Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Conversation with John Burgee

One of my ND professors Duncan Stroik, a noted Catholic classicist architect, discusses the work of Philip Johnson with the famous postmodernist' colleague, John Burgee.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Augustine and Monica


Good reading from my friend Adam's blog, Buckets, Wells, and Aquaducts (see right column):

     Augustine's mother, Monica, was a native African. Married to an unfaithful, and even abusive husband—she possessed a grounding center and refuge in two realities: the consolations and promises of the Christian religion, in whose teachings and rituals she placed a total, simple, and unquestioning belief; and in the love of her children—Augustine, his brother, his sister. When Augustine came to despise Christianity, she experienced this as a rift in her own being not to be consoled or healed. Indeed, her tears and prayers, the suffering that he caused her, exerted a constant weight in Augustine's life quite other than the attractions of various intellectual paradigms.

     Augustine was an ambitious, precocious, willful, hot-blooded young man. As a boy he fell in love with Latin poetry—and as a young man wanting to cut a figure in the world, he studied for a legal career. He so excelled in school, that he remained there to teach rhetoric (first in his hometown, later in Carthage), consistently admired by his peers for his intellectual capacity and commanding intensity.

     “To Carthage then I came, into a cauldron of unholy loves.” The school was dominated by a superficial love of prasie, the pleasing victories of public debate, and the vain desire to be best in the eyes of teachers and fellows. The culture of Carthage too, was permeated by the decadence of the late empire: the gladiatorial games, the pornographic rites of the theater.

     In Carthage, Augustine became attached to a mistress, with whom he lived for ten years, and had a son, Adeodatus. He also entered the sect of the Mani—a Gnostic mixture of Christianity and Zoroastrianism. The Manicheans' rather mystical spirituality, and the sense that they were guarding a secret knowledge, was enticing. They spoke in riddles that had special meaning for an elite inner circle—but they basically believed that there were two Gods, two equal and opposite powers that permeated the universe, constantly at odds with each other: good and evil, light and darkness, spirituality and matter.

     Human beings were sparks of the good God that had been trapped in bodies, enmattered, by the evil God. The key to life was to undergo certain moments of enlightenment in which one would come to know one's spiritual being as pure and apart from embodied experience. Since the material world was considered evil, natural passions, affections, and desires were fundamentally irredeemable. Once you recognized that your body was not "the real you," it could be allowed to do the works of its evil God, without staining the soul, or derailing the process of enlightenment.

     You can see the attraction here. On the one hand, Manicheanism allowed one to feel that one was participating in experiences that were pure and spiritual—and, on the other, it gave one license to indulge lower desires without worry that this would damage one's soul.

     It also allowed one to feel that one had an enlightened perspective from which to look down on traditional religion. As a Manichee and a master dialectician, Augustine positively delighted in running intellectual circles around believers, refuting the teachings of Christianity, and skilfully construing bible passages to mean what he wanted them to mean.

     Even more than his licentious life-style, this argumentative scorn for the faith tore Monica's heart. Here was her charming, witty, intelligent, sensitive Augustine (the son of her heart) enlisting his powers and talents to deconstruct the faith in which she rested, in which she had found—in all her life's very real difficulties—consolation, liberty, and strength. She did not attempt to refute his arguments with arguments but met them with the solidity of her person. At this phase she was given two signs of hope, a dream and word of encouragement from a thoughtful and perceptive pastor:

     "In her dream she saw herself standing on a sort of wooden rule, and saw a bright youth approaching her, joyous and smiling at her, while she was grieving and bowed down with sorrow. But when he inquired of her the cause of her sorrow and daily weeping (not to learn from her, but to teach her, as is customary in visions), and when she answered that it was my soul's doom she was lamenting, he bade her rest content and told her to look and see that where she was there I was also. And when she looked she saw me standing near her on the same rule.

     "Whence came this vision unless it was that thy ears were inclined toward her heart? O thou Omnipotent Good, thou carest for every one of us as if thou didst care for him only, and so for all as if they were but one!

     "And ... when she told me of this vision, and I tried to put this construction on it: 'that she should not despair of being someday what I was' she replied immediately, without hesitation, 'No; for it was not told me that "where he is, there you shall be" but "where you are, there he will be".' I confess my remembrance of this to thee, O Lord, as far as I can recall it -- and I have often mentioned it. Thy answer, given through my watchful mother, in the fact that she was not disturbed by the plausibility of my false interpretation but saw immediately what should have been seen—and which I certainly had not seen until she spoke—this answer moved me more deeply than the dream itself. Still, by that dream, the joy that was to come to that faithful woman so long after was predicted long before, as a consolation for her present anguish. ...

     "But thou gavest her then another answer, by a priest of thine, a certain bishop reared in thy Church and well versed in thy books. When that woman had begged him to agree to have some discussion with me, to refute my errors, to help me to unlearn evil and to learn the good—for it was his habit to do this when he found people ready to receive it—he refused, very prudently, as I afterward realized. For he answered that I was still unteachable, being inflated with the novelty of that heresy, and that I had already perplexed divers inexperienced persons with vexatious questions, as she herself had told him. 'But let him alone for a time,' he said, 'only pray God for him. He will of his own accord, by reading, come to discover what an error it is and how great its impiety is.' He went on to tell her at the same time how he himself, as a boy, had been given over to the Manicheans by his misguided mother and not only had read but had even copied out almost all their books. Yet he had come to see, without external argument or proof from anyone else, how much that sect was to be shunned—and had shunned it.

     "When he had said this she was not satisfied, but repeated more earnestly her entreaties, and shed copious tears, still beseeching him to see and talk with me. Finally the bishop, a little vexed at her importunity, exclaimed, 'Go your way; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.' As she often told me afterward, she accepted this answer as though it were a voice from heaven."

     Meanwhile, Ausgustine—always a questioner and a seeker at heart—was becoming dissatisfied with Mani's dualistic account of reality. The intelligibility of the world and the possibility of human communication and communion rest on an underlying coherence that permeates reality, giving it stability, order, proportion, and above all the radiance of, at moments, piercing beauty.

     Dualism puts incoherence, opposition at the center of reality. And its consequences for one's view of the human will—caught between two powers neither of which it can wrest free from—destroy the nobility of human life. Augustine kept asking questions, and always from the higher members of his cult he got the same answer. A distant look would come into their eyes, and they would say, “Wait till Faustus comes, he knows, ask him."

     When the Manichean bishop Faustus did come but could not answer his questions—and even, in an ironic turn, enrolled in Augustine's rhetoric class—Augustine gave up Manicheanism, and began the search for truth all over again.

   For a time he became a skeptic, one whose principle it is to doubt everything. The skeptic maintains that the ground of reality is unknowable, it may be coherent or incoherent. Probabilities alone and not knowledge are possible. As members of the New Academy, the skeptics claimed to be followers of Socrates—who was wisest because "he knew that he did not know"—but in fact they had abandoned the quest of the man they revered, and became mere caricatures of him.

     They would have been startled to hear the flesh and blood Socrates say:

     "Some things I have said of which I am not altogether confident. But that we shall be better and braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to seek and inquire, than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowing and no use in seeking to know what we do not know;—that is a theme upon which I am ready to fight, in word and deed, to the utmost of my power."

     In this period of doubt, Augustine who had broken with his first mistress (of ten years) in order to be betrothed to a young girl (who could not marry till she was older), now despite his betrothal fell in with a second mistress. He was as dejected and unmanned as Odysseus on the island of Calypso—and could find no guiding Hermes in his skepticism. Though his mother came to Carthage to offer him support, he could not listen to her either. In desperation, he gave mother and mistress the slip and left for Rome, taking another teaching post—in which, giving an uncharacteristically lackluster performance in order to support himself, he tried to solve the riddle of his existence: Who and what was he? What to do? How to live?

     Through reading Cicero, Augustine found his way to the books of Plato and the Platonists, which presented a very full view of philosophy's liberation of the mind. Unlike the school of the skeptics, such books did present a coherent image of reality—a reality whose underlying ground is one and eternal, perfect and stable, the cause of the existence and form, the intelligibility and radiance of all things. Everywhere in this philosophy Augustine seemed to hear an echo of the Christianity he had received from his mother as a boy. But when he turned to the Bible, it seemed to be full of old wives' tales, contradictions, superstitions, and to the rhetorician its style seemed so plain as to be embarrassing.

     After leaving Carthage, Augustine met the bishop Ambrose, whose golden tongue and clear calm intelligence (immediately winning Augustine's ear) nevertheless flowed from his faith and intimate knowledge of Scripture. Ambrose showed Augustine how Scripture is a layered work, that its stories while literal and simple—speaking so to the everyday life of each human being—also carry deeper and higher meanings. These higher meanings are not concealed behind simple things as if something alien to them, a secret teaching for which the literal story could be thrown away; instead they permeate the common matter of human life, lifting it into its own highest and deepest meanings and possibilities.

     By Ambrose Augustine was persuaded that, in Chirstianity, the God whom the Platonists understood to be the ground of things had in fact actively spoken and revealed himself to human beings. Had entered the limits of human existence, had had a mother, a body, a death—had redeemed our human life from within. But he hesitated to become Christian because he knew that this would require him to give up certain indulgences of the flesh. So that he would famously pray, “Lord, make me chaste, self-mastered ... but not yet.” Augustine knew such a prayer was shameful hypocrisy, and bitterly felt how his heart was set in conflict with itself. Yet he could not muster the will to launch into the new life that he now was convinced (at least with the top of his intellect) was the true life. In the garden of his house at Rome (where he was staying with his mother and his friend Alypius), he was agonizing over these contradictions—when suddenly he heard a voice:

     "I was praying and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl—I know not which—coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, 'Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.' Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: 'Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.' By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

     "So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: 'Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.' I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away."

     Augustine finished teaching his courses and withdrew with his mother and his best friends, who became Christians with him, to a country villa in Cassiacum, where they spent their time in prayer and philosophical conversation—in which Monica too took an active part. At one time, the group had come to an agreement that to be happy a person must have the things he desires. Monica interrupted with an important distinction: “If he wishes to possess good things, he is happy; if he desires evil things, no matter if he possesses them, he is wretched.” Augustine told her that she spoke like a master philosopher and compared her to Cicero himself.

     After this retreat, Augustine concluded that he should begin his work for God in Africa, his home, and he and Monica made the journey down to Ostia where we find them in Book Nine, "refreshing themselves from their journey, and preparing for the greater voyage"—for Monica the voyage to the other world, for Augustine the Herculean work of his life, as teacher, pastor, bishop, and thinker. He was to face the collapse of the Roman empire and the sweeping away of the world of Classical antiquity, and lay the groundwork for a new culture. He is perhaps the single most important thinker, laborer, and architect for the founding of the new Europe whose rich and radiant humanity was to shine in the works of Dante, Aquinas, and Shakespeare, a culture grounded (as Pope Benedict has said) in the profound rapport between what is Greek and Roman—in the best senses of those words—and what is revealed in Scripture.

Original post here: Good

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Weekend Sailing/Camping in Harbor Springs

Joe and I have been planning a shakedown sail on his late 70's Chrysler C22. It's only 22' long, but packs a lot of cabin room for such a small boat. At 3000lbs, it's big for a trailer sailor but is small enough to launch from a truck. We spent a day practicing stepping and unstepping the mast in the driveway and have many ideas for improving the process to the point where it can be a single-handed operation. Originally, we considered an expedition from South Haven to Saugetuck, but as it was Labor Day with limited slips available and we were new to the boat, we decided to try something a bit more conservative. For this trip we decided to stick to an area I was familiar with and use our family mooring in Harbor Springs as a base of operations as we learned about the boat.

Headed north with the Chrysler C22 in tow
Posed in front of the Wequetonsing Post Office while we picked up the dingy.
It took a while to rig and provision the boat, but we motored down to the mooring and prepared dinner under an improvised boom tent.
Pancakes and sausage for breakfast after our first night on the boat.
And we're off. A fresh breeze proved a bit too be a bit too much action fir the younger members of the crew, but we had plenty of time to practice tacking, jibing, and various points of sail up and down the Weque shore in the lea of point.
Enjoying the sights of the Harbor Saturday afternoon
Our improvised anchor light on the forestry. 
A lot was learned about the boat, its rigging, and sailing; what we do and don't need to pack for longer excursions; skills we need to practice; and additional skills and knowledge we need. Next summer, the plan is to sail from Harbor Springs down along the coast and across Grand Traverse Bay to Northport. This would be a great trip in the C22 or perhaps the Mariner if I can get it s bit more seaworthy this winter...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Halcyon Morning

The pasture across from our house in a blanket of mist this morning. These mornings are starting to get a bit chilly, even if the days are still hot.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sailing the "Grebe"

After much work, some hastily done, my rescued Mariner 19 got some time on Little Traverse Bay this summer after years of disuse (more on the boat to come). It is a joy to sail and seems to be a hit with the whole family. Now that she has proven herself, I think I'm ready to allocate a bit more time into further work on her. I hope to record further repairs, restorations, and improvements to the "Grebe" here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Vintagent Features the Janus Documentary

The vintagent has selected our documentary for his new website!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Mast Raising on a Chrysler C22

A friend brought his sailboat by for a preparatory daysail last Sunday. We are planing a 3-day voyage from Grand Haven to Saugetuck in two weeks and I wanted some experience with the boat prior to taking it out on Lake Michigan. After the relative ease of mast raising on my very light little Mariner 19 "Grebe", I was not prepared for the operation it would take to step the heavy mast on a Chrysler C22. The C22 is a trailer sailor, but about as big as they come. Heavy, well ballasted, and rigged for adventures further from shore. We spent 3 hours test stepping and lowerering the mast in my driveway and decided against doing it all over at the boat launch without a bit more research... We managed to jury rig a gin pole and mast bridle out of a 2X4 and some spare line, but it was not a perfect system, and was quite nerve racking to raise and lower. Turns out we were very close to figuring it out, but not quite. Apparently the C22 mast can be stepped single-handed with the right experience and equipment. I will say, once everything was rigged, it was a very straightforward operation, perhaps easier even than the Mariner. You're just dealing with four times the weight. With a bit of research and sketching, I look forward to trying this again and actually going sailing in this great boat.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Back out of all this now too much for us

I have been thinking a lot lately about the incredible waste of time represented by "social media". While I have not yet reached the ultimate goal of no cellphone or perhaps a "dumb" phone, a return to the old blog and a more mindful online interaction is perhaps a good first step. I have finally been able to divest myself of the burden of Facebook (I may still forward posts there and maintain desktop interaction with friends and family that I would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with) and am planning further online self-emancipations. But this old blog has always been a source of enjoyment and a meaningful way of sharing thoughts, experiences, information, and intellectually stimulating stories, etc. from the internet. The internet does, after all, provide an incredible resource when used responsibly. As always, this is more a series of spontaneous, informal pensées than a polished essay, but at least it won't be a "status update" (thinking about it, what a ridiculous term that is). So, there it is. In the words of Frost, "back out of all this now too much for us"...