Wake From Your Sleep: The “Modern” Christmas Carol With a Traditional Sound

 

A favourite pastime of the #straightouttairondale crowd is to trash just about every piece of Catholic music written after 1965 (except, of course, what they put out.)  Boosting the “Jesus Music” era is a goal of this blog, but this gem has an appeal that gets past not only their idea but Roman Catholicism itself: it’s a good carol for just about anyone.

A great carol for your Christmas service, but remember Catholics: if it doesn’t start at Midnight, it’s not Midnight Mass.

Andy Kessel’s Woes at the Clinton Foundation

It looks like things are catching up:

Kessel told MDA “There is no controlling Bill Clinton. He does whatever he wants and runs up incredible expenses with foundation funds, according to MDA’s account of the interview. “Bill Clinton mixes and matches his personal business with that of the foundation. Many people within the foundation have tried to caution him about this but he does not listen, and there really is no talking to him.”

MDA compiled Kessel’s statements, as well as over 6,000 pages of evidence from a whistleblower they had been working with separately, which they secretly filed with the FBI and IRS over a year ago. MDA has alleged that the Clinton Foundation engaged in illegal activities, and may owe millions in unpaid taxes and penalties.

From a personal standpoint, I am grieved at this: Andy Kessel and I were friends at the St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton together, we reconnected years later.  He told me he joined the Clinton Foundation after a successful career on Wall Street as a giveback.  I really think that Andy was trying to do a good thing.

Unfortunately, in a culture like Bill Clinton came out of, doing a good thing is easier said than done, and I think that Andy was unprepared for that.  My dearly departed mother, who was born and raised a few miles north of Bill Clinton’s hometown of Hot Springs, told me one time that the Arkansas way was “If you can’t win, cheat.”  She knew this opaque culture she came out of well, and she wasn’t shy about using it against others when she felt the need to do so.  (She wouldn’t vote for Bill Clinton either.)

It’s easy when looking at Clinton’s Ivy League education and his successful political career which led him to two terms as President (he outsmarted Newt Gingrich and many others, too) to forget that he’s a product of his Scots-Irish origins and upbringing.  But that upbringing made him the masterful politician that he is.  The Ivy League business–and to some extent Hillary herself–were necessary to build “street cred” with the Democrat elite.  But the core never changes.  (That’s something you need to remember about Elizabeth Warren, too.)

My prayers are with Andy and his family.  He’s going to need them.  I think he’s a good guy who is finding out that it’s easier to be Bill Clinton’s enemy than his friend.

My Response to Fleming Rutledge (@flemingrut) on Stewardship

In the run-up to Advent, the eminent Episcopal theologian Fleming Rutledge has posted an interesting piece entitled “Jesus’ Parable of the Money in Trust.”  It’s an interesting and informative piece, informative not only in its Biblical exegesis but also (doubtless unintentionally) about the Episcopal Church itself, and the changes wrought from the days when multi-generational Episcopalians (as I started out to be) gathered to worship “Gawd” on Sundays.

First the key takeaway: Rutledge is entirely correct to call out laity and clergy alike on the confusion wrought by the word “talent”:

As you can see, the master does not give out what we call “talents,” as in “gifts and talents.” The master gives out money. It’s unfortunate that the English word “talent,” meaning natural ability, is the same as the word for the gold coin in the original parable. As soon as we start talking about “talents,” we’re going to lose sight of the point altogether. We need to get “talents” out of our minds. This parable is about money. There’s this little slogan that Episcopalians use during stewardship season; I’m sure you’ve heard it—“time, talents, and treasure.” I don’t know who invented that, but in my perspective of the wider church, it’s done more harm than good. Putting time, talents, and treasure together distracts our attention from the real issue, which is money. For one thing, we don’t use the word “treasure” when we talk about money. Having those three “t”s sounds clever and quaint, but it also sounds irrelevant. It makes it too easy for us to avoid the issue of money. The slogan is ineffective because it lets people off the hook. If we can divert attention to time and talents, which aren’t very threatening, we don’t have to think about what really makes us nervous, namely, giving up some of our money. Over the years, various new titles for the parable have been proposed to correct the misunderstanding about “talents.” The best one is “The Parable of the Money in Trust.”[3] That we can understand.

