The Outpouring: Alive at the Community Coffeehouse

OUTA1 (Fall 1993)

The coffee-house ministry was the gathering par excellence of the Jesus Music era.  Although there are live recordings out there of concerts, coffee-house recordings are few and far between.  This site features only two, both from Texas: the Answer (and that was a rehearsal) and the Latter Rain.  And both of those were recorded from the floor, with all the reverberance to go with them.

Outpouring is no stranger to this blog; their 1979 album is probably the most progressive American album on the site, although this and this are not far behind.  It represented a push into the artistic, a push notoriously lacking in most American Christian music.

This production, fourteen years later, isn’t exactly in the Jesus Music era, but the performers certainly are, and they’re in the same community they were for the first production, too.  The idea of doing a live coffee-house recording from the board is an improvement in and of itself.  And, of course, Outpouring and their community had the task of proclaiming the gospel in the toughest part of the U.S. to do so (except for you know where…)

And the music? It isn’t as “artsy” as the first album, and it’s more directly evangelistic than the first too.  But it’s on a good level musically; there are some fun pieces, some jazzy ones, even a little country.  It’s a great representation of the genre, one that is way too few and far between.

The songs:

  1. A Matter of Heart
  2. Like a Seed
  3. Self-Rejection Blues
  4. Maybe
  5. Heart Divided
  6. Standing Still No More
  7. Not Your Fight Alone
  8. Heart of Hearts
  9. Choose to Believe
  10. Time to Get Serious
  11. Lord’s Prayer
  • Songs (2) and (9) written by Jim Albano and Fran Rosato
  • Song (1) written by Jim Albano and Donna Albano
  • Song (5) written by Jim Albano and Cliff Natoli
  • All the rest written by Jim Albano
  • Produced and engineered by Cliff Natoli and Mark Grasso
  • Mastered by Tom Rucktenwald
  • Outpouring logo by Barbara Christopher
  • Coffeehouse logo by Vinne Albano

Thanks to David for this music.



To the Holy Trinity: Fruitfulness of the Arts

Once more with Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, 2,7:

I am a painter, a sculptor, an architect: I have my art, I have my design or my idea, I have the choice and the preference which I give to this idea by a particular love.  I have my art, I have my rules, my principles, which I reduce as much as I can to a first principle which is one and it is there where I am fruitful.  With this primitive rule and this fruitful principle which makes my art, I give birth outside of me a picture, a statue, an edifice which in its simplicity is the form, the original, the immaterial model of that which I execute in stone, marble, wood, on a canvas where  I arrange all colours.  I love this design, this idea, this son of my fruitful spirit and my inventive art.  And all this only makes me a sole painter, a sole sculptor, a sole architect: and all of this holds itself together and inseparably united in my spirit; and all this at its root, it is my spirit and has no other substance; and all this is equal and inseparable.  Which ever of the three which one takes, all comes from there; the first which is the art is not more perfect than the second which is the idea, neither the third which is the love.  Art produces one and the other; and one supposes that it exists, when he produces them.  One cannot say whether the beginning or the ending is more beautiful, or to be produced or to produce.  Art which is like the father is not more beautiful than the idea which is the son of the spirit; and the love which makes us love this beautiful work, is also as beautiful as it is; by their mutual relation each has the beauty of three.  And when it will be necessary to bring to light this painting or edifice, the art and the idea and the love come together equally, and in perfect unity, in a kind that this beautiful work feels the effects equally of art, idea, and love or the secret self-satisfaction which one will have for it.  All of this, although immaterial, is too imperfect and too base for God.  I do not dare make the application to him; but from there, helped by faith I raise myself and take my flight and this contemplate of that which God has placed in my soul, when he created him in his likeness, helps me to make my first try.

To the Holy Trinity: Trinity Created Image of the Uncreated and How It is Incomprehensible

Once again in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, 2,6:

Let us now return to ourselves.  We are, we understand, we want.  At first, to understand and to want, if it is something, it is not absolutely the same thing: if it is not something, it would not be anything, and there will be neither understanding nor wanting.  But if it is absolutely the same thing, one does not distinguish them, but one does distinguish; because one understands what one does not want, which one does not love, besides what one cannot love or want something which one does not understand.  God himself understands and knows what he does not love, like sin: and we, how many things do we understand that we hate and that we do not want to either do or allow, because we have understood that they will harm us?  We understand about throwing oneself from the height of a tower, and this movement is not less understood than the others: but we do not want to do this, because it is harmful to us.

We are thus something intelligent, something that understands oneself and loves oneself: who does not love what he understands, but who can know and understand that which he does not love: all the while in not loving it, he knows and understands that he does not love it, and that itself, he wants to know: and he does not want to love it, because he knows or he believes that it is harmful to him.  Thus to understand and love are distinct things, but as such inseparable that there is no knowledge without some will.   And if man like the Angel knows all that is, his knowledge would be equal to his being; and , loving himself in proportion to his knowledge, his love would be equal one to another.  And if all this be well ruled, all of this would only act together as the same happiness of the same soul and truly the same happy soul: in that one which by the rectitude of his will conforms to the truth of his knowledge, she would be just.  Thus these three things, to be, to know and to want make one particular soul happy and just, which either cannot either be without being known, or distract from oneself with losing his happiness entirely.  Because what would be a soul which is without knowing, and what would it be without loving itself in the way which it must love itself to be truly happy, that is without loving by relationship with God, which is entirely the foundation of our happiness?

Thus, in our imperfect and defective way, we set forth an incomprehensible mystery.  A Trinity created which God made in our souls, sets forth to us the uncreated Trinity which he alone can show us: and, to set it forth in a better way, he has mixed in our souls which set it forth, something incomprehensible.

We have seen that to understand and want, know and love are acts distinguished from each other: but are they so much so that they are entirely and substantially different things? This cannot be.  Knowledge is nothing else than the substance of the soul affected in a certain fashion, and the will is nothing else than the substance of the soul affected by another.  When I change either thought or will, do I have this want and this thought without my substance being there? Without doubt it is there: and, all of this is basically nothing else than my substance affected, diversified, modified in different ways, but basically always the same.  For in changing thought, I do not change my substance; and my substance remains one, while my thoughts come and go: and while my will distinguishes itself from my soul from where it never leaves, likewise my knowledge goes distinguishing itself from my being from where it equally comes and that both, that is my knowledge and my will, distinguish themselves from each other in such ways and end up successively in diverse objects, my substance is always basically the same, although entering wholly into all different types of being.

See already in me an inconceivable prodigy: but this prodigy extends in all nature.  Movement and rest, things so distinct, are nothing at their root but substance which moves and rests; which changes in truth but not at its root, when it passes from movement to rest and from rest to movement.  For that which moves now, it’s the same thing which will rest soon; and that which rests now, is the same thing which soon will be set in motion.  And straight, zig-zag and circular movement are all different from each other, but they are only of the same substance: and a hundred successive arc motions of the same body are only the same body moved in a circle.  All of this is distinct and one: one in substance, distinct in ways; and these very different ways only have the same subject, the same root, the same and only substance.  I do not know who can claim to understand this perfectly: neither who can explain to oneself how these manners of being adjust to being; neither from whence their distinction in unity and identity comes when they have the same being; neither how they are things, neither how they are not things.  They are things, otherwise if they were a pure nothing, one could truly neither affirm nor deny them; that which is not, in themselves, they cannot stand.  All of this is hard to understand and nevertheless a true thing; and, all of this is a proof that as happens with natural things, unity is a principle of multiplicity in itself, and that unity and multiplicity are not as incompatible as one might think.

