. This Matthew doesn’t seem to me to typify anything.:

St Matthew

After the Nasher, we wandered in to the Bryan Center for lunch. I browsed the Gothic Bookstore, where I noted with disappointment that they weren’t displaying any of Mark Goodacre’s books. I mean, he’s only been working there a year and a half! Maybe they all sold out.

After the Bryan Center, we wandered back to East Campus via the Gardens, where Pippa perked up for the duck pond. We were pleased to see a Hooded Merganser, a Muscovy Duck, and a couple more whose names I’ve forgotten (and I’m too sleepy to look them up at the moment).

Uncertain Duck

Then a lovely dinner with Sarah and Clay and their impressively wonderful son Luke, home to Margaret’s apartment for a movie, and so to bed. It’ll be hard to leave tomorrow, even granted the vexingly Chicago-ic weather of the past few days.

Baudrillard Bigger Than Matrix

Encountered via links that began from Scott McLemee’s appreciation of Jean Baudrillard at Inside Higher Education: various other helpful online sources for learning more about an intellectual who had a lot more going on than just urging John Anderson to take the red pill.

Douglas Kellner’s overview in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP seems not to have a separate entry for Bataille, interesting. . .)

Pertinent recent entries from CTheory.

And the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies..

In A Word

My column in the Christian Century is out in print (I guess they run their website on a week’s delay). Since others have been disappointed that I voice support for the Archbishop of Canterbury, I’ve been fretting over whether my explicit asseveration that my theology has not changed, and that I’m not backing away from my support for the full inclusion of LGBT Anglicans in our sacramental ministry, contradicts my inclination to think that Rowan Williams has more on his mind than just a fancy mitre.

My best shot at a short version of my rationale is this: Anyone can buy a Book of Common Prayer, call him- or herself a priest or a bishop, and claim to share in the Anglican tradition. The claim would be true enough, in some ways (depending on what they did with the BCP and the title) — but for such a claim to carry the kind of public integrity that communicates the fullness of sacral veracity, such a person would need to be in explicit, demonstrable communion with the See of Canterbury.

Now, in real life, there’s a great distance between the extremes of transparent, total collegial communion and utter renunciation. People adhere to various between-points for various reasons (or sentiments), with various degrees of coherence. But exactly because I believe in the soundness of incorporating women and men into the sacramental life of the Anglican Communion, I am reluctant to place “ordination” or “blessing” above the catholic communion of which I speak. Or, in a word, I don’t want for my sisters and brothers a downsized, localized simulation of putative claims to the episcopate or marriage; I support their active participation in a communion that embraces the whole world.
Continue reading In A Word

Slacktivist on Charity

No, not “give to those who ask from you” — though he’s in favor of that, too — but the refusal to ascribe one’s opponents’ disagreements to motives less worthy than one’s own. Fred is talking about disagreements over the Iran Conquest, but you could say the same about the Anglican Impasse (as the Century subtitles my column there). Moreover, his essay on “I”-statements helpfully brings to the foreground the irrefutability of such discourse, hence its fundamental divorce from arguments about reality.

If The Lagoon Was Whisky

Pippa and I have been watching with fascinated delight the antics of a solitary diving duck among the innumerable dabbling mallards on Northwestern University’s campus lagoon. We haven’t agreed, however, on the precise identification of our unknown subject.

Diving Duck

The European Red-Crested Pochard bears a certain resemblance to our suspect, but since ours lacks the red bill, and since Evanston is not in Europe, we’re disposed to rule that one out. It could be a Redhead, though ours lacks the distinct black chest-grey torso coloration.Its golden eye might make you think it was a Goldeneye, but Goldeneyes seem to bear the characteristic white patch on their upper neck — but the immature Goldeneye, or perhaps a female, could resemble the perpetrator we’ve apprehended.

Diving Duck

Feedback from keener-eyed, more expert birders would be welcome.

Duck Diving

Continue reading If The Lagoon Was Whisky

Mail Clog

My Apple Mail application no longer searches its database for strings I type into the search window. Like a digital Wally, it simply disregard the search strings I enter, or returns a desultory two or three recent messages. I don’t have time, at the moment, to search Apple’s site for answers, but if you’re waiting for email from me — this probably isn’t why I haven’t answered, but it’s a good enough excuse for today.

[Later: Kevin pointed to this nifty command-line trick for speeding Mail up; I had seen it and forgotten about it when the report flashed into view ten days ago. Unfortunately for me, my problem is not that the search is too slow, but that it refuses to search thoroughly altogether. If I search all mailboxes for a relatively simple string — say, “the” — it will find many of the most recent messages, but only sporadic instances of the search term as the pool gets older and older. If I’m looking for a term that appears only in old messages, it’s likely not to show up at all.]


I was going to blog about David Weinberger’s newsletter reflections on “meaning,” but today;s beginning to look a little crowded, and elsewhere I wrote a long response to someone who was asking about The Law of Attraction and The Secret. I’m reposting it here (slightly edited) in public, with the proviso that this response is directed toward a group of people some of whom expressed vigorous admiration and some vehement rejection of the phenomenon — and I’m trying to stake out a position that’s pastorally gentle while remaining critical of the bogus side. My less restrained friends Chris and the Tutor would probably couch their assessment with more scathing prose, and I yield to them on composing such.

At the outset, I’ll stipulate that one’s attitude makes a big difference in one’s life — and not exclusively “positive attitude = better.” In the aggregate, people tend to respond more warmly to people with positive attitudes; that amplifies certain possibilities and certain opportunities an increment, and of course if you have a positive attitude, that increment is going to seem bigger. There’s a circularity to that, but it’s not simply chasing your tail.

Depressed people, though, are likely to see the world as it is more honestly. Suffering and unfairness that positive attitude-holders may shut out from their awareness, unwilling to weigh down their consciousness with misfortune, stand out and claim the attention of someone affected by depression. It’s not the world’s cheeriest upside, but it’s true, and I know people who would rather stick with their depression and see misery in sharp focus, than to accept therapeutic intervention that would make them “cheerier” at the cost of what they take to be their vivid realism.

With regard to the specific premises advanced in this movie and book: I have not read the book, nor did I watch more than the first few minutes of the Google video. There may be mind-blowing pearls of hidden wisdom that I did not encounter in my inadequate sample size.

That being said, it looks to me as though the author and filmmaker are trading on an ambiguity in the word “secret.” If I say, “The secret to getting to Carnegie Hall is practice,” everyone knows (a) that it’s not a secret (b) that the force of the word “secret” is more like “fulcrum” or “method” or “answer.” In one sense, then, I take it that the claims I hear in this short film segment are uncontroversial, if hyperbolically overstated: a positive attitude is likely to impress others positively and amplify their esteem for you, etc. How much of a difference this makes, who knows? It’s not a revolutionary difference in the aggregate, but particular people may find extreme success this way, and their endorsement tends to drown out many other people’s disillusionment. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t helpful for person A; it just means that we shouldn’t be surprised if person L is more like people B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, and K for whom this approach didn’t work.

The other aspect of “The Secret” is more problematic. For ages and ages and ages — perhaps it’s innate, I decline to speculate about that — people have wanted to know the secret. The popularity of ⟨/gag⟩ The da Vinci Code and the persistence of esoteric traditions provides sufficient testimony that many people are predisposed to think that there’s some sort of Hidden Answer that is open to The Right People, but that mere ordinary humans don’t have access to. The opening sequence of the movie trades on this use of the word “secret,” but think for a moment: if Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, and Emerson are the sources for this “secret,” just how “hidden” can it be? People have been reading Plato for, what, 2300 years? Do you have to go to your neighborhood metaphysical bookstore to get a copy of Macbeth? And among the few people who actually read Newton instead of learning his formulae, do we have reason to suppose that they discover a concealed message about prosperity and well-being? As for Ralph Waldo Emerson — to whom I’m distantly related — he blends a reasonable emphasis on human capacities and self-discovery (which I dissent from, but recognize as intellectually reputable) with a self-congratulatory neo-Gnosticism to which I strongly object.

But, it makes some people feel good to think that they’re in on the Sooper Sekrit (best-selling, unsubstantiated by experimental verification) answer to the universe — far more than actually benefit from the sound application of positive thinking (itself a limited, not universal, good thing). On the whole, this is not my cup of tea, even though I tend markedly to “think positively” more than most people. For me, that means mostly just thinking the best of people, so as to give them room to be better than they might be if I approach them with suspicion; trying to emphasize my own strengths and my capacities to deal with stress, frustration, and misfortune, rather than wallowing in the self-pity and complaining to which I might otherwise be inclined (and I’m far from perfect on that score); and concentrating my energies and attention where there’s greatest likelihood of some positive response.

Oooops, I guess it’s not secret any more. Well, if I disappear from the face of the earth, you’ll know that the vast international conspiracy to suppress the truth has gotten to me. Of course, then they’ll probably delete this post, too, just as they so successfully suppressed The da Vinci Code and the Law of Attraction book and movie. If “lack of public attention” is one’s criterion for “secret wisdom,” then my books are exponentially more reliable than either TdVC or Law of Attraction.
Continue reading 42


Yesterday was the last day of Epiphany Term classes (I’m sticking with the archaic ecclesiastical terminology, since next year we’ll probably just call them “Fall Semester” and “Spring Semester” like every other educational institution). This week I finished a book review, an article, and a sermon; I have one book review to go, and I’ll be caught up to my usual degree of behindness. I have two stacks of papers to grade.

But Pippa has decided it’s time to begin spring cleaning, and she’s right. We spent a couple of hours this morning in the “study” clearing out bags worth of debris. We aim to clear out that room, and then move on to our next victim. The whole place has to be whipped into shape before we leave for Princeton in the summer. In the meantime,though, if you want to see some embarrassing childhood pictures of Nate, Si, and Pippa — or embarrassing early-adulthood pictures of Margaret and me — I know right where to find them.