Anyone with a decent classical education will spot this: the talent was a measure of the weight of gold in the Greco-Roman world, not a human attribute.  Having just marched through several books of Livy, the number of talents paraded in triumph becomes mind-boggling after a while.  Rutledge is right: in the narrative of the talents, we’re talking about money.

I think, however, that the biggest change that’s taken place is not in the correction of our understanding of what Our Lord was talking about when he referred to “talents” (and I would interpret the parable a little more broadly than she does, for reasons I will discuss.)  What’s changed more than anything else is the way Americans in general and Episcopalians in particular look at money, and that, IMHO, is what has made it possible for Rutledge to set forth the thesis she has done.

Particularly as a product of a multi-generational Episcopal background (on my paternal grandmother’s side) Episcopalians saw themselves as the keepers of a nice, aesthetically pleasing, old-money religion free from the intrusions of tasteless nouveaux-riches making a statement and getting away with it.  From a religious standpoint, Episcopalians were free from fulminations  before the offering of money-grubbing rednecks across the tracks.  Ironically, that was a major attraction for people like my mother, who was trying to escape (with mixed success) her dogmatic Baptistic past, not only about the money but about everything else.  Ironically the Episcopal Church gave cover to the many upwardly mobile people after World War II who wanted the supremely respectable form of Christianity without having to fight the uphill battle of changing the churches they were raised in.  The Episcopal Church’s greatest growth period was from the end of World War II to the mid-1960’s, a growth fuelled in part by that desire, and it’s been a bumpy ride downward ever since.

In any case, the hegemony of the “old money culture” has been swept away, not only by the social upheavals of the 1960’s but also by the Boomers’ stunning volte-face in the wake of that decade towards a “get rich” mentality.  Today we have people who have accumulated enormous sums of money in a short period of time being lionised as the moral guides of our society, additionally able with their new-found wealth to spread money-favouring patronage.  Their self-image as the moral guides of society is undeserved,  but in these United States, we’re obsessed with the money because that’s what it’s become about.

In this way, the traditional Episcopal paradigm about money, Biblical or not, has been blown away for good.  That demise is accentuated by the simple fact that, as the Episcopal Church has declined, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have risen.  Especially with the latter, generous stewardship is not only encouraged, it’s expected.  It’s a revelation to many traditional Episcopalians, but churches which expect a great deal from their congregants fiscally also expect much–and generally get it–with other aspects of their congregants’ lives.  The “time, talent and treasure” triple of traditional Episcopalianism is  package deal: you get one, you get the rest.

This is one place where the Episcopal Church’s elevated demographics have worked against it: in general, the higher the income level and wealth, the smaller portion of it goes to any kind of charitable work, church or otherwise.  (I’m excluding the business of foundations, which aren’t Biblical either and are a source of patronage.)  And that goes for the rest of the contribution, too.  For all it’s social justice striving of the last half century, the Episcopal Church has not quite figured out how to transform the preferential option for the poor into the preferential option of the poor.  Had it done so, it would have also changed the commitment level of its congregants, too.

It’s interesting that Rutledge notes the following:

Affluent churches have a particular challenge in this regard. Building up large endowments is a hedge against an uncertain future. An endowment needs wise, shrewd management, that’s for sure. But it is human nature to be overly cautious in this regard. We don’t typically look for ways to give away money. Consequently, we’re likely to be uneasy about Jesus’ message. Instead of recognizing it as our charter of freedom, we feel it as a threat. So we cling to what we have and we don’t risk anything. The more comfortable we get in our churches, the more likely we are to hang on to our money, so that it just goes round and round in a tight little circle.

As the Episcopal Church’s membership has declined, its reliance on endowed money has increased, with the occasional looting of the endowments.  Rutledge’s call for better money stewardship amongst the parishioners can be seen as a response to that reality.  If the rest of the church world can get along without over-reliance on endowments, why can’t we?  It’s a serious question, but until the Episcopal Church figures out how to attract new people with a new level of commitment, that question will go unanswered.

And the biggest danger of emphasising the money aspect of this parable is that some will take it as reducing Christianity to giving in the offering plate.  I don’t think that’s Rutledge’s intent.  That reduction is the biggest fault of prosperity teaching: it reduces our relationship with God to a money transaction, and that’s patently false.  As noted earlier, the Christian’s commitment to God is a total one.  Although this parable is about money it’s also about more.

I think that Rutledge has given us a valuable contribution to the understanding of this parable.  But I also think that this understanding does not need to be taken out of context in the current climate in the US about it being “all about the money.”  It isn’t.  It includes that, but it’s much more, and the sooner we all recognise that fact, the better.

Some People Like the Idea of an End to Birthright Citizenship

And they’re not whom you’d expect either:

Donald Trump’s decision to challenge birthright citizenship is earning applause from one corner: “Accidental Americans,” who would rather be unburdened of their citizenship as cheaply as possible.

As POLITICO reported in July, “Accidental Americans” — dual nationals who have U.S. citizenship but only loose ties to the country — are campaigning to be freed from increasingly onerous obligations linked to their American nationality. The group has since received the backing of French President Emmanuel Macron.

There’s always more than one side to every story.  American citizenship is, to some, like flypaper: something they are just stuck with.  Getting rid of it is an ordeal; no one in Washington, especially in the IRS, likes the old “love it or leave it” concept.

The idea that people in places such as Europe and Canada would have something nice to say about Donald Trump is interesting indeed.

Maybe There Is Something to Those Cocktail Parties

In the middle of a brief recap of the 2005 season of Donald Trump’s Apprentice, this sudden revelation:

The degree-holders were no richer than the degree-free. In fact, the average net worth of the street-smart team was three times that of the book-smart one. Were the college kids more intelligent? No again. Time after time, a dandruff-club nerd puzzled over something that a cool smart-aleck ended up accomplishing with one hand tied behind his back.

But then one challenge threw the difference into relief. The contestants were charged with renovating motel rooms. The book-smart people chose to host a pool party for prospective guests. The party was fun. The street-smart players started to flail.

Finally, one street-smart player observed that the book-smart crowd had an unfair schmoozing advantage. They had been to college, he said. So naturally they knew how to do … cocktail parties.

Why take on student debt and study special relativity, ladies and gentlemen? What’s college for? You heard it here first: cocktail parties.

Although the conclusion is meant to be in jest, there is something to this.  American culture is obsessed with socialisation, and drinking buddies are a strong bond.  Four years or more in the same watering holes will cement that bond.  But that, in turn, is one reason why American elites are so sybaritic in their focus: it’s the way up around here.  And that’s also why, when people like Jews and Asians come along with a real work ethic, they’re beaten down by the “well-rounded” (maybe well-rounder is more accurate) person.  It’s an aspect of this culture I find profoundly distasteful, and one that will be its undoing in the long run.

On a personal note: my grandfather could drink with the best of them.  But perhaps not the right people; had he chosen the people he drank with more carefully, perhaps he could have displaced Cliff Henderson as the leader of American sport aviation in the 1930’s.

Getting Rid of the White People Won’t Get Rid of Christianity

Some people evidently work under that assumption, as this ugly event in New York attests:

New Yorkers woke up Thursday morning to find colorful new street art popping up on trash cans along the Lower East Side.

Their message is clear – Trump and his supporters are “trash.” The controversial posters feature images of “Trump supporter” stereotypes with the words, “Keep NYC Trash Free.”…

Another features a white woman wearing a “Make America Great Again Hat” while holding the Bible.

Most of the Christians in the New York area I know aren’t white.  That’s a legacy in part of leaving that whitest (and soi-disant social justice) church, the Episcopal Church.  Most of these aren’t Trump supporters either.  If they had featured Christianity with a non-white person holding the bible sans Trump hat, it would have been more accurate to the reality on the ground, but the reaction would have been entirely different.

There’s an underlying assumption on the left that, if we could just get rid of white Evangelicals, Christianity and Trump will go away, and we can get laid, high or drunk without guilt or interference.  That’s simply not true.  God’s plan will go forth without white American Evangelicals or even the United States, if it comes to that.  In some ways, it would probably help.  Our country is headed towards a day of reckoning; we spend too much time and energy on things that won’t stop that reckoning.

Someday, the Last Hick Will Move to Town

And no a moment too soon either: this, another journey of the genre:

My education required a metaphysical moving away, I learned. A professor who could see me struggling through change asked me what scared me about it. I told her that I worried I would lose something, and she reassured me that I would be OK. But she is a brutally honest New Yorker, so she added, “Besides, you can’t unlearn what you now know.” Her words stung.

Having come from Palm Beach and lived in this part of Tennessee for forty years, I can assure Dr. Wilkerson that this place exhibits a complexity that rivals the island’s.  I can also assure her that her beloved trade unions were alive and well in Chattanooga, if she had bothered to come this far down and take a look.  But the elites which engendered the hostility that made this place fertile ground for unions are trying their own burying of the past by going progressive, perhaps for some it will make up for what’s gone before.

The serious sign of initial delusion on her part, however, was this:

Like Dolly Parton’s defenders, I grew up learning the myth that Appalachia was the home of white settlers who weren’t marked by the sin of slavery and thus were not responsible for America’s racism and, conversely, that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery in the first place. My ancestors worked hard as farmers. They built grist mills and lived in log cabins. They are the Appalachians of the American imagination — pure Anglo-Saxon. Dolly Parton rehearses this myth, and I imagine she was raised on it. Her Appalachia is pure and white and heroic; her Appalachia is drained of white America’s sins.

If there’s one thing East Tennessee is not, it’s Anglo-Saxon.  Other than the black people and more recent immigrants, it’s mostly Scots-Irish with a healthy dose of the Cherokee, something Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to claim has fallen desperately flat.  Getting past that myth-making and realising that, like the Asians on the other end, the Scots-Irish put the lie to the whole racial paradigm being promoted these days, is liberating, but I’ll bet that Dr. Wilkerson’s moving to town won’t let her see that for what it is.

I’ll be glad when the last hick moves to town, it will be liberating for me.

The War on–and for–Coal is a Waste of Time

Some think we’re on a downturn with coal:

Across Europe and the U.S., the decline in coal output recently has averaged close to 5 percent a year. If the world as a whole can reach 7 percent a year, it would be on track to meet the IPCC’s 2030 target.

The conventional wisdom is that this isn’t possible, as rising demand from emerging economies, led by China and India, overwhelms the switch from fossil fuels in richer countries. That may underestimate the changing economics of energy generation, though.

There is one basic reality that needs to be understood: coal is a mess.  It’s expensive to transport, messy to use (a boiler fired with coal is job security for those who clean it) and a pain to dispose of, as TVA found out the hard way at Harriman a few years back.

As someone who produced steam-driven equipment until the 1990’s, I can show you photo after photo of boilers in action fuelled by coal.  Before World War I most of our equipment, along with most construction equipment, was powered that way.  Homes were heated with coal; the house my great-grandfather and his brothers grew up in disposed of its chimneys and went to coal heating, appropriate for designers and builders of steam boilers and steam powered equipment.

But coal is, in the long run, always edged out by other, easier to transport and burn, fuels, or fuels that aren’t burnt at all.  With the spread of compressed air and hydraulics, steam and coal were banished from the construction site, and the equipment still powered by steam used oil-fired boilers, as we sold the Chinese in the 1980’s.  But the biggest enemy of coal–a fact not acknowledged in the article–has been natural gas, and the fracking boom has pushed coal off the stage faster than just about anything else.   There are of course the renewables, but for massive energy production these are not quite ready for prime time.  There is also nuclear power, but the environmental movement isn’t big enough to admit its mistake to allow it to displace fossil-fuel burning on a large scale, its angst over climate change notwithstanding.

Coal gets heavily used in the early stages of industrialisation because it’s located near the industrialisation, as was the case in the UK, US, Germany and later Russia and China.  But as soon as things move down the road, coal is inevitably displaced, perhaps not at the rate one would like but displaced all the same.

It’s in that context that Barack Obama’s “war on coal”–and Donald Trump’s reversal of same–needs to be seen as a waste of time.  It’s what happens when optics and politics get put in front of reality, and the less of that in our society, the better.

