Monday, May 26, 2008

Sandra Dee

In the way of book reviews, I've been reading a book about the Supreme Court entitled The Nine. ( a cryptic characterization indeed, if the author is a Tolkien fan)

It is the first book I've ever read devoted wholly to the Court and its personalities. All previous attempts to educate myself on the subject have been defeated by a lack of interest in the subject. I am aware of the significance, but law has a sedative effect on me.

Perhaps because the book focuses more on the justices who comprise the court, as opposed to the parched machinations of the proceedings themselves, I have been both intrigued and appalled at what I read.

In the way of disclaimers, I perceive a center to middle left bias in the approach of the author, which is to say, he is both an amalgam and a representative of relativistic, apathetic American morals. So I keep a cipher of salt close by as I read. He does appear to make an attempt at even-handedness, which makes the casual narrative of the nine's evolution and devolution more convincing and more outrageous.

I know and am thrilled at the upward swing given to us by Bush in Roberts and Alito. They join the outnumbered consistency of Scalia and Thomas, and it tips the balance right, more often than not, when you throw in the follower Kennedy.

But I am confused on several points. Do we, as conservatives, like or dislike judicial activism?

I think the proper answer is a vehement one. We shall have nothing to do with those who legislate from the bench!

But it appears we secretly wink at the bent of Scalia, and Thomas (whom the author contends is a country mile right of Scalia. Scalia even humorously expounded on the difference between Thomas and himself, "I am an originalist, but I am not a nut.")

No, this does not mean I disagree with their philosophy, but it causes me to question whether the ideal of "strict constructionist" equated to "conservative" is the result of sound legal knowledge or wishful thinking.

What I mean is, Scalia and Thomas, both of whom I am very grateful to have on the high court, have a lens through which they view the Constitution. And well they might, they're not computers, they are flesh. But to me the term, strict constructionist, implies a clinical detachment from the moral aspects of each and every case they accept, and maybe one day they will replace the nine justices with a supercomputer with a constitutional hard drive and an exhaustive precedent database. In my opinion, there is an element of hypocrisy when conservatives say they only want strict constructionists appointed to the bench. For my part, I want the justice to revere the law of God above the law of America, which, yes, many times will coincide. But, the point is, if the justice holds no fealty to any creed aside from the Constitution of the United States, he will disappoint Christians, at some point, on a grand scale.

(By the way, if someone has a better understanding of the conceptual strict constructionist, please opine. I certainly haven't studied the issue in depth.)

Interpretation of the law will dictate what a justice decides. And almost all of them have a predetermined philosophy which creates a fairly consistent voting record, in many cases regardless of the technical legal merits of any given case.

The worldview of Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito seems to dictate how they will come down, ditto for Ginsburg, Breyer, Stevens and Souter. Kennedy is the swing vote, the moderate, the justice to be courted. If a plaintiff can get through to Kennedy, he has won the case in most instances. Which is what I set out to talk about.

The author focuses a great deal of attention on a former justice, Sandra Day O'Connor.

Perhaps more than any other justice, she brooked no partisan morality. And no, this was not because she personified the elusive ideal of the strict constructionist. It is, or was, rather, because she unabashedly sought to rule in the favor of public opinion.

O'Connor is a very likable woman, from all accounts.

She has dealt admirably with the onset of Alzheimer's in her husband, John, refusing to relinquish care of him to anyone but herself. She is an engaging, phlegmatic but quirky socialite. She appears to like everyone. She was very close to Chief Justice Rehnquist, close enough to be grief-stricken at his passing, with no regard for their disagreements. She coyly dismisses the rhetorical rants of Scalia. "That's just Nino."(her nickname for Scalia) Translation; "Isn't he a silly old bear." She was thrilled at the nomination of John Roberts, despite the great divide in their judicial philosophy.

She was also, according to the author, elated with the election of Bush in 2000, because, as her husband let slip at an election bash, she was troubled at the prospect of vacating her seat during a Gore presidency. In fact, when the networks prematurely handed the election to Gore, she declared, a bit intemperately for her, "That's terrible."

But as time wore on, and Bush proved to be considerably different than the bland, insipid weather vane she had assumed him to be, she grew increasingly antagonistic toward the administration of the man whose father had nominated her in the first place.

Her disenchantment with Bush seemed to follow the trajectory of public opinion. But she would see no problem with that. She was simply representing the views of America, after all.

It is such a reasonable way of looking at things. Certainly no latent liberalism in the manner of Ginsburg, a curmudgeon of the left if ever there was one. No conscience stricken hand wringing ala Souter. A Republican to be sure, but a Republican able to see the subtleties of issues that escape ideologues such as Clarence Thomas, the angry black man. No extremes, just judicial conferment of the will of the people.