O God, before whom I consider myself and am myself a great enigma!  I have seen in me these three things, to be, to understand, to want.  You want me to always exist, thus you have given me an immortal soul, whose happiness or misery will be eternal; and, if you want, I would always understand or want the same thing; for it is such that you want me to always be, when you make me happy by your presence.  If I only want and understand eternally the same thing, that I am a single being, I will only have a single knowledge and a single will, where if one wants it a single understanding and a single will.  Nevertheless my knowledge and my love or my will will be no less distinguished among themselves, neither less identified, that is to say will not be basically less in my being, with my substance.  And my love or my will will be unable to not come from my knowledge; and, my love will always be something which comes from myself, and my knowledge will be no less from me; and always there will be in me three things, knowledge coming from being, knowledge coming forth, and love also coming from both.  And if I be a nature incapable of all accident occurring to its substance, and in which it be necessary that all be substantial, my knowledge and my love would be something substantial and sustain; and I would be three subsistent persons in one substance; that is to say, I would be God.  But because it is not so, I am only made in the image and likeness of God, and an imperfect sketch of this unique substance which is all together Father, Son and Holy Spirit: incomprehensible substance in its triune divinity which is basically only one thing, sovereign, immense, eternal, perfectly one in three persons distinctly subsistent, equal, consubstantial, to whom is due only one worship, one adoration, one love: since one cannot neither love the Father without loving his Son, nor love the Son without loving his Father, nor love them both without loving their eternal, subsistent union and their mutual love.  And to help the faith which bonds me to this incomprehensible mystery, I see in myself a resemblance, imperfect though it is, does not allow something that I cannot understand; and, I am to myself an impenetrable mystery.  And to take away all the pain of losing all my comprehension in God , I begin by losing it first, not only in all the works of nature, but also in myself more than the rest.

To the Holy Trinity: The Holy Spirit: The Entire Trinity

Coming to the third person of the Trinity in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, 2,5:

God is thus fertile, God has a Son: but where is the Holy Spirit here, and where is the holy and perfect Trinity which we serve from our baptism onwards? Does not God love this Son and is he not loved? This love is neither imperfect nor accidental in God: the love of God is substantial, like his thought; and, the Holy Spirit who comes from the Father, from the Father and the Son, as their mutual love, is the same substance one to the other: a third consubstantial, and with them the same God.

But why is he not Son, although he is by production the same nature? God has not revealed it. He has well said that the Son be unique, because he is perfect and all which is perfect is unique, and if he can have two sons, the generation of the son would be imperfect.  All which came afterwards, will not be son, and will not come by generation, although of the same nature.  What will thus be this last production of God? It is a procession, without a particular name: the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father: the Holy Spirit is the common spirit of the Father and the Son: the Holy Spirit takes from the Son and the Son sends him like the Father. Human reasonings, shut up: God wanted to explain that the procession of his Word was a true and perfect generation: that which was the procession of his Holy Spirit, he did not want to say, except that there was nothing in nature which represented an action so substantial and entire and singular.  It is a secret reserved for the happy vision.

O God Holy Spirit, you are not Son, since you are the eternal love and subsistant of the Father and the Son: who supposes by consequence the generated Son, and generated like the unique Son because he is perfect.  You are perfect also and unique in your genre, and in your order: you are not a foreigner to the Father and to the Son, since you are their mutual love: those you want to separate them, separate themselves one from another and divide their eternal reign.

You are equal to the Father and to the Son, since we are equally consecrated in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and you have with them, the same temple which is our soul, our body, all that we are.  Nothing unequal nor foreign to the Father and the Son ought to be named with them in equality: I do not want to be baptised and consecrated in the name of a trustee.  I do not want to be the temple of a creäture: this would be idolatry to build him a temple and, moreover, to be and believe oneself as his temple.

If You Really Want to Get Into Trouble, Read the Mediaevals

Although it’s been out there for a long time, these days the clash between religion and science has been especially heated.  The simplest way to solve the problem would be to cancel elections and let the self-proclaimed know-it-alls run the show.  In this way they could ignore the religious “masses” and insure the continuity of their funding.  Funded scientists are happy scientists…

But what would happen if there was a synergy between the two?  Basically the same thing that is happening between religion and science now: an academic slugfest.  (Reminds one of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ joke about “the tradition”…)    That’s pretty much the bottom line of the life of the life of Georg Cantor (1845-1918) and his formulation of set theory.

