What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


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Raindrops on roses

One of my heroes is Alois Podhajsky. Podhajsky was the Austrian colonel who, during WWII, focused his considerable energy and passion on...horses. It's almost enough to make one laugh, or even get angry. There is the world, tumbling down, all too many innocent people dying and being killed everywhere in horrible ways, the great powers battling, good and evil duking it out. And this fellow, drafted by the Anschluss into the de facto status of a soldier on the wrong side, thinks and works entirely toward the end that the Lippizan horses of Austria, the Spanische Hofreitschule of Vienna, and the ancient art of dressage shall not perish from the earth. Is this not Quixotic, not to mention trivial?

But I don't think so. And I love to read Podhajsky's several books on his life and on dressage. Not that I can ride dressage, nor ever will be able to. But there is something inexpressibly restful in contact with a person who has the single eye, the vocation, the vision of a thing valuable in itself, not valued for some utilitarian end, that he has seen and to which he has dedicated his life.

I'm not sure whether this vision should be labeled "liberal" or "conservative." Indeed, one of its chief virtues is that it is apolitical. It is highly unfortunate that an apolitical dedication to the true and the beautiful is now labeled "conservative" and used, especially in the university, as a term of insult and an attempt at manipulation.

This is the first of two posts on things valuable in themselves. This is the feel-good part, the easy part. Here I want to list some such things and to ask readers to do the same. My list has more man-made than natural things. That is partly a matter of chance and partly not. There is something peculiarly satisfying about certain human activities and the accomplishments of human art and endeavour. There is also something uniquely valuable about good things that come to us as gifts without the exercise of any special skill of our own. In Part II, I plan to raise the more disturbing question, "How does a dedication to things valuable in themselves become corrupted, or how can it corrupt the person so dedicated?"

But for now, here are a few, a very few, of my favorite intrinsically valuable things:

the music of Bach
the paintings of Vermeer
"The Winter's Tale"
savoury beef stew with orange peel
the Book of Common Prayer
the Spanish Riding School
a human child
a little girl's hair
a clean house
a tough and interesting logical proof
a cardinal

Readers, go for it. Add yours below, while thinking about the question to be posed in Part II.

Comments (37)

The Book of Common Prayer would be even more beautiful if not doctrinally in error on several points. :~)

Little girls' hair hits home.

By a cardinal I assume you mean a prelate of the Roman church.

A clean house is wonderful. I just don't happen to live in one.

Oh, I'm supposed to come up with my own list instead of having fun with yours.

European lagers
British ales
Irish stout
My grandfather's frozen dacquiris - God rest his soul but I kept the recipe
(Ok, we're done with alcohol)
little girls and Christian ladies
homemade pizza
yardwork (followed by numbers 1,2&3)
attempting a craft or art for which one has no particular talent
a flush golf shot
a fertilized egg
Richard Dawkins
dead terrorists
the English language

I'll try to flesh this out as things occur to me. It's just that I think I perceive those signs of corruption already creeping in.

"By a cardinal I assume you mean a prelate of the Roman church."


My husband's first job out of graduate school was in Pullman, Washington. It's a little town with pretty much zero crime, lots of cows around and _huge_ amounts of wheat. I don't want to knock it. But there were *no cardinals*. My perception is that they are more or less non-existent west of the Mississippi, though I've never looked this up. The most colorful bird common in Pullman was the magpie. It had _two_ colors--black and white. The reason for all of this was obvious once you were there and thought about it: The climate there is very dry, and there were almost no bugs. This is good in a way, but I realized then why God made mosquitoes: to feed colorful song-birds. No humidity, no bugs, you mainly get birds of prey, scavengers, etc.

Out here "back east" (as people in Washington State say) in the Midwest, one of the things that really just gets me is suddenly seeing something red on the grass in front of a house, thinking, "Some kid left his toy outside," and then realizing it's a bird. A gift to the sense of sight. They seem to get brighter on dark or rainy days.

  • A genuine belly laugh shared with a loved one
  • Any ale brewed by Stone
  • Single Malt Scotch
  • Maker's Mark Bourbon
  • Freshly roasted coffee (I roast my own)
  • Komodo Dragon blend from Starbucks (sometimes I don't feel like roasting) & Iced Venti Americanos
  • the smell of a baby's head
  • dogs (I agree with Mr. Luse there and with the bumper sticker that says, "May I always be the person my dog thinks I am.")
  • singing Gloria Patri at the end of our worship service, my daughter beautifully singing the descant
  • Audiobooks
  • Rollercoasters

BCP (1928 or earlier) sans doctrinal errors ranks very high. Prayer of Humble Access especially, and the Ash Wednesday devotion.