How chilling.

Her seat has been filled by Samuel Alito, a right-winger Bush managed to drag through the nomination proceedings. (We can hope that Alito and Roberts do not fall prey to the same high-minded global notions that afflicted O'Connor.)

Her strategic position as the swing vote is now in the possession of Anthony Kennedy, who is probably not quite as finessed as O'Connor when it comes to discerning which way the wind is blowing. He appears to be a little more distracted with the constitutional merits of a case, if not with the moral implications.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Waste of Time

Well, I scuttled another evening in a bookstore looking for the meaning of life.

I started over in the music, looking for some musical force of nature to stir me, to entrance me.

Would you, Tchaik, transport me from this present world with your Russian wizardry, as you have before? Not this time.

Ludwig, what charms might you work? That would depend on the interpretation of the instrumentalist, upon which I am loath to speculate monetarily.

Ah, a collection of overtures. Three overtures. I need more bang for my buck.

Schumann, where art thou? Not here. Either the previous customers had excellent taste, or the compilers of inventory had poor.

Yanni. Yanni? Yes, Yanni. I had strayed from Classical into New Age, as in No Estimable Worth Ambiguous Genre Entrancement

Aside from being vain, the search was further hampered by sidelong mental glances at my fellow seeker, the elderly gentleman who suffered from an apparent lack of taste, and a certain lack of Crest and respect for personal space.

No matter, there are Tibetan mountains elsewhere in the store.

The classics. Melville, what do you have to say? Life is a fleshing out of a prerecorded narrative.

Homer . . . . naaaahh.

Dickens? An astute commentator of human nature, a gentle satirist, and a fine storyteller, but I'm looking for something new.

Bronte, Bronte, and Bronte? Might try Bronte, Ann, the one Devan wants me to read, but she has it at home.

Austen? Please, I am male.

London? Well, no tea parties in here. It's man against the elements. Man ain't got a chance. So, why bother?

Around to the Christian fiction. Mostly prosaic, but y'never know what you might stumble across.

Blackstock. Did I say prosaic?

Bunn. Good, very good. Alternates superbly written, spellbinding thrillers with superbly written, spellcasting sleepers.

Lahaye/Jenkins? I think maybe they've said all they have to say. But then, who's to say Christian thriller authors can't get as much mileage out of the end times as NPR can extract from Katrina or FOX from Hilton, Spears, and Lohann?

Morris. Wait, Morris? With the, the. . .that Winslow series, yeah. Volume what, 573?! The plot for this one includes a cameo with H.G. Wells' Time Traveller. Well, what do you know? The Winslow in the cover art has blazing blue eyes, a wedge-shaped jaw, and white, even teeth. I see they're still blow drying their hair in 2525.

Peretti? Well, I guess I could make it eight times for Piercing the Darkness, or eleven for The Visitation, but I already have it.

Philips, did I say prosaic? I meant formulaic.

Wick. Did I say formulaic? I meant Grace Livingston Hill. The villain in this one even has a weak chin. So kind of all the antagonists to sport identifying weak chins and weak, watery, pale eyes.

Religion section.

A book called Quantum Spirituality intrigues me. I've always been fascinated by the door quantum physics opens to the supernatural. So has the author. But he went out the back door and started thrashing around in the New Age backyard, and I put the book down and haven't seen him since.

Yes, I've always wanted Mary Magdalene for Dummies. Wonder what leering gnosticism lurks in the bowels of that book.

Never hurts to look for a NASB Study Bible. No luck. I could listen to an audio reading of the Bible by a cast of Hollywood narrators. I wonder if they have an audio book of An Inconvenient Truth read by Rush Limbaugh?

So, to the philosophy section.

Contemporary philosophy. What is that? Is that like Dippin' Dots, or listening to a MIDI file of the William Tell Overture?

Nietzsche. I never cease to be fascinated by the virulent little man. He exudes such a disarming, guileless arrogance. I understand Thus Spake Zarathustra for the first time in paperback was popular reading among the tenets of Auschwitz.

A collection of empiricist writings. Somebody compiled a collection of empiricists? If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't believe it.

Descartes. Kant. That's more like it, I think . . .therefore, I am going to go find Devan and have another whirl at the music section. Maybe Schumann was hiding.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How To Love God

A comment on my last post asked me to address how to love God. My first question was, what love language are you speaking? Are you asking, how do we show our love for God? In which case, helLO, keep His commandments, but, after speaking with my dear sister, the question was meant in a little more of an abstract way, as I was afraid of.

