Tag Archives: commonplace

Thoughts while reading

I just finished listening to The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. I’ve not read Christie for some time. Hercule Poirot annoys me. The Restless Teacher thinks I’ve deeply misunderstood Poirot as she enjoys his exploits. What got me this time was the thick narrator. Are Christie’s narrators always so stupid? This guy thought he knew what was going on, but Poirot ran rings around him, insulted him to his face without his realizing it, and generally made a fool of him. It felt like Christie was mocking the English gentleman. I’d never noticed this before. I will watch out for it when I revisit Murder on the Orient Express which I will do when I’ve finished Passage to India.

Speaking of Passage to India here is a great description from that book. I feel like Forster is trying a little to hard to find felicitous phrases, but then this one pops up and I thought — there it is, that is what he’s trying to do but not quite making it most of the time.

They [the English] exchanged the usual drinks, but everything tasted different and then they looked out at the palisade of cactuses stabbing the purple throat of the sky; they realized they were thousands of miles from any scenery that they understood.

“The palisade of cactuses stabbing the purple throat of the sky.” Got it that time E.M. Forster.

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Emily on God

I am reading Emily Climbs, book two in the series about Emily by L.M. Montgomery. I read Emily of New Moon last January as part of the Old Books project, but then neglected the rest of the series. I’ve returned to Emily to start off the 2014 Old Books Challenge. This morning on the bus I had to read these paragraphs a few times as I rather enjoyed them. Here are some of Emily’s thoughts on God as extracted from her Jimmy-Book.

“Well, God’s ways are very mysterious.” [Aunt Elizabeth said this]

“That is why they are interesting,” I [Emily] said.

But Aunt Elizabeth frowned and told me not to be irreverent, as she always does when I say anything abut God. I wonder why. She won’t let Perry and me talk about Him, either, though Perry is really very much interested in Him and wants to find out all about Him. Aunt Elizabeth overheard me telling Perry one Sunday afternoon what I thought God was like, and she said it was scandalous.

It wasn’t! The trouble is, Aunt Elizabeth and I have different Gods, that is all. Everybody has a different God, I think. Aunt Ruth’s, for instance, is one that punishes her enemies–sends ‘judgements’ on them. That seems to me to be about all the use He really is to her. Jim Cosgrain uses his to swear by. But Aunt Janey Milburn walks in the light of her God’s countenance, every day, and shines with it.

Theology out of the mouths of babes? Well, put into the mouths of teens anyway. This is an interesting and astute observation about the uses people make of God. Thoughts? Feelings?

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Sleepless in Toronto

As noted previously, I’m re-reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. On this particular re-read, the chapter epigraphs have come into focus. I admired the epigraph for the chapter in which Lord Peter appears unexpectedly in Oxford, then naps in a boat on the river during a lazy spring Sunday. I find it even more apt now that I find I’ve drunk too much coffee and cannot sleep. The quote is attributed to Thomas Dekker, but doesn’t note which of his many works it comes from. A quick search of the internet has produced no obvious results except the continued attribution of the quote to Dekker without reference to the particular work. Here is Dekker on sleep, as quoted by Sayers.

Do but consider what an excellent thing sleep is: it is so inestimable a jewel that, if a tyrant would give his crown for an hour’s slumber, it cannot be bought: of so beautiful a shape is it, that though a man lie with an Empress, his heart cannot beat quite till he leaves her embracements to be at rest with the other: yea, so greatly indebted are we to this kinsman of death, that we owe the better tributary, half of our life to him: and there is good cause why we should do so: for sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. Who complains of want? of wounds? of care? of great men’s oppressions ? of captivity? whilst he sleepeth? Beggars in their beds take as much pleasure as kings: can we therefore surfeit on this delicate Ambrosia? Can we drink too much of that whereof to taste too little tumbles us into a churchyard, and to use it but indifferently throws us into Bedlam? No, no, look upon Endymion, the moon’s minion, who slept three score and fifteen years, and was not a hair the worse for it.

Now, lets see if I can get me some of that sleep, the golden chain, etc.

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Women’s education

Thoughts published in 1827 on educating women, from Conversations on the Bible by Sarah Ewing Hall, a book of conversations between Mother and her three children, Fanny, Catherine, and Charles. Here they are discussing Judges 4 & 5.

Fanny. Difficult as it is to reconcile our present notions with the conduct of Jael—or indeed to the participation of women in warlike exploits at all, I must plume myself on Deborah. The appointment of a woman to the dignity of a ruler and a prophet, by unerring wisdom, is in favour of my opinion, that the mental powers of the sexes are naturally equal.

