January 2010 Archives

Zmirak on Tolkien


One of my favorite contemporary writers on one of my favorite all-time writers:

Instead of doing what most writers (trust me) settle for, the minimum needed to move the story forward, Tolkien showed all the Liberality of those medieval craftsmen who would carve even the backs of pillars that no man would ever see -- since they worked for the glory of God, Who would. Tolkien crafted for his creatu...res' use entire languages with alphabets and whole continents with maps. He limned out their history for thousands of years, from the mists of our own faded legends (such as Beowulf and the Brothers Grimm) all the way back to Creation.

It's also interesting to find out that a good deal of Tolkien's faith formation came under a priest who, Zmirak notes, was "one of John Henry Cardinal Newman's protégés at the Birmingham Oratory."

Bookmark and Share

Douthat on Hume and Woods


Ross Douthat's excellent take on the over-reaction to Brit Hume's altar call:

The knee-jerk outrage that greeted Hume's remarks buried intelligent responses from Buddhists, who made arguments along these lines -- explaining their faith, contrasting it with Christianity, and describing how a lost soul like Woods might use Buddhist concepts to climb from darkness into light.

When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe's religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.

If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher -- including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha both -- who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live?

It's reasonable to doubt that a cable news analyst has the right answer to this question. But the debate that Brit Hume kicked off a week ago is still worth having. Indeed, it's the most important one there is.

There is a tension here between religious tolerance and religious dialogue. Believers of all faiths who aspire to any kind of orthodoxy are often scolded that they need to be more tolerant of other religions. Simultaneously, believers and non-believers alike see the need for and value of religious dialogue. Yet when Hume suggests in about the gentlest way possible that Jesus Christ, whom Hume presumably holds to be Lord and Savior of all men, might offer one particular man some answers, heads start exploding.

You can argue that Hume is wrong on the question of Buddhism's teachings, but to scold him for bringing it up is to mock the concept of dialogue. To see how rational this is, I'll only point out that people who riot and kill when the pope quotes Byzantine emperors also mock the concept of dialogue.

The other argument that could be made is that an individual's personal faith, as opposed to religion in general, is something so intensely private that we shouldn't discuss it in public. This is clearly absurd, as is evidenced by the fact that Mark Sanford's intensely private beliefs sure seemed to be legitimate public fodder last year. It's also a bit of a laugher since the media have no problem discussing Woods' sexual life, trotting out his mistresses, publishing his text messages, speculating about his marriage, psychoanalyzing him from every conceivable angle and offering dimestore advice over how to handle the P.R. disaster, maintain his focus on his career and save his marriage. All this, and yet a bit of spiritual advice is outside the bounds of acceptable discourse.

Bookmark and Share

Cap'n Sully


The NYRB has a review of a book on "The Miracle on the Hudson" with a fascinating account of the landing:

A man in the back had the poise and presence of mind to call out, "Exit row people, get ready!" A woman mid-plane with a baby boy on her lap did not know what to do. The man next to her asked if he could brace her son for her, and she passed the child to him, and he did.

In the cockpit the ground warning alarm had begun, an automatic voice repeating that the plane was too low. Sullenberger called for the flaps on the wings to be extended in order to slow the plane for impact. At two hundred feet he began breaking his glide and ballooned a little. They were at 150 knots--about 180 miles an hour. He lowered the nose slightly and then, pulling back on the stick in the last few seconds before touching down, his airspeed spent, remarked coolly to Skiles, "Got any ideas?"

"Actually not," Skiles said.

They touched the water at an optimum angle, nose slightly high, 120 knots. The left engine tore away, the plane's belly ripped open toward the rear, and the aircraft skimmed to a stop. There was such heavy spray that the passengers near the windows thought they had gone entirely underwater.

The evacuation of the plane was all one could hope for. Water entered quickly. There was an eighty-five-year-old woman who needed a walker, plus several children aboard. In the rear, the floor had buckled and a beam had broken through. There was more water there; it rose to almost chest-high before everyone was out. The flight had been sold out--only one empty seat. The flight attendants, three women all in their fifties, were exemplary. Doreen Welsh, the oldest, in the rear, had the greatest difficulties and was seriously injured. People tried to swim in the river, some slipped into the water and were pulled back, all ended up standing on the wings, some waist deep in water, or in the inflated slides and rafts. Sullenberger and Skiles had all along been moving through the cabin assisting and handing out life vests. In the end Sullenberger went through the deep water in the cabin one last time to make certain no one was left. The water was bone-chillingly cold, but within five minutes the first of the rescue boats was at the plane. There had been no casualties. All survived.

Bookmark and Share


Mama-Lu's Etsy Shop

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2009 is the previous archive.

February 2010 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.