How do we feel love for God?

How do we experience intimacy?

I'll confess something. It is a subject that has made me slightly uncomfortable at times. I remember as a teenage boy being ill-at-ease particularly with the story of the fallen woman who washed the feet of Jesus with ointment and tears and dried them with her hair. Seemed a little too demonstrative, and little too earthy. Touching God's feet with your hair?

And emotional public displays of affection for God can still rattle me. I don't want to get into the debate over differing methods of expression and the "in the Spirit" or "in the human" discussion, but even what could very well be genuine demonstrations of love for God can cause me to fidget or close up. Emotion of that sort is an extremely private thing for me, and it repulses me to see it displayed publicly. It is no doubt partially a masculine hang-up and partially reactionary and also partially legitimate.

There is a school of thought that views the Song of Solomon as an allegorical expression of Christ's love for the Christian and vice versa. And, though I experience no awkwardness reading the Song as an ode to eros, I clinch up a bit reading it as a love poem from God.

St. John of the Cross, the man who gave us the phrase, "the long, dark night of the soul" used some very provocative language in his reflections.

"O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center! Since now you are not oppressive, now consummate! if it be your will: tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!"

If somebody came up with that in church, I'd have to run to the restroom.

But viewed allegorically, it is entirely appropriate and even a needful and sometimes lacking attitude in our view of God.

I am not suggesting that we can, or are supposed to, feel love for God. You are to show your love for Him by obedience in everything, but we are not commanded to manufacture emotion, if anything, we are not to manufacture emotion. But I empathize with the question, since it seems as if it should be such an integral part of our relationship with God.

We cannot see God, cannot touch Him, cannot even count on His felt presence, so how are we to love Him, in the sense we are using? ( Well, Jennifer, you might've asked someone else the question, given my relationship with emotion. I don't have much use for it, or it doesn't have much use for me.)

Obviously, the flavor of our relationship with God, the feeling it provokes is going to vary with personality. My grandparents serve as an example. On my mother's side, Grandpa comes across to me as more reserved publicly than Grandma. On my dad's side, there was a unique role reversal. Grandpa was always more emotional in his testimonies and conversation than Grandma was. There are no levels to this. And we were each created with personality differentials, so there is no right/wrong.

There is a long-lasting movement in the contemporary music scene called worship music. It generates a lot of mush, a lot of jokes, and a lot of satire. (read Frank Peretti's Visitation)

I've listened to some of it. Don't care for most of it, tolerate some of it, and actually like precious little of it, mostly because I don't care for the repetition. It makes me suspicious of two things; the writer's creativity and the entrancing aspect of repeating the same thing over and over again. Though, to be sure, my personal taste is not always the same thing as sound judgement. I remember being disgusted with the lack of depth and theology of a chorus in our chorus book. "What is this, 'the trees of the field will clap their hands', I mean, who writes this stuff?!"

Isaiah, it turns out, was the culprit.

But the attitude of much worship music, to be fair, is prayerful and seemingly genuine; an expression of love for God. Here again, this actually proves nothing. I remain quite convinced that the same person who could conceive, write and sing "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," or even, "My Jesus, I Love Thee" could be, in practice, an outstanding hypocrite.

Can you cultivate love for God?

I think so. And this we are in fact commanded to do, by prayer, Bible reading, prayerful meditation and holy living. But the thermostat doesn't control weather outside. God may wish you to feel love as an emotion or, He may wish you not to. I mentioned the long, dark night of the soul, and I've written about Mother Theresa's crisis of emotionless service. I think part of the problem is conventional wisdom. The ability to feel love for God is viewed as the norm and even proof of your relationship. I'm to the point where I'll scream if I hear one more preacher say, "When is the last time you really broke through to Heaven?" as questioning the health of your Christianity. It is a shallow, emotions driven view of spirituality, but it pervades our thinking in other, more subtle ways. We are programmed to expect emotional victories to spiritual battles, bright rays of God's favor after spiritual storms, and mountains after valleys. Sometimes, however, we fight Vietnams, live in Seattle, or walk in Kansas.

The feeling of love, the genuine feeling, not the schmaltz, not the mind-numbed vain repetition, not the syrup, but the genuine freedom, the soaring flight, that feeling, is something that God may choose to allow us to feel, as a gift to us. The feeling of love is not a gift from us to God. Our obedience, our attentiveness, our willingness, our brokenness is our gift. The feeling is sometimes His reciprocation, but when it doesn't come, remember that this means that He trusts you enough to serve Him without the blessing.

Hope that helps.