In Penn Station, I hardly garner a sideways glance. On the Acela train back to D.C., everyone in my car is so absorbed in their own electronics—their iPads, their iPhones, all of their iSundries—I find it impossible to raise iBrows, since I can hardly make contact with the iBalls under them. An attractive businesswoman, Kimberly Shells, is sitting across from me. With earbuds inserted, she is lost in her own iWorld. Or so I think. After watching her pick mixed nuts out of a cup for a while, I decide to break the ice by winking a picture of her, then asking her if she wants to see it. I expect her to tell me to get bent, or to call the authorities. Instead, she smiles warmly, if slightly warily. “Oh, I was wondering what that is. I thought maybe you had an eye handicap or injury.”
When I inform her of my exalted status as a Glass Explorer, the guy next to her asks if I’m selling them. In fact, I explain, I had to pay 1,500 bucks for the privilege of wearing these. “I would think they’d pay you,” says Shells. I ask her if she might wear them when they’re finally released. “Uhhh, no,” she says, not wishing to offend. “It’s just . . . I don’t want the Internet on my eye. I’m already as connected as I need to be.”
From the looks of the hunchbacked, thumb-clacking herd around us, so is everybody else.
"At the time of his death, he was a much admired dramatist. But Francis Beaumont, who passed away a few weeks before him, was equally admired, on the basis of far fewer plays. The centenary of Shakespeare’s birth fell soon after the theatres reopened with the Restoration of the monarchy, following the period when the Puritans had closed them down for the duration of the Civil War. His plays formed a staple part of the repertoire, but those of Beaumont and John Fletcher were performed more frequently. Shakespeare only pulled ahead of the pack in the Georgian era. It was around his 200th anniversary, under the auspices of the great actor David Garrick, that he took on his status as National Poet and exemplar of artistic genius. He has never fallen out of fashion, but in the past 25 years or so his reputation has become truly stratospheric. In Britain and around the world you can see more Shakespeare than ever before. It may indeed be that his reputation has reached its high-water mark and can only recede."
"[George] Borrow was a walker of awesome stamina and a linguist of almost inconceivable talent, who is said to have been able to speak twelve languages by the time he was eighteen and to have been competently acquainted with more than forty – including Nahuatl, Tibetan, Armenian and Malo-Russian – over the course of his life. In the winter of 1832– 3 the British and Foreign Bible Society invited him at short notice to an interview in London, wanting to see if he could translate the Bible into a number of difficult languages. He walked to the interview from Norwich, covering 112 miles in 27 hours, sustained by a pint of ale, half a pint of milk, a bread roll and two apples . The society liked what they saw and commissioned Borrow to translate the New Testament into Manchu. What Borrow hadn’t told them was that he did not have any Manchu. No problem. Once the job was landed, he acquired ‘several books in the Manchu-Tartar dialect’, and Amyot’s Manchu–French (French!) dictionary. Then he travelled home (by coach, understandably) and shut himself up with the books. Three weeks later he could ‘translate Manchu with no great difficulty’, and fulfilled the society’s commission."
"I now wonder where the idea or of the ideology of creativity started. Shakespeare and company certainly stole from, copied each other’s writings. Before them, the Greeks didn’t both making up any new stories. I suspect that the ideology of creativity started when the bourgeoisie—when they rose up in all their splendor, as the history books put it—made a capitalistic marketplace for books. Today a writer earns money or a living by selling copyright, ownership to words. We all do, we writers, this scam, because we need to earn money, only most don’t admit it’s a scam. Nobody really owns nothing."
XKCD. Sure. But everybody knows this, yes? And to make this point alone — it’s a pretty cheap and easy point, after all — is to avoid the questions that really matter: What kinds of differences in opinion ought to result in shunning, shaming, marginalizing, and banning? When, by contrast, is it better to tolerate differences in opinion because by doing so we enable certain social goods? How far do we want to go in excluding, whenever we have the power to do so, people with whom we disagree?
So, why am I going on and on this week about Christian unity?
Because as a follower of Jesus I am commanded to seek it.
And because such unity has never been more important. Christianity in the West is struggling. Its cultural influence hasn’t been lower since the time of Augustine, and more and more of its core practices, in countries throughout the Western world, are coming under legal prohibition or at least restriction. In predominantly Catholic countries around the world Mass attendance has been declining for decades; the mainline Protestant denominations in the U. S. have utterly imploded; in many parts of the globe, the ecstasies of Pentecostalism are giving way to celebrations of the prosperity gospel; the evangelical world in which I lived for so many years has misplaced its impetus and sense of purpose. Never has there been a time when we more desperately need the resources — intellectual and spiritual — and the love of one another.
In response to this situation , megachurch pastors are lying and buying their way onto the New York Times bestseller lists, and/or bullying their staffs into obeisance; Catholic bishops are closing schools and parishes while building magnificent mansions for themselves and continuing to cover up cases of sexual abuse; evangelical and Pentecostal pastors are even more energetically pimping out their homes and freighting themselves with bling in order to become living posters for the Abundant Life; — and my Catholic and Protestant friends alike are delightedly taking snarky potshots at one another across the denominational divides.
Men in power will do what men in power always do. It’s the otherwise thoughtful, serious, faithful Christians who, it seems to me, are fiddling while Christendom burns whose attention I’ve tried to catch with these reflections. But it’s quite obvious from the responses I’ve received on Twitter and via email that no one’s buying what I’m selling here. So I’ll be quiet now; which is not the worst thing to do on Good Friday, anyway.
Some images just hit the right spot. This cute owl in his best red coat is part of a decorated page in a Pontifical, a book that was read during a special Mass in the church, often by the bishop himself. Having ploughed through a full page of big chunky letters, he was treated to a change of pace: a bit of entertainment in the lower margin. Hidden inside the colourful display sits the owl, who is looking, puzzled, at a bell. While the significance of the scene is lost on me, it made my day. Having been locked out of my Tumblr account for three days (see my previous post), it is good to be able to show you entertaining medieval things like this again. Thank you Tumblr Support Team!
Pic: Aarau, Aargauer Kantonsbibliothek, MS MurF 3 (dated 1508). The full manuscript can be browsed here.
"Her most personal book, Celebration, came out in 1989, shortly before Bridget died at 22. It is a tough, clear meditation on illness and suffering in the light of her faith in God. Margaret itemised without flinching the cruelties she had discovered in creation, in her daughter’s life and on the wards at Great Ormond Street, where she once reached out to stroke a crying child’s face and was stopped by a nurse who told her that the slightest touch could break the child’s bones. She could reconcile none of these things with the idea of a loving and benevolent God and she made no attempt to do so. Instead, she was convinced that God shared in the sufferings of his creation and that through the symbolic recreation of Jesus’s acceptance of death in the eucharist it could somehow, sometimes, be made bearable."