He was born in St. Petersburg, Russia to parents who originally came from Denmark.  When he was eleven, they moved to Frankfurt, in the German Electorate of Hesse (the Hessians were the ones George Washington crossed the Delaware to defeat at Trenton).  As Carl Boyer notes in his A History of Mathematics:

His (Cantor’s) parents were Christians of Jewish background–his father had been converted to Protestantism, his mother had been born a Catholic.  The son Georg took a strong interest in the finespun arguments of medieval theologians concerning continuity and the infinite, and this militated against his pursuing a mundane career in engineering as suggested by his father.  In his studies at Zurich, Göttingen and Berlin the young man consequently concentrated on philosophy, physics and mathematics–a program that seems to have fostered his unprecedented mathematical imagination.

His central “claim to fame” is the elucidation of set theory (or, as the Germans are wont to call it, mengenlehre).  It’s not an understatement that set theory has come to dominate the teaching of mathematics and its conceptualisation, as I found out the hard way taking advanced linear algebra a couple of years ago, complete with the bizarre notation that has just about taken over math textbooks.  In the 1960’s it was the centrepiece of the “new math” that came into primary and secondary school curricula, and that was controversial, but a great deal more useful than its critics would admit.

The controversy didn’t end with the sets themselves.  Cantor realised that set theory forced him to consider something that mathematicians had danced around for almost two centuries: infinite quantities, or more precisely transfinite quantities.  Sets can have an infinite number of elements, but just what that means was something Cantor plunged very deeply into.

It’s easy to get lost in Cantor’s reasoning, as the concepts he proposed are very profound.  I’ll try to keep things as simple band simple as I can, taking the risk that I may oversimplify the business.

Let us consider the set of integers.  We know instinctively that there are an infinite number of integers.  Now let us consider the number of even integers.  You’d think that there are half as many even integers as all integers, right?  But both quantities are in fact infinite, which means that dividing it by two doesn’t mean much.  In fact Cantor proved that, if we considered the set of all integers and the set of even integers,  we would have a one-to-one correspondence between each member of each set.  So the size of the two sets is equal, even though one set is a subset of the other.

Things get more complicated when we pass from integers and rational numbers to transcendental numbers like e and pi. Cantor proved that the number of transcendental numbers was larger than that of either/or or both/and the integers and rational numbers, even though all of them were infinite.  Cantor had shown, in effect, that not all infinities were equal to each other!

One device that Cantor, and just about anyone else who deals with transfinite numbers, uses is the limit.  But one major difference between Cantor and many of his contemporaries–and predecessors–is that Cantor showed that infinity was in fact an existing quantity, the problem with the transcendentals not withstanding.

That lit several fuses.  Before Cantor’s time the French mathematician Cauchy stated the following:

I protest against the use of an infinite magnitude as something completed, which is never permissible in mathematics.  Infinity is merely a way of speaking, the true meaning being a limit which certain ratios approach indefinitely close.

The most deadly grenade pin that Cantor pulled, however, was that of Leopold Kronecker (1823-1891), after whom the famous Kronecker Delta is named.  Kronecker, like Cantor of Jewish origins but a Christian, famously stated that “God made the integers, and all the rest is the work of man.” Kronecker made a career out of academically trashing Cantor, blocking appointments and delaying publications.  Cantor, not the scholarly pugilist the situation called for (he should have read Jerome with the mediaevals) had his first nervous breakdown in 1884.  After that time he published little, and died in a psychiatric hospital in 1918, although by then his work was receiving the recognition it deserved.   David Hilbert pithily stated that “From the paradise created for us by Cantor, no one will drive us out”.

So how did the mediaevals influence this revolution in mathematics? The problem of infinity wasn’t as far-fetched as you might think.  It had sat there since Newton and Leibniz set forth the calculus, which in turn hangs on infinitesimals.  Between two finite points there is an infinite number of infinitesimals.  Mediaevals have been jeered for wondering how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, but as long as they were infinitesimals, the answer is clear for finite pins.  It was only a matter of someone putting infinitesimals and infinities together, and that person (with help from others) was Cantor.

