Brewers and Patriots… and Jesus

There are those who will tell you that the Founding Fathers were not really Christians and that they never meant for the United States to be a “Christian nation.” It would seem, however, that at least one was fairly Christian and seemed to think the rest of the nation was or ought to be.

In 1777, after the Continental Congress had moved from Philadelphia to York, Pennsylvania because of the invading British army, things looked fairly bleak to some of the leaders of the revolution. However, by the end of the year, the rebel cause met with some success and this prompted Samuel Adams to propose what was to be the first national day “for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE.” He, in committee with Richard Henry Lee (who had introduced the resolution that led to the Declaration of Independence) and Daniel Roberdeau, introduced a legislation setting aside a day so “That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor.” Sounds pretty Christian, right? But that’s not all. The holiday was also established so that “they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins” and pray that they be forgiven “through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST.” That guy?! What’s he doing in there?!

Anyway, Sam Adams and his ilk sat at home and prayed all day. Presumably, some other people did not. At any rate, Providence (or superior tactics and greater dedication due to ideological and personal motivation) granted victory to the colonists. And with the invention York Peppermint Pattie over 150 years away, the young government moved to new accommodations. They bounced around a bit and “experimented” with Confederation, but finally settled down in a swamp. The government founded there, or rather, the remnants of it, are still in that swamp. And they’ve kept holiday but abandoned the meaning.

Needless to say, the blatant Christianity would find no place in Washington today. But Jesus is not the only part of this Proclamation that has gone by the wayside. Modern politics has been reduced to platitudes and pandering, leaving no room for the ideals laid down by the founding fathers. No pundits ask candidates about their plans for “cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety.” No serious nominee has room in his platform for “the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE.”

Don’t worry, there are still some “Christians” in Washington. Unfortunately they want to tell everybody else how to live. And they’ve also hung on to another part of this Proclamation: asking God “to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War[s].” So much for “INDEPENDENCE and PEACE.” Thanks, guys.

Beer of the Week: Samuel Adams Boston Lager – When an upstart Massachusetts brewery wanted a name that evoked thoughts of tradition and reliability, Sam Adams was the right choice. The man basically founded the traditional American holiday. He had also been a brewer himself, so the choice was a no-brainer. As for the beer itself, there is a reason it has grown so successful so quickly. The beer pours a light amber with a good, off-white head. There is a nice touch of earthy, bittering hops on the nose. The taste is driven by the hops and there is a bit of lingering sweetness. All in all, a very nice, classic lager.

Reading of the week: Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1777 by Samuel Adams in committee with Richard Henry Lee and Daniel Roberdeau – The first of many Thanksgiving Proclamations written by Samuel Adams ends by recommending that everybody take a day off of work. But it also advises against any recreation which might be unbecoming “on so solemn an Occasion.” So no touch football after dinner.

Question of the week: Many Christians acknowledge four purposes for prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, contrition and supplication. The Proclamation specifically mentions each of these four, (even naming adoration as “the indispensable Duty of all Men”,) so why should the holiday be called “Thanksgiving” instead of “Adoration” or either of the other options? Or,even better, why should there not be four separate holidays? “Supplication Sunday” has a nice ring to it.


Good Enough

To paraphrase Voltaire: perfection is the enemy of the good. We often deny ourselves the chance to do something well because we can’t do it perfectly. This is true in so many areas of life.

Many artists and writers endlessly work on their personal masterpieces, but find that they is never perfect enough to show the world. But Christiaan Huygens, the Dutch polymath, knew well the value of publishing imperfect work. In science especially, no understanding or writing is ever absolutely perfect, so the sooner good ideas are made available, the sooner they can be built upon. And at very least, it is better that ideas are allowed to be viewed and critiqued than locked in a desk drawer because the author hasn’t had the time to make every last amendment and correction. Huygens wrote in the Preface to his Treatise on Light, “I have finally judged that it was better worth while to publish this writing, such as it is, than to let it run the risk, by waiting longer, of remaining lost.”

In fields that are less practical than science, specifically in the arts, one is tempted to think that a work should be brought as close to perfection as humanly possible before it is unveiled. Many writers sit on manuscripts for their entire lives, revising and editing to no end. Luckily for you, I am not one of them. In fact, it seems that very few bloggers are perfectionists. Blogging seems to be a medium that has at its heart a “good enough” mentality. People flood the internets with writings of various qualities, but the short, quick nature of blogging makes it a rough and ready system. Few if any blogs are extremely polished, but they don’t need to be perfect, they are good enough.

Beer of the Week: Oranjeboom – The Dutch have given the world the pendulum clock and probability theory (thanks to Huygens.) They’ve also given the world Orangeboom beer. This particular beer strikes me as a “good enough” effort. After a somewhat citrusy and almost grassy aroma, this beer offers a crisp, clean flavor that ends very dry. It is not perfect by any means, but it is good enough for its purpose.

Reading of the week: Preface to Treatise on Light by Christiaan Huygens – The Preface to this treatise is not the most exciting read, but it offers some interesting historical perspective including a reference to the disputes between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz as well as an explanation of the practical differences between geometry and experimental physics.

Question of the week: Is there any work of art that is actually perfect? Any painting that could not have been improved by even a single brushstroke more or less? Any book that could not be made even slightly better by substituting a word or adding a comma?


Leaf Suicide

The leaves, lately so colorful, have grown quite withered and dull. Realizing their beