Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Check out St. Paul's Newsletter

It's online and may be accessed here.

The lead article is "Set Sorrow Aside," and there's also an old reprint from Gottesdienst if you scroll down.

For that matter, you might just check out the St. Paul's website first, through which the newsletter can also be accessed. So, go ahead, click here instead.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Want of Humility, part II

It’s even hard to be humble when you’re not perfect in every way. It's always hard to be humble.

I can think of at least two kinds of humility, both worthy ones. There is the kind I expect most people think about when assessing the genteel qualities of certain people they know or have met, characterized by attention to courtesy, civility, and consideration.

And then there is knowing yourself, and, upon becoming mildly terrified at the glimpses of your own wretched true nature you see in yourself, as you remember your place before God.

I have a vague recollection of a fascinating argument Rush Limbaugh had with a caller some twenty years ago, back then the nation was first getting accustomed to his style. I think the caller may have been a minister. Offended at Rush’s glib characterization of himself as having “talent on loan from God,” the caller sought to bring him to the realization that this was boastful and self-serving.

It was a long time ago, so I only remember that Rush fended him off quite well, though I don’t remember what he said. I do think, however, that one must understand that it’s merely part of Rush’s shtick, and that no one really has the right to be judgmental here. Besides, there’s scarcely something I can abide less than a feigned kind of humility, such as would be the inverse of Rush Limbaugh. I’ll gladly take Rush over that.

I suppose one could call me judgmental for that point of view, so to qualify, I’ m not going to sit here and point out particular instances of feigned humility; I’d even be willing to let Rush’s caller off with a dismissive “he doesn’t get what Rush is doing.”
But then again, if I do too much of that sort of thing, I suppose it could be seen as a feigned humility in me. So rather, what I’d offer as an alternative to the entire arena of what is or is not feigned humility are the two kinds of genuine humility I believe to be worthy of gaining.

The first kind, simply put, is common courtesy and good manners. We could stand more of it in the public square, even when one is put off by the remarks of one’s adversary. William F. Buckley, in my recollection, was a master of this kind of thing. Relentless in his addressing of issues, but always the gentleman. That in itself is a good thing.

Is Miss Manners still writing her column? I don’t think so. I remember one marvelous piece in which she, in the fine tradition of Emily Post before her, laid out the rules of verbal warfare. If someone says something that sounds offensive, you may reply with a simple “I beg your pardon?”, thus admitting to the real possibility that you simply misunderstood him, or, if you didn’t, providing him an easy way to back down from his offense. The next tier of conflict, if a more intense form of defense is required, is to say, “Pardon me.” And the last, the nuclear option, would be to declare, “How dare you!” But never, she wrote, is anything more than this permissible.

But this is not an unabashed advocacy of Miss Manners; I’m merely suggesting that common courtesy is a desired trait to be sought, and one for which I can easily chide myself for not having enough of.

The second kind of humility is more important, and has to do with one’s Christianity. Here we are speaking of a penitential spirit. This kind of humility is elusive, even among us who desire to live by it. An occasional divine intervention of some sort of ‘humbling’ experience is requisite for the learning, or maintenance, or recovery, of the kind of humility that gives way to faith.

This latter kind of humility is not between me and my neighbor, but between me and God, and is therefore intensely personal. So personal, in fact, that it causes most people to forgo confessing their sins to their pastors. Too bad, because the exercise of confession is for the engendering of just such a thing. To retort that it’s so personal that it’s not the pastor’s business is to misunderstand the role of the pastor as one who stands in for God and speaks for Him.

Both types of humility are in short supply, and have been more or less been perennially so, it seems to me. While pleading guilty to being a contributing factor in that phenomenon, at least I can count myself among those who still say that they are needful.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Heard about that cruise ship on which Mitt Romney was ‘schmoozing’ Republican insiders last week? CNN said so, and Jay Leno even cracked a joke about it in his monologue.

Well, yours truly was there, at the invitation and for the benefit of my mother. (Why did the little old lady cross the street? Because she could, with a little help.) I must admit to feeling a bit sheepish, though, when some of the people we met commented on what a nice son I was to do this for my mother. Right: so very nice of me to go along, on her nickel, and spend a week on a cruise ship with her and help her get around. Mm-hmm, it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

Seriously, thanks, Mom, it was a truly memorable week.

Anyhow, one of the things I noticed was how thoughtful and considerate everyone was toward everyone else. These were mostly people who had never met one another, people from various walks and religions: Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jews, bloggers, doctors, photographers, comedians, lawyers, farmers, writers, politicians, conservatives, and liberals. OK, I was kidding about the liberals. This was, after all, a National Review cruise. Although I didn’t see or meet any liberals in our group of some 700 strong, for all I know, there may well have been some hiding in the shadows.

I do think if there had been any liberals who had spoken up and voiced their opinions in conversation—you know, while schmoozing—they would have been engaged in honest, intelligent, and courteous discussion and debate. That’s provided, of course, they did so without the shrill voices and outlandish conduct we have too often seen from the loons on the outskirts of the left. I rather doubt that these folks would be willing to engage, say, the naked bicyclists protesting something or other in Portland, Oregon this week. Or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions.

But these people were quite interested in intelligent, informed, and reasonable conversation; and there was lots of courtesy toward people like me who are not quite as politically informed.

Many times during the week my mother and I had opportunity to meet personally with some pretty well-known people, whether over drinks or dinner or even at random places. We talked with the likes of Fred Thompson (yes, the Fred Thompson), John O’Sullivan (Margaret Thatcher’s speechwriter), Jack Fowler (the publisher of NR), and Scott Johnson (author of How Arafat Got Away with Murder), to name just a few, and I found these people to be as gracious and down-to-earth as your next-door neighbor. This was not like the meeting of Oz the Great and Powerful with Dorothy the Meek and Small, and precisely because it wasn’t, I was duly impressed. No stuffiness, and absolutely none of haughty demeanor we sometimes associate with famous people.

No wonder, incidentally, there was tremendous applause every time Sarah Palin’s name was mentioned. She's down-to-earth too, just like them, and just like our next-door neighbors. There is something to be said about that kind of unassuming modesty.

Three cheers for this large gang of conservatives big and small, and their decent humanity.