I would add the sound of little children playing. And the sound of women playing with them.

I think it was Queen Isabella whose three favorites are these:

A priest saying Mass.
A woman great with child.
A thief hanging at the crossroads.

Why, I can't help wondering, does the thief hanging at the crossroads bother me more than the dead terrorists? Is it maybe because thieves are less of a thing to fear now (when we don't have to travel on ill-lit roads at night and worry about highwaymen) than they were in Queen Isabella's time, so my sense of justice feels satisfied by the death of the terrorist but not the thief?

Richard Dawkins, I gather Bill, is there because he's made in the image of God? Or is it because he's so pompous that he gives you a good laugh?

Re. the Prayer of Humble Access, here's an interesting thing: Cranmer appears to have written it himself. (I just double checked this in Blunt.) The nearest Latin parallel really isn't much like. This is notable because so many even of the greatest collects are translations or modifications of Gregorian or other earlier Latin prayers. It's just historically striking, given that Cranmer's views on the sacrament are very hard to figure out, the best guess being that he was a receptionist.

Cranmer was a secretary? Please explain.

My 1928 BCP has a thing in the back called the Thirty-nine articles. When using the book, I pretend they don't exist. Is Jeff saying pre-1928 those articles weren't there?

With the thief he may have been conjuring an image, that of the one hanging on the cross next to Christ's own, the one who asked to be remembered to the Father. We're all a lot like that thief. (At least that's what I hope he was doing.) That thief is probably of more intrinisic value than a dead terrorist, for that latter is no good to anyone anymore.

You are correct, Dawkins is there because made in God's image in spite of himself. It's good for an ironic chuckle, but not a laugh. He makes Zippy laugh, but not me.

I like Mr. Luker's "smell of a baby's head." I don't like the fact that his Stone ale is not to be found in Florida.

I forgot one that I wish to add to my list:

a woman's hands.

I _knew_ it. The minute I left the computer, I thought, "Bill's gonna ask if Cranmer was a secretary because I said that about receptionism." Actually (more Anglican trivia) Richard Hooker tried to say that receptionism was a sort of minimal position on the sacrament that Anglicans and Zwinglians could agree on. He was wrong. The Zwinglians would say it was too Catholic.

You know what J.H. Newman said about the 39 Articles. He was going to try to charge them like a cannon with as much of a Catholic interpretation as he could. I think most orthodox Anglicans today either do that or, like me, pick and choose, ignoring especially the more Calvinist bits. "Cafeteria Anglican" doesn't carry much of a sting.

I, too, like Mr. Luker's about the smell of a baby's head.

Perhaps the real question about the thief at the crossroads is why it was one of Queen Isabella's favorite things.

One of the best things about y'all's lists (this is a hint about where I think danger lies in loving the things of this world) is that many of them are either a) funny or b) so particular that you can't make an idol or a cult or a movement out of them. None of you is in any danger of thinking there's nothing more to life than dogs.

OK, I have another to add ... at the risk of alienating all you cultured folk:

  • David Gilmour's emotive electric guitar solo on Comfortably Numb

Goodness, no. Not cultured, just ignorant.

On the old Enchiridion Militis (archives unfortunately no longer available), I was the one who put up a post about having fun with the 1970's Christian rock-and-country music of a group called the Imperials. I think it caused shock. At least your well-loved guitar music is (I'm sure) better-known.

At least your well-loved guitar music is (I'm sure) better-known.

Oh yeah? I've never heard of it. As regards the current rock scene, I'm comfortably numb. But I would be willing to nominate Jimmy Page's solo in "Dazed and Confused". I would also mention (to greater praise than the previous item) John Michael Talbot's musical rendition of the Magnificat.

Perhaps the real question about the thief at the crossroads is why it was one of Queen Isabella's favorite things.

Because it reminded her of what I described. Note that it is not said that the thief is dead, or hanging by his neck. (I'm trying.)

you can't make an idol or a cult or a movement out of them

Isn't the idol of pornography a perversion of that beauty Culbreath sees in "a woman great with child?" Women are the finest things we've mentioned so far, and are therefore the occasion of greatest danger for those who'd like to think that "there's nothing more to life than" sex.

