The Power of Words

Before I get into the main post, some quick statistics. I just finished grading the midterm test in my academic writing course. The grade breakdown was as follows: with the bonus points available, the number of students who scored 100% or above was 6. Scoring in the nineties, there were 7. In the eighties, 9. In the seventies, 5. In the sixties, 3. Those numbers made me pretty happy. On the one hand, I’m teaching the material — no one was clueless. No one failed. On the other hand, the test I wrote was a good measuring tool — with no curving or manipulation of numbers, the students differentiated themselves nicely across the spectrum. Not trying to vaunt myself here — soli Deo gloria! — I’m just saying that, when it’s going well, teaching and learning are things of beauty.

Anyway, I was going to do the Part 2 of the World Fantasy Convention, but I came across something far better. (That Part 2 is still coming, never fear.) With the kind permission of the author, here is another guest column. This is by friend-of-the-blog Nicholas Ozment. You’ve met him before in an interview on these pages. Any introduction of Nick is bound to leave something out. He writes pretty much everything, and does it well. His own site is over there in the blog roll, or just in case, it’s Ozmentality:

Nick’s new humorous fantasy book Knight Terrors: The (Mis)Adventures of Smoke the Dragon was just released this fall from Ancient Tomes Press, an imprint of Cyberwizard Productions. It’s beautifully illustrated by Richard Svensson.

Anyway, here is his essay, our guest column:

The Power of Words

 I wish for you to have some first-hand experience of—I wish for you to know—the power of a master storyteller, of a golden-gifted writer.

 The future washes over us and washes over us again, becomes the present tide, recedes into the past. In the universities, the English departments shrink, the philosophy departments dwindle down to one or two full-time professors—a token formality, for did they not give birth to the university? The humanities are jostled aside by the colleges of business, computer science, engineering.

 Yet before all our sciences, all our technologies, there were words. Without them, nothing we have achieved is possible. And without Story nothing achieved could have been first imagined.

 Fewer and fewer people read. They don’t read books or newspapers or magazines. Yet the word is still powerful, far more powerful than most realize. “The pen is mightier than the sword” is as true today as when Edward Bulwer-Lytton penned those words in 1839.

 Words are powerful, and stories are the power harnessed and directed. Go ask Homer. Go ask Shakespeare. Go ask Dickens. Sit at their feet and they will still tell you, though they are centuries dead.

 When a student reads Cormac McCarthy or Margaret Atwood or Toni Morrison, he/she may discover what it is like to be in the hands of a master — a storyteller who binds you with words, and your enchanted response is, “Storyteller, take me where you will; show me what you will. I will go.”

 Such writers can reach inside us and make us think thoughts we never thought. Combinations and permutations of thought our minds would never have conceived on their own. We may feel great emotion or conflicting emotions. We see pictures in our heads we have never seen. This is still a more potent magic than images projected on a screen. And even before a filmmaker and his crew creates the moving picture, a writer has crafted the words that made them see it, to interpret and show to us.

 When technologies fail and civilizations fall, words remain. They are often the one legacy to survive when all else has crumbled. And the stories. Which never grow old, as long as there are humans to hear them. And perhaps, when humankind has passed from the face of the Earth, they will still be stored in the mind and echo in the ears and flow from the breath of God.


39 Responses to “The Power of Words”

  1. Rich Says:

    This factors into the importance that Lutherans historically placed on language in their classical education. Greek, Hebrew, Latin, their native German, and even French were taught to all, not just ministerial students. (Music and theology were the other emphases.)

    From that foundation, one could ascend through the liberal arts and sciences as he grew.

    Indeed, words ARE powerful!

  2. I declare: words are my life Says:

    My last name, my profession … a love of words naturally follows.

    And yes, Rich, the followers of Dr. Luther certainly stressed language. Of course, they were doing so in a university system, using the scientific method and laws of evidence first created/proposed and expounded upon by the Church Luther abandoned.

    But back to the “Power of Words” Here is how all of us can make our words powerful this blessed season: When you are filling out your Christmas card list this year, take one card and send it to this address:

    “A Recovering American Soldier”
    c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
    6900 Georgia Avenue NW
    Washington, DC 20307-5001

    May God Bless all His children as we celebrate the birth of His holy son …

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you for this concrete way of doing some good with a Christmas card!

      Yes, Mr. B. Snowflake, I well know your love of words and language! Some flummoxed observers argued that we seemed to be playing D&D more for the sake of using language than for anything else. (As Tim, who was then not yet in Germany, said, “We play D&D to get awesomed out,” and language was a great vehicle for that.) Recall that “Using Rhetoric” was punishable by paying a fine to the Pun Fund.

      Sigh. All right, I have to be the one to say this: surely you are aware that Dr. Luther did not “abandon” any church. It was his profound desire to work within the Church to correct the grievous errors that had crept into its systems and practices by the Middle Ages. His efforts to work within the system put him at serious risk to his life. I am not seeking an argument — I’m only correcting the statement that Luther “abandoned” the Church. In order to disagree with me on this point, you would have to believe that the Church of Luther’s day was not in serious need of reform in the light of what is clearly written in Scripture.
      Again — I am not looking for an argument. When people in Japan ask me, “What is the difference between Catholics and Protestants?” My answer always begins with statements about how the difference between them today is very small, that they together make up Christendom. When I look at the religions in the world, I find it very difficult to get worked up about the differences between Catholics and Protestants. Jesus is true God and true Man; He bore the sins of the world when He was crucified; He physically, literally, rose again on the third day. Anyone who believes in the truth of that will have everlasting life.

      Now, Mr. Brown Snowflake, I think our difference is with about half the other readers of this blog, so you might want to come over here into my corner and stand with me shoulder-to-shoulder!

      Love and peace to all!

  3. Chris Says:

    Very cool guest article!

    This relates to a topic I often discuss with the wife and fellow scientists.

    Nick bemoans the shrinking of english departments while universities put resources into engineering and business.

    I’m a scientist by trade and by desire. But I’m one of the few scientists who did far better on every test in the area of “language skills” than I ever did on the “math” part. This is an irony that is not lost on me.

    It means I’m a weaker scientist than many of my cohorts (being an “intuitive mathematician” is a key attribute one wants in science), but I am about the only scientist I know who actually _enjoys_ writing my reports, my thesis, my dissertation. I loved the writing part. I loved putting the story together.

    But even there, in spanning two worlds I fail a little at both. My wife, a fellow scientist, but a severe grammar nazi will tell you I write like most scientists: in passive voice.

    I defend the practice by saying that one seldom sees a science article in a peer reviewed article written in active voice.

    “And then Dr. Johnson quickly acted to cast the nonylphenoxyalkyl surfactant into the cauldron! Jumping back with speed he recorded the temperature and the viscosity! ‘Hie thee to the database and tell me if the viscosity decreases exponentially!’ he deftly commanded the comely lab tech, Carolyn.”

    I agree with the thesis that the words and the stories survive when all the vestiges of the technology go away. Which is why when one finds a scientist like Carl Sagan who can actually _present_ the science well it is a true treasure.

    Language arts need not be sacrificed on the alter of science, but scientists tend to do it anyway. Maybe they just want to cut it apart and see what makes it work.

    I’m more like “Lennie” in “Of Mice and Men”. I like the pretty words but I have the big hands of the scientist and I just want to pet the pretty words, just pet the pretty words….oops.

  4. I declare: words are my life Says:

    OK, about Luther … I would have thought, dear Fred, that you would recognize a trait of mine: whenever I feel the need to fire up the conversation I take a shot at the Augustinian monk who called Mary ‘holy’ ‘blessed’ and ‘ever-virgin’, who accepted fully and in toto the Church’s teaching on transubstantiation and who, in an act of arrogance rarely reached, said of his deliberatly altering ROM 3:28 (I paraphrase) “I know full well the word ‘alone’ is not in the original. If your papist says to you ‘why have you changed it?” say to him ‘because Dr. Luther will have it so’ and that will be enough” and who would cringe at many of the things later (and today) done in is name.

    In short, it is an intentional lob into the court of the enormously high percentage of this blog’s readership who are Lutheran — I am clearly the only fish-eating Romanist.

    I don’t get worked up on the differences because I am convinced there is no need — we will all be one again in the end (JOHN 17). And I know that that one (MAT 16) will be the church, the bride of Christ as Paul calls it.

    If you believe, as Fred wrote, the faith proclaimed in the Nicene Creed, if you are baptized, if you live a sacramental life, you are going to heaven (which I expect will be jammed with Protestants while almost all the Catholics are playing bingo in purgatory)

    • Chris Says:

      I’m not a Lutheran but I respect the likelihood that Luther suffered from a very interesting mental illness (“scrupulosity” is what the Church calls it, OCD is it’s common name today). Luther really was fascinating in that respect. I can kind of understand what kind of hell on earth that must have been for him.

      As for the difference between Lutherans and Catholics, well as the resident atheist (I’ll take any of the unused bingo cards down with me if you like, just not the flammable cardboard ones, thanks), I must say that the differentiation among “sects” within Christianity is fascinating.

      I mean really fascinating. Fred’s mention of Jesus as True Man and True God and Mr. S’s comment about the Nicean Creed reminds me of the debate around Arius and the various heresies in which Jesus’ nature was debated so fiercely early in the religion’s origins.

      But it didn’t stop there! Can anyone say “Comma Johanneum”?

      I find heresies and translations to be the most fascinating thing of any religion. For such universal truths it fascinates me that so much of the _orthodoxy_ had to be hammered out by men battling in councils and debates over sources of integral phrases the lack of which or the presence of which seem to alter so much.

      The rise of Chrisitian Orthodoxy is in and of itself a very interesting topic. Bart Ehrman writes of this in his book “Lost Christianities” which is a good read. Ehrman treats Christianity with a nice even hand.

      In order to bring this back around to the subject of the power of “words”, in reality that is often the nature of the differences between religious sects, in some small way, right?

      Take, again, the Comma Johanneum: a simple 24 or so words altering the understanding of the basis of all Truth. The translation of one or two words in other places making enormous differences in the perceived eternal truths.

      Now _that’s_ powerful.

      And so much of it done without any external evidence. (How’s that for suddenly aligning everyone shoulder to shoulder against one person? I think I took the prize on that one here!) 🙂

  5. I declare: words are my life Says:

    It is utterly fascinating, this power of words. The Arians were, of course, heretics, as were the Gnostics.

    This is where Faith comes in. On its very nature Christianity is absurd. That an all-powerful Creator would somehow mess up enough that he would have to send one-third of his being, in the role of a son, to correct an error that separates the Creator from his favored created beings is, on the face of it, silly. That this 100% man, who also happens to be 100% God (or 100% of 33-1/3% of God, I guess) would then be murdered, but rise again, stretches the realm of intellectual understanding. That is where Faith comes in.

    I know the argument: You Christians claim to have the Truth as set down by a loving God, but that God seems to have said something else entirely to the other 2/3 of humanity.

    My answer to all of the above? CORRECT. How do I ‘know’ this? Faith. And precisely because it IS Faith, neither I, nor anyone else, can ‘force’ it upon another.

    Certainly translations play a huge role. Change a few words in John 6 and suddenly Baptists are right about the Holy Eucharist and not the Church, which I believe has preserved the Truth for 2000 years.

    Has that Church erred? You bet your incense she has. The humans who make up the Church have not all been saints; there have been robbers, murderers, adultrous hounds, land-grabbers, etc. Some of these probably cheated at cards, too.

    But she has NOT erred in her Magisterium, not in her preservation of the faith “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” as Christ said to his apostles, meaning ‘I am with you (my Bishops, to preserve what you shall teach) until I come back as the living Church.’

    Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition (go ahead and howl, o ye not beholden to Rome) and the teaching office of the Church help preserve the Power of Words. Just ask St. Augustine, whom the good Doctor followed: “I would place no faith in what has been passed down to us had it not come from the Church”

    I would encourage all of us to ponder this eternal question:
    “Who put the bomp in the bomp-she-bomp-de-bomp?
    Who put the bip in the bip-she-bip-de-bip?”

  6. I declare: words are my life Says:

    Need further proof of the Power of Words? Since my last comment, 48 hours ago, the blog has been silent. Words can offend, silence and kill…

  7. Daylily Says:

    I submit that it is not the Power of Words which has silenced the blog readership, but the power of the Christmas Machine, which takes up time one could otherwise use in contemplating the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. What irony! The Machine demands: Buy stuff! Wrap stuff! Decorate! Bake cookies! Send cards! (Wow, I am such a Grinch! 🙂 ) Moreover, it is a busy time for the students and teachers among us. Most notably, our host, who does have a full-time teaching position plus a part-time job writing novels, etc.

    I am not offended by any of the comments on this post. I found all of it to be interesting reading. I am, however, puzzled by this phrase: “the enormously high percentage of this blog’s readership who are Lutheran.” I have read almost all of the blog comments from the beginning. I only know of two Lutherans on the blog. I am not one of them. I have Lutheran leanings, having served as church musician in three Lutheran churches. But I am quite ecumenical by now. I have belonged to four different denominations, due to moves from state to state. I have served as church musician in Christian Reformed, Reformed, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Congregational, and Catholic churches. I have met true Christians in each denomination as well as nominal Christians. To me, the most important issue is this: who is Christ and what does He mean to you? Is He just a wise teacher? Or a cute baby in a manger? Or is He the God who so yearned to be in right relationship with the human beings He had made that He went to the extreme of becoming one of them and letting them kill Him on a cross?

    • Chris Says:

      This does bring up one quick question I’ve been mulling over since becoming an atheist several years ago: Jesus as sacrifice to atone man to God.

      1. Who set up the “rule” that man had to be atoned to God via blood sacrifice? (The answer of course is God, since he made all the rules)

      2. Who held God to this rule? (The answer of course being God)

      So effectively God sacrificed himself to himself to atone his creation, man, to himself because he made the rule that the only way to atone his creation to himself was to sacrifice himself to himself.

      All makes perfect sense.

      (Sorry to divert the thread this way, but some of the comments lately had me thinking about this particular conundrum again).

      As for the “Christmas Machine”. I try to do my duty which is to help craft the Christmas letter, photograph the card and sign the ones that go to my family and friends. Then I do my level best to avoid listening to any Christmas music the vast majority of which I don’t really like (except for Charlie Brown Christmas because it’s kind of “down” and depressing in a sense…not sure why. Oh yeah, and “Sleigh Ride” (sans lyrics) which is a song that works all year long!)

      • Daylily Says:

        As for Xmas songs, the worst is “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which afflicts me annually in the locker room of the local Y, it and its kindred Xmas songs. I should wear earplugs to save my sanity! Oh, wait, maybe the worst Xmas song is “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”! “Sleigh Ride,” on the other hand, is a very cool piece.

  8. I declare: words are my life Says:

    Gentlemen, we are again brought back to our senses by the wisdom of one of the wise ladies of the blog! Well said, Daylily.

    I am in the process of addressing Christmas cards even now and took a break just to check in on the blog. (Got to get two of these cards in the mail tomorrow or they will never make it to Japan in time!)

    We received 5 inches of snow and sustained winds — yes, sustained winds — of 30 mph over a six hour period Saturday evening. Branches are down everywhere from the winds and the powedery snow has filled all sorts of nooks and cracks while barely covering the ground in other places. The wind chill is now -15 and will remain in the minus-teens through the 13th. We will be lucky to see double-digit highs in the next three days. In short, winter has hit Central Iowa between the eyes (our friends in Minnesota got it much, much worse).

    And, yes Fred, I will STILL take this and all the incovenience over three days of 100+ and humidity.

  9. morwenna Says:

    Nice post, Daylily. Sir Brown Snowflake, you aren’t the only Catholic here. I love my Catholic faith.

    • Chris Says:

      Catholics have got to have some of the coolest stuff and the coolest philosophical topics. When I’m in Europe I gravitate to the giant old Cathedrals (most of which were or are Catholic in origin) like iron filings to a magnet. Such cool stuff and such incredible history.

      I do, however, hear from an “inside source” that if one is raised Catholic there are a large number of “Recovering Catholics” who are no longer really active in the Church. So am I to assume that you and Mr. Snowflake came to your Catholicism later in life? Or are you both the product of Catholic schools (I thought Mr. Snowflake was the product of public schools, but I might be mis-remembering).

      Still form a history, philosophy and “coolness” of stuff vector: Catholics rule! Maybe it’s because of all the sects of Christianity you guys have been around long enough to try just about everything a given religion can and talked about it and written about it extensively!

  10. fsdthreshold Says:

    Morwenna, great to hear from you again! I’ve been wondering how you are doing, and (as with 100% of the other people I know) feeling guilty that I haven’t been keeping in touch with you.

    Daylily, thank you very much for the backup! Yes, your comment is excellent and truly appreciated! And you’re right: other than me, I can think of (at most) four other Lutherans who have at one time or another commented on the blog — only one of them very recently. So this is certainly not a hotbed of Lutheranism!

    Interesting historical note: one of my favorite short stories I’ve ever written remains “The Gift,” which I wrote about a decade (?) ago [the precise date can be checked on my website, which is seriously in need of updating!]. In it, the main character is an elderly priest. Yes, he’s obviously Catholic, but I never even thought about that as an issue; there was nothing I “changed” about him to make him Catholic. I simply wrote about him as if he were me, believing what I believe. When a Lutheran friend of mine read it, he said, “Wow! A Catholic story!” I was really surprised at that reaction. To me, he was simply a Christian, and in the medieval setting of the story, the Church was the Catholic Church. It was only natural. (Granted, it wasn’t a story that got heavily into theology. That wasn’t the point.)

    Mr. Brown Snowflake — you still will take winter over a good roasting summer? I would write out ninety-five things about that opinion that need reforming and nail them to your door, but then I’d have to go into hiding. Summer is better than winter! If anyone should ask why this is, say to him/her, “The host of our blog would have it so!” 🙂

  11. I declare: words are my life Says:

    And, dear, sir, I would feel, as a would-be agent of The Congregation for the Defense of the Faith, obliged to launch a counter-reformation and burn your villages and crops and slaughter innocents in your hamlets in the name of orthodoxy…

    Ah. Morwenna, I do not now feel so lonely (even among 1.2 billion of us) Until now I thought I was the only bead-counting, fish-eating, papist around. I am delighted to see you love your faith.

    You see, I not only love Christ, I love the faith He has given me. I love His bride, His Chruch, the seven sacraments He has given us, most especially the Holy Eucharist. I love His Holy Mother, Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Earth, born free of Original Sin, Assumed into Heaven, who always and forever delights in revealing her son and Savior, Jesus, to all who would ask her. I love the saints and angels, the magisterium of the Church, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. I also love all those others devoted to Christ. My only wish is that they might experience the fullness of the faith as it has been handed down to us (see Thes. 2:15)

    Oh, and I like winter …

    • Chris Says:

      Catholic Saints also RULE! I was recently in Belgium so I had to go to Liege, but while there I remembered that Liege is home to one of my most favoritist of Catholic Saints:


      Patron saint of the mentally ill! And from reading her story it sounds like she nailed that position perfectly! Anyone who, at their own funeral, springs back to life and flies up to the rafters of the church to make faces at the funeral attendees wins in “most creepy” category of sainthood. And when you can smell sin, well, that’s a two-fer!

      St. Simeon Stylites? Oh man! There’s a TRUE ascete! In order to be more saintly the OBVIOUS choice is to sit on a pole! (apparently he wasn’t the only one!) But when that isn’t enough, you wear palm fronds wrapped around your midriff until they become oozing supparating sores! Oh yeah! THAT’S holiness on a level few of us can imagine these days.

      And of course St. Martin of Tours: Patron saint of geese. Surprise, surpirse: he’s FRENCH!

      Catholic saints are just da bomb!

      WINNER OF TODAY”S MOST IRONIC SAINT STATUE: St. Lambert in Liege. One of the stories of his martyrdom relates to his defense of the marriage vow. But just look at the amount of makeup the guy is wearing here:

      (I guess it pays to look good when going to work!)

    • Daylily Says:

      As for bead-counting, I have recently taken up the practice of using Anglican prayer beads, also known as the Anglican rosary or Christian prayer beads. I find meditative prayer to be refreshing, calming, and a way to build faith.

  12. I declare: words are my life Says:

    To answer Chris: Anyone who would argue against Vince Guaraldi Trio “Charlie Brown Christmas” CD is to be excommunicated. It is beautiful jazz and does have that great touch of sadness (melancholy?). Perfect. And I agree that most Christmas music stinks to high heaven.

    Now, on Catholicism: No doubt the Romanists have the ‘special effects’ nailed down pat. But all of that is to glorify Christ.

    I once wondered why millions upon millions of non-catholics watch the midnight mass each year. I once wondered why half of the world watched the funeral of John Paul II the Great. I once wondered why, according to Italian authorities, over 3 million flooded Rome for days leading up to his funeral (and no way all of those were Catholic!). But now I know: the Holy Spirit is always at work in the Church, and others — even if they are unaware they are experiencing it — are drawn by it. Again, this is for the glory of the Church only insomuch that she is the Bride of Christ, who is glorified therein.

    I am, sadly, a public school product. A cradle Catholic, I left the faith in college and did not return until six years ago. In the intervening years I attended no church, but would occasionally go to mass — mainly to please my mother. In short, I was what is the biggest impediment to drawing others to catholicism: a fake catholic. No more.

    As a revert I have the fire of someone who has discovered something he thought lost, a fire most cradle catholics, if they have never left the church, rarely feel because they often do not understand all they could lose. In these six years I have devoured dozens of books on theology, church history, etc… by the singular grace of Christ I walk in the darkness no more.

  13. tandemcat Says:

    Yes–the Christmas Machine. C. S. Lewis wrote a good commentary on that–something like 50 years ago–and it’s much worse now.

    Worst Christmas music? Try the one about Santa getting stuck in the chimney….

    The Invisible Church is really where the action is, as I have observed in some of my writings–sorry that there is no time to post a URL now. But these are the people who are about the true task of the Church, which is to make disciples–the Great Commission.

  14. I declare: words are my life Says:

    The ‘Invisible’ Church? What is this Church? Is it the Church Suffering, the Church Militant or the Church Triumphant?

  15. morwenna Says:

    The insightful guest column “The Power of Words” made me think of a famous poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. In this case, Ozymandias’ words outlast him in a way he hadn’t intended:


    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

    • Chris Says:

      I love that poem.

      On my recent trips to Europe in my free time I was running to every Medieval cathedral I could find (I’m drawn to them like nothing else). Wandering around walking on the tombs of people whose names are little more than worn words in stone. In some cases the only way we know they even existed is because someone carved somethign for them.

      But the saddest ones are the ones that have been worn away to maybe a vague image.

      Everyone who ever knew anyone who knew that person is so long gone, and then there’s the countless people who built the church itself. The great building stands the artwork still survives but in many cases we will never know anything….ANYTHING…about the individuals themselves.

      I was struck when my father died a few years back that when my brother and I and our generation passes there will be almost no one left who will remember my dad’s existence at all. Give it a couple generations after that and he effectively is gone. Blinked out of existence.

      I am fascinated by that fate myself. We have no children, so when I’m gone and my generation and friends are gone then the only thing that will ever stand testament to my existence are a couple of articles in a few old dusty science journals, a couple of patents, and that’s it. Just my name on a printed page.

      But that’s OK I suppose. The world has lost many greater than I and will continue to do so. It is a good way to remain humble in the face of the cosmos I suppose. It’s also kind of sad, but there are many things that are sad that are no less a fact of life.

      I still think that maybe one of the attractions of any given “afterlife” is the idea that we “go on”. That our greatness (such as it is or isn’t) will remain. Sure the wanderers in the desert will see our crumbled statue but we’ll still be around somewhere.

      But then part of me wonder if that doesn’t somehow “cheapen” our brief time “here”. A great song always ends. If it went on and on and on it would be like having “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” on an infinite tape loop and that wouldn’t be good.

      A great experience is always fleeting. If it went on and on and on it would simply inure us to it’s greatness.

      The other day I was thinking how strange that at times I think about something from back in college and have this feeling like “Oh yeah, I’ll have to revisit that time sometime” as if I ever could.

      It’s gone. Many of the linkages I had with those people (even the old me) are long gone never to return. Time is a one-way street for us who can’t be graphed on a Feynman Diagram.

      But then doesn’t that make all those things more special?

      And isn’t it absolutely fascinating to think of Ozymandias’ statue and realize that, in the words of a newer poet, Matthew Sweet “nothing lasts”?

  16. fsdthreshold Says:

    Thanks, Morwenna! It was great to see “Ozymandias” again! That brings back happy memories of college. (And I know I used that poem somehow in the D&D campaign — does anyone remember precisely how?)

    And jumping back up to the two comments above yours: Christendom (I’m sure this is not limited to the Lutheran Church) has a reasonable doctrine of the Church Invisible. This refers to the congregation of true believers in Christ, scattered all across the Earth, regardless of their church denominations or lack thereof. These are the people who have heard the Word and by God’s grace have believed. The Church Invisible includes members of all Christian church bodies and undoubtedly some bodies that would shock us all. It includes a hermit with a dog-eared Bible who wouldn’t be caught dead in church on Sunday. These are the people who will be in Heaven. This is the church that really matters. It’s not an official membership in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod or an official membership in the Roman Catholic Church that’s important — it’s membership in the Church Invisible.

    • Chris Says:

      Your comment reminded me of one of my favorite comedians from the 80’s: Emo Philips. He was recently voted (by many theologians) to have written the best religious joke ever. Here’s a story from the Guardian about Emo’s response to this decsision (it also includes the joke which is actually pretty funny, but you really have to HEAR Emo deliver it in his inimitable style)

      Here’s Emo’s site:

      (he personally thanks people for not being Godzilla….that’s nice.)

  17. I declare: words are my life Says:

    The Church Invisible to me sounds like a take on the Church Militant. Ecclesia Militans is the body of believers on earth, struggling against sin. In its strictest sense it does mean the Catholic Church on earth, but the Church has also ruled that our separated brethren are also included.

    Sometimes non-catholics get fired up by misunderstanding the meaning of what the Church or pope says or rules. For instance, when the pope says he trusts in the mercy and salvific grace of the Lord when it comes to Protestants he is simply saying “I cannot speak for them because over them I have no authority.”

    As for the Church Suffering, see Mt. 5:48; Heb 12:14; Jam 3:2, Rev 21:27, 1 Jn 5:16-17 and more. I can give you a dozen more places where it is defined in scripture

    • Chris Says:

      I have taken up boxing as a workout. Often is the time when I imagine the bag to be “sin” and I am fighting it. Sadly at the end of the day sin is still there unaltered by my valiant flailing at it.

      One of the great things about being an atheist (apart from the free toaster Satan gives me for every person’s faith I destroy) is that we truly are an “invisible” group. We are among the most mistrusted minorities in the US according to a recent poll. And usually we keep our religious opinions closetted and quiet.

      In my case it is mostly because I know too many people I respect who are religious and I would never dream of wanting to “battle” their religious thoughts. If someone’s faith helps them feel good or better then more power to them.

      I do, however, make exceptions of religious nutjobs who feel God has empowered them to make others around them miserable. But since they’re always only a small minority in any given religion it’s hard to keep the anger up…unless of course I’m going through airline security 3 times in the space of 20 hours because I’m flying from UK to Amsterdam to the US. 3 legs = 3 trips through security = 2 to 3 times taking my belt off, shoes off, everything out of my pockets and my computer out. Then I’m kind of angry at a specific sect of a particular religion, but even then, _they_ didn’t invent terrorism and they haven’t been the sole purveyors of exploding airplanes.

      Happy WINTER HOLIDAYS everyone! From the very depths of my soul (which is probably just an emergent property of a complex brain chemistry coupled with the ability to store memories and make informed decisions based on prior experience and which will evaporate with me along with everything I’ve ever been, when my brain ceases to metabolize sugars and flatlines. Take that Ozymandias!)

  18. I declare: words are my life Says:

    Fred: Tim and Scott may need to chime in here, but I believe Ozymandius and Uron were the two statues that flanked Mergon Darkrod behind the gates of Dun-Darogren on level 9/

    I have had a fun time bantering back and forth over theology and religion, though it is clear the majority of the blog visitors would rather discuss something else … but I can’t help it, so one last thing, if y’all don’t mind:

    MERRY CHRISTMAS! May the joy of Our Savior’s birth flood your heart, and my you find peace wherever you seek it. If you are traveling, may your journey to and from be both safe and worry-free. And, most of all, may a spirit of love envelop you …

  19. Marquee Movies Says:

    Nicholas, I really enjoyed reading your article – it was well written and makes a powerful point. I’ve enjoyed these comments (as I always do – by the way, Bless you, Mr. Snowflake, for printing that address!), and I just wanted to respond to one element. The other day, I had purchased a copy of Streetwise from John, who is our local vendor. There’s an advice or commentary column there, and this week, the letter asked the columnist to list his favorite Christmas carols. Sadly, he spent most of the column listing ones he didn’t like – which made me sad that he wasted an opportunity to share what made him happy. So, in light of people stating what carols they didn’t like on this blog, I want to offer a very short list of some of my absolute favorites.
    1) Christmas Day – by Dido – Beautiful song and story – I had a discussion with someone once about the meaning of the ending of this haunting song.
    2) Light of the Stable – Emmylou Harris – just beautiful, with a choral background to die for.
    3) Christmas Bride – Ray Conniff – this is classic 60’s and 70’s style singing, which is what I heard in my house at Christmas time – this is a lovely song.
    4) Jingle Bell Rock – The Beatmas – no, the Beatles never did a Christmas album that I know of, but this group does really sound like them, and this is a really fun Beatles-sounding song!
    5) The First Noel – Suzy Bogguss – unfortunately, this song is not on itunes – but you can hear it on youtube – it’s truly the most beautiful version of this song I’ve ever heard.
    6) O Holy Night – my all-time favorite – I didn’t list a performer, because that’s a matter of taste – but there are many that I enjoy – it’s really a difficult song to sing (it’s the “Star Spangled Banner” of Christmas carols!), but when the singer hits those high notes – just SHIVERS everywhere, as Owen Meany would say.
    God bless you all at Christmas and always! “God bless us – everyone!” to quote my beloved Dickens.

    • Chris Says:

      For some reason Christmas music simply doesn’t do it for me. My wife, on the other hand, loooooves her some Christmas songs. I’ll have to pass some of these along to her for consideration.

      One year I was so desperate NOT to hear the standard Christmas Songs I made her a CD of “Blue Oyster Cult Christmas Classics” which were just random BOC songs I liked.

      I’ve been working hard to make sure this becomes a Christmas tradition around our house. It’s getting close…but I think she might have “lost” the disk mysteriously this year.

      I have now endured the movie “White Christmas” (or parts thereof) twice in the past two weeks. I do my level best to improve the songs, but I have to admit even some of them defy my best efforts.

      And then there’s the whole Danny Kaye thing. He just irks me. Dunno why. “White Christmas” just seems to be Danny Kaye on steroids. At least Bingo nailed it when he called him a “weirdsmobile” and suggested that marrying him would strap the poor actress with this particular model for LIFE.


  20. I declare: words are my life Says:

    Ave Maria byCharlotte Church. Stunning

  21. fsdthreshold Says:

    Ha, ha — when I asked my mom who her favorite actor was, she would invariably say “Danny Kaye”! Wait — didn’t we go through all this awhile back, and you were writing us all those comments from Danny Kaye from the Afterlife?

    Anyway — here’s a thread I can sink my teeth into! Well-loved Christmas songs! These are in no particular order:

    1. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” — beautiful sound, and just plain numinous. It also brings back memories of Mr. Smith conducting the 9th grade band in junior high. For me, it evokes that watery, shivery, thrilling feeling that school is going to end this week, and the Christmas holidays are just ahead!

    2. “Good King Wencelas” (I have NO IDEA how to spell his name! You know the guy I mean.) This is so medieval and the meaning is so excellent. This carol gives me the SHIVERS at the point at which the King is such a saint that his very footsteps melt the snow and heat the sod beneath, so that his servant is able to follow along in the path he forges. It doesn’t get any better than this!

    3. “The Holly and the Ivy” — I love the lyrics and the music. This one reminds me of coming home from college for Christmas. Riding Amtrak down from Chicago . . . coming to our cozy little brown house . . . browsing through the books in my “office” . . . enjoying rest and being home and reading and rejuvenation and the celebration of the Savior’s birth . . .

    4. “The Little Drummer Boy.” Oh. Wow. When it gets to the line, after that pregnant pause: “. . . Then He smiled at me,” I almost always tear up. That is pure Gospel.

    I have to tell a story here. Marquee Movies, for year after year, made cassette tapes of his favorite Christmas music, interspersed with brief lines from movies about Christmas, expertly chosen with his movie-expert’s sensibility. He would send these out to all his friends in the way that many people send Christmas cards. As time passed, cassette tapes gave way to CDs, and Marquee followed suit. My parents and my aunt were the recipients of his Christmas creations, and both talked at great length about how much they enjoyed the experience, and how well the recordings were put together.

    I used to serve as a Lutheran volunteer at Shirone Lutheran Church, and my fondest memories of these recordings come from Christmas Eves when I would drive from Niigata to Shirone — I’d be teaching at the university that day, and I had to get to Shirone by evening to play my trombone for the Christmas Eve candle service. Now, on Christmas Eve in Japan, the roads are jammed. The custom is that young people go on horrendously expensive dates, and families eat “Christmas cake” together — so men pick up cakes on their way home from work. At any rate, the traffic is backed up for hours like at no other time of the year.

    I would be driving to Shirone, stuck in traffic, and I would listen to Marquee Movies’ Christmas tapes. All of the above songs I listed were on my favorite tapes.

    That, for me, is a priceless memory of Christmases in Japan.

    • Chris Says:

      Yes, yes we did cover the Danny Kaye thing. But it’s a Christmas tradition for me since that’s like the only time I _have_ to see him. So it comes up again and again.

      As for your songs: “Little Drummer Boy”? I am uncertain what to say because that song is one of my least favorites. (No mean feat for a grinch who doesn’t like most Christmas songs anyway to find one he likes least), but I think I find that song to be the closest thing to a musical version of a Thomas Kinkade painting. It seems so sadly contrived and treacly.

      But who am I to harsh people’s mellows? It’s THE HOLIDAY SEASON! So as my gift you all y’all I present you with:

      NATIVITY 2000

      A piece of “artwork” Rita and I ginned up back in the mid 90’s for a particularly overly geeky friend of ours.

      Happy Holidays!

      (Nota Bene: there is no need to discuss whether this is art or not.)

  22. jhagman Says:

    A Canadian friend of mine (also a mystery book editor) has made a two CD collection of what he has entitled “Incredibly Bad Christmas Songs”, on them he has songs like “R2-D2 We Wish you A MerryChristmas/ C3PO” , “Alan Parson In A Winter Wonderland”, William Hung’s “Silver Bells”, and a beauty of a classic “Christmas In Jail”- My co-worker Veronica likes this song in particular because she says it is “realistic”. We play these songs as we close our bookstore during the holidays.

  23. I declare: words are my life Says:

    Chris: thank you for sharing a masterpiece! Bravo!

    I enjoy Dr. Dirty (John Valby) and his filthy (and I mean stunning cursing and irreverance, total NC-17) 12 Days of Christmas. If you find it on youtube I assure you it will make a USMC drill instructor blush.

    I am sticking with Veni, Veni Emanuel (in Latin of course) and Ave Maria by Charlotte Church. And I hate (with, as Tim in Germany would call it) a white-hot plasma hatred, Felix Navidad

  24. Marquee Movies Says:

    Jhagman, your “Christmas in Jail” song reminds me of one of my favorite little routines I have with one of my closest friends, Richard. Back in college, around the holidays, one of us would shout, upon seeing the other, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter!” And the other would immediately reply, “And happy new year to you – IN JAIL!” Now, it’s not just repeating the great lines from It’s A Wonderful Life – the pleasure we got was in trying to sound JUST LIKE Mr. Potter as he growls, “IN JAIL!” Richard even liked to follow up with, “Go on home, they’re waiting for you!” It’s a really fun tradition to try and sound just like Mr. Potter. And Mr. Snowflake, who is Felix? Is he a south of the border version of Felix the Cat?

  25. morwenna Says:

    I have a long list of beloved Christmas songs. To name just three:
    1. “The Holly and the Ivy”
    2. “Angels We Have Heard on High”
    3. “What Child is This?”

  26. I declare: words are my life Says:

    I finid it interesting that no other holiday, religious or secular, has its own genre of music like Christmas. Yes, there are different liturgical songs used throughout the year, and sure, there are patriotic ditties for July 4 and etc. but it is really only Christmas that has its own ‘brand.’

    It has been my experience that people enjoy these songs as they heard them in their youth or else at a particularly poignant moment. For example, my parents would play “Merry Chirstmas” album by Johnny Mathes. To this day, his are almost the only versions of Winter Wonderland, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, etc that I care for. Ditto songs off a Tony Bennett CD I own. I am sure others have theirs own favorite versions of their favorite yuletide songs.

    The exception to this is, of course Chris. Why he insists on playing the holiday recordings of Slim Whitman to death escapes me.

  27. Nick Ozment Says:

    I Declare: You hit on an excellent point there: “people enjoy these songs as they heard them in their youth or else at a particularly poignant moment.” For that very reason, I find that I cannot gain “distance” to judge certain songs. They engender such nostalgia, cause such precious childhood memories to well up–mom putting on one of her Christmas records while my sister and I hang ornaments on the tree–that hearing them objectively is nearly impossible. I’ve heard some people whose musical tastes I respect pass very critical judgment on some of those ’50s and ’60s holiday jingles, and I have no doubt that if I were to hear some of them today for the very first time, I might be as harsh in my assessment. But they have become time capsules, and their power goes beyond the music.

    That said, there are some that I think I can champion on purely musical grounds. “Silent Night” is a song that is hard to screw up; it is so simple and so powerful.

    “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is another one of my favorites, and my favorite version is a rather obscure performance by guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy. That version gives me goosebumps every time.

    A whole album that is worth mention is _Christmas_ (1993) by Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn. He wanted to strip down the songs and get back to their essential “songness,” and he succeeded so well that a Christmas has not gone by that I have not played the CD (and I’ve also been known to throw it on in the middle of summer). He favored older, even medieval songs like “I Saw Three Ships” and “Down in Yon Forest”–a haunting rendition of the latter will give you chills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: