Aside

Tractarians need not think metrical psalms are the sole preserve of uncatholic or even of Evangelical circles. John Keble himself was the versifer of a metrical psalter, its accuracy checked by Edward Pusey. I myself favour psalms chanted before the first lesson in Morning and Evening Prayer, but metrical psalmody is an excellent way to take the spirituality of the Psalter into the rest of daily life, outside the concentrated stillness and proclamation of the Daily Office. Metrical psalmody, sung in place of lewd drink-songs and frivolous ditties, is how the word of God will inhabit the hearts of the English-speaking peoples.

What Are We, America?

As the White racial group in the United States loses its majority and becomes one among several, many pundits have proclaimed the end of White America and the emergence of a multiracial, multicultural America. Yet the entrance of a great number of persons of colour does not speak to the question of what place ‘White’ culture should have in these United States. If people are free to choose their nationality, they are also free to choose whether, or to what extent and in what manner, they will assimilate to the dominant culture. Eugene Yi says,

But as this post-’65 generation ages and assimilates, there is a different aspect of whiteness that comes to mind: whiteness as lacking a culture. As being ‘merely’ American. The fear is that something essential is being lost, a sense of self and identity that goes beyond advice on Korean restaurants and maybe a word or two in the native language. The single largest ethnic group in America is from Germany. There once were literally hundreds of German-language newspapers circulating in the U.S. Now, there are barely any, and few really even think of Germans as anything but part of the white spectrum.

Well, one thing that should change is the capitalization of Whiteness. Whiteness, capitalized, is not the same as whiteness, lowercase. The latter is a physical colour, the former a cultural marker. A White American with maybe a bit of Cherokee blood may be rather tan in the summer, far from white, and still be White.

Am I White? Maybe. My English is certainly enough. My cultural preferences may not be: I eat the cartilage from chicken drumsticks; I have no trouble kowtowing to the right people; I often like to speak obliquely. With my parents, I speak Chinese at home. So I don’t know if I should be considered to have assimilated to Whiteness.

In any case, I have no problem whatsoever with general American culture being identified with a certain kind of thing called White. It is a fact that political suffrage and the tradition of this nation have been held in the hands of those whom we anachronistically call White. Specifically, these United States are English in origin, with rather English laws and liberties, but have taken in Scots, Huguenots, Dutchmen, Germans, and more. It is no problem to me that Carolina Huguenots became Episcopalians and sometimes Presbyterians. In many ways, they have assimilated to Anglo-Saxon culture, and this is normal. Likewise, especially with two world wars, the Germans in these States – and German descent is statistically more frequent here than English – have chosen to identify more strongly with America, and so they have mostly taken to English rather than German even at home.

Darrin Moore thinks, indeed, that America is united by English. By this, I trust, he means not that everyone who speaks little or no English is not American (or how else would an infant be American?), nor that languages other than English are un-American, but rather that one cannot understand these United States apart from the English language. Indeed, the United States are not a mere idea but a living reality, and it is not by simply pledging loyalty to an abstraction but by partaking of its cultural bonds that we participate in what we call America. For our republic qua republic speaks English, and the political customs of these States as a whole are English. To an extent, insofar as English culture is rooted in Western European Christendom, we are also rooted in Europe and cannot be understood apart from its cultural heritage; but our fundamentally English origins are a fact that no one can negate without tearing at the fabric of what we are. Other cultures there are, but we are not ourselves without this foundation.

There are, of course, old cultures here, the cultures of peoples who lived here before the United States existed. Their languages belong here. Yet Native Americans participate in American life not by speaking Navajo or Cherokee or Choctaw (important as these languages are to their communities) but by speaking English. Though the edges may not be rigidly defined, it is essential that the English language, and the history it conveys, be at the centre of the United States.

And some states, given their heritage from before they even joined the Union, have reason to maintain second-tier official languages. In Louisiana, whose very civil law is based largely on French and Spanish law, this language might be French; in Hawai‘i, once an independent kingdom, and even now retaining Hawai‘ian terms in its property law, this language is clearly Hawai‘ian. For these states, it is more than reasonable to have more than one official language; yet English is indispensable.

But we need not only a common language but a common culture to bind us. In Commonwealth realms, the peoples are united by (among other things) devotion to the Queen, their reigning sovereign; in the United States, we have no such cultural and political institution. Instead, with no personal loyalty, we are bound all the more to a cultural loyalty, a loyalty to the organic state before its bureaucratic institutions. Our fœderal structure also entails patriotic loyalties to both our respective states and the United States. Our states and our local cultures may be as different as England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, but in common we Americans must hold to a uniting force as strong as that by which a British or Canadian man declares himself a loyal subject of the Queen. The politicians and bureaucrats may wish this force to be their own coercive arm, but at the end of the day this cannot be so, for such a state is not a republic. It may be WASPish of me to say this, but we need Anglo-Saxon culture.

This is not to say that other cultures have no place. Native American nations within the United States have treaties with the fœderal government, and no doubt the treaties make sense to them in their own way, within their 0wn traditions. But the way in which the treaties make sense to the United States as a whole is in the American tradition of common law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States. This is how other cultures on American soil are to fit with the common American culture: they should remain and enrich American culture, and not simply be washed away as if they were impurities, but they should do this as secondary to the privileged place of the common culture.

To most people, the privileging of the common culture comes intuitively as common sense. Besides submitting to a common law, most Americans, wherever we come from, wear Western clothes. Wearing a tie to a job interview, or at a big event, is simply sensible. Despite my fondness for traditional Han Chinese clothing, I would think men’s hanfu (漢服) outlandish to wear in most contexts that were not specifically Chinese. For women this tendency seems weaker: in the States it is not hard to find an Indian woman wearing a sari or a Chinese woman wearing a cheongsam. The asymmetry between the sexes is perhaps natural, since it has fallen largely to men to tend to public affairs of the state, and women have often not had the same duties. Nevertheless, it is generally true that Americans will generally conform to American dress.

There are many more parts of culture, which I have no space to address. But I hope I have contributed something useful to the understanding of what place a common American culture has in relation to other cultures in the United States. For convenience one might call this White (as opposed to, say, German) culture, though for the sake of unity we might try to find a better name. Much work remains to be done in defining and describing general American culture, and it is necessary for us to identify the wisest course and take it.

Aside

Hey, y’all, so just a bit of perspective on East Asian immigration to America. At the peak of Italian immigration, thrice as many Chinese immigrated. There continue to be more Chinese than there are Italians, and yet we are still seen as foreigners long after Italians have been included. I think it still comes down to the way we look. Ching-chong, they say.

Reblog: My First Tattoo

Lue-Yee Tsang:

Not usually a fan of tattoos, and not even sure they’re biblical, but this one is beautiful.

Originally posted on Grady's Life:

TatAfter about 20 minutes of various PhotoBooth poses tonight, I learned that it is exceedingly difficult to Instagram both an inner forearm tattoo and your face at the same time. (The forearm alone was just too creepy.) Still, I made it work because I wanted to show off my very first tattoo. I’m excited about it, and it certainly feels like a rite of passage in Brooklyn.

Trust me, I never thought I would have a tat — I’m supposed to be the goody-two-shoes of the family! — but the idea of this one has been growing on me ever since my Cape Town trip, and I’m so happy with how it turned out. It literally says: καὶ ταῦτά τινες ἦτε (it looks all wrong in this serifed font), which is the original Greek writing of the first few words in 1 Corinthians 6:11, a verse that has resonated with…

View original 238 more words

Natural Structure, Not Just Natural Objects

Sara Barnes says, ‘Melbourne-based architecture firm studio505 has designed and completed the Lotus Building and People’s Park that’s located in Wujin, China. Its impressive physical form resembles the flower for which the building is named, and its petals dramatically rise out of an artificial lake. Accompanied by an eight acre park, it’s used as a civic building and a landmark whose distinctive presence ties the community together.’ The Lotus Building is positively fantastical from the outside:

Notice how the petals’ horizontal ribs are elegantly slanted, in keeping with the organic character of a lotus. Necessarily the appearance is stylized, but in a way that respects the integrity of nature. The statement is clear and beautiful.

At the centre we see a rounded cone that contains the building’s functional heart.

The Lotus Building houses part of the city’s planning bureau, as well as exhibition halls and meeting rooms. Although it serves a practical purpose, the structure was conceived as an inhabited sculptural form. It’s wrapped in a display of metal-ribbed petals and both the interior and exterior are covered in hand-laid mosaic tiles. They form a smooth gradient of color that ranges from white and beige to pink. In addition, a stunning 23-foot-long suspended chandelier hangs in the center of the building and resembles the stamen of a flower.

But the structure of this interior is less than appealing, especially given the expectations set by the exterior.

Meant to be the centre of the flower, this room merely dwarfs the human in a crude display of mass and – oh, yes – modernity. The ribs of the vault are massive things with no subdivisions for the eye. The horizontal window bars, moreover, are flat, forming uniform rectangles. If there were a way to give the lie to this building’s being organic, this was it. Here the architects had a chance to use a kind of tracery imitating the forms of nature yet controlling them in a stylized, cultivated, refined – in short, a civilized – manner. Instead we are given an equalizing travesty of order that only the heirs of the French Revolution could contrive, and the kitschy stamen chandelier does not help matters.

Persian contrast

In contrast, the (admittedly much smaller) mausoleum of Persian poet Omar Khayyām is, while modern (1963), sensitive to human scaling. Though it too is basically conical in shape with a rounded top, its divisions of larger space are not arbitrary but integral to the structure of the whole:

On a smaller scale are floral and calligraphic adornments, on some of the more prominent surfaces, fitting for the mausoleum of a poet.

And here is the mausoleum’s ceiling, not silent but singing with the music of coloured light, not stone-cold but blooming with the flowers of Paradise, in an order that refuses to be easily reduced, and yet is clearly harmonious:

Something is expressed: an aspiration toward Paradise, both on behalf of the great poet and in union with the universal desire expressed in his poetry. Colour is not meaningless decoration but form given to meaning. (For more of this kind of colour, one might also look at the tomb of the great poet Hāfez.)

In general, Persian decoration is rich and detailed to humanize and animate architectural structures that can be quite massive. Even on a large scale, however, there is a hierarchy of larger and smaller structures by which the whole looks graceful and dignified.

In context

Now, the building in question, the Lotus Building, is in China. Obviously one cannot simply import Persian idiom arbitrarily; the building, being where it is, must fit into the existing social fabric. Uniform rectangular window panes, even if staggered, will not cut it. Facelessness will not cut it. Without reducing its cultural provenance to caricatures – no pagodas! – the architects need to situate the building in China and make it belong, both to the order of God’s creation and to the tradition of vernacular and high Chinese architecture. The image of the lotus is a strong and important element; but the structure inside the petals, besides serving physical functions, must also transfigure into Chinese æsthetic form the more ultimate aspirations inherent to these functions.

Penance and Absolution in a Reformed Church

Sometimes I find the devotions of Nonjuror bishop Thomas Deacon to be useful for orthodox Anglican churches, and indeed for all churches in which the spirituality of the ancient fathers is alive. In particular, Deacon’s orders for admitting and then absolving a penitent in the church are helpful for structuring the discipline that God has entrusted to the clergy as ministers of his word; used before the Holy Communion office, they can be powerful reminders of the opening and closing of God’s kingdom, of binding and loosing, according to the disposition of the sinner.

Some Protestants may object to the use of penance and public absolution of penitents who have individually been censured, perhaps even excommunicated, but these practices are both ancient and consonant with the Scriptures. Certainly ecclesiastical censures themselves are entirely biblical. St Paul says to the Corinthians, about a man fornicating with his father’s wife,

For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

So the Apostle delivers an authoritative judgement, which the Corinthians hearing him are to obey in the Name of Jesus Christ; such is the authority of the appointed rulers of the holy Church. High church, perhaps, but biblical: the impenitent sinner is to be expelled from the company of the Church. For what have I to do, says the Apostle, to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. If anyone desires to take issue with excommunication, as a temporal measure serving æternal ends and administered by men, he must take it up with God.

The continuation of this discipline after the Apostles is affirmed by the Church of England as godly and right:

Brethren, in the Primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend. Instead whereof, until the said discipline may be restored again, (which is much to be wished,) it is thought good, that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God’s cursing against impenitent sinners.

The authors of this passage in the Book of Common Prayer, which clearly draws from St Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, declare it ‘much to be wished’ that the apostolic censures may be restored in the Church of England. Indeed, this church’s 1604 Canons make it clear that excommunication is by no means abolished in modern times. The point is that God has given the Church authority to testify to God’s curses against sinners who have not shown penitence.

And, if the Church is given the power to exclude an impenitent sinner from its midst, then it also has the power to readmit those who are penitent and, having been satisfied of the sinner’s humble penitence, to declare God’s forgiveness for that sinner. Though this practice is not, as the Romanists think, a sacrament, it is edifying and within the rights of the visible church. We are not calling for Hail Marys and Our Fathers. We are calling for sackcloth and ashes, and restitution for those who have been wronged, and evangelical repentance in response to God’s offer of forgiveness in Christ. For Zacchæus, it was a fourfold return on what he had stolen; for the Roman emperor Theodosius, who massacred 7000 in Thessalonica, the historian Theodoret tells us what happened after his rebuke by Ambrose, the bishop:

The Emperor, who had been brought up in the knowledge of Holy Writ, and who knew well the distinction between the ecclesiastical and the temporal power, submitted to the rebuke, and with many tears and groans returned to his palace. The Emperor shut himself up in his palace and shed floods of tears. After vain attempts to appease Ambrose, Theodosius himself at last went to Ambrose privately and besought mercy, saying ‘I beseech you, in consideration of the mercy of our common Lord, to unloose me from these bonds, and not to shut the door which is opened by the Lord to all that truly repent.’ Ambrose stipulated that the Emperor should prove his repentance by recalling his unjust decrees, and especially by ordering ‘that when sentence of death or of proscription has been signed against anyone, thirty days are to elapse before execution, and on the expiration of that time the case is to be brought again before you, for your resentment will then be calmed and you can justly decide the issue.’ The Emperor listened to this advice, and deeming it excellent, he at once ordered the law to be drawn up, and himself signed the document. St Ambrose then unloosed his bonds.

Is this penance not sensible? Is it not just? The bishop did not attempt to depose the emperor upon the pretenses claimed by the popes of Rome. He gave godly counsel, and the emperor accepted it gladly and was received again into the doors of the great church in Milan. For a scandalous sin, this was a penance the Lord himself had given the bishop power to demand, not beyond reason but in keeping with due repentance. For it is the Lord’s power to humble emperors who have sinned greatly, that repenting they may obtain remission of their sins by his promise in Christ. Thus let even kings and potentates be called to account and to submission before the throne of Jesus Christ, by the word of God spoken into their lives; and through the gospel let them be healed.

Saint Ambrose barring Theodosius I from Milan Cathedral. By Anthony van Dyck.

‘O Lord God, whose long-suffering is not wearied by our sins, but who allowest us to appease thy wrath by our repentance; Mercifully look upon this thy servant, who confesseth his sin unto thee: Give him a broken and a contrite heart, that he may recover from the snare of the devil, wherein he is now entangled; and graciously accept his Penance, that by his continuance in a state of mournful confession and prayer to thee, he may the sooner obtain thy merciful pardon, and, being restored to the privilege of communion with thy Church upon earth, may be again entitled to thy kingdom in heaven, through Jesus Christ our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.’

Aside

Jake Belder says about recognizing the human limits of preaching and trusting the Holy Ghost,

One of the things I have had to learn as a preacher is that there are limits to what I can say. And that, I think, is what I need to recognise in this case as well. Here is a simple truth, and as a preacher I am just called to point to Jesus as the one who satisfies all our deepest longings and desires, and to let the Holy Spirit go to work in the hearts of the hearers to convict them of that reality. I can only say so much, and need to believe that through the power of the Spirit, those who are listening will grasp the fullness of what is being offered as Jesus is held out to them.

Check it out. Discuss.