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Thursday, October 30, 2014

People often ask me...

what my dreams are for the future. I suppose dreams are different than plans to some extent. For example, now that I’m finished with school, I plan on trying to find some customer service work that I can do from home on the computer and phone. And yes, certainly I should love to have more opportunities to explore my abilities in the arts, and publish my books. But I’m sure that’s a way in the future. As it stands, I really can’t plan too far into the future, but must take one step at a time. However, that doesn’t stop me from dreaming. So I shall let you in on two of my main dreams now.

    The first does have to do with finding a “soul mate”. And that doesn’t mean a White Knight for me; it could just as easily be a college nerd who desperately needs someone to look after him! As someone who has had no brothers, I honestly think that whoever I agreed to spend the rest of my life with in holy matrimony could not just be a flirt or romancer (I get turned off to such methods rapidly), but also must be a bit like the brother I never had. It would have to be someone I completely trusted, with my whole self, and who I would naturally want to spend quality time with.

    So my idea of a truly enjoyable “date” spent with someone would involve some sort of outing. Something adventurous, but not too strenuous. Just exploring small towns is enjoyable for me. Of course, finding special events – festival commemorations, concerts – is always better done with someone tagging along! Just sharing the moment, however insignificant, is worth the world. Another thing I would like very much is the idea of going out into nature, on some mountainside or by a lake, and having a good picnic or barbeque, collecting pieces of nature, accompanied by good conversation and a camera phone.

    I am also the sort of person who finds writing with others the very best way to get to know them. I love the creative sparks that fly, yes, even if things get heated at times! I love the long hours of brain-storming, the muddled product that we know needs rehashing, the cough drops and herbal tea from tug-of-warring it over details, the instrumental music belying of the wildness of our trends of thought. The unity such an experience produces, the pride in the finished product, is not to be matched.

    Indeed, I would never marry a man I could not write with, who could not draw the same electric current from working to create something true and beautiful through the clickety-clack of a keyboard. Another thing I should enjoy doing would be to cook with someone. Yes, shop for a bunch of oddly assorted groceries, bring them into a kitchen, and whip something to together! It doesn’t have to be complex or from scratch, but just something fun for immediate enjoyment. I’m visualizing such delicacies as English muffin pizzas, salad, and carrot cake, with vanilla Madagascar tea!

    And far be it from me to forge the pleasures of TV. I love movie marathons, with a conglomeration of utterly unrelated cinematic gems. Bring on period pieces, creature features, westerns, cartoons, and whatever else might be hanging around at the time! The hokier the better! There’s nothing like the unity of yelling at a TV screen together. Digging up music on YouTube is always fun too. Basically, just the concept of being around someone I’m comfortable enough with to tease, and be teased by, to squabble and make up, to find thoroughly impossible and love to pieces. Of course, some commonality in taste certainly would be helpful, but I don’t want a clone of myself. That would be no fun at all!

    Now, onto my Second Great Dream: It has always been the fondest desire in my heart to visit Britain as a pilgrim. I want to cross the island from Land’s End to the Orkneys, feeling the soul of the place, the people. There are so many things I long to see, hear, feel, taste, even smell! So many people I want to meet, to look into their eyes that I have never seen. I don’t want to just experience the grand things, but the small ones as well. I want to explore the towns and villages with the old churches, pubs, and ruined castles, and I want to meet the real people going about their daily lives.

   I want to see all the little historical markers, and meet the historical societies. I want to walk the “common land” – that wild side of Britain – to see the woods and marshes and lakes and the ocean that gave birth to a hundred thousand tales of triumph, defeat, and rejuvenation. I want to see where red coats were made, and the great oak in Sherwood stands, and I want to track Bonnie Prince Charlie and Robert Bruce. I want to stand on the deck of The Victory, and see the lakes of Beatrix Potter and the Cotswold’s that exude Jane Austen. I want to find the “real” Middle Earth in the shires of Tolkien. I want to try to speak Welsh with native speakers.

  I want to visit those vestiges of Catholicism: Walsingham, Cardigan, St. Ethedreda’s, Brompton Oratory, Westminster Cathedral, Tyburn Convent, and all the other small abbeys, convents, and churches that might welcome the pilgrim in. And I also want to see what is now Anglican: Westminster Abbey, Oxford University, Cambridge University, the ruins of Glastonbury, Canterbury Cathedral, the Isle of Iona, and all the other charming places unlisted. And yes, of course, beyond all the romantic quaintness, I shall see the cities too, powerful, bustling, billowing, and sometimes disturbing, yet always with a teeming vitality.
    I know my musings may sound like some airy-fairy dream, but it is one that I cling to. It has been said that Britain is whatever someone brings to it. Perhaps that is the case with me. I pray there may be peace when I come to Britain. Indeed beyond all the political struggles that I have engaged myself in is a desire that the British people may find peace with themselves, instead of constantly fighting to tear themselves asunder. As one Scot I know queried, “What have they done to my county?” Scotland must not turn into another Northern Ireland. I hope that all people of good will, no matter how they voted in the referendum, will put aside the past and help with the reconciliation process, to move forward for the good of all.

    When I visit Britain if I ever were to hike across, or take a camper across, or a little of each, I should like very much to have a companion along the way. Preferably, I would go with someone of like mind, with at least a reverence for the spiritual or perhaps even a devotion to the Catholic Faith. Perhaps I could get some of my British friends to accompany me on different legs of journey. Perhaps it will be a friend from America with the same burning intent. I cannot explain the origin, or even the ultimate end, of that intent; it either is, or it isn’t. I believe God puts it there.

The Isle of Iona


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Story of Marian Devotion in Britain....

is rich and diverse, filled with legends and romance, persecution and hope for the future. The earliest Christian missionaries to the British Isles brought their love of the gentle virgin to the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon peoples, and it spread like wildfire, infusing older Pagan traditions and locations with new Christian meanings.

    In the Highlands of Scotland, a Neolithic stone structure regarded as sacred by the pagans was renamed “The Praying Hands of Mary.” In Glastonbury, England, a site resounding with pre-Christian mysticism, the mythologized chieftain Arthur Pendragon, who defended Christianity against the aggression of Pagan tribes, was said to have seen a vision of the Holy Mother and later borne an image her on his shield.

    She was also given the title “Our Lady of Glastonbury” in honor of the tradition that Joseph of Arimathea planted the first Christian church in Britain on that site, along with the Glastonbury Thorn which blossomed every Christmastide and Eastertide. In Cornwall, it was even said that she had physically visited with the Christ Child during one of Joseph of Arimathea’s journeys as a tin trader for the Roman Empire, giving rise to the carol, “I Saw Three Ships” and the old Cornish miner’s cry, “Joseph was a tinner!”

    It was recorded that King Alfred the Great had a deep devotion to Mary, and in keeping with this spirit, G.K. Chesterton depicted Our Lady appearing to him on the Battlefield of Ethandune: “Seven swords were in her hearth/And one was in her hand”. Likewise, on September 8, 997, it was recorded that the city of London was saved from a Viking invasion through her intercession on her birthday.
    During the Middle Ages, England was called “Our Lady’s Dowry”, and “Lady Masses” in honor of the Virgin became increasingly popular, with glorious polyphonic choir pieces performed in her honor. The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, which housed a miraculous statue of her, was a major site of pilgrimage for royals, nobles, and common folk alike, earning it the title “England’s Nazareth” and becoming renowned for its famous silver seal. In Wales, The Shrine of Our Lady of Cardigan housed a mysterious wooden statue of The Virgin found by the riverside with a taper in her hands that was always kept burning.

    Likewise, the earliest ballads about involving Robin of Locksley, who took to Sherwood Forest as the champion of the oppressed, reveal that he had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother and was often found “telling his beads/all in the greenwood among the green reeds.” It has even been speculated that Maid Marian is actually a covert reference to the Maiden Mary. The chivalric code of knighthood always placed a high emphasis on Mary, and thus on the respect owed to all women. Whether to celebrate the turning of the seasons in harvest festivities or preparing to launch a charge in a bloody battle, in was traditional to call on “Our Lord and Our Lady” in one breath.

      During the Protestant Revolt, there was a violent overthrow of past religious and cultural traditions by radical adherents to the iconoclast sect. Monasteries were despoiled and church interiors were stripped; the statues of Our Lady of Walsingham and Our Lady of Cardigan were burned, along with countless other religious articles and relics of the saints. Even the supposed bones of King Arthur were destroyed, so associated was he with the Catholic England was past generations. Recusant Catholics were designated as “Robin Hoods” because of his own devotion to the Virgin Mary, and the legends of the Prince of Thieves temporarily fell out of fashion.

    But Mary remained a comforting presence for underground Catholics as they struggled through generations of being a hunted and ostracized minority. St. Edmund Campion, known as “The Diamond of England” for his brilliance and charisma, claimed to have seen a vision of Our Lady in Belgium before he departed for England disguised as a jewel merchant to minister to the persecuted Catholic community there. She foretold that he would die a martyr, and a year later he was captured and condemned in a mock trial before being dragged through the muddy streets of London to Tyburn Tree where he would be hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason.

     As he was dragged under Newgate Arch, he caught sight of the statue of Mary standing there, too high for the Protestants to smash. With his arm spasmodic from torture, he still managed to raise it in a salute to his Heavenly Queen. “Come rack, come rope, I will not talk”, had been his famous statement as the rack-master had tried to make him divulge information about his fellow Catholics. Now he took those secrets with him in death. It is little wonder that the Campion flower is also called “Our Lady’s Rose.”

    Now the story has come full circle through the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to help those Anglicans who wish to be received into the Catholic Church while still retaining their cultural and liturgical traditions in keeping with the fullness of the faith. Walsingham and Cardigan have both made been turned into centers of ecumenical reconciliation and devotion, and perhaps most poignantly, there is a medieval statue of the Madonna and Child that still stands on the outside of Westminster Abbey, built by St. Edward the Confessor in honor of Peter, Prince of the Apostles. She seems to be reminding the British people that even if they may have forgotten her, she has never forgotten them. Perhaps it is a call from her to come Home to her Son at long last.

The Statue of Our Lady of Walsingham

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Farewell to Politics....

for the time being! Oh, sure, I'll be back on it sooner or later; probably with some commentary on Britain's general election next May, and the unfolding of the constitutional reform movement. And when our American elections roll around, you'll hear from me as well (especially since I'll be voting for the first time!). I'll also continue to make known my opinions about some controversies in the news.

    But still...over the course of this referendum battle, I came to realize that I really am not cut out for political commentary as a calling. I'm not the type who enjoys competing and quarreling as a hobby; that's why I don't care for athletic sports or debating clubs. At heart, God made an artist, with a verve for creating and reflecting on beauty, and bringing people together through it. So that's what I intend to spend more of my time doing now, and writing about those things instead. So up with literature, cinema, drama, art, travel, cooking, philosophy, theology, history, and cultural traditions the world over!