Anyone who has explored the philosophy of the scholastics with a mathematical background sooner or later will consider the relationship between their idea and the mathematics of infinity.  Coming off of a master’s degree, I found myself doing that in My Lord and My God.  Although I would not dare to rank myself any where near Cantor, I discovered that all infinities were not equal, and, although they could not have a finite ratio with finite quantities, they were not necessarily equal to each other.  That in turn helped me to see that subordination in God does not impair the deity of the subordinate persons, which solves many problems.  Unfortunately there are those who either can’t or–ahem–won’t see that relationship, and there is always the problem that prelates and seminary academics and are often mathematically challenged.

Today we live in a world where science and religion are forcibly bifurcated.  But it was not always so.  Cantor–and Kronecker and others for that matter–allowed the two to intermingle, and before that Euler was more religiously conservative than Voltaire.  And the Nineteenth Century in Europe was a golden age in mathematics, where advances came one after the other.

But there’s a price.  If you want to get into serious trouble, read the mediaevals, and that’s true for mathematicians and theologians alike.

Note: in addition to Boyer’s book, I used Jane Muir’s Of Men and Numbers: The Story of the Great Mathematicians (Dover Books on Mathematics) in writing this piece.

Rachel Held Evans Becomes an Episcopalian

It’s official:

 I felt drawn to the Episcopal church because it offered some practices I felt were missing in my evangelical experience, like space for silence and reflection, a focus on Christ’s presence at the communion table as the climax and center of every worship service, opportunities for women in leadership, and the inclusion of LGBT people.

When, as an Evangelical, she bounced from one rant to another, I thought, “She should become a Roman Catholic if she hates Evangelicalism so much, that would put things in a new perspective”.  But that was asking too much, namely too high of a standard of belief.  Thus the move to the Episcopal Church.  That’s really the core of the problem: do you believe in the objective reality of Christianity or don’t you? It’s been that way since the days of John Shelby Spong and earlier but people like Held refuse to see it in those terms.

Personally I think this is a relief for everyone, although I find it ironic that she, who is obsessed with making church attractive to Millennials, would end up in a church in a demographic death spiral as TEC is.  But you just can’t make this stuff up.

She also notes that “…I know plenty of folks who were raised Episcopalian who have become evangelical, drawn by the exciting and energetic worship or the emphasis on personal testimony and connection to Scripture.” Just down the road from her is another alternative, namely an ACNA church, which is doing fine, thank you.

To the Holy Trinity: The Purest Image in the Rational Creature

Reasoning on in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, 2, 4:

All of this is dead: the sun, its rays, its heat: a seal, its expression, an image either sculpted or painted. A mirror and the resemblances which object produce are dead things: God made an image most alive from his eternal and pure generation; and, to the end that we would be the most known, it is in ourselves that he has made it.

He did it, when he said: Let us make man. He wanted to do something where the work of his son was declared, otherwise himself, then he said: Let us make. He wanted to make something which would be living like him, intelligent like him, holy like him, happy like him: otherwise, one would not know how to understand: Let us make man in our image and likeness. In our image, in the depths of his nature; in our likeness, by the conformity of his works with ours eternal and indivisible.

It is by the result of this word: Let us make man in our image, that man thinks; and to think is to conceive: all thought is conception and expression of something: all thought is expression and by it a conception of the one who thinks it, if he who thinks to himself and hears himself; and, it would be a perfect conception and expression, eternal, substantial, if he who thinks be perfect, eternal, and if he be by his nature all substance, having nothing accidental in himself, neither anything which could be altered by his pure and unalterable intelligence.

Thus God, who thinks substantially, perfectly, eternally, and who does not think, or can only think to himself, in thinking, conceives something substantial, perfect and eternal like himself: his birth, his eternal and perfect generation is there. Because the divine nature knows nothing imperfect; and there, conception cannot be separated from birth. It is thus that God is Father; it is thus that he gives birth to a Son who is equal to him; it is this eternal and perfect fertility whose excellence has swept us away, from the time when we are under the guidance of faith, we have dared to take our thought. To conceive and give birth in this way, it is to be the perfection of the original: and, to conceive and give birth as we do in our imperfect way, it is to be made in the image and likeness of God.

We can thus answer now to Solomon’s question: Tell us his name and the name of his Son, if you can. We can now do it as he has taught us. His name is the Logos, the word: not a foreign or accidental word, God knows nothing of the kind; but a word which is in him a subsistent, cooperating, co-creating person, composing and arranging all things with him, as the same Solomon says: a person which did not begin, as Saint John says: In the beginning she was: a person who is one with God, then, says the same Saint John, she is God  and that God is essentially one: a person who is nevertheless distinct from God, and then, continues the same Apostle, she is in God, with God, at God’s home, apud Deum: his only Son which is in his womb, in sinu Patris, which he sends to the world, which he makes to appear in the flesh as the only Son of God.  Here is his name: it is the Logos, it is the word: the word, I say, by which an eternal and perfect God says to himself by himself all which he is, and conceives, generates and gives birth to all which he says, by consequence giving birth to a perfect, a co-eternal, co-essential and consubstantial being. Let us not find this mystery unworthy of God, as he does not attribute anything to himself which is not perfect; let us not find it unbelievable that God would show the mystery of his eternal generation to those whom he made to resemble him, in whom he had impressed a weak image of this eternal and perfect work. Let us be attentive to ourselves, to our conception, to our thought; we will find there an idea of this immaterial, incorporeal, pure and spiritual generation which the Gospel has revealed to us. Without this revelation, who would dare to cast his eyes on this admirable secret of God? But after faith, we not only dare to contemplate it, but to see in ourselves an image; we dare in some way to project into God this concept of our spirit and strip it of all alteration, of all change, of all imperfection. After this, nothing is left but the pure, perfect, incorporeal, intellectual birth of the Son of God; and, in his Father, a fertility worthy of the first being, by plentitude, by superabundance, by the infinity of a perfect and perfectly communicative nature, not only outside where all produced degenerates into infinity, because at the bottom, it comes from nothing and cannot lose the baseness of its origin; but also in itself where all which is produced of his substance and all his substance, is by necessity equal in all to him.

Road to Freedom

New Wine/Wine Skin LP 259-08 (1973)

I’ve said more than once–too many times, perhaps–that South Florida is one of the toughest places in the U.S. to be a Christian.  So it’s good to see that someone was trying to make a dent in the situation, just down the road from where I grew up and at the same time.

Road to Freedom is the product of just such an effort, headed up by Bob Heiple.  By standards of the Jesus Music era, he put together a strong team to make it happen, including Cheryl Heiple and Steve Powell of Rainbow Promise.   It’s a good album, a mixture of covers and original compositions.  From a personal standpoint, to get ahead of the region’s “curve” one would like to see a more progressive bent to the album–in old South Florida terms, one more for the WSHE listener than the WQAM one.

The covers shows the group going down a straight road headed into the scrub.  With the development that has engulfed the region, scenes like that are mostly a thing of the past.  But it’s a good thing to remember things like that–and the Jesus Music era that went with them, in the land where the animals are tame and the people run wild, and need to take a straight road other than one that leads to the Everglades.

The songs:

  1. Road To Freedom
  2. Long Live God
  3. Bring Back The Springtime
  4. A New Song
  5. It’s Been A Long Time
  6. Spread A Little Love Around
  7. Sacrifice Lamb
  8. Revolution
  9. I Had A Dream
  10. By His Love


Thoughts About My Father, Twenty Years Out

There are some anniversaries that are harder to note than others.  For me, this is one of them. Twenty years ago today, my father, Henry G. Warrington, passed into eternity in a South Florida hospital.  He was the first of my immediate family to do, but certainly not the last: my brother followed suit six months later, and my mother five years after that.

Evangelicals and Pentecostals love to wax warm about their Christian upbringing.  With me, things were a little more complicated.  But that should serve as a reminder that we’re supposed to be about conversion growth, aren’t we?

My father, in aviator’s garb, with his father, Chet Warrington.

In any case, my father was, in reality, a child of privilege. He was raised in Chevy Chase, MD, just outside of Washington.  How our family got there and what we did after that is documented here.  But privilege has its burdens and responsibilities too.  His father was an outsized “mover and shaker” who left a large, multi-faceted legacy that proved a hard act to follow.  I never realised it until years after his death, but much of my growing up–moving to Palm Beach, cruising the Bahamas and the like–were us following in “Chet’s” wake.

Trying to extend the afterglow: my father, wearing his USCG cap, on his father’s yacht in Lake Michigan.

On the other hand, my father served in the Pacific in World War II in the United States Coast Guard, installing Loran stations and participating in some of the gruesome landings we had to make against the Japanese. The gruesome part he never discussed until his deathbed, but one thing was clear to my brother and me: his time in the military was the defining experience of his life, one which he, to varying degrees, tried to replicate in his family.  My brother got most of that: he spent what I came to call “seven years in boot camp”, including military school, maritime academy, and his own trip to Cape May in the Coast Guard.

My father shared that experience with millions of other people in World War II, and he shared it with people from other walks of life that he would not have crossed paths with otherwise.  Today that would make him an outlier in our class-stratified society where “they” do the fighting.  But with all the talk about tax policy and the like we should never lose sight of the fact that World War II was a great leveller of our society, where people from the top learned a responsibility for those at the bottom and vice versa–and the hope that we could all move up to a better life when it was done.  That high regard for people different from us created a tension, especially in the years we spent in status-conscious Palm Beach.  When he was faced with two contradictory things, he would say that “I have a no-fit going here”. But he never resolved this “no-fit”, which meant that, no matter how I sorted it out for myself, it would be wrong.

At the dedication of the family business’ South Florida office, June 1966: From left to right, Donald Lamsey, who managed the Tennessee plant, my mother, my father.

His experience in World War II left him a super patriot.  Traditionally that meant “my country, right or wrong”, but in his case he made it clear to my brother and me that it was never wrong and that we had to agree with it on every point, even when it was manifestly in error, as it was in its dithering way of handling Vietnam (it repeated that error in Iraq).  What advantage democratic process and liberty have with an attitude towards country like that is another one of those “no-fit” things, but he wasn’t the only child of privilege to have to deal with that.

My father (right) with R.G. “Dick” Castle, who represented our product for the San Francisco bay area, at the 1974 Offshore Technology Conference, Houston, TX,

His outlook, Louisiana bayou-inhabiting ancestors notwithstanding, was typically and narrowly WASP. That meant that he was, by today’s standards, hopelessly politically incorrect.  Blacks, Jews, Catholics, gays were all subject to disparagement.  (He had his exceptional moments such as this one). But that included another group of people: Evangelicals, whom he despised.  That extended to his customer base and potential purchasers of the family business.  “Bible-thumpers” were beneath him in every respect.  Had he understood the difference between WASP and Scots-Irish, he might have thrown that in to the mix.  But not even the expensive lesson my mother gave him was educational; he was, as he was wont to say, “too soon old and too late smart”.

My father (centre, blue jacket) with two of his employees and “the big stuff”, a set of offshore leaders, in the West Palm Beach fabricating facility, mid-1970’s.

That leads to the subject of his religion.  For most of his life, probably the best way to describe it is “Masonry without the Lodge”.  All of his Warrington ancestors (and many others) on this side of the Atlantic were Masons and Lodge members.  In his case, probably as a reaction to his fathers penchant for being a “joiner”, he was never in the Lodge AFAIK.  But the sentiments he expressed on the subject definitely sprang from Scottish Rite Freemasonry.  For someone who disliked ambiguity to espouse the Masonic concept of all religions leading to the same goal and the same god seemed awfully open-ended to me, but that’s another one of those “no-fits” that I had to resolve.

In the small craft: my father, right, with my brother and me on our 8′ “Dilly Boat” at Ocean Reef, Key Largo.

If you, by now, get the impression that my father was a hard person to grow up under, you’d be right.  It wasn’t an easy relationship, and that was made worse by his hard drinking, another family tradition that got him into trouble.  My family was one where the upcoming generation was seen more as a present threat than a future legacy, and that’s not as unusual with families in business as you might think.  It really wasn’t until his last years that real softening took place.

Today we have many groups of people who think they’re morally superior to anyone who has gone before them.  That’s one reason many of these groups are anti-Christian: Our Lord taught us that self-righteousness is a sin.  Ultimately, though, putting on moral airs is easier than making a better world, or even a better life.  My father’s generation wrote the destruction of fascism in their own blood; today we dither in the face of our own challenges, hidebound by currently fashionable prejudices and a hopelessly dysfunctional political system.

The people who exalt themselves today need to really make the world a better place, and not just for themselves. That’s the challenge that comes from my father and all those who have gone before us.

Sewanee, N.T. Wright, and Those Strange Biblical Scholars

It’s hard to be surprised these days at anything, but I must admit that I was surprised at the posting by one Paul A. Holloway, Professor of New Testament at the School of Theology at The University of the South, Sewanee, TN.  He is evidently upset that a) his institution gave N.T. Wright an honourary doctorate, without consulting him and b) people who object to his objection aren’t being very nice about it.

First: I’d have to admit, I was surprised that Sewanee bestowed upon him any kind of accolade.  This is the institution that has placed on display a giant clitoris.  Why such an institution would honour someone who has defended the basics of Christianity is beyond me.  Perhaps they’re trying to butter him up to defect.

Holloway, however, makes a long case that Wright isn’t a legitimate Biblical scholar.  As he put it:

What I dared to say in my letter is that properly speaking Wright is not a “scholar” who comes to the evidence with honest questions to be puzzled out and whose conclusions are always subject to revision, but an “apologist” who comes with ideologically generated answers that he then seeks to defend. I also said that Sewanee’s awarding Wright an honorary degree in my field on my watch was a professional embarrassment and that I felt like a biology professor who has had to sit by and watch a Biblical creationist receive an honorary degree in science. The vitriol protesting even my questioning Wright’s preeminence was instant and more than a little revealing.

You can read the rest of his case in his article.  My thoughts on all of this are as follows:

  1. Vitriol and the Internet are just about synonymous these days.
  2. Holloway assumes that, if you don’t agree with the “consensus” of Biblical scholarship that basically started with Richard Simon and moved forward, then you cannot be part of the conversation.  The problems with this “consensus” (which can be shown to be a moving target, especially with the advent of Biblical archeology) is that it renders the Bible unworthy of the study that people like Holloway supposedly give it.   Putting it simply, if they’re right, it’s not relevant.
  3. He characterises Wright’s supporters as “…marginalized and other socially anxious groups (who) construct and rally behind cult figures of their own construction.  These figures offer the social and cultural capital these groups feel they need.”  That’s a high-handed, classically Episcopalian snob approach to the situation, but I suppose one cannot expect otherwise given the institution.  It’s also a handy way of attacking people by denigrating their followers (kind of the reverse of the appeal to authority fallacy).
  4. He leans to heavily on the peer-reviewed literature system.  As a sometime academic working on a PhD, I’ve come to realise that the literature system is in trouble.  I am reluctant to accept stuff in the literature without some prior reflection; that’s especially true in the fields I work in (numerical analysis and geotechnical engineering) where what’s being analysed can be maddeningly complex and the results ambiguous and subject to manipulation or misinterpretation.  Wright challenges a lot of that scholarly consensus, which is why the “establishment” doesn’t care for him.  Once again Holloway needs to get off of his appeal to authority and get to where Wright has got it wrong.
  5. Holloway needs to define what he means by “Biblical creationist”.  Most people mean a “Young Earth Creationist” like Ken Ham, but that’s not universally the case.

Several generations of Episcopal ministers have been trained on Holloway’s idea of the Bible.  The results speak for themselves: a declining church which doesn’t believe in its fundamental tenets and which cannot differentiate itself enough from the society around it to justify involvement.  ISIS reminds us that things in the Middle East haven’t changed as much from Bible times as most would like to think.  Instead of teaching this and other things that get overlooked in Bible studies, Holloway is too busy eviscerating the truth value of what he studies to make it relevant.

And that’s a tragedy for all of us.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal