Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Turn and Peep, Turn and Peep, There's Blood within the Shoe

Australian reporters document the importance of really good shoes to some American women with more money than sense.

Stephen Smith, a Californian podiatrist, said he turned away at least 50 patients a year who wanted extreme operations. "We have people come in and say: 'My foot is too wide. Can you get rid of my little toe?"'

You know, I hate to point this out, but if your shoe is too small for your foot, it can't be adequately supporting your body. Do you really want hammertoes, corns, bunions, broken ankles, and all the other lovely things bad shoes can do to you? And do you really want to pay that much for the privilege of hurting yourself? Do your feet a favor and find some good comfy shoes. The right shoe will look good on you, whether or not it's the latest fashion. In fact, you might just find yourself setting one.

(Also, if you're obsessing about how your toes look...get a clue! Toes look like toes! Nobody's toes are beautiful!)

Anyway, cosmetic surgery sure didn't work out for the wicked stepsisters....

Thursday, August 14, 2003


I guess I must be a bit tired of people quoting that stuff about the "Unashamed", because I've written this. I didn't quite manage to put in a line about "they don't spam me with a thousand supposedly-devout emails including threats or insults if you don't forward them to ten people in five minutes", but they don't do that, either.

They are not called to knock on doors,
To pounce on errors, make a speech,
Or show their faith upon their cars.
It's with their actions that they preach.
They aren't the ones with golden tongues;
They tend to listen more than talk,
And go for miles in others' shoes.
They don't say 'love'; they walk the walk.
And when they start to talk of God,
They're shy to speak out in His Name
Because their love's too deep for words.
They never throw brimstone and flame,
For they're too humble to assume
That they are saved and you are not.
But with their actions, and their eyes,
Who knows how many they have taught?

So let us praise the quiet ones,
Not call them cowards or "not bold".
They do not make a show of God;
God shines through them, plain to behold.

Apologetics, Debate, and Good Sportsmanship

The Jehovah's Witness gentleman (see below) and I have apparently decided to pretend genteelly that our little discussion never happened. This is fine with me. I will never be much of a debater. Not because I can't think of good arguments; I can, especially if the subject isn't something serious. I can even think of really silly arguments that are too logical to counter. But when it's a serious subject and I feel deeply about it, the distance between argument and me going off on someone is very short indeed.

So those folks who take up apologetics as a debate sport really puzzle me. My mother and father taught me not to discuss sex, politics or religion in public, as being only slightly less impolite than picking my nose or nether bits. But I know a lot of churches train their folks to do this. I soon learned to hate that "I've got you in my crosshairs" tone in their voices, since I got a lot of it in college. Now, my mother's old Catholic textbooks included stuff to say to people who argue with you. And certainly there's plenty of fine amateur and professional Catholic apologists out there doing their thing, enjoying it like it's a sport, and good for them. I suppose we should be ready to explain our hope, as Peter said. But why the heck should we have to?

It's just hard to take it seriously, isn't it? I mean, if somebody reallllllly wanted to know about Church doctrine, wouldn't they just _look it up_? Thousands of years of great saints and great thinkers and great poets are easily available, and they're asking me?!?

So clearly people aren't really looking for information; they're looking for some kind of "how much do Catholics really believe this" and "do Catholics know why they believe". Which is an annoying sort of way. And I suppose it's useful to see things from other points of view. I positively enjoy a discussion of religion with my friends (and yes, we discuss sex and politics, too). But it's bad sportsmanship to force somebody to play a game with you. And one of these days I'm going to go off on somebody who puts me in their crosshairs. I'm sure they'll feel all persecuted and smug, and they won't be the ones feeling embarrassed and guilty about it afterwards. But they should.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Clouds and Sunshine

Going around for two days humming "For Ireland I'd Not Tell Her Name" and contemplating the Song of Songs has clearly had an admirable effect on my temper. I didn't snark on a gentleman at work who revealed he was a Jehovah's Witness. I avoided the theological discussion which followed. When he went talking about how Jehovah's Witnesses were the only church that studied the same readings every week all over the world, I restrained myself from doing more than grinning and saying, "Oh, just like Catholics." (And I still don't know why he didn't like me saying so! Honestly, there are other denominations that also are found all over the world and have lectionaries, and most Americans ought to realize this.) At this point, for no reason, he got mad and brought up the suspended priests in Tipp City and claimed that would never ever ever happen in his church. And yet I didn't do any more than speak forcefully to him, which honestly, was just about a miracle.

I suppose this incident startled and upset me mostly because the gentleman in question is generally very polite. It may be that he was suffering the after-effects of some JW propaganda speech about us eeeeevil Catholics, but honestly. I roll my eyes in his general direction. (Well, and pray for him, of course.)

In contrast, when I went to the Big Fat Jewish Wedding in the middle of the Summer of Scandal, not one person mentioned it to me. Not one. Among folks who had good historical reason to dislike the Catholic Church, and no reason to accept me other than that I was a friend of the groom. See, Solomon and Elke's family and friends know...civil.

I've been visiting Baraita today for the first time in a while, and once again, we have an example of this lady's civil behavior as she deals with crucifixes as a Jew. She doesn't throw out a crucifix left in her home by a previous owner; no, she contemplates what to do with it and wishes she could trade a Catholic family for mezuzahs left at their new house. She also has the following funny story:

My first encounter with a residential crucifix came early in grad school; I was doing a summer language-study program at a major university considerably north of Metropolis, and I arranged for cheap accomodations at one of that university's residential colleges, which happened to be run by a Catholic religious order. When I finally reached my assigned room late one evening, I found it entirely unornamented except for a small crucifix hanging on the wall. It barely registered at the time; I dumped my suitcases, ventured out for a meal, came back, started unpacking, and was about to change into my nightshirt when I paused... yeah, the crucifix was watching me. (I'm sure it had no evil intent -- Jesus could hardly have looked less interested -- but I was raised to only get undressed in front of men on purpose.) I turned my back on it and started to pull my shirt off, then changed my mind -- the crucifix was still there. Carefully smoothing down my clothes, I climbed onto the nearest bed, took it down, and gently placed it face-down on a convenient shelf, where it remained for the rest of my stay.

Hee! This is weird enough to be something I might have done! I love Baraita, and I bet taking a class from its writer is a trip. I highly recommend her informative post on Leviticus, which clears up a lot for me. (But I can't believe she deliberately missed the Palio...not someone with a horse-crazy girlhood, I gather.) One interesting thing is that word "decoration". I realized suddenly that I never thought of a crucifix as a decoration; it's more of an appliance. (Same for mezuzahs, presumably.) Something functional and useful.

(Another cheerful thing I found through Baraita is New Directions in Pooh Studies. I'm sure you've all seen this, but tump-tump-tump your way over there. It's funny. Also, all you gamers and X-Files fans will enjoy How to Create a Golem from the Comfort of Home.)

Finally, from Electrolite, a story about how sometimes you want the ornery and uncivil around. Frankly, if someone fought for my rights and freedom like this, I'd let him be rude and offensive to me as much as he liked. (Okay, so I'd reserve the right to snark back.... Come to think of it, that describes a lot of my relationship with my beloved family!)

Ack! Panic!

After I wrote this, it occurred to me that the organist's rule of thumb for what could be included in a wedding (or before it) is whether "it says 'God' in it". You folks don't think this isn't going to be spiritual enough, do you? I mean, obviously the last verse needs more of Chapter 8 where all the stuff about the value and strength of love is, but maybe I'll still need to include some kind of spoken preface about how the Song of Songs uses human love to talk about divine love. I mean, assuming my brother and his fiancee don't hate it....

Adventures in Hymnwriting, Part Whatever

I still haven't tried out my previous hymns on my brother and his fiancee. I'm not totally satisfied with them. So I decided I ought to try again. Since I'd been thinking about slow airs and hymns (see below), I ended up writing a real old-style love song based on the Song of Songs. It's to the tune of "For Ireland I'd Not Tell Her Name", which is clearly one of the most beautiful tunes ever written. (The song's not bad, either. It's in Irish or the English translation, and is from the POV of a man who doesn't yet have the money to marry his love and is thus keeping properly quiet about who she is. He finds a way to praise her anyway.)

