Hallmark Xmas Movies on the Sectarian Review

Merry Christmas! Earlier this week, I sat down for a chat with Danny Anderson of the Sectarian Review Podcast, his wife Kim, and fellow guest Chris Pipkin. This week’s topic: the Hallmark Christmas movie phenomenon. We had a real blast talking through our own histories with Hallmark, the rise of the Christmas movie machine, how we pass the time while enduring these movies, what these movies do and do not do well, and, perhaps most importantly, what these movies are trying to say—if they’re trying to say anything. I had a great time recording this and hope y’all enjoy listening.

So drop your snooty big city fiance, head to a small town that’s planning its annual Christmas event, wrap up in a tasteful and modestly priced scarf, bake something, decorate something else, and listen in while you wait for the inevitable third-act snow!

You can find the episode embedded below, or at iTunes, Stitcher, and other fine purveyors of podcasts.

A warning for conservatives

Abtei im Eichwald , by Caspar David Friedrich

Abtei im Eichwald, by Caspar David Friedrich

While visiting home in Georgia this weekend, my wife and I went to my parents’ church. The sermon came from the Book of Exodus, but an aside from Ecclesiastes caught us both off guard and gave us a lot to think about:

Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
— Ecclesiastes 7:10

For my wife, this brought to mind changes at work, a difficult new generation of students, and a longing for years past, before present troubles. I thought immediately of conservatism—not the political position, but the attitude or temperament that is prior to any particular political idea: a disposition rather than an ideology, according to Michael Oakeshott; a state of mind, an instinct to preserve and maintain, to adhere to tradition and custom, to guarantee continuity, according to Russell Kirk; an understanding that good things are hard to create and easy to destroy, according to Roger Scruton. We could go on much further.

So while I am a conservative, both by temperament and because I agree with the above, I’m not talking about political conservatism, which is in bad shape in the United States anyway. I mean the general disposition, to which even self-described progressives are susceptible, and what I see as its besetting danger.

That danger is what is commonly called nostalgia now: a sentimentalized reverence for a past that—probably—never existed.

This shouldn’t be news—conservatives are accused of nostalgia all the time—but I do wrestle with a longing for a time without our present troubles. There were good things about the past, things it is good to preserve or recover, and there are serious problems at present, problems to which the past may—and I think often does—hold the solutions. But I have to remind myself that while the people of the past may not have had our problems, they had plenty of their own, and there were even then people like me who cast longing backward glances at their own simpler, more peaceful, less troubled pasts. It’s simpler times all the way down.

And there stand the words of the preacher. In the magisterial archaism of the KJV: “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.”

This is not, of course, a resounding endorsement of nostalgia’s opposite error, progressivism—“a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.” And it is good to remember that Ecclesiastes is hardly a straightforward collection of proverbial wisdom. But this passage is a good reminder of the unwisdom of two related mistakes: assuming the past was necessarily better than the present, and using that assumption as an excuse to neglect the present.

Mea culpa. This is a tall order for someone who is both a conservative and an historian, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

Food for thought at an obsessively nostalgic time of year. To conclude with a warning against focusing obsessively on the future—a New Year’s warning, perhaps—here’s the Gospel of Matthew:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
— Matthew 6:34

Heresy and Apologetics on City of Man Podcast

Another Ancient Asides episode of City of Man has dropped! In this episode, regular host Coyle Neal and I talk about the early Church’s incubation—including issues of heresy, persecution, and apologetics—under the heel of the Roman Empire between AD 150 and 300. Come for the history, stay for the gratuitous ragging of Dan Brown.

You can find the Christian Humanist Radio Network’s City of Man Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and other fine podcasting hubs, or listen in via the Stitcher player embedded in this post. Thanks for listening! Hope y’all enjoy.

The Early Church on City of Man Podcast

Yesterday the latest installment of the City of Man Podcast’s Ancient Asides series, in which I and regular host Coyle Neal discuss Roman political history, posted online. In this episode, Coyle and I discuss the first generations of Christianity as this obscure Eastern movement developed into a large new religion under the heel of Rome. You can listen here via the embedded Stitcher player, or on iTunes or any number of other fine podcasting apps. You can read our brief shownotes and reading recommendations at the Christian Humanist Radio Network homepage, here.

I always have a great time talking to Coyle, and this is an interesting and important topic, especially as we press forward in Roman history and the Empire begins to change. Enjoy!

The Gardener, an Easter sonnet

‘Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?’ She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said unto Him...

This is a sonnet I wrote on Easter Sunday a few years ago. It's an elaboration on an image from my favorite passage of Chesterton's Everlasting Man. But the less explanation the better, probably.

I hope you enjoy, and that you all have a happy Easter!

* * * * *

The Gardener
(After Chesterton)

In the beginning, first of all the stations,
the gardener, his delving his delight,
in cooling mists of waning daylight
walked his grounds and spoke with his creations.
But garden drove him out, itself so driven,
and histories of corruption followed after—
of rot, of glut, of lust and hollow laughter,
the briar-strangled garden left unliving.

Beginning new, that gardener once gone
returned and looked and set to work again—
his delving his delight, despite of thorns,
despite of toil, despite of blood—until again
he rose and walked the garden, now reborn,
in coolness not of evening but of dawn.

Helena on the course of modern politics

St. Helena with the True Cross , by Lucas Cranach the Elder

St. Helena with the True Cross, by Lucas Cranach the Elder

I'm currently reading Helena, Evelyn Waugh's novel of emperor Constantine's saintly mother, and the author's personal favorite among his many books. The story is a beautiful meditation on motherhood and religious faith, but Waugh has a number of jabs to throw at the modern world.

Here, in conversation with her power-mad son, Helena reflects on the dangers of power:

“Sometimes," Helena continued, "I have a terrible dream of the future. Not now, but presently, people may forget their loyalty to their kings and emperors and take power for themselves. Instead of letting one victim bear this frightful curse they will take it all on themselves, each one of them. Think of the misery of a whole world possessed of Power without Grace.”

Power Without Grace would be an excellent title for a study of post-Enlightenment political thought.

I've just discovered Waugh in the past year, when I read Sword of Honor. I'm digging fervently into his work, and Helena is wonderful so far. Check it out.