Happy Birthday, Anita Kuhn
Tuesday, February 15, 2005, 3:06 PM

Today is the birthday of our managing editor, Ms. Anita Kuhn. She’s lovely, talented, and Touchstone would never get out the door without her. She also has to work in an office with five men. So, please, send her a kind, appreciative note wishing her a very Happy Birthday.



Robert George Receives Bradley Prize, to Speak at Heritage Foundation Thursday
Tuesday, February 15, 2005, 10:41 AM

Touchstone senior editor, Robert P. George, will receive the Bradley Prize for outstanding intellectual achievement during ceremonies at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. tomorrow night.

George is among four 2005 winners of a $250,000 prize, including columnist George Will, racial preferences opponent Ward Connerly, and Heather MacDonald, a fellow of the Manhattan Institute.

“These outstanding individuals are being recognized for achievements that are consistent with the mission statement of the Foundation, including the promotion of liberal democracy, democratic capitalism, and a vigorous defense of American institutions” said Michael W. Grebe, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bradley Foundation. “Through the Bradley Prizes, we recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions and we hope to encourage others to strive for excellence in their respective fields.”

Robert George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and director of the University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He is a former presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Dr. George has a doctorate in legal philosophy from Oxford University. He has served as a senior editor of Touchstone for more than a year and has contributed many essays to the magazine.

George has also served with distinction on the President’s Council on Bioethics, where matters dear to the heart of Touchstone readers are being weighed. Dr. George’s contributions in this part of our national conversation cannot be understated, as evidenced by his writing in Touchstone.

The editors, staff, and readers of Touchstone congratulate Robert George for his service to our country and for this presitigious recognition of his accomplishments.

More on the Bradley Prize and this year’s award winners can be found on the website of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

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Robert George is to give a Russell Kirk lecture, Judicial Usurpation and the Constitution: Historical and Contemporary Issues, this Thursday, February 17, at noon for the Heritage Foundation.

From the Heritage Foundation website:

In this lecture, Robert P. George explores the history of judicial interventions in the American democratic process to attempt to resolve divisive, morally charged issues of social policy. While defending the legitimacy of constitutional judicial review as a means of protecting the rule of law, Professor George criticizes the Supreme Court for frequently usurping powers allocated by the Constitution to the people acting through their elected representatives. He proposes answers to some common arguments advanced by proponents of sweeping judicial power to justify its exercise. Among the questions he addresses are those raised by judicial interference with Congressional efforts to ban slavery in the federal territories prior to the civil war; state and federal legislation to protect workers in the early decades of the twentieth century; and contemporary state and federal laws pertaining to abortion, pornography, and marriage.

Those who wish to attend the lecture in person must R.S.V.P. (choose the R.S.V.P. link in the top right-hand corner of the page). The talk is to be held in the Heritage Foundation’s Lehrman Auditorium at 214 Massachusetts Ave NE in Washington, D.C.

Readers anywhere can watch the lecture live via the internet.



Malcolm Muggeridge’s A Third Testament
Monday, February 14, 2005, 8:18 PM

The Bruderhoff Foundation has posted for download a free e-book of Malcolm Muggeridge’s A Third Testament (you read right, it’s free).

This classic, taken from an acclaimed series of television programs hosted by the British agnostic and writer who turned to Christ in his waning years, “brings to life seven men in search of God—seven maverick thinkers whose spiritual wanderings make for unforgettable reading.”

The seven include: Saint Augustine, Blaise Pascal, William Blake, Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Thomas Howard writes of Muggeridge and the book: “Both a wag and a lethally shrewd observer of history and humbug, Muggeridge brings alive seven colossi of the Western intellectual tradition—and shows that the majority of them, ironically, are in fact quite counter-traditional. The result is a very great treasure, and a highly recommended read.”

You can download your free copy of the book here.



Several Events on Next Week’s Calendar
Monday, February 14, 2005, 4:34 PM

— Allan Carlson, will give a talk, Making Social Security Reform Family-Friendly, on Wednesday, February 23, at the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C.

From the FRC announcement:

A number of proposals to solve Social Security’s looming problems are currently circulating around Washington. The president proposes to allow workers to invest some of their income. Others would raise taxes or restrict benefits. But do any of these ideas really address the root cause of Social Security’s problems: a sharp decrease in the number of workers paying into the system? Does the very concept of Social Security provide a perverse incentive to not have children, thus carrying the seeds of its own destruction?

The Social Security Acts of 1935 and 1939 built a system that assumed and reinforced a very traditional understanding of the family, with a breadwinning father, a homemaking mother, and a child-centered home. Why and when did Social Security begin to discourage the birth of children, so undercutting its assumptions? What reforms would make Social Security “pro-family” for the twenty-first century?

You can listen to a live audiocast of the lecture online beginning at 11:00 a.m. (Eastern) on Febraury 23. For attendance in person, please R.S.V.P. online or call 202-393-2100, Ext. 3004.

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— The 13th Annual William E. Conger, Jr. Lectures on Biblical Preaching will be given by Michael Quicke, C.W. Koller Professor of Preaching and Communications at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, February 22–24 at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama.

For more information call 800-888-8266 or 205-726-2991 or visit Beeson Divinity School on the web here.

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— The Veritas Forum at the University of Kentucky is sponsoring a conference, Pharmaceuticals, Films, & Faith: Exploring Personhood in the 21st Century, February 21–23, in Lexington, Kentucky.

On February 21, Dr. Dan Blazer of Duke University addresses the roles/limits of medications in the pursuit of mental health and human wholeness. On February 22, Craig Detwiler of Biola University explores recent works of cinema and how these compare or contrast with the Christian vision of a person. On February 23, Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things, discusses the purpose of human existence.

The conference will include several performances of a theatrical version of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce performed by the Univerosty of Kentucky’s Drama Department February 24–27. For more information on these performances, click here.

For more information on the lecture presentations click here or contact the Veritas Forum for directions. The talks are open to the public and free. The dramatic performances include a nominal ticket fee. Call 859-523-0700 or send an e-mail.



Culture and Ethics in and Around Chicago
Friday, February 11, 2005, 4:25 PM

— The Integritas Institute hosts its fourth annual conference on Human Dignity & Health Science on Monday, Febraury 28 at the Chicago Illini Union at the University of Illinois–Chicago. Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Peter Lawler, Pia de Solenni, and Francis Cardinal George are listed as speakers. Click on the link above for additional information or to register, or call 312-355-3336.

— The Chicago Opera Theater will open its 2005 season on March 2 with a performance of George Frederic Handel’s Resurrezione. Performances follow on March  4, 6, 10 & 12. For information or tickets click on the links above or call 312-704-8414.

— Carl Dreyer’s fully-restored silent film masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc, will screen, accompanied by the Jubilate Children’s Choir and orchestral ensemble, Friday, March 18 at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston. For more information send an e-mail or call 847-295-4235.



The New Crux Blogs
Friday, February 11, 2005, 3:21 PM

The editor of our new online publication (print edition forthcoming), Crux Magazine, has started three blogs over at the magazine’s website. New Adventures in Sci-Phi follows developments in science and philosophy, Signs of the Times features general commentary on culture, and Situation Critical collects reviews of popular culture.

There are several writers involved with the blogs, including Bobby Maddex (the editor of Crux), Eric Scheske, Hunter Baker, Leslie Sillars, John Coleman, and Denyse O’Leary.

For readers who want more on the film director M. Night Shyamalan, John Coleman’s latest contribution to Situation Critical is a defense of Shyamalan’s 2002 movie Signs (an excerpt follows):

Movies like Signs are few and far between, and believers in the supernatural of all shapes and sizes should applaud these doubters of materialism when they appear. “Why?” you ask?

What are the primary problems in the Western world today? OK, social security, terrorism, and global warming—sure; but dig into the psychology of young people and old-fogies alike, and it seems that the former culture of Sophocles, Homer, and Orson Wells is suffering primarily from a wicked lack of imagination.

We are all materialists now. Sure, there are remnants of pagan mysticism, and there are some die-hard believers in theistic deities, but the vast majority of Americans and Europeans believe more in the idea of world peace than in fairies, angels, and aliens; and the world is worse for it. How can you have real theistic faith without a belief in angels or their opposites? How can you profess to true meaning in life without the idea that you can somehow intervene in these otherworldly affairs? How can you make it through an existence in which the kings are despots and fashion designers without some vague notion that they are poor imitations of your own princely soul—a soul that at the will of “Aslan” or “Gandalf” just might rise to help save the worlds of men?



Ash Wednesday: An Observation
Wednesday, February 9, 2005, 7:10 PM

In the evening, I take two buses, a subway, and one train, traversing the northwest side of Chicago to its downtown “loop” and then out to our home in the city’s far western suburbs. Tonight’s commute was a revelation. Everywhere I turned, there were men and women with ashes on their foreheads. Not discreet, barely-visible smears, mind you. With few exceptions, these marks were in dark, fat, no-doubt-about-it crosses. I also walk for several blocks in the city and I’m not exaggerating: tonight about one in four people bore the sign.

For the briefest moment, I was elated by what the beginning of the Lenten fast had brought to the surface. Surrounded am I by a cloud of witnesses! And at half past five o’clock those I saw weren’t all who had or would attend a ritual of ash imposition and solemn prayers. They certainly didn’t represent all those who profess faith in Christ.

Then it hit me: How, in the Sam Hill, have we achieved our present culture while this many leaders and professionals identify with Christ to the point of going to a church and having embers signed on their pates as a reminder that they are “but dust”?

How is it possible that we could countenance—to instance our nation’s defining hardness of heart—the murder of unborn children at the mountainous rate we do, with so many walking around tonight bearing a mark from a holy community whose Lord counts those who but lead little ones astray worthy of the equivalent of cement shoes and a toss in the Chicago River? What punishment awaits those who take their lives?

And another question: What are these ministers and priests teaching all of these ash bearers?

In Revelation, a messenger of God tells the four angels charged with executing judgments on the earth to wait until the forehead of every servant of Christ has been sealed. I fear there would not be nearly as many folks with a mark on their temple this evening if they had to wait for one from the angelic sealers.

“This people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

“‘Yet even now’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’”

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

For a look at how the message of Ash Wednesday can help remedy our culture’s death denial and guilt denial (bad things, by the way), please see Robert Hart’s Remember, O Man from the March 2002 edition of Touchstone.



The Human Quality of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village
Wednesday, February 9, 2005, 12:06 PM

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village—frame for frame for frame an exquisite film—is now out on DVD/VHS. Seldom do cinematography, setting, music, writing, and performance meld into transcendent art as they do here.

It is a crime the film wasn’t nominated for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ award for Best Picture, and, as if anyone needed it, conclusive evidence that this academy of men and women who make films have little ability to discern achievement of the true, the good, and the beautiful in their own “art” or “science” or whatever.

If I were to guess at what about The Village disturbs or amuses or embarrasses contemporary American viewers (and, I assume, the academy voters), I would say it is the characters’ immediate availability to each other: their lack of pretense, the spell-binding beauty of the language they use to speak to one another, their depth of genuine commitment, their emotional intelligence and emotional, um, articulateness seem unreal or contrived and, thus, to our jaded senses, humorous and clunky. This is how persons who bear the image of God—who understand that other

persons are bearers of the divine image—ought to address other persons

and ought to behave toward them.

The dialogue, acting, and camera work are often radiant, directed, with at times piercing insight, toward a portrayal of its characters’ humanity. With his camera and with the physical presences and faces of his actors, writer-director Shyamalan makes art of the simplest things: running through an open, sunlit field or (a powerful, recurring theme here, often in slow motion) taking the hand of a beloved.

When I saw the film in a theater last summer, I noticed several audience members laughing at moments of intense emotional honesty in communication. In this age of invasive technology, constant distraction, and (thus) ubiquitous triviality, real intimacy, depth of feeling, and simple-yet-profound speech seem clumsy or hokey or, I suppose, even false. I’d wager that for many viewers human communion at the level portrayed in the film is impossible to grasp or believe and if possible it must (by today’s way of thinking) be manufactured or imposed.

The performances from William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix, and Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of director/actor Ron Howard) are brilliant in their humility, their embrace of limitation, and their availability to grace. I can see why accomplished actors are willing to take risks with this director and his out-of-the-ordinary scripts. The words he gives them to speak and the characters he draws are so beautiful and strangely defying of contemporary expectations. The film is quirky (all of his films are), evoking a world at once alien and recognizable, but manages to summon empathy for these odd-yet-beautiful people and the wondrous reality they inhabit, all in the interest of telling a good, honest story worthy of love. As William Hurt’s character says in a pivotal moment, “The world moves for love. It kneels before it in awe.”



Alexander Schmemann on the “Brightness” of Lent
Wednesday, February 9, 2005, 10:22 AM

From Alexander Schmemann’s Great Lent:

Is it necessary to explain that Easter is much more than one of the feasts, more than a yearly commemoration of a past event? Anyone who has, be it only once, taken part in that night which is “brighter than the day,” who has tasted of that unique joy, knows it. … On Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection as something that happened and still happens to us. For each one of us received the gift of that new life and the power to accept it and live by it. It is a gift which radically alters our attitude toward everything in this world, including death. It makes it possible for us to joyfully affirm: “Death is no more!” Oh, death is still there, to be sure, and we still face it and someday it will come and take us. But it is our whole faith that by His own death Christ changed the very nature of death, made it a passage—a “passover,” a “Pascha”—into the Kingdom of God, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into the ultimate victory. …

Such is the faith of the Church, affirmed and made evident by her countless Saints. Is it not our daily experience, however, that this faith is very seldom ours, that all the time we lose and betray the “new life” which we received as a gift, and that in fact we live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event had no meaning whatsoever for us? … We simply forget all this—so busy are we, so immersed in our daily preoccupations—and because we forget, we fail. And through this forgetfulness, failure, and sin, our life becomes “old” again—petty, dark, and ultimately meaningless—a meaningless journey toward a meaningless end. … We may from time to time acknowledge and confess our various “sins,” yet we cease to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us. Indeed, we live as if He never came. This is the only real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal Christianity.

So let us rediscover Lent. A journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the “bright sadness” of Lent, we see—far, far away—the destination. It is the joy of Easter, it is the entrance into the glory of the Kingdom. And it is this vision, the foretaste of Easter, that makes Lent’s sadness bright and our lenten effort a “spiritual spring.” The night may be dark and long, but all along the way a mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon. “Do not deprive us of our expectation, O Lover of man!”

Thanks to Julianne Wiley for sending this passage.



The Dust of Adam: On the Rite of Ash Wednesday
Wednesday, February 9, 2005, 9:01 AM

An excerpt from an essay on Ash Wednesday by David Mills taken from the March 2004 issue of Touchstone:

“When you fast,” Jesus says to us in the Sermon on the Mount, “do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear to men to be fasting. Truly, I say unto you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face; that you appear not to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place.”

So much, you might think, for the traditional imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, as practiced by many Western Christians since the early Middle Ages. In liturgical churches, the priest or pastor marks a small cross on your forehead with ashes, traditionally made by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. As he does so, he tells you that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

This seems to be exactly the sort of thing Jesus rejected. After all, the  point of smearing ashes on your forehead is to disfigure it in a way everyone else is bound to notice. But Jesus is referring to a private fast made public so that people would applaud. He is not referring to a public ritual, which by definition cannot be observed in secret and for observing which you earn no applause. Jesus himself observed the public feasts and fasts of his day.

A great value of liturgical disciplines is that you can do the things you ought to do without worrying about whether you are doing them for the right reasons. You win no fame or favor for doing what everyone is supposed to do. As a simple test, grab someone at church the Sunday after Ash Wednesday and say, “Hey, I had ashes put on my forehead last Wednesday.” The answer you will get will be some variation of “Big whoop.” It is like asking for approval because you didn’t sing a hymn during the sermon or came to the 11:00 service at 11:00.

And of course you may wipe off the ashes when you leave the service, so that it remains private in the sense of remaining within the gathered community. Having enacted the lesson liturgically, having the ashes smeared on your forehead, you will have ashes smeared on your heart.

But all that said, I would not ignore the usefulness of keeping the ashes as a public witness. I was, as a new Christian, deeply affected by seeing hundreds of people walking around Boston one late winter’s day with smudges on their foreheads, and finding out that evening, from a woman at a seafood restaurant, why she had that mark on her face. It had never occurred to me that people could be so confident in their religion as to wear its marks in public.

But what does the rite actually mean? What value does it have? I will try to exegete the rite for Ash Wednesday.

For the rest of The Dust of Adam click here.


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