The Difference Between Donald Trump and UK Labour

This video recently appeared on UK Labour’s Twitter feed:

If we look at this objectively, the major difference between this and what Donald Trump is trying to do is that Trump is using tariffs and Labour wants to use subsidies.  Industrial policy has a long history in the UK and on the Continent; use of tariffs has an equally long history in the US, dating back to the founding of the Republic.  But industrial policy is industrial policy no matter how you set up the government cash flow to accomplish it, and that drives the globalists on both sides of the Atlantic batty.

Had the Democrats thrown the corporatists under the bus and nominated Bernie Sanders, we would have had a contest between two people who agreed on the problem but disagreed on the solution, and the contrast between Trump and Labour illustrates that perfectly.  Left and right don’t define our divisions as well as we would like to think they do.

This video also shows that Jeremy Corbyn–who is taking well-deserved lumps for his anti-Semitism–doesn’t sport a hard hat any better than any other politician.

An Update on the St. Andrew’s School Sex Scandal

I’ve covered this matter here and here; it’s generated a fair amount of interest.  Today the school released the following, which I will reproduce in its entirety (with one minor correction):

In late March we shared with you information regarding Bruce Presley, a former board member (1994 – 2000) and part-time instructor at Saint Andrew’s. As we mentioned in that communication, Mr. Presley allegedly engaged in inappropriate behavior while he was at the Lawrenceville School (New Jersey) in the 1970s, prior to his time at our school and unbeknownst to us until earlier this year.

Although we had no record or reports that led us to believe that Mr. Presley engaged in inappropriate behavior while he was on our campus, we proactively shared information related to these past allegations out of caution and concern. We also encouraged members of our community to come forward with any knowledge or information related to his behavior or that of others while at our school. To date, we have no reports or evidence to suggest any inappropriate behavior or misconduct involving Mr. Presley while he was at Saint Andrew’s.

As part of this process, however, we received an allegation of past sexual misconduct involving a former member of our faculty, Evans “Dutch” Meinecke. Mr. Meinecke taught at Saint Andrew’s from 1971 – 1983. He passed away in 2006.

Upon learning of this information, we reported the past incident in question to the proper authorities and initiated an internal review in accordance with our policies and procedures. We also enlisted the support of William Shepherd, a partner at the law firm of Holland & Knight, to further investigate these allegations and any other claims that might surface during the course of his investigation. The investigation found that Mr. Meinecke sexually abused a student while he was employed by our school. We have shared this same information with the schools at which Mr. Meinecke previously taught.

We are grateful that this former student had the courage to come forward. We, the entire Board of Trustees and the school community, are deeply sorry for the harm Mr. Meinecke has caused. We know that nothing can erase the actions of Mr. Meinecke, but we are committed to doing all that we can to support survivors impacted by sexual abuse while at our school.

This is difficult news for our community to hear, but it is impossible for our school and our community to move forward without addressing the past. It is important that we address this openly and honestly. Part of this includes identifying historical incidents, as well as the circumstances that may have led to those incidents, so that we can do everything possible to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

As we have shared with you previously, we consistently review and update our handbooks, policies, and procedures to ensure they are in keeping with current independent and private school best practices. We are also dedicated to providing opportunities for our students, faculty, and staff to participate in educational programming and training sessions that promote health and well-being. Each of these steps continues to make Saint Andrew’s a stronger, safer, and more open community.

Most importantly, we want all of you to know that we are here to help. Please do not hesitate to communicate with us directly if you have any questions or concerns. We also encourage you to be in touch with Susan Schorr, an investigator with the law firm of McLane Middleton, if you have any information, past or present, that you think may be of interest. She can be reached via email at susan.schorr@mclane.com or by phone at 781.904.2715.

All of us here at Saint Andrew’s thank you for your continued support. Our greatest responsibility is and always will be the safety, security, and well-being of our entire school community.

Best regards,

Ethan Shapiro
Interim Head of School
Saint Andrew’s School

Steve Shapiro
Board Chair on Behalf Of
Saint Andrew’s School Board of Trustees