I thought, "Bill's gonna ask if Cranmer was a secretary

You're beginning to get the hang of me. I don't like being predictable. Time to find another line of work.

If you like dressage, you should get out to see a Portuguese bullfight. It is like the Spanish riding school, but in front of an angry wild bull. Then you get the forcados (eight guys who wrestle a bull head on). That, with cold beer and a barbecued Portuguese pork sandwich, on a warm California night, is about as good as it gets on Earth outside of the Mass.

As for my list, well, it would start like this:

1. The bullfight (Spanish and Portuguese)
2. Portuguese fado singing
3. The paintings of Fra Angelico (and Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn and Goya and...)
4. Domenico Scarlatti's music played on the harpsichord or accordion
5. A good cigar
6. A well made espresso
7. Trippa alla fiorentina
8. Good red wine
9. A warm evening with George Jones music playing and cold beer (you can take the boy out of the Central Valley, but you can't take the Central Valley out of the boy)
10. Reading Don Quixote and periodically jumping up and imitating the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance (it does tend to scare the children, though)
11. Good cheese
12. Good bread
13. A ripe dry-farmed tomato
14. Stone fruit
15. Avocado gelato
16. Sailing on a sunny day in the San Francisco Bay
17. Roasting pork
18. The giggling of little girls
19. Drinking Scotch and listening to French viola da gamba music on a rainy night
20. Playing the harpsichord at night

Hand-flying around pylons of building cumulus clouds at 10,000 feet while listening to Wagner.

In no particular order;
1] Samuel Johnson
2] Michel de Montaigne
3] the smell and feel of a new book
4] my cats luxuriating in safety, comfort, and full bellies, including my adorable female who waits for me on the couch while I type my nonsense on the computer.
5] of course Bach, especially his concertos for two & three pianos.
6] the remarkable deTocqueville
7] birds singing, squirrels feeding on the peanuts provided in my backyard.
8] reflection, wrestling with an an idea or problem
9] dressage? Ann Gribbins riding majestically on a magnificent horse, every step perfect, measured, disciplined, in an open field, kettle drums nearby, a stunning Bach kur to match the performance.
10] The Raft of the Medusa, gaping at it in the Louvre, wondering.
11] Childish innocence

Today's favorites:

(1) The Iliad, Book IX:

"Fate is the same for the man who holds back, the same if he fights hard.
We are all held in a single honour, the brave with the weaklings.
A man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much.
Nothing is won for me, now that my heart has gone through its afflictions
in forever setting my life on the hazard of battle.
For as to her unwinged young ones the mother bird brings back
morsels, wherever she can find them, but as for herself it is suffering,
such was I, as I lay through all the many nights unsleeping,
such as I wore through the bloody days of the fighting,
striving with warriors for the sake of these men's women..."

(2) Coole Park and Ballylee 1931:

"...all is changed, that high horse riderless,
Though mounted in that saddle Homer rode
Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood."

(3) Vers la flamme

OK, one more, this one a distant memory, but meaningful nonetheless:

  • My child's wonder and curious caress of day or two-old stubble on my face.


Bach never wrote a concerto for one piano, let alone two or three of the infernal instruments.

Harpsichord, man! Haprsichord!

Bach belongs on the piano as much as the piano belongs in the liturgy.

Erik, picky, picky. The CD I have is performed on pianos so you will deign to forgive me. Much, if not all of Bach's keyboard music has been recorded for piano, even the work of purist Glenn Gould.

The piano was invented around 1709 so it's at least possible that Bach played one at some time.

The recording I have and love is titled "Concertos for Two Pianos, Concertos for Three Pianos", performed by Robert,Gaby, & Jean Casadesus & others.
Recorded on Sony's Essential Classics label.
It would seem that both musicians and Sony are guilty of sharing either the apostasy or ignorance I'm cursed with. Given the title and instrument chosen you will forgive whichever it is.

You are not a pedant are you?

I think Zippy's may just about take the cake, as it were. Makes ya wish you could fly.

I gather Erik owns and plays a harpsichord himself? Wish I could hear it.

Guys, thanks!

Part II will be coming up soon.

P.S. But don't take that to mean "stop in the meanwhile."

Man, you guys are awesome. I love Johnt's "the smell and feel of a new book." My wife has caught me sniffing new books, and cast me a withering look of bafflement. That look, too, is on my list.

