“My older daughter started university in 2004, and in 2007, she received threats because she would not wear the hijab on campus. At that point, her father and I told her she shouldn’t go to university any more. We only have those two daughters. But she didn’t accept it, she wanted to go to university. She said, “This is my future,” and so she kept going to university wearing the hijab.

“We used to go to church, visit our family, go to our jobs. We weren’t afraid. But after the several wars we had in Iraq, people started to emigrate. There are very few Christians left and even the Muslims are emigrating. We could not live submitted like this. We were given choices, but we wanted to live as human beings, to be free and decide what we wan to do with out lives. If we didn’t have this faith we would have stayed and compromised. But we trusted in God. We do have moments of discomfort and we complain, but God always gives us hope. Whenever we think properly about things, we realize that our desperation is not reasonable and God consoles us in so many ways. My faith in Him is very strong. I know he doesn’t leave us.”

–Ikhlas, from Mosul, Iraq. Now living in Amman, Jordan.

I almost didn’t want to post this pic because there’s another one, of her & her husband, very natty & happy, on their way to church; this sad pic is not the full story; sadness is not the full story of any of these refugees. But it’s what I got. The rest of the exhibit was up two weekends ago at New York Encounter.

Adam, who was the exhibit guide, and one of the handful of friends who went over there to document what’s going on– to tell stories of the refugees from Syria & Iraq– said that if what happened to them had happened to him, he would ask whether God had abandoned him. But when he talked to them about this, he was met with a blank: “What do you mean? I’m here right now, therefore He’s here with me.”

120K Christians have been driven out of the Plains of Nineveh: convert or pay the jizya or leave or die. “Not a single one converted or paid the tax,” said Adam.

The pics below are– well, they’re some of the materials from the exhibit, but they don’t in the least do it justice.   Marta Zaknoun, the journalist who spearheaded the project, is working with her team to bring the exhibit to different cities, to introduce more people to the political and historical background of these refugees’ situation– but above all to introduce them to the people themselves, to their faces, their words, their stories.

If you’d like to get in touch with her to bring this exhibit to your city, please contact me on Facebook.


Justice, Social and Otherwise

Update: I listened to a Michael Novak booktalk on that new Social Justice Doesn’t Exist book.  Yeah, he’s still wrong.

But to be fair, the virtue of social justice that he wants to make the entirety of it is a real virtue and one that needs to be at the foundation of any activism or policy argument.  Virtues live in natural persons, is his point.  This is a non-dumb point.  A municipal body has no soul to save any more than any other kind of a corporation has.  But he has a kind of prosopagnosia of the commons: he can’t see that there is such a thing as a community, he can’t see the face of the city. And so he leaves out distributive justice as a thing that exists, and leaves out the overall economic wellbeing of a community as a category of thought for anyone to consider, including apparently that community’s guardians.


And he perpetually strawmans social justice: because socialists make social justice a thing about the state, and make it be code for “taking other people’s money and redistributing it,” (i.e. taxation and social programs), therefore it is only and everywhere an excuse for theft and grandiosity.  He just doesn’t think about what the good version of such a thing might be.


When the distributist tradition isn’t about personal cows (and I have nothing against cows,) and when it’s not just an economic program about co-ops (and I have nothing against co-ops),  and when it’s not about doing proper DIYish work and not being alienated from your labor (and I have nothing against Matthew Crawford,) what it can be is a modern, considered response to exactly what Novak is getting wrong.

There is such a thing as a city, a local community; there is such a thing as that community doing well; economics is part of that; collective ownership is not a great idea for most things; there is a way to care about the wellbeing of your city that is not in conflict with seeking individual virtue and caring about the wellbeing of other individual citizens.


There’s a DIY instinct to distributism, and I think there’s something beyond aesthetics and a love of homebrew that’s behind that.  Where the DIY ethos enters into it is that the economic care of the community is something that we are all called to.  This is not a specialized calling.  Governing a city may be a specialized calling: I’m not convinced that we need to have the vote or that we are definitely all supposed to be sovereigns of our state.  Defending a city is a specialized calling, which I am happy to leave to the army and the police.  Governing a household is not a specialized calling; every head of a household is its governor, in a real sense.  Economically participating in a household is not a specialized calling– even less of one; children do not govern in their households, but they participate in them economically, even if only by setting the table and helping with the dishes.

And participating in the economics of a community, being in a sense responsible in and to it, is also not a specialized calling– it can’t be, precisely because households are not self-sustaining economic units. The kid who does his chores is having an economic impact on the surrounding households, on the city as a whole.  This is part of the natural order.  Because he has an impact, he has a responsibility; because he is called as a human to at least be aware of the fact that his fellow citizens, like him, need to eat, he has a responsibility.


Erasmus Option Propaganda

The Hudson

by Dar Williams

If we’re lucky we feel our lives; know when the next scene arrives
So often we start in the middle and work our way out
We go to some graysky diner for eggs and toast
The New York Times or the New York Post
Then we take a ride through the valley of the shadow of doubt

But even for us New Yorkers
There’s a time in every day
The river takes our breath away

Hudson 8

And the Hudson, it holds the life
We thought we did it on our own

Hudson 4

The river roads collect the tolls for the passage of our souls
Through silence, over woods, through flowers and snow
And past the George Washington Bridge
Down from the trails of Breakneck Ridge
The river’s ancient path is sacred and slow

And as it swings through Harlem
It’s every shade of blue
Into the city of the new brand new

Hudson 7

And the Hudson, it holds the life
We thought we did it on our own

Hudson 5

I thought I had no sense of place or past
Time was too slow, but then too fast
The river takes us home at last

Hudson 11

Where and when does the memory take hold
Mountain range in the Autumn cold
And I thought West Point was Camelot in the spring
If you’re lucky you’ll find something that reflects you
Helps you feel your life, protects you
Cradles you and connects you to everything

Hudson 6

This whole life I remember
As they begged them to itself
Never turn me into someone else

Hudson 2

And the Hudson, it holds the life
We thought we did it on our own

And the Hudson, it holds the life
We thought we did it on our own

Hudson 10Hudson 3Hudson 9Hudsin 9Hudson 1



How Christians Time Travel: Method 1: Songwriting Collaboration

Being a worshipper of the God of Abraham has always involved elements of what one might call time travel, were one being playful and inaccurate and if one had recently been rereading Connie Willis’ Blackout, for which one blames Leah Libresco’s recent tweeting.


The Four Sons, only one of whom fails to time travel.  From a haggadah pub. in Amsterdam in 1695.

You can see that pretty clearly every year at Passover, when we were supposed to remember God bringing us out of slavery in Egypt. 


Nota Koslowsky’s 1944 version of the Four Sons.

This was remembering– but it was more than remembering; it was reenacting, it was reliving, it was knowing ourselves joined organically and covenantally to the generation that did get freed from slavery to Pharaoh.


Nubian & Asiatic slaves making bricks. From the tomb of Rekhmire, Vizier in the courts of Thutmoses III and Amenhotep II (15thcentury BC)

And Christianity, as an outgrowth of Judaism, sees this more-than-remembering quality of worship and raises it, in several of the ways that it has historically understood what it means to participate in the Lord’s Supper, in the Eucharist.  That’s its own kind of time travel, which can be obscured by using the word “memorial” to describe it.

But that’s not what I’m talking about now.  What I’m talking about now is songwriting.

This carol, which Kate Bluett reminded me of this morning, is a translation of a poem written by the Christian poet Aurelus Prudentius Clemens, born in 348 in the Roman Province of Hispania Tarraconensis, in what’s now Northern Spain.  Originally published as hymn #9 in his Liber Cathemerinon, should you be interested.


The tune is a Medieval plainchant, dating back to at least the 10th century, taking its final form in the 13th c., but it wasn’t linked up with Prudentius’ hymn until the middle of the 19th century.  That was the idea of a music editor called Thomas Helmore, and here’s how that happened.

An Anglican priest called John Mason Neale had done a translation of Prudentius’ hymn in 1851.  A couple of years later, in 1853, the British ambassador to Sweden, G.J.R. Gordon, brought him a copy of a 16th c. songbook that was based on a collection that had been assembled by the masters of the cathedral school in Turku, Finland.

[Excursus: Day before yesterday, as has been the case nearly every year since the 1320s, except for 1712-1721, 1917, and 1939, and possibly during  1800-1815, the Christmas Peace was proclaimed in the Old Great Square in Turku.  The ceremony has changed over the years somewhat.  For example, it did not originally include a singalong of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God ;) .  But the legislation that established the proclamation hasn’t. Excursus and Lutheran h/t ended.]


The book was Piae Cantiones, and Neale brought it and his translation of Prudentius to Helmore, and Helmore monkeyed with the setting such that Prudentius’ text as translated by Neale could be sung to the tune that our anonymous plainchant composer had composed.   


John Mason Neale

The last bits were added ten years later, in 1861, by Henry W. Baker.

Let’s just notice this publication history: three lyricists, one composer (or did you think that anonymous plainchant melodies wrote themselves?), one mid-Victorian music publisher, separated by nearly 1600 years, collaborating on a songwriting project. 

THAT is the Church, people.  You know those little attributions in your hymnals, the ones that look like Text: Miscellaneous Latin Name, 5th c; tr. Other Name (Year-Year), Tune: Some thing you don’t know what it is, 11th c.?  That’s the kind of thing that those attributions mean. It’s not time travel– it’s not; not even the sacramental kind that we do when we take communion.  But it’s something strange and strong.

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Text: Marcus Aurelius C. Prudentius, 4th c.; tr. John M. Neale (1818-1866) Tune: Plainsong, 13th c.

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd;
He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean
In their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion,
Death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children
Doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below,
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!

Righteous Judge of souls departed,
Righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted
None in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive,
Evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, Thee let young men,
Thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens,
With glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!



Brigid’s Prayer


There are a couple of versions of this.  They’re all excellent.  This is my favorite.

I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.

I should like the family of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.

I should like excellent meats of belief and pure piety.

I should like the men of Heaven at my house.

I should like barrels of peace at their disposal.

I should like for them cellars of mercy.

I should like cheerfulness to be their drinking.

I should like Jesus to be there among them.

I should like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.

I should like the people of Heaven, the poor, to be gathered around from all parts.

New Atheism and the Logic of Believing What’s Real


So yesterday Michael Lynch made me happy by posting this from Feser:

[Richard] Dawkins, as I have said, tells us that there is ‘absolutely no reason’ to think that the Unmoved Mover, First Cause, etc. is omnipotent, omniscient, good, and so forth. Perhaps what he meant to say was ‘absolutely no reason, apart from the many thousands of pages of detailed philosophical argumentation for this conclusion that have been produced over the centuries by thinkers of genius, and which I am not going to bother trying to answer.’ So, a slip of the pen, perhaps. Or, maybe Dawkins simply doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

And then I ended up listening to a talk that Sam Harris gave at Notre Dame as I was getting dinner ready yesterday.

So this business in on my mind.


There are really two things that bother me about Dawkins, Hitchens & Harris.

Thing 1, which kicks in when they are (or were) debating theists in general, not just Christians: None of the three understands the moral argument, even thought it has been explained to each of them a a LOT.

Thing 2: I have never heard any of them argue against Christianity as Christians understand it, which is kind of odd. Like, not even once. It’s as though someone were to argue against Islam on the basis of just what they read in the New York Post.

In order to really argue against something, you have to not just understand it but see how you could love it– see what parts of the good it taps into.

I’m aware that this is already casting the argument into a form that begs the question, but all three of them would *functionally* have to admit that they are loving a good, pursuing a good: reason, truth, honesty, integrity. To say “you SHOULD believe what’s real and you should not believe in God because he’s not real” is already to introduce an obligation.

And if you try to say, well it’s just my preference that I pursue truth… you are still using reason in order to say that there’s no reason to plug in an “ought” to the pursuit of truth. So at the very tail end of the comet of moral skepticism, the oxygenless environment of Dawkinsian scientism, you run into the ought implied in logic itself. A=B and B=C, therefore A=C, and to deny this is to kick against something real and nonphysical and demanding– something like the love of God.

I’d love to hear Harris debate a non-theist moral realist– Shafer-Landau or someone like that. Otherwise he will just keep going around believing himself to be a moral realist when he is not, and confusing things.

Further note: this Hitchens vs Wilson debate is delicious. Not as a take-down on either side: as a debate. You just want them to keep talking.  And this is Wilson in an irritatingly presuppositionalist mode and refusing to be pastoral to his listeners and hardly ever explaining what he means and missing huge chunks of what would connect Christianity to his *listeners’* moral intuitions.  And I disagree with bits of what he says, as usual, because once again am not a Calvinist.

I think what I like about the debate is that he is clearly, clearly, talking TO HITCHENS in it– it’s HITCHENS he wants to reach, as a friend, as a potential brother.  And so he’s being just as obnoxious as Hitchens himself is.

I can’t imagine they didn’t like each other quite a lot, after that. There’s another debate out there too which I haven’t yet listened to



MS St. Louis, in her home port in Hamburg

Claire, who’s 88, has lived in Forest Hills since shortly after she moved to America in 1951.  I had this conversation with her just now, right after I’d thought I’d solved everything to my own satisfaction in my own mind.

“Claire, may I ask you something?  There’s something I’m trying to think through and I’d like your opinion on it in particular.” 


“The Syrian refugees…”


Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis, in Havana Harbor, before they were refused entry to Cuba.

“I stop you right there, and I tell you, I know what you are thinking, and it is not the same.  Because the refugees that came from Europe, they were Jews, they were running.  These, these have ISIS with them.”

“They’re running away from ISIS!”

“Yes, many are, but it is true that ISIS is still coming in with them.  They falsify documents, they are very smart… I would be afraid to walk in the streets.  In this country, you do not know the meanness of people.  You do not know what people are capable of.  It is a pity for the innocent ones, but the fault of the suffering of the innocent ones is with the guilty ones, not with Americans.  Even if eighty percent are innocent, what will it be with the twenty percent who are infiltrating?  I will be afraid to come to Starbucks.  I do not want to be afraid again.”

I don’t want her to be afraid again either.

When she first got to Auschwitz she was assigned to be an outside worker.  They were set to filling in holes with dirt– she thinks they may have been bomb craters, holes with loose soil all around them, that they had to fill up.  And within twenty minutes, as Claire was bending down with her shovel, another worker was standing up quickly, and the other worker’s shovel handle smacked her just above her eye.  “I put my hand up, to the place,” she said, “and my hand was full of blood.  I started crying.  I thought I had lost my eye.”

The SS guard, a woman because Claire was in the female half of the camp, said “what are you crying for, animal?  You will die in this way or in another.”

“This is the cruelty of people,” says Claire.  This is how people can be, and this is what she sees in ISIS.

“We cannot change anything.  The main thing is to be in America.  I hope they will not bring ISIS in here, because, you know, Americans are not experienced, they can be fooled easily… He will have to let some in, Obama will have to let some in.  As long as they don’t come to New York.”

I can’t stand hearing her say this, but I can’t say anything in response; she is eighty-eight, and who am I to say anything to her?  She has the strongest sense of self-preservation of anyone I know; the strongest sense of the fragility of civilization; the keenest awareness of the good of civil peace in a multicultural liberal democracy; the most vivid awareness that this peace cannot survive if there are people who are determined that it not survive.

I don’t know what to think.  I know that what ISIS is is something like what had hold of that SS woman guard.  I know that we can’t imagine that, we can’t really believe it. I know we could become its victims.  And I know we could become it.