The surprising thing was just how easy it was to write. I know the name "Song of Songs" is just a way of saying "Best Song Ever", but you could almost take it literally. Again and again, the standard plotlines and similes of folk love songs appear or intertwine. Maybe
they were new then and maybe they weren't, but it certainly sounds a lot like one of those collisions of "Red is the Rose" with "The Water Is Wide", where you pick out all the prettiest verses and squeeze a story out of them. I was really tempted in the verse about waking up and finding that your love wasn't really there to quote directly from "Rainbow Willow":

Last night I dreamed of my true love.

All in my arms I held her;

When I awoke it was no such thing.

I was forced to live without her.

("Rainbow Willow" or "Locks and Bars" is a guy's song, actually. He goes to see his love and finds her locked up by her cruel relatives, so he has to fight to free her.)

The other interesting thing is how easily the song slipped into the woman's POV, with the guy and the daughters of Jerusalem just being quoted. To be honest, including "he said" and "they said" into this kind of song is a bit of a wimpout, since the audience should be
able to tell what you mean just from the way you sing it. (I suspect that if the Song of Songs was being sung to us by its original performers, all the changes of voice and storylines would be easy to understand.) But modern audiences aren't accustomed to having the same person sing both (or three) sides of the story, any more than they're accustomed to men and women singing songs from the opposite gender's POV. (Which is dead common in Ireland and Scotland.) So I wimped out. I'm not proud.

Anyway, this is obviously not a hymn, per se, but since I'm trying to find stuff to sing before the Nuptial Mass, anyway, that shouldn't matter. What does matter is that the last verse is not good yet, and doesn't really do justice to Chapter 8. Oh, well. It'll get there. I also have to check this against other Bible translations, as I couldn't find my own
Bible last night and had to go by Douay-Rheims online. That'll probably clarify what the last verse should be (which probably will become two verses, frankly). It would be nice to get in one more refrain of "Jerusalem's daughters" and another "sweet lilies". (Although
spice must clearly be included to be scriptural.);) It would really be good if I could get in that last apple tree reference (which I'm guessing is about Eden). Theft vs. gift is a really good contrast. (And if you want to think of the apple as being about sex, as so many do, stealing vs. gift makes Eve all about forcing there's a picture of our foremothers that all the matriarchal feminists wouldn't like. But anyway.) I'm really sorry I couldn't get in "comfort me with apples", by the way, but I just couldn't manage it. Yet.

The Apple Tree
Lyrics: Maureen S. O'Brien, after the Song of Songs
Music: "Ar Eirinn ni nEosfainn Ce Hi", Irish Trad.
("For Ireland I'd Not Tell Her Name")

If men were the woods, he'd be the only apple tree.
If they were vineyards, he's the cypress taller than the vines.
And his left hand's under my head, holding me,
And in his shade, he gives me his fruit so fine.
And he says I'm a lily among thorns,
And he says, "See how you're lovely, with your eyes like doves."
Though I'm tanned with the work, and my brothers give me scorn.
Jerusalem's daughters, don't you dare wake my love.

My love leaps mountains, and my love skips over hills.
Like a young deer, he is peering out behind the wall.
Can you hear him? "Hurry, get up, if you will,
Oh, my love, my dove, my lovely one," he calls.
"For the winter's gone, the rain's over and done,
And the flowers bloom, and figs are green upon the tree.
My dove nesting in the cracked rocks, rise and come."
And I'll go where he's browsing all among the sweet lilies.

I dreamed, but I woke up. My soul's love was not with me.
I got up and asked all of the guard if they had seen him roam.
Then I found him, and I would not set him free
Until I'd brought him back to the one who bore me's home.
He said, "Who's as lovely as the dawn of day,
Bright as the sun, fair as the moon that's shining up above?
Impressive as armies? Turn your eyes, or I'll run away!"
Jerusalem's daughters, don't you dare wake my love.

He came and called to me, "Let me in, I'm damp with dew!"
I said, "I'm undressed now. Should I get up now and put them on?"
He reached through the keyhole, and his touch thrilled me through.
But when I opened the door, oh, my love had turned and gone.
Though I called, he wouldn't answer any plea.
The guards they found me looking for my love
And they struck me, and they took my veil from me.
Jerusalem's daughters, won't you help find my love?

You ask how you'll know him? Among thousands, I would look
For hair black as ravens, and his eyes as gray as milk-washed doves
That sit beside streams, and that nest by little brooks.
Jerusalem's daughters, that's my friend and my true love.
And you ask where my love has gone away,
And you say that you will seek him there with me.
O my love's gone to his spice garden today.
I'll go where he's browsing all among the sweet lilies.

Let's go to the fields, love, let's see what my vineyards hold.
Let's go to my garden, where the blossom's set upon the tree.
Inside our gates, there's every fruit both new and old,
I've kept them for you, love, come and go there with me.
Like a seal, put me on _your_ arm and your heart.
Love is strong as death, and can't be drowned by floods.
I'm a wall and a tower; I'm at peace now; we won't part.
Jerusalem's daughters, don't you dare wake my love.

Folk Hymn Tune Update

I was looking in Gather this Sunday again and noted a good few weirdnesses. I think I've told you about how "Mairi's Wedding", a traditional Scottish tune, is listed as being "Marie's Wedding", a traditional Irish one. Well, it gets worse, because apparently Mr. Bell (who should know better) thinks "Wild Mountain Thyme" is also a traditional Irish tune when it's really Scottish as a haggis. (Also, his version of the tune is...ugh. Yuck. Leaden. If tin whistle tunebooks can notate this stuff right, why can't professional composers, I ask you? Either that or all organists stink, which I refuse to believe.)

There is apparently a principle among church composers that they may syncopate to their heart's content, but folk tunes they appropriate must be "regularized" until all the heart and soul has gone out of them. The hymnbook version of "Were You There" is a good example. So is anything set to "Waly Waly". Rory Cooney and Sydney Carter are the only folks I can think of who don't do this...but then, they're good. (And you can say a lot of stuff about the days when my parish worked out of the Missalette, but at least back then we knew how sing "Were You There" like a spiritual instead of an off-key bellows.)

I still think the most entertaining Celtic song setting was the one which claimed that "Wrap Me Up in Me Oilskins and Jacket" (aka "Fiddler's Green", but there's a zillion tunes and songs called "Fiddler's Green", of which some are trad and some aren't) was a traditional song. Bwahaha. Somebody must have clued them in (and gotten their cut), since it was in Worship and it's not in Gather. But why would somebody have to tell a professional musician? It's a decent song, but the tune doesn't particularly sound like a nineteenth century sea shanty. It sounds like what it is -- a professionally-written fifties/sixties folk band song. By the same token, for all the trading that goes back and forth between the islands, you can generally tell in dance songs whether a tune is Irish or Scottish. Since "Mairi's Wedding" is a very Scottish-sounding dance tune, it's incredible that a trained musician could mistake it -- especially since the first tin whistle tunebook you picked up would probably set you right. Since "Wild Mountain Thyme" has lyrics about 'laddie' and 'heather', it's not a secret that it's Scottish. (Okay, it might be Northern Irish...but I've never seen it in an Irish songbook....)

Look, I know I've pulled some boners in my day, but I'm an amateur. These guys make real money with their work, and I expect better of them. If they don't catch it, I expect better of their publishers.

However, I will say that at least Mr. Bell tends to use song tunes instead of dance tunes. There's a rich heritage of "slow airs", sean nos songs, and even traditional hymns and hymn tunes in the Celtic musical tradition, a great deal of which is neglected in favor of the flashier dance tunes and crowd-pleasing fast instrumentals. If people are serious about including Celtic music in church music, maybe they should be using exactly those tunes composed for contemplative moments of beauty and awe that touches the heart. And not just for new versions of "St. Patrick's Breastplate", either. It's a big tradition out there.

Things No Words Can Say

I'm never going to be one of the great apologists of the Church. I'm no good at arguments, and I'm not much good at answering questions. Not because I don't know much about my religion, either. Everything I believe and feel and know about God and life tends to come rushing to mind all at once. I want to tell people everything and end up saying nothing. (This is the same problem I have with writing hymns.)

It doesn't help that I have a temper. Unfortunately, arguments about religion tend to touch off both my quick and slow-building anger styles. I enjoy discussions, but arguments are no fun for me at all. I take them too much to heart.

But as incapable as I am of putting these things into words, I have to keep trying. Words are the way I best process the world; they're the gift I was given to use. What else can I do but keep trying? And if words are insufficient -- well, putting them to music will at least explain a little more of what I mean.