    As an appropriate closing post in the epic saga of The Scottish Independence Referendum 2014, I'm going to post two poems from Robert Burns, that go a long way in summing up the Scottish and British identities. Long may they both endure. Together.


Scots wha ha'e wi' Wallace bled
Scots wham Bruce has often led
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victory

Now's the day and now's the hour
See the front o' battle lour
See approach proud Edward's pow'r
Chains and slavery

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!

Wha, for Scotland's king and law,
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or Freeman fa',
Let them follow me!

By oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free.

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in ev'ry foe!
Liberty's in ev'ry blow!
Let us do or die!


Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?
Then let the louns beware, Sir;
There's wooden walls upon our seas,
And volunteers on shore, Sir:
The Nith shall run to Corsincon,
And Criffel sink in Solway,
Ere we permit a Foreign Foe
On British ground to rally!

O let us not, like snarling curs,
In wrangling be divided,
Till, slap! come in an unco loun,
And wi' a rung decide it!
Be Britain still to Britain true,
Amang ourselves united;
For never but by British hands
Maun British wrangs be righted!

The Kettle o' the Kirk and State,
Perhaps a clout may fail in't;
But deil a foreign tinkler loun
Shall ever ca'a nail in't.
Our father's blude the Kettle bought,
And wha wad dare to spoil it;
By Heav'ns! the sacrilegious dog
Shall fuel be to boil it!

The wretch that would a tyrant own,
And the wretch, his true-born brother,
Who would set the Mob aboon the Throne,
May they be damn'd together!
Who will not sing "God save the King,"
Shall hang as high's the steeple;
But while we sing "God save the King,"
We'll ne'er forget The People!

    Bobbie Burns the Bard

Monday, October 13, 2014

We won the battle...

Now we certainly can’t afford to lose the war. And there’s no logical reason to predict that we’re going to, not if we keep faith with our own ideals and keep a keen grasp on the ways in which we can secure them. We won by 10%; maybe not the largest margin in the world, but certainly not the smallest. I personally thought the outcome would be more along the lines of Quebec, which turned out a 2% lead for “No” in their independence referendum.

    And while Parti Quebequois may hem and haw over having a re-match someday, they haven’t managed it for some 20 years and it looks unlikely they’ll get another chance any time soon. Frankly, aside from the hardcore secessionist die-hards, most people living there don’t want it, even if it was offered to them. Too many economic concerns, with companies pulling out for fear of independence. Too many emotional concerns, with families and friends put at odds over the issue.

    Scotland made her decision on the 18th, and chose her destiny to remain a part of The UK. Indeed, as our nationalist friends insisted over and over again in the course of the referendum, “This is democracy in action.” So let’s be practical. If things had gone the other way, even by the slightest of margins, can you imagine how the Salmond regime would have handled us Unionists if we started clamoring for a re-match? There’s no question about it, we would have been branded as neo-fascists refusing to accept self-determination and subverting the will of the people. And yet now they are trying to do the very same thing to us now.

    And for a moment there I actually thought Salmond might adopt at least the trappings of noblesse oblige, abide by the decision of the Scottish people, and accordingly work to make Scotland-in-Britain a better place. But no. Almost as soon as he announced his resignation, he was back again, claiming that promises would be reneged and trying to stir up trouble between the Scottish people and the Westminster Government. The Panda Bear is a Big Fat Rat, and the rest of the SNP nut-balls and their anti-British minions who refuse to give up the ghost are in the same nest with him. 

    Because here’s the thing: these people don’t care about compromises and settlements. They want independence for independence’s sake, no matter who it will hurt or what it will destroy. Most the SNP big-wigs seek this because they believe they will gain ultimate power; many of the others do so because they have come to see the very existence of Britain as a great injustice in the world. I have encountered some Yes voters even trying to play the part of prophets, saying that the dissolution of The UK is somehow part of the progress of humanity and must come to pass.

    I have to smirk hear because that’s exactly what Napoleon and Hitler said when they struck their commemorative medals for the planned take-over. One thing we can say with accuracy: islanders are resilient, and have a cheeky way of cheating fate and befuddling their most daunting enemies who believe they’re out for the count and should be obliterated for the ostensible good of the human race. Britain has proved her metal and her worth to the world on countless occasions. That’s what she just proved again this September.

    It’s ironic that the word “FREEDOM” has become the rallying cry of this sect. As one Scottish friend of mine queried as she observed it smeared across her neighbor’s fence, “Freedom…from what?” I agree that these types do need freedom, but not from the British government. They need freedom from their own small-mindedness. But sadly many people (including my fellow Americans) continue to view the whole “liberation” movement as hopelessly romantic. They sound disappointed that Scotland failed to break away, and brush it off with an explanation about big-bad-businesses teaming up with the big-bad-British Government and pressuring the Scottish people to betray their dream. And most of them were only old people with pensions, don’t you know?

    After all the hard and heart-felt work so many people put into saving the union (myself included), this sort of rubbish is really pretty insulting to the reasoning skills and backbone of the Scottish people. The simple fact is that an overwhelming majority of people living throughout The United Kingdom really do want the union to work because it represents so many different things to people: identity, security, opportunity, a homeland, a haven, and a dream. This is not so very different than the way Americans see our own country comprised of many states and peoples.

    The best thing for us to do is to take Nationalist rantings with a grain of salt and focus on reunifying the kingdom in spirit. They really can only hurt us if they throw us off our mark, so we must stay focused. Also, a little word from Call-Me-Dave and Company couldn’t hurt, reinforcing the fact that this referendum was a “once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity” for the Scottish people to “choose their destiny.” Now that they’ve chosen in a fair, free vote, that destiny is settled, no matter much that Nats are doing everything in their power to belittle its historical significance.

    Beneath the felt-banner-fury, I think many of them realize the difficulty of their position too, but are almost in a state of denial. As time marches on, the eager-beavers they won over to the independence cause in the last few weeks before the vote will melt into the status quo crowd again. And when devo-max begins to take effect, another group will be successfully mollified. Without the dynamic Salmond at their head (although certainly not out-of-the-picture), some of the electric verve has already been sapped. So no, the situation doesn’t look particularly cheery for them. A small pocket of ultra-coo-coo-birds are even revealing their desperation by advocating a push for non-referendum separation. But nothing would come of that but their own political demise. If “The Dream Continues”, as nationalist headlines insist, reality is another matter entirely. For the foreseeable future, the game’s over. Time to move on now, chaps?

    And on that subject: what might be in store for the British people in years to come? As one American headline announced: “No to Break-up – Yes to Reform.” As Cameron made clear on Referendum Morning, “more powers” for Scotland must be complimented my “more powers” for the other nations of the UK as well. The time has come to decentralize powers from Westminster, and create a sturdy form of localized government throughout Britain. To put it simply, it’s time from the country to go from being a unitary one to a federal one. This will likely bring about the need for something the Brits have proudly done without over the course of their long and zany history: a written constitution.

    Is any of this going be achieved by “a fast fix”? No, certainly not. It’s going to take years to hammer things out in an equitable way for all four parts, fostering a sense of individuality and unity at the same time, against the backdrop of party squabbling and the ongoing debate as to whether or not Britain should remain in The EU. I will admit to having some concerns that the Nats will play the part of saboteurs during the course of this project, demanding the impossible and than taking every opportunity to paint the Westminster government as the Villain. British politicians are going to need all their wits about them to keep the ship on the right course.

   And of course the very best way to help would be to get as many SNP politicians out of power as possible. For federalization to work properly, the people running the home rule bodies must have dedication to the plan as a whole, and must be loyal to the federal government (i.e. the Maryland state government is loyal to the US federal government, etc.). For all those who want to make extra sure you never have to deal with another resurgence of separatism that divides relationships and jeopardizes you country and security, pick another party to vote for – anything but the SNP! In this spirit, I believe it would be advantageous to introduce a new oath for politicians to take – not just to the Queen, but to The United Kingdom as well as to the individual nations they are representing.

    Meanwhile, what about cultural reunification? First off, British history and culture needs to start being taught again in British schools, and the whole of it, especially the time period surrounding the Act of Union in 1707 and how the union went through a rough start to be a genuine success story of human endurance and ingenuity. If you feel your schools fail to give a proper overview of British history, take it upon yourself to start free-lance programs that do so in schools, libraries, shops, etc. It is vital that the next generation should feel British and proud of it.

    The next plan on the agenda would be to start taking back some of the symbols that the Nats have possessed, especially the Scottish Saltire. Lately I’ve been observing the way that we Americans fly Old Glory and our state flags side by side on most public and many private buildings. Why can’t the same be the case in Britain? Don’t choose either-or, but both-and! Make it a point to fly the Union Jack and the Cross of St. Andrew (or the Cross of St. George, or the Red Dragon, or the Harp and Crown) outside your house to show that you believe that the UK can work with healthy diversity and individuality. So come on, Better Together Crew, now’s the time to start handing out flags for free and encouraging a resurgence of them for the world to see!

    Finally, I’ve got to mention music. It’s always been an important part of politics and national identity, and now more so than ever. With federalization on the horizon, there will probably be more consideration about individual anthems for the nations of the UK. For the sake of reconciliation, I would advocate starting a movement to change the anthem of Scotland from “The Flower of Scotland” to “Scots Wha’ Hae”. I don’t think that’s so unreasonable, considering that they are both about the Battle of Bannockburn and Scottish valor in the face of a past English invasion. The main difference is that the former adds an unwarranted lament about the present state of affairs and the need to “be a nation again” – as if it is not one now! Come on, people of Scotland, you’re too good to be identified in song by that garbage. Hold your heads high; be proud of the fullness of your history and culture. And be proud of the decision you made on the 18th of September. It’s your victory; don’t let anyone take it from you.

    There’s one final thing I have to add: I strongly believed that Britain was preserved for a reason, and has been preserved countless times across the centuries by the same Power. I know I was praying my heart out for her; and I’m sure there were many others joining me. Through that mysterious relationship between providence and free will, we have all been given a second chance to make Britain a better place. We must take full advantage of this and forge onward into the future. God and Our Lady of Britannia save us all.

Now that you've kept it!!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Lord of the Rings...

 means so many different things to an assortment of wildly different people who take it into their heart. This was what J.R.R. Tolkien intended when he wrote – basically, an intention to intend nothing directly but the creation of well-spun yarn in honor of his native England. But of course his personal sentiments and experiences did in the end get downloaded into the manuscript, from his involvement in the two world wars to his Catholic world view to his romantic attraction to the culture of the ancient Anglo-Saxons.

    Although he would go on to holler at C.S. Lewis for making his enchanted realm of Narnia something of a mythological alphabet soup, Middle Earth is certainly something of a hodge-podge in its own right. And while it may not have been an intended allegory, Tolkien was all too well aware that people would create allegories of their own. But that’s what makes it relatable, and why people continue to see something new in it each time it’s taken up. So getting to my point and my source of comparison…

    As most of you know, I recently completed my stint working as a political activist for the preservation of the UK and the prevention of Scotland breaking away. My reasons, put simply, were as follows: I love the British culture, created by the merging of English and Scottish ones; I realized how important Britain is to world, especially in these increasingly unsettled times, and knew losing her as a united force would weaken us all; I knew a split would hurt my British friends, emotionally and economically; I detected something deeply wrong, perversely twisted in the perspective of the independence advocates, in perverting history and current events for their own gains.

     So I cast my lots on the side of the Union Jack, and I’ll admit it was a wild ride and continues to be. But all the work paid off when the unionists won the Scottish Independence Referendum this past September. So with our recent victory being the main topic of our conversation, I was speaking with my friend Laurellian, another fan of LotR, who also happens to be a British Unionist. I mentioned to him that there were a number of things in the course of the campaign that brought to mind Tolkien’s story. Before long his quick wit was turned to it and he started making allegorical comparisons between the different characters. For the fun of it, I thought I’d share with you some of the connections we made.

   So our Sauron had to be Alex Salmond, the leader of the movement to dissemble Britain by pulling Scotland out of the union. Charismatic, arrogant, and none-too-worried about making outlandish promises he has no way of keeping, the gentleman has also proven himself to something of a spoil-sport in recent weeks, going back on his word to work for the unity of Scotland-in-Britain by trying to stir up trouble between the Scottish people and the British government all over again. But he was defeated, nevertheless, and had to resign his post as First Minister of Scotland. The application is this: while Sauron saw the Ring as the ultimate key to power, Salmond seems to have seen independence which would have made him a big fish in a smaller pond. But in both cases, their arrogance was undone by people willing to take their chances and stand up against his bid for that power.

    With the fire-eye finally extinguished (or at least dimmed), Salmond’s minions of fanatical followers who refuse to abide by the will of the people and continue to champion break-up we dubbed orks. The Scottish Nationalist Party leaders orchestrating the movement have to be uruk-hai. Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond’s likely successor, we fondly knighted as Gollum. And as for Sir Sean Connery, the intrepid Scottish martyr for the cause of freedom (er…actually tax-exile in the Bahamas…), we gave the illustrious position of Witch-King. Actually, when I think about it, his voice would have perfect for the part in the movie…but onto the application: it was a close fight. Even holding status quo, we actually had a lot against us, mostly a false romanticization about utopia that would be established in the wake of The UK’s destruction and the constant cyber-nat-ing and ranting trying to throw us off our game. But we pushed them back just short of the gates, and have lived to fight another day.

    Moving on to “the good guys”, it was settled that Alistair Darling should be our Frodo. Pretty much the antithesis of Salmond, he is generally laid-back, unassuming, and not given to outlandish displays. Okay, I’ll be blunt: the guy’s an ultra-nerd with thick-rimmed glasses and black eyebrows that need brushing and starkly contrast with is white hair. But he is intelligent, steady under fire, and by all accounts a decent guy. Over the course of the referendum, as leader of the campaign to keep the Union together, he really did have to walk “a lonely road”, and very nearly went down with the ship for his lack of charisma and being overly courteous to the emotionally extroverted Salmond in debates. But his slow-and-steady approach was apparently not lost entirely on the voters, and there was nothing quite as moving as hearing him announcing victory over the radio, saying that Scotland had remembered the bonds of unity between herself and the rest of The UK. “May they never be broken.” He may have been a bit like a hobbit, small and dorky in comparison with the epic forces at work. And yet he stuck to his guns to saw it through, just like Frodo.

    Gordon Brown, the former prime minister and MP for Kirkcaldy, was our pick for Gandalf. After all, just like at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, he did come riding into the fray last minute when things were looking increasingly desperate, and managed to connect the “head and heart” arguments why Britain should not fragment, but continue to exist as a force for good in the world. As for our Aragorn…well, I’ll admit that Laurellian and I might not quite agree on this one, but I’ll nominate the Prime Minister David Cameron. I know he’s made a lot of mistakes in the past, on any number of issues, but still. This whole thing probably cost him quite a few years off of his life. I mean, who wants to preside over a country that breaks up because you gave the secessionists a binding vote? But in the end he did come through, making the needed offers of compromise and surviving the long night. And his commanding speeches on BBC did have a kingly air to them…don’t tell the Queen I said that! ;-)

    I fancy the rest of us to be like the riders of the Rohirrim and foot soldiers of Gondor. Sure, why not? All the writing, planning, the arguing, the hustling about. Even for me, on this side of the Atlantic, the whole thing felt like a small war. For people who had deal with it in their faces day after day in their native land, it must have been more than heart-wrenching. It still is in many ways. No one has had the chance to recover, and yet there are glaring signs, jeering rallies, ominous threats. Hopefully these after-effects will gradually decrease in time, but everyone must still keep their guard up. They may still be out there, but the point is we’re still out there too.

    And what would Tolkien think of all this conjecture, you might ask? Well, I’m sure he would expect it after such a momentous event. I honestly don’t know what his personal opinions would be on Unionism, since he was culturally quite an English nationalist and hated garbling “Englishness” with “Britishness”. But somehow I don’t think he would have rejoiced to see a perfectly good marriage of nations crumble in a veritable no-fault divorce. He was too much of a Catholic in world view for that. And I can’t believe he would have favored the manic depressant attitude that the independence people have adopted to invalidate the concept of Britain. No, how could he have after infusing his stories with such a glorious thread of hope amidst despair?

    Tolkien’s own time was a rough one for Britain. Two world wars with only one generation in between, economic depressions, and the collapse of a profitable empire left the Brits at the mercy of other nations to help them regain their bearings. But they would never be top nation again and that hurt British pride. In literature, there was a rise in depressive story lines about loss of identity and the unstoppable crumbling of society such as the 1954 dystopian novel by William Golding called Lord of the Flies. But Tolkien was a different man than Golding. He had a deep and abiding belief in the theological virtue of hope, that things can change for the better, that individuals can build up as well as tear down, and that there is a Light that can never be extinguished even when things looked the darkest. Britain needs that spirit now more than ever. As I’m sure Tolkien would heartily agree, the most important thing for her to do is to turn to God for strength and direction as she struggles to renew and reunify in the years to come.

The Creator of an Epic of Hope

"Fighting the Long Defeat"...

is a poem written in honor of some of the most famous and beloved literary minds, all of whom happened to be Catholics/High Anglicans and British subjects (and, of course, being residents of a teeny-tiny island, they had of way of mixing, mingling, and being inspired by each other!). Another main thing that connected them was the ceaseless resilience and hopefulness that runs through their intense and thought-provoking literary masterpieces, based on their Christian understanding that The Passion must come before The Resurrection.

Fighting the Long Defeat

Why do our stories
March on before us?
Those who remember them
Oft times ignore us
But our presence is there;
Our spirit-borne breath
Enlivens each telling
Defying our death


It is that! It is Chesterton!
The scorning, laughing at the grave
The fight for souls we hardly save
Fading, fading…
The baking, burning of the cakes
To hold fast for a red mark’s sake
Fighting, fighting…

It is that! It is Tolkien!
The crawling, grasping of hot stones
The faint recall of hearth and home
Fading, fading…
There’s fire spewing from the earth
The force of will, last thing of worth
Fighting, fighting…

It is that! It is Lewis!
The clawing, gasping on the stone
The ice-queen’s plunge, the final groan
Fading, fading…
There’s winter’s claim upon the land
A ransomed brother breaks her wand
Fighting, fighting…

It is that! It is Noyes!
The vengeful ride along the road
The highwayman dies in his blood
Fading, fading...
There's magic in each windy gust
Bringing back the brigand's ghost
Fighting, fighting...

It is that! It is Jacques!
The pleading, blocking of the foe
The barbed tail swings, the monk’s laid low
Fading, fading…
A warrior mouse from a tapestry
His challenge made, the bell swings free
Fighting, fighting…


Why do our stories
March on to lead men?
I suppose we all knew
Someday they would need them
Our breath is ablaze
Warming hearts with the heat;
For our heroes claim triumph
Through the longest defeat

"For our heroes claim triumph/Through the longest defeat..."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Major John Andre...

was born in 1750 in London, the son of Franco-Swiss Huguenot parents who had settled in England because of religious persecution in their native countries. Andre was given an excellent education and learned to speak French, German, Italian, and, of course, English fluently. As he grew older his interests grew quite broad. He dabbled in art, poetry, drama, and music, and proved to be quite talented at whatever he took up.
    Andre’s lively and pleasant manner gained him many friends and earned him a prominent position in London Society. But for all his charm, his relationships with young women all went woefully awry. He courted various eligible girls, but the proceedings always ended in disappointment. Finally, Andre decided to do the only proper thing a gentleman can do when turned rejected by the feminine world: he joined the military!

    At age 20, the young British soldier was transferred to North America and installed in the 23rd Foot Regiment in Canada, being commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1774. The following year saw the outbreak of the American Revolution after the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. His regiment fought in combat against the forces of American General Richard Montgomery. Andre was captured by the enemy in November of that year and taken south, where he was held as a prisoner-of-war in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was well-treated there, and it was noted that he embarked on several fishing trips by himself, after promising his guards that he would return within a certain amount of time. He never broke his word, and as a result, he was offered various leniencies that other prisoners rarely received.

    In 1776, after a little over a year of captivity, Andre was released after a prisoner exchange. He swiftly rose in rank, being commissioned a captain in 1777 and a major in 1778. He took part in the occupations of both New York and Philadelphia and became a favorite at social functions hosted by General William Howe, General Henry Clinton, and wealthy Loyalists who wanted to celebrate the raising of the Union Flag over their cities.  

    28-year-old John Andre took up residence in Ben Franklin’s three-story brick mansion after it had been confiscated by British troops and Franklin’s daughter had been forced to find another place to live. At least she took pride in saving much of her father’s library by packing it in boxes and shipping it out of town. Meanwhile, Andre turned a Philadelphian warehouse into a theatre and put on thirteen different plays over the course of the winter. He also visited young American women, charming them with his flute playing and poetry reciting. One such young woman was Peggy Shippen, a beautiful 17 year old Loyalist. They spent hours together, chatting and drinking tea, sometimes up to f 15 cups per visit. They also went on dates together, going to dinners, balls, and sleigh rides.

    Andre also showed compassion towards the enemy, as is demonstrated in a story collected by Parson Weems from a first-hand source. Once, when a British foraging party made an inroad into a New York community, the young men of the town turned out to defend it. Two American volunteers in their early teens were captured and about to be incarcerated in a filthy British prison New York. Watching the emaciated prisoners reaching through the iron bars and the burly figures of the pitiless guards standing watching, on of the boys burst into tears, realizing that he would likely die from starvation and neglect. Just than, a richly dressed young British officer approached him and inquired tenderly, “My dear boy, what makes you cry?” 

    He made a sobbing response that he could not help it when he thought of his mother and sisters back home and how happy he had been with them earlier that day. “Well, well, my dear child,” the British officer sighed, “don’t cry, don’t cry any more.” He then ordered the guard not to do anything until he returned. When he was gone, the American got up enough courage to ask the guard who the officer was. “Why, that’s Major Andre, the adjutant-general of the army; and you may thank your stars that he saw you, for I suppose he is gone to the general to beg you off, as he has so many of  your damned rebel countrymen.” Before long, Andre returned and joyfully announced, “Well, my sons, I’ve good news, good news for you! The general has given you to me, to dispose of as I choose; and now you are at liberty! So run home to your fond parents, and be good boys; mind what they tell you; say your prayers; love one another, and God Almighty will bless you.”

    When Howe was recalled to Britain because of failure to crush the George Washington’s forces, Andre organized the farewell gala celebration. When the British Army finally pulled out of Philadelphia, Andre, in a somewhat uncharacteristic show of contempt for private property, pilfered several books and personal items from Dr. Benjamin Franklin, in whose home Andre had been billeted in for nine months. In 1779, Andre was commissioned as adjutant general of the British Army, still retaining the title of major. Soon after, he was put in charge of the British Secret Intelligence in North America. A strange series of events would set the young officer on the road to his tragic destiny.

    Peggie Shippen, an attractive young woman from a well-to-do Loyalist family, had once courted John Andre while in Philadelphia. However, rather last minute, she ran off to marry the famed American General Benedict Arnold, leaving Andre a bachelor once more. When Andre became head of the British Intelligence, she unexpectedly contacted her ex-fiancĂ©e, informing him that she had convinced him to abandon the rebel cause and come over to the British side.

    Reluctantly Andre agreed to meet with Arnold and discuss the terms for his pardon. On September 20, 1780, Andre traveled north in a British sloop-of-war “Vulture” along the Hudson River. Through the darkness of the night, he rowed ashore in a dingy and met Arnold in the wood below Stony Point. Arnold, who had been given command of the vital American stronghold at West Point, New York, promised to hand over the fort to the British, enabling them to sever the American troops from their head in New England. Andre, for his part, would have to give him 20,000 pounds in cash and promise to assist him in escaping to British-held New York City.

    Unfortunately for the two enemies-turned-allies, by the time they had finished haggling over terms and planning their escape, the sun had risen, allowing the Americans at West Point to spot the “Vulture” in the river and open fire on her. The British ship was forced to back down the Hudson without the two plotters. However, Andre was not discouraged. He insisted that Arnold ride on ahead to meet the “Vulture” at the next safe port, while Andre would don civilian attire and cross enemy lines with a pass Arnold have given him.

    Of course, Andre was not aware that American Intelligence had already discovered Arnold’s treachery and the part the British officer had played in the scheme. If he had known, perhaps he would have waited quietly instead of attempting such a risky plan. But Andre had always been impetuous, a characteristic that would cost him dearly.

    He rode on, unsuspected in his civilian attire, until 9 A.M., when he reached Tarrytown, New York. There, he was set upon by three armed men who later identified themselves as John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams. They were probably robbers under the employ of the American rebels in order to capture supplies, a practice which was used by both sides during the American Revolution. Andre remained reserved and calmly remarked, “Gentlemen, I hope you belong to our party.” Andre was alluding to the Loyalists. The men inquired as to what party he was speaking of. “The lower party,” he responded with a code that all friends of the king would understand. “We do,” they answered, possibly thinking that he was referring to the location of Tarrytown in New York.

    Andre immediately assumed they were Loyalists and told them that he was a British officer on an important mission and wished not to be detained. It was then the men informed him that they were really Patriots and that they intended to take him prisoner. Quickly, Andre changed his story, staying that he was an American officer and producing the passport papers that Arnold had given him.The robbers were incredulous and searched Andre from anything of value, although they were now more enthusiastic about receiving reward money for capturing a spy than about stealing a few coins from a traveler’s purse. They soon discovered the secret papers Arnold had given to Andre on the subject of turning over West Point to the British, which Andre had hastily stuffed in one of his stockings. For a while the men studies the papers, but were unable to read them because they were practically illiterate.

    Now in desperation, Andre offered to give the men his pocket watch and horse if they would let him go. But it was too late. Paulding, who was semi-literate had finally managed to decipher the writing and realized the shockingly serious plot they had accidently foiled. Spurning his attempts to bribe them, they took their prisoner to the headquarters of the American Army in Tappan, New York. Andre was then held under arrest at what came to be known as the “Old ’76 House”, an ordinary place of residence that had never been used as a prison, and never would be again after Andre’s time there.

    When Arnold’s papers were brought to Washington, revealing his intent to turn over West Point and Washington to the British, the commander-in-chief sat quietly, holding the papers in trembling hands. Finally he managed to croak, “Arnold has betrayed me. Whom can we trust now?”

    The beautiful Peggy, whose husband had already fled by boat when news of Andre’s capture arrived, put on a show for the American officers, hysterically shrieking, “That is not General Washington! That is the man who is going to kill my child!” She had recently given birth, and judging from her reaction, it was judged by Washington that her husband’s treachery had sent her over the edge, and she was therefore innocent. She later joined her husband in British-held New York.

    Meanwhile, the trial of Major John Andre commenced with General George Washington at the head of the board. The jury was mostly sympathetic to the young and unfortunate officer, who was merely doing his duty in the service of his country when captured. The verdict might have been more lenient if not for Washington and General Henry Knox who insisted that Andre should suffer death as a spy because he was captured out of uniform and using a feigned name.

    The court found Andre guilty of spying on September 29, 1780, and the penalty was to be death by hanging. British General Clinton, back in New York City, fought hard to negotiate a settlement which would save Andre’s life, but his efforts were in vain. The Americans would only turn over Andre to the British if the British would hand over Arnold to them. Clinton was unwilling to break his word and abandon Arnold to certain death, even though he personally hated the conceited and untrustworthy ex-rebel.

    Arnold, instead of honorably turning himself over to save Andre, wrote an arrogant letter to Washington, threatening vengeance if the British officer should be hanged. But Andre had already come to accept his fate. He did make a final appeal to Washington, informing the general that, if he had the least amount of respect pity for his doomed prisoner, he would allow him to shot by a firing squad. That way, he might die the honorable death of a soldier and spare his family the shame of having him be hanged like a common criminal. Washington curtly turned down his request.

    Perhaps this was to avenge the ill-treatment and execution of the American officer Nathan Hale who, like Andre, had been captured by the enemy in civilian clothes while conducting a spying mission and was hanged accordingly and his corpse left to rot. Or perhaps Washington saw something of what he could have been in the bright young officer who had risen so high in the ranks of the British army so quickly. Did the dismissive treatment Washington had received at the hands of the British top brass during the French and Indian War still affect his treatment of others? It is all speculative.

    With nothing left to do wait for death, Andre had a final surge of creativity and an unexpected rekindling of religious fervor. He wrote a poem about his faith and drew a self-portrait of himself. On the morning of October 2, 1780, Andre had his breakfast delivered straight was Washington’s table, as it had been through the course of his imprisonment. But this time a message was also delivered, saying that he would be taken away to be executed shortly. Andre’s manservant began to weep and his guard became solemn. Andre, on the other hand, received the news without the least bit of emotion, and requested that his manservant leave until he could show himself more manly. Then he ate his breakfast heartily, dressed himself in his uniform, shaved, and gave his self-portrait to his guard, who had become friendly with over the course of his imprisonment. Then the guards arrived, and Andre courteously walked outside with them.

    When they came in sight of the gallows, Andre instinctively took two steps back. “Why this sudden emotion, sir?” asked the guard. “I am resolved to my death, but I detest the mode,” he responding, still having hoped that Washington might honor his request and have his shot instead of hanged. Then for a brief moment Andre succumbed to a fear of the pain of death, but he quickly regained his composure and muttered under his breath, “It will be but a momentary pang.”

    The scarlet-clad figure mounted the gallows, but when a blindfold was offered to him, he took his own handkerchief out of his pocket and tied it about his eyes. He also tightened the noose around his own neck.
“Have you anything to say?” asked an American officer beside him. Andre pulled the handkerchief from his eyes and said with perfect calm, “I pray you to bear witness that I meet my fate like a brave man. As I suffer in defense of my country, I must consider this hour as the most glorious in my life. Remember that I die as becomes a British officer, while the manner of my death must reflect disgrace on your commander.”   

    These were his last words. Immediately after, the executioner pulled the latch, and Major John Andre was dead from a broken neck. When his body was taken down, the poem he had written was found in his inner coat pocket. It is now commonly titled “Hiding Place”:

Hail, Sovereign Love, which first began
The scheme to rescue fallen man!
Hail, matchless, free, eternal grace,
That gave my soul a Hiding Place!

Against the God who built the sky,
I fought with hands uplifted high,
Despised the mention of his grace,
Too proud to seek a Hiding Place

Enwrapt in thick Egyptian night,
And fond of darkness more than light,
Madly I ran the sinful race,
‘Secure’ without a Hiding Place

But thus the eternal counsel ran,
‘Almighty Love, arrest that man!’
I felt the arrows of distress,
And found I had no Hiding Place

Indignant justice stood in view;
To Sinai’s fiery mount I flew,
But Justice cried with frowning face,
‘This mountain is no Hiding Place.’

Ere long a heavenly voice I heard,
And mercy’s angel soon appeared,
He led me with a beaming face
To Jesus as a Hiding Place

Should sevenfold storms of thunder roll,
And shake this globe from pole to pole,
 No thunderbolt shall daunt my face,
For Jesus is my Hiding Place  
A few more setting suns at most
Shall land me on Fair Canaan’s coast,
Where I shall sing the song of grace,
And see my glorious Hiding Place  

    Andre came to be recognized as a hero in Britain and his name was used as a battle-cry in the British army. His enemies, too, respected his memory and lamented his tragic end. Alexander Hamilton said of him, “Never did a man suffer death with justice, or deserve it less.”

Maj. John Andre's Self-Portrait