Mother. That is a question my dear, which we can never determine until their natural powers are alike cultivated by education. So long as one and twenty years are unremittingly given to the improvement of the mind of one, and not more than half that time to the other, and that besides, in a desultory manner, it will be altogether unfair to estimate the minds of men and women by their subsequent conduct.

Go Sarah Hall almost 200 years ago.

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Great Men/Women Theories

I am currently reading Dorothy L. Sayers again. I’ve made it to Gaudy Night in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. Gaudy Night is one of my favourite of these books. Once, when I had it with me at church, Fee, an elder now with Jesus, informed me that it was one of her favourites. I know I liked it because of the interesting female lead. I think Fee might have liked it for similar reasons. As I read last night, I came across a passage that I don’t think I’d spotted before. I’ve been interested in the “Great Men” historiography of the nineteenth century because I’ve worked with women writing in the nineteenth century who had to deal with that kind of thinking. In Gaudy Night Harriet mused on a counter theory of great women. Here is her musing

“Though of course,” Harriet reminded herself, “a woman may achieve greatness, or at any rate great renown, by merely being a wonderful wife and mother, like the mother of the Gracchi; whereas the men who have achieved great renown by being devoted husbands and fathers might be counted on the fingers of one hand. Charles I was an unfortunate king, but an admirable family man. Still, you would scarcely class him as one of the world’s great fathers, and his children were not an unqualified success. Dear me! Being a father is either a very difficult or a very sadly unrewarded profession. Wherever you find a great man, you will find a great mother or a great wife standing behind him—or so they used to say. It would be interesting to know how many great women have had great fathers and husbands behind them. An interesting thesis for research. Elizabeth Barrett? Well, she had a great husband, but he was great in his own right, so to speak—and Mr. Barrett was not exactly—The Brontes? Well, hardly. Queen Elizabeth? [Note: no number as book written in 1935.] She had a remarkable father, but devoted helpfulness towards his daughters was scarcely his leading characteristic. And she was so wrong-headed as to have no husband. Queen Victoria? You might make a good deal out of poor Albert, but you couldn’t do much with the Duke of Kent.”

Excellent. I rather liked this line of thought.

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Reading Older Theology Books

I’ve just finished reading History, Sacred and Profane by Alan Richardson. The book is the published version of the Bampton Lectures for 1962. (These are the Bampton Lectures at Oxford, not the ones in the USA.) At the end, in an appendix, Richardson says that Christian theology is closer to history than philosophy, and to think that dogmatics is metaphysics confuses categories. Here is a longish quote in which this gets says. (The italics emphasis in the quote is Richardson’s, the bold emphasis mine. I’ve added a little gender-inclusivity as well.)

A very important corollary follows concerning the nature of the enquiry into the history of ideas which has been pursued in these Lectures. That enquiry has been historical in character, since it has been concerned with the interpretation of history. The point is an important one, because there is much confusion today concerning the nature of theology. Many philosophers nowadays are accustomed to class theological statements with metaphysical ones, bringing them into the same condemnation. This is a mistake, a confusion of categories, so far as Christian theology is concerned. If our approach has been correct, theological statements are historical, not metaphysical, in character. Such statements as ‘God is love’ or ‘the world was created by God’ are historical  in that they are brief summaries of a long and well-considered process of reflection upon historical ‘facts’, which are themselves interpretations of historical evidence. Christian dogmatics, is, in essence, the Christian interpretation of history. The verification of theological statements involves us in the interpretation of history, which is the task of the historian qua historian; verification is not the task of the philosopher qua philosopher, because the relevant evidence is historical. Verification, again, is not to be sought in the natural sciences (though, of course, the historian will have to take into account all available knowledge, including scientific knowledge, when he comes to make his interpretation). In the last resort, as in all historical interpretation, the interpreter’s own personal experience of involvement in history will be the deciding factor in his [her] judging, because all historical judgment is unavoidably personal and existential. There is no escape from personal decision by the fiction of an objective or ‘scientific’ history, which can determine the existential questions of historical interpretation in the kind of ‘public’ manner which is expected of the natural sciences. The sciences tell us much about the stage on which the drama of history is enacted; they can even help us to set the stage in such a way that the play may be better acted and better seen; but the meaning of the drama is perceived not by attending to the stage mechanism, but by involvement in the tragedy enacted under the lights focused by the historian’s skill.

Theologians or historians or philosophers do you have thoughts or comments?

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