(1) Sunset on the Rocky Mountains.
(2) The Southern spring.
(3) A 20-foot birdie putt that curls in the backdoor.
(4) A little girl trying to sing Johnny Cash.
(5) Burke: "The temper and character which prevail in our Colonies are, I am afraid, unalterable by any human art. We can not, I fear, falsify the pedigree of this fierce people, and persuade them that they are not sprung from a nation in whose veins the blood of freedom circulates. The language in which they would hear you tell them this tale would detect the imposition. Your speech would betray you. An Englishman is the unfittest person on earth to argue another Englishman into slavery."
(6) The twin-guitar interlude in the Allman Brothers' song "Blue Sky."
(7) Shelby Foote's Civil War.
(8) Theological questions from young children.

1 Tolkein's Lament for Theoden (Where is the horse and the rider?)
2 G.K. Chesterton
3 Many works written by G.K. Chesterton
4 Maxine Sullivan's recording of Blue Skies
5 Calligraphy
6 Peek-a-Boo

Danby - yes, your # 1 is probably the finest of Tolkien's pastiches of old/middle English verse:

Where now the horse and rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

Just to be picky, though, this is *not* a lament for Theoden. He's very much alive in Chapter 6 of *The Two Towers*, where these verses appear. In fact, in the movie version, he gets to say some of these lines - very effectively and appropriately, I thought. One of the movie's better moments.

Actually, I screwed up even worse. It is the Lament for Eorl the Young. I also think it's one of the best moments in the film. The warrior chieftain facing not only his own doom, but the ruin of his people and the passing of the age. Being who he is, he turns to the poetry of his ancestors to understand the loss.

The lament for Theoden occurs much later in the book, at the battle of Pellenor Fields.

These are all really good.

sunset on the Rocky Mountains Ain't it the truth. I had the good fortune of seeing it once.

Lydia, you might be interested in knowing there's a married cardinal couple who show up outside my kitchen window once a day. There's also often a bluejay bouncing around in the grass, about which the cards seem none to pleased. I think the egg-snatcher's shadowing them, trying to find the nest. The male is brilliant, of course, but a close look at the female reveals a complexity of color and mood suitable to her sex. But I think it's touching the way they spend so much time together. I'm pretty sure they homeschool.


Fist, Bach did indeed have an opportunity to play one of those contraptions, and he disliked it.

Second, Glen Gould was a purist, but not a Bach purist. In fact, I exempt him from my dislike of Bach on piano, because he did such eccentric things with it that it really becomes Gould's Bach more than Gould playing Bach.

Third, pedant? Me? Yes.

Fourth, (to Paul), my Amalia (almost six) loves to sing Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. You have to hear a little girl singing "Mama Tried". It beats everything.

Fifth, I am a harpsichordist, but my recent thing is the organ, because we just got one. No, it is not a pipe organ, and it is more suited for Sun Ra space music, but to play Bach with the space sound is otherworldly. With some birdcalls it almost sounds like Martin Denny plays Bach.

Sixth, For sure joy, check out Domenico Scarlatti played on accordion. Absolutely breathtakingly good (on the Winter and Winter label, although I cannot remember the artist, and, since my CDs have yet to be unpacked from moving, I cannot easily look it up for you).

I like your home schooling cardinals, Bill. :-) Dad cardinals work very hard, or at least they look like it--always flying somewhere looking very busy. The moms must have some way of motivating them. And all that beautiful singing is, I'm told, territory-protection calls. My husband has a talent for imitating them, and it really sounds like he can get them to answer him. I think probably the male cardinals get themselves all worked up, hurling insults at some other guy who wants to invade their territory, until suddenly they realize that this "cardinal" they're talking to doesn't really speak the language.

Paul, the Burke quote is excellent. Where is that fierce people now, I wonder?

They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow.

Before closing, a quote from Sam Johnson which I wish I could tattoo somewhere on my person;
"Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses,whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me and from my friends , be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue.

That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona".

For me, as beautiful as anything I've read in the English language.

The longing feeling I get when surrounded by endless mountaintops. The Rockies, Whites, Blue Ridge.

My childrens' frequent breaking into song.

My one-year old attempting to engage in adult conversation.

Walking wilderness trails in the middle of major wind storms. Nor'easters in New England.

The silence of nature.

My wife's smile that only I know.

Warm summer nights.

Cool, breezy autumn days.

The other day I was tying tomato plants when a Baltimore Oriole visited a few feet away. We kept each other company for a good 5 minutes.

Some one up above already mentioned the guitar interlude of the Allman Brother's "Blue Sky."


Following others, I would begin with

* The laughter of children

And after that, in no particular order and wildly incomplete:

* Sharing a good laugh with my better half

This is medicine for the soul.

* Hamburgers, medium-rare, topped with melted Swiss cheese

And if the crunchy-cons don't like it, they can go eat organically grown lettuce on a whole-grain baguette with low-fat cottage cheese on the side.

* A beautiful game of chess

I agree with Tarrasch: Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy.

* Great old books

Speaking of which, I was just reading some of the sermons of Jacques Saurin from the early 18th century and came across this line, from his sermon entitled "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ":

Was ever joy more rational?

Can you imagine any living preacher saying this from the pulpit today? They just don't make 'em like they used to. And it's even better in context.

* Men who write like men

I think I first became aware of this when reading C. S. Lewis's despairing description of some of his contemporaries, whom he compared unfavorably to writers of a previous generation like Bosanquet. For some reason, many of my favorites seem to have flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. Current favorites in this category include Charles Leslie, Robert Jenkin, Joseph Butler, John Leland, Nathaniel Lardner, Charles Bonnet, William Adams, Thomas Chalmers, Thomas Cooper (thanks to Timothy Larsen's brilliant book Crisis of Doubt for bringing attention to him!) ...

* Great poetry

Currently on the reading list: Robert Browning's "A Death in the Desert":

I say, the acknowledgment of God in Christ
Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee
All questions in the earth and out of it, ...

1. Wine
2. The smell of freshly made bread
3. Oak Park in Minot, North Dakota in October
4. The month of October itself
5. Gentle spring rains
6. Cemetaries
7. Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
8. Occasional melancholy
9. Homemade pizza
10. Whippoorwills
11. Flemish landscape painting of the 16th & 17th centuries
12. Edward Hopper
13. Saint-Saens Sonata No.1 for violin & piano
14. The squirrels & blue jays waking me in the morning for their peanuts
15. Dogs & cats (especially mine)
16. Uncle Vanya
17. Church Bells
18. Solitude

A pleasant thread. I'll add what comes to mind, too.

- Transportation, any kind at all, in style and with quality. (Can't ever forget driving from Birmingham to Bologna in a 1968 torquoise split-window VW bus.)

- Posting img src= jpg on threads. Why are the gods against me?

- Thoughts discovered through translation. Euripedes Bacchae 881

- Prose that comes to life when read aloud.

- Reading Greek aloud with a Swedish accent.

- Manual labor shared in the company of great hearts.

And music, of course.

- Improptu singing outside

- The unique sound of a Dutch male chorus.

- The voice of Jesse Norman (soporific!).

- Mendelssohn's Motets (esp. Herreweghe's Collegium Vocale.

- The choral voices in Karl Richter's rendition of Bach's Christ lag in Todesbanden, especially when they sing "Davon kam der Tod so bald, und nahm über uns Gewalt" and the organ notes following.

- The aposiopeses after the blitz und donner in Bach's St. John's Passion.

- The "fecit potentiam" from Bach's Magnificat (Collegium Vocale)

- The "Erbarme Dich" from Bach's St. Matthews Passion played as background to the opening and closing of Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice.

I am not smart enough to really comment on this site; I can barely read it, for heaven's sake! But in a SummaMama world:

1. Kids squealing and jumping into a swimming pool. Accompanied by, "Aunt Terry! Watch me, watch me!"

2. My niece leaning over and putting her head on my shoulder at the movies.

3. Sitting on the couch, discussing the world and its quirks with my precious PapaC. Followed by him washing the dishes for me. No small act of love, that.

4. The cadence of Eudora Welty's writing. It reads like the folks I know speak. That's genius.

5. My "Rat Pack" CDs. I don't drink much or smoke at all, but listening to Sinatra, Martin, Davis et al, make me want to sit in a smoky club and have a martini.

6. Sitting with God during my weekly hour of Eucharistic Adoration. The still point of a wildly turning week.

7. My dogs. All of them. Every one I've ever had.

Oh, and the Anglican Use liturgy.

Hey. It's Terry. Wish you'd come by more often. You know I'm with you on all that, especially the dogs.

Oh, and stop pretending you can hardly read this place. I know brains when I see them. Besides, the only really smart person here is Lydia. And maybe Zippy.


I wish Zippy _were_ here. Zippy? You off flying in your plane somewhere?

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