Seeing Things Politically

“… we see a growing incapacity in Europe to accept political disagreement and run the risk of electoral choice. The tyranny of political correctness is, by the way, the most striking manifestation of this fear of disagreement. The pre-democratic counsel returns with a vengeance; the public space can now only bear unanimity. ‘The construction of Europe’ is the expression and the result of this slow death of democracy. Europe is being built under the reign of the formula: we have no choice. In fact, no one asks the people their opinion except in order to disregard it. Every citizen of a country of Europe knows that he can shout his lungs out, but the trains will not stop. The way in which the French, the Dutch, and the Irish have accepted being dispossessed of the choices they had freely and clearly formulated is very troubling. This might be finally the only argument in favor of European construction such as it is being done for us: our old countries are tired; they no longer have the strength to make choices or even seriously to envision true choices. Moaning, but finally consenting, they confide their destiny to the Machine that is no more than the sum of their renunciations.
It is ironic, in any case, that Europeans experience such a feeling of satisfaction and moral superiority at the very time they are losing, or rather rejecting, what once constituted the specificity and, yes, the superiority of the West.”

Pierre Manent, from his book: Seeing Things Politically

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Back when I was traveling from city to city giving talks, I had the luxury of looking into the faces of those with whom I was in conversation. In fact, it was this that both sustained and energized me during those years. Writing is a lonelier business. Occasionally, it is marginally less exhausting. But the writer is removed from those with whom he hopes to be in communication. Today, if a writer hears at all from his readers it is by way of the short reviews that readers leave on Amazon. I have been blessed with a number of beautiful Amazon reviews, and I am especially grateful to those who have posted such kind and generous reviews.

It is much rarer to hear directly from a reader one has never met. However, I recently received an email from such a reader, an obviously gifted young man whose early academic accomplishments are quite impressive. He wrote to thank me for God’s Gamble, saying that it had changed the direction of his life. His email reminded me of certain writers I read as a young man and whose books changed the direction of my own life. His email also reminded me of how much I owe to so many whose words and examples live on in me today, among whom are the friends of the Cornerstone Forum, a great many of whom I pray for by name on a daily basis. I welcome your prayers. I’m sure that my work on several current writing projects depends on those prayers more than even I fully realize.

  • Gil Bailie
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Read All About It! – Spring Newsletter

Free complimentary downloadable MP3 audio – Part 8 of Gil Bailie’s Reflections on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans

WE wish a glorious Easter season to all! – As a special Easter gift to those visiting us here we are offering a complimentary downloadable MP3 of the final part 8 of Gil Bailie’s Reflections on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Click on the image below and download this free MP3 from our store by using the coupon code ‘spring‘.

The complete set of Gil’s Reflections on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is now available from our webstore in both an 8 CD album and downloadable MP3 versions.

Now Available on Amazon and Audible – Gil Bailie’s Reflections on Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida

We have recently completed the process of becoming an official Amazon seller and will now be making Gil Bailie’s materials from the audio archives available on Amazon’s marketplace in the US and Canada. Our first test product, now available on Amazon as both a 5 CD album and on Audible as an audiobook, is Reflections on Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida. This will also be available soon on iTunes. The content of these commercially available products is the same as that offered on the Cornerstone Forum webstore although the formatting will differ somewhat as short introductions have been added. Pricing will remain the same for the CF store and Amazon (with shipping costs varying with Amazon items). And CD sets purchased on Amazon will still be produced and shipped by us for the time being. We hope the exposure to the vast Amazon market will enable more people to easily find and access Gil’s work.

Also, we encourage those who have listened to the Troilus & Cressida series to write a review on the product’s Amazon and Audible page. Those unfamiliar with Gil Bailie and his work and who may be considering purchasing audio materials will be helped by reading reviews.

In the coming months, we will be including more items from Gil Bailie’s audio archives on Amazon and Audible.

Some new items we have recently made available on our Streaming Media page include:

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Who Are You, Lord?

The 40 days of Lent spent walking the dusty byways of Palestine with the disciples and their Lord, witnessing miracles of healing, hearing the Lord’s words, and then following him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through crowds shouting ‘hosanna’, coming to the upper room to celebrate a very different kind of Passover – the Lord washing the disciples feet, even the horror of seeing the Lord crucified after he has been betrayed and abandoned by all – this panorama of scenes is familiar in a way that Holy Saturday and the Resurrection of Easter Sunday are not. Prior to his burial in the tomb, all of the Lord’s actions and words were witnessed by those around him. This was the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. But sealed in the rock tomb another ministry took place, a cosmic ministry perhaps, beyond the ability of human senses to perceive. Unlike the raising of his friend Lazarus which many saw, no one saw Jesus descend to the realm of the dead or walk out of the tomb. So, in our mind’s eye, the pictures painted by the Gospel writers of the events of the life of Jesus Christ up to his death and burial are available to our imagination. But, as we believe, Christ on Holy Saturday took death captive and on Easter Sunday, once dead but now alive never again to die, took on a life that is beyond anything we can imagine. No longer hindered by physical barriers the risen Lord appears when and where he wills, often not immediately recognized by those closest to him. In John’s gospel when the risen Lord is eating breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples, in the third post-resurrection appearance, John writes, “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ – knowing it is the Lord“. It is the Lord, but something has changed so that the question lingers, ‘Who are you?’.

Over the 50 days of the Easter season we are invited to reflect on that question.

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We call this Friday good…

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed , then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood-
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Four Quartets, East Coker IV  –  by T S Eliot

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In the Garden…revisited

Last year we posted some reflections on the Bob Dylan song ‘In the Garden‘ as a point of departure for those who may be looking for an entry into the Triduum beginning on Holy Thursday. (The post is reprised below.) Late last year Dylan’s record label released ‘Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981‘ a multi-CD set of live concert and unreleased studio recordings from this period. A list of some of the song titles, besides ‘In the Garden‘, give a sense of the intensity and devotion expressed in these performances:

Gotta Serve Somebody, I Believe in You, When You Gonna Wake Up?, When He Returns, Gonna Change My Way of Thinking, Solid Rock, What Can I Do for You?, Saved, Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody, Ain’t No Man Righteous No Not One, Saving Grace, Blessed Is the Name,  Every Grain of Sand, Jesus Is the One, Thief on the Cross, Yonder Comes Sin.

Surprisingly, many of the secular press reviews of this set were positive, even laudatory saying these songs were some of Dylan’s best work. There are Amazon reviews that claim these songs provided an opening for a new or recovered faith in Christ for the listeners. A short essay by a well known self-professed atheist included with the materials in the deluxe boxed set makes clear that his ears were opened to hear the message contained in these songs for the first time. No suggestion is being made that these songs reflect the fullness of Christian faith found in the sacraments. However, they are at least an expression of what St. Paul wrote of in Romans 10 that “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

On Holy Thursday in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we commemorate the last Passover meal the disciples shared with Jesus, their Teacher and Master. Afterward, the whole party retired to the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. There, while the disciples slept, Jesus experienced an agony unknown and unknowable to mere men. In 1980 Bob Dylan wrote a song entitled “In the Garden” that begins:

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
Did they know He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord?

In a filmed recording of a live concert performance in the early ’80s Mr. Dylan is heard to introduce this song by asking the Australian audience if they have any heros, suggesting the names of famous Aussies to which the crowd responds. He follows up by saying he doesn’t care much for any of the ones he mentioned, but that he does indeed have a hero and will sing a song about his hero – launching into a rocking version of “In the Garden”.

More recently Mr. Dylan has been exploring the ‘Great American Songbook’ recording songs by George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin among others. In a recent interview exploring his long and varied songwriting career Dylan was asked if he thought there were any of his songs that did not receive the attention they deserved. He named two, one of which was “In the Garden”.

The verses of ‘In the Garden’ are comprised of a series of questions, like the one quoted above. Anyone familiar with the Biblical stories from which this song was taken will sense the ambiguity and uncertainty involved in attempting to answer them. Jesus’ foremost disciple, Simon Peter, had in earlier days declared that he knew or believed Jesus to be the Messiah, the son of the Living God. On this night, however, he abandoned his Lord in the garden and denied him three times in the high priest’s courtyard shouting with curses, “I do not know the man!”. We ask ourselves, ‘Did Peter really know Jesus was the Lord?’. I ask this question of myself even I as tap out the words, knowing of my own betrayals.

As we traverse this Triduum recalling the events leading into the Paschal Mystery of Easter Sunday it would be a profitable exercise to reflect on the questions posed ‘In the Garden’.

The final verse ends with the repeated question:

When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?

