On Prose to the Gettysburg Address’s poetry. “A writer’s new works are, more than most anything, new attempts to frame or answer old, nagging questions.” I wrote that in the context of Lincoln’s recurrent themes. Walter Lippmann, I just discovered, wrote the same thing in the context of philosophic writing:

Philosophies . . . are the very soul of the philosopher projected, and to the discerning critic they may tell more about him than he knows about himself. In this sense the man’s philosophy is his autobiography; you may read in it the story of his conflict with life.

And that’s what my “Marginal” writing is. I want to treat my blog like an ever-fattening book. I find new stuff that I would write in an old post’s margins. I can’t leave well enough alone.

Family weekend

Bethany at work in Kenyon’s metal shop yesterday. She and two other sculpture majors share a studio the size of a small townhouse. It has a twenty-five-foot ceiling and its own bay door for installation art. Bethany, however, likes to make miniature pieces.

The new studio art building opened while she was in Japan.

The final video

I end my video series to Christians on American government. This video covers Constitutional hermeneutics, and it includes a rather lengthy series conclusion. A book containing a transcript of the video series as well as over two hundred footnotes that document and deepen the videos’ content is sold here.

I’ve had grace all wrong

3PictureFinchAlejandroEricksonA dear octogenarian friend took a bad fall, and complications from it landed her first in the hospital and then in a rehab center. She just got home after a month away.

She told her friends about her month, about the people she had met. I think she made quite an impression. A few staff members and fellow patients commented on her relentless solicitude, particularly because they knew she was suffering from pain and a diminution of mobility.

Hearing about her time in the rehab center confirmed to me, as Peter confirmed to his readers at his letter’s end, that “this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.” I’m walking in a particular night, myself, though nothing as dramatic as the night of sense or the dark night of the soul. Nothing as difficult as my friend’s tough month. I won’t get specific, and it’s not all bad. But it’s dark enough.

Penetration into scripture often precedes my nights. I got an insight from Corinthians a month ago that I should have known would bring on longer nights this fall, if only so the insight would begin to move from my head to my feet – so it would, as the Psalmist puts it, light my path.

The insight involved my favorite Epistle, which includes this line popularized by altar calls: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” It’s from 2 Corinthians, and it’s the King James. (I don’t think altar calls are done in anything but the King James.)

Decades ago I thought that “now is the day of salvation” meant now is the day to get saved, to be born again, to repeat the sinner’s prayer – however any particular evangelical church would put that. But the context is wrong, even granting for the moment that salvation means kneeling at an altar and filling out a card. Paul’s commentary on Isaiah (“now is the day of salvation” fixes the “day” in Isaiah’s “on the day of salvation I helped you”) supports not conversion but an unseen work: I can know, by faith and despite all other evidence, that I have God’s help – his grace.

Corinthians goes on to describe contexts and ways I can take care not to “receive the grace of God in vain.” The contexts are usually painful (Paul lists hardships, labors, and sleeplessness, for instance), and the ways are usually directed to others (Paul includes kindness and genuine love).

Grace, suffering, and good works loiter together in the darkness of letters like 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter, letters that advocate a certain suffering. A verse from the latter (in the King James):

Let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

Grace is the firstfruits of this suffering. It comes with the appreciation that I’m still receiving from God, even though it doesn’t seem like it. Grace, then, asks that I walk by that light.

I’ve had grace all wrong. Because the acceptable time is now, I can know I’m being helped even when I have no tangible proof of it. Faith acts as proof. The next proof after faith of the help I need is grace’s prompt benefit to those around me. In my own darkness, grace puts others first.

Photo by Alejandro Erickson. Used by permission.

Video 5 is out.

Video 5 of my series to the American church entitled, “The Nature of Government.” The previous videos are at The next and final video should be out in a week or two. (Sorry I tend to look down in these videos. The teleprompter is the laptop’s screen, which sits below the built-in web cam. It ain’t too professional.)

That is cool.

3PictureRiskBoardShutting down the federal government, threatening to cause the nation to default, threatening to secede from the Union – it’s all so cool. As kids we used to call tactics like these “going sui.” One figured he’d lost the game, so he spent his remaining strength – be they armies in Risk or mortgaged houses and deeds in Monopoly – in suicide-bomber mode, taking down his chief opponent with him if he could.

(I don’t know why Speaker Boehner, who earlier this year said that “trying to put Obamacare on [a budget resolution] risks shutting down the government,” now says this isn’t a game.)

But the threat of going sui can sometimes keep you in the game. Before the Civil War as well as today, the states’ rights crowd knows how to hold onto power as long as possible.

Look at the House of Representatives. Even before things really got rolling, the Constitution gave the South unduly high representation in Congress by spotting it 0.6 of a person in each census for every slave it could import or otherwise generate. Today’s gerrymandered districts similarly help out the conservative cause, so that losing the House by over a million votes last fall translated into a healthy Republican majority.

Look at the Senate. Before the Civil War, Congress was careful to keep a balance of power by granting statehood in batches that would maintain a slave-state – free-state equilibrium despite the free states’ greater population. Today, the expansion of the filibuster by both rule and practice means that almost nothing gets done unless a minority of forty permits it.

And when these expanded versions of gerrymandering and filibustering aren’t enough, some states’ rights leaders threaten to support their states’ secession from the Union, as Texas Governor Rick Perry has done, or vote to decimate the nation’s economy, as Florida Rep. Ted Yoho plans to do later this month.

Lincoln dealt with this kind of extortion, and in his 1860 Cooper Union speech he compared it to a stick-up:

But you will not abide the election of a Republican President! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”

Similarly (the argument goes), today’s Union defenders will have only their profligate-spending selves to blame if Tea Party people, one-upping the highwayman, succeed this month in burning down the fiscal house.

Majority rule, then, is of little interest to states’ rights adherents. But the reason isn’t simply tactical – isn’t something to ignore when you don’t win presidential elections, be it 1860 or 2012. Majority rule, along with its foundational premise that all men are created equal, is something that state-sovereignty believers have had an uneasy relationship with since their doctrine’s inception.

And stockpiling assault weapons for a potential rebellion against the federal government? Way, way cool.

P.S. – This week’s Time cover is a classic: