Monday, August 15, 2016

Plain talk from Dallas Willard

Here's another foundational statement from Renovation of the Heart:

We must clearly understand that there is a rigorous consistency in the human self and its actions. This is one of the things we are most inclined to deceive ourselves about. If I do evil, I am the kind of person who does evil; if I do good, I am the kind of person who does good (1 John 3:7-10). Actions are not impositions on who we are, but are expressions of who we are. They come out of our heart and the inner realities it supervises and interacts with.

Today one of the most common rationalizations of sin or folly is, "Oh, I just blew it." While there is some point to such a remark, it is not the one those who use it hope for. It does not exonerate them. While it may be true that there are other circumstances in which I would not have done the foolish or sinful thing I did, and while what I did may not represent me fully, "blowing it" does represent me fully. I am the kind of person who "blows it." "Blowing it" shows who I am as a person. I am, through and through, in my deepest self, the kind of person who "blows it"—hardly a lovely and promising thing to be.

Whatever my action is comes out of my whole person...

There you go again, Dallas Willard. Not sugar-coating it. Not letting us off the hook. Good intentions are not enough. The will is not strong enough. Because I am sinful, I sin. A bad tree produces bad fruit. But the good news is that my intentions and will—indeed my heart— can be aligned with God and his kingdom (which Willard defines as "the range of God's effective will, where what God wants done is done"). I can be formed into a good tree that bears good fruit. That's the radical-sounding message of this book.

More to come...

Quote from Chapter 2 "The Heart in the System of Human Life"

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A reason to vote for Trump

My favorite moment of the presidential campaign happened back in February when Donald Trump stood before a crowd of Republican establishment types in South Carolina and declared that the "war in Iraq was a big fat mistake." He continued by pointing out that the trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost got us nothing and that the reason given for invading Iraq (the supposed presence of WMD's) was false.  As you can hear if you watch the clip, all this was met with a chorus of boos by the pro-Bush crowd.

Of course, Trump went on to win the South Carolina primary and the rest is history. If I was going to vote for the Donald (I'm not) it would be for this reason: that he rightly pointed out that the GOP foreign policy establishment emperors have no clothes.

Fast forward six months and many of the same people who engineered the Iraq debacle have signed an open letter saying Trump isn't fit to be president, and would put our national security at risk. They may be right, but it's hard to take seriously those who have already done so much to make the world a more dangerous and unstable place by their hubristic blundering.

There's a terrific piece by David Goldman that you should read. A link to the full article is below, but here's an excerpt.

The Republican Establishment believed with fervor in the Arab Spring. Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol went as far as to compare the abortive rebellions fo the American founding. It backed the overthrow and assassination of Libya’s dictator Muamar Qaddafi, which turned a nasty but stable country into a Petri dish for terrorism. It believed that majority rule in Iraq would lead to a stable, pro-American government in that Frankenstein monster of a country patched together with body parts taken from the corpse of the American empire. Instead, it got a sectarian Shi’ite regime aligned to Iran and a Sunni rebellion stretching from Mesopotamia to the Lebanon led by ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Trump is vulgar, ill-informed and poorly spoken. He has no foreign policy credentials and a disturbing inclination to give credit to Russia’s Vladimir Putin where it isn’t due. But he has one thing that the fifty former officials lack, and that is healthy common sense. That is what propelled him to the Republican nomination. The American people took note that the “experiment” of which Gen. Hayden spoke so admiringly was tough not only on the ordinary Egyptian, but on the ordinary American as well. Americans are willing to fight and die for their country, but revolt against sacrifices on behalf of social experiments devised by a self-appointed elite. That is why the only two candidates in the Republican primaries who made it past the starting gate repudiated the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

Read the whole thing. I've said it once and I'll say it again: Trump is the nominee the intellectually bankrupt Republican establishment deserves. I say that as one who dutifully drank the "conservative" Kool-Aid for years. No more.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A legendary trio: Ford, Wayne and Fonda

John Ford's two favorite actors were John Wayne and Henry Fonda. Essential to being a Ford favorite on screen, was being a Ford favorite off screen as well. Fonda once quipped that the director cast actors based on their card-playing ability! There were practical as well as personal reasons for this. A John Ford film set was a small community, so naturally Ford cast people he would enjoy hanging out with when the cameras weren't rolling. When Ford's stock company headed out to Monument Valley to shoot a picture, away from meddling producers and the bright lights of Hollywood, in many respects they lived a romanticized version of the frontier lifestyle they were bringing to life on screen.

All this is recounted in local author Scott Eyman's indispensable Ford bio Print the Legend. Both Wayne and Fonda fit easily into the director's macho inner circle: a membership that required an appetite for lots of "boys will be boys" carousing, and most importantly, letting Ford win at cards. Below is a poor quality shot of Ford flanked by Wayne and Fonda, with another regular member of the Ford entourage Ward Bond at far right.

Being a friend of Ford's off the set was a mixed blessing, though, since one had to endure Ford's incessant ribbing which often crossed a line into outright cruelty. Duke Wayne was a regular target of the deeply insecure Ford's mania for control over those around him. Perhaps this stemmed from the fact that it was Ford who fashioned Wayne into a movie star...and he was never going to let Duke forget it. Fonda, on the other hand, was already an established star when Ford cast him as Abe Lincoln in 1939, and the relationship between these two men was more like that of one between equals. Young Mr. Lincoln began a run of three films in which Ford and Fonda collaborated -- the other two being Drums Along the Mohawk and The Grapes of Wrath -- a trio that went a long way toward raising John Ford to the pinnacle of American filmmaking.

After the war the Ford/Fonda relationship continued to be fruitful in films like My Darling Clementine and Fort Apache. Fonda and Wayne both brought a natural ease to the screen, but the characters they played for Ford were quite different. Eyman explains:

Ford would use Fonda in a very different way than he would John Wayne. Wayne's characters were earthy and warm, brawlers by temperament, capable of love and rage. Fonda's characters burned with a cold fire—they displayed strength, but a removed, abstracted, rather asexual strength, tempered by the actor's instinctive austerity.

This contrast is set in stark relief in Fort Apache (1948): the first installment of Ford's great Cavalry Trilogy. Fonda's Colonel Thursday and Wayne's Captain York display contrasting qualities that Ford admired -- the "by the book" mentality of Thursday that would rather charge headlong into an Apache massacre than admit weakness, and the easy intuitive intelligence of York who is willing to meet the Indians as equals to avoid bloodshed. Ford had room for both kinds of men in his American mythology. He once described Custer as "great" and "stupid"...just like Thursday in Fort Apache.

Eyman writes: "Ford's work embraces deliberate contradictions. . . . Ford is a realist as well as a romantic poet." One could spend hours arguing the relative merits of Wayne and Fonda's performances for John Ford. Recently, I've been immersed in My Darling Clementine (1946). Along with Young Mr. Lincoln and The Grapes of Wrath it forms a foundational trilogy of American self-understanding, both real and imagined. Based on his legend and myth-making turns as Honest Abe, Tom Joad and Wyatt Earp, I give Henry Fonda the slight edge over John Wayne. But it doesn't matter. All that needs to be said is that their complementary talents were the perfect tools for an American master to create some of the greatest motion pictures of all time.

Quotes from pp. 211 & 341 of Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999)

Monday, August 1, 2016

What Trump could have said to Mr. and Mrs. Khan

I don't have the bandwidth to follow every twist and turn of the Trump craziness, but Rod Dreher does, and he imagines what Trump could have said in response to Khizr Khan's speech at the Democratic National Convention. Could have said, that is, if Trump "had the instincts of a normal human being."

"I cannot imagine the pain of what Mr. and Mrs. Khan have been going through since losing their son. I honor their patriotism, and regret that they have allowed the Clinton campaign to exploit their heroic son’s death and their own grief. What I would tell them is this: as Commander in Chief, Donald Trump will not send any more sons and daughters of America to fight and die in unnecessary wars."

That would have been an effective and wise response. Instead, we have the spectacle of a Republican presidential candidate crassly attacking a Gold Star father and mother who could be poster children for the best of American ideals. Truly remarkable.

As I wrote in this space previously: virtue has left the building.