A blessed Easter to all,

Randy Coleman-Riese

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Via Crucis – images by Vonn Hartung

Traveling the path of Holy Week we enter into the Triduum and its mysteries. Our friend Vonn Hartung has by the sacramentality of painted images provided us access to the depths to which these days are intended to lead. You are invited to take a few minutes to follow the Via Crucis…

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Holidays and Holy Days

What are we to make of this year’s overlapping holidays and holy days? Lent began February 14th, Valentines Day with Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday will coincide with April Fools Day. (Technically, April Fools is not a holiday. But perhaps we should rethink that and consider making it Federal holiday.)

Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day would seem at odds with each other. Some priests even encouraged their parishioners to perform their amorous displays on the day before so as not to interfere with the appropriate attitude of repentance and sorrow for sin when receiving the ashen mark on their foreheads. Even so the Gospel reading prescribed for the day enjoins us to ‘not look gloomy’ while performing our fast. Sacramentality asks us to see and experience the inexplicable union of spirit and flesh whose source is the Incarnation and whose end is subsumed in the Resurrection. No doubt there is a tension between the secular understanding and expression of Valentines Day and the Christian self-examination and humiliation in hearing ‘remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. But it is a good tension, the kind Kierkegaard likened to the tension of the stings of a musical instrument. Without it there would be no music, no love songs or hymns like the Dies Irae.

Risking sacrilige, how might the combining of the great Easter feast of the Resurrection and the rather goofy pranks of April Fools Day be viewed together? St. Paul provides a  segue in the first letter to the Corinthians chapter four when he upbraids some of those in the church of Corinth for their haughty manner and rivalry saying that he and the other Apostles “…are fools for Christ…to this very hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are vilified, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer gently. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” Then St. Paul privides fatherly advice to his arrogant children in the faith…”I urge you to imitate me.”

Shall we?

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The Predicament

“There are still countries today where, even in the Catholic Church, the individual is in a situation reminiscent of that in which Kierkegaard found himself, in a national church that had fallen into liberalism: however willing the individual is to submit to the Church’s direction, he can no longer find a firm representative of ecclesiastical authority; as for having recourse to the Pope’s teaching, the latter may become almost inaudible and practically inaccessible. Those he finds around him acting the part of the ‘Church’ and of the ‘clergy’ are under more than just suspicion of having made a pact with anti-Christian power-structures; or, what comes to the same thing, though more covertly, they are subject to a system of terror within the Church herself that does not allow the bishops freedom to act responsibly as they see fit. Or alternatively – and again these features are related – they are caught in a net of ideological slogans that has entangled both the hierarchy and a large proportion of the Catholic people too (to say nothing of the intelligentsia).”

– Hans Urs von Balthasar

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Big Data & Human Sacrifice

The following comes from an article posted on The Atlantic magazine website:

In 1598, a European miner working in the Bolivian highlands stumbled across a 10-year-old Andean girl who was still alive, despite having been walled up inside a funerary tower three days earlier. Several decades had passed since the Inca Empire—the most sophisticated in the world at that time—had fallen, but its practices lived on among the Incas’ descendants in the region, including human sacrifice. The practice held on a little longer after this incident. Around 20 years later, a boy, who had escaped from local chiefs attempting to bury him alive, took refuge in a Spanish community in the Peruvian Sierra. But the tradition was incompatible with the moral outlook of the new Catholic regime, and die it did, eventually.

The question scientists are debating now is: Did our modern world spring from the beliefs of those who buried the girl alive, or from those of the miner who freed her?

To put that question another way, were human societies able to grow so large and complex because cruel practices like human sacrifice shored them up, or because human sacrifice was abandoned in favor of other forms of social glue—notably, major religions like Christianity?

What seems clear is that the author of the article and, likely, the scientists in the debate are unfamiliar with the work of one scholar who spent most of his life studying violence and religion and the origins of human culture, René Girard. The article describes research being conducted by teams of university based scholars mining the data from anthropological studies of thousands of primitive cultures both living and extinct and pooling the information in vast databases. Without the tools that Girard’s work provides it is not surprising that the researchers fall into the materialistic and utilitarian hypotheseses regarding us humans and our social interactions. Perhaps you have heard of ‘big data’ and, like many, have relegated that term to the realm of topics too vast to spend much time worrying about; while at the same time finding it somehow worrisome. I have my own qualms in this regard, however it is possible that big data may in this instance provide another layer of emperical support to Girard’s mimetic theory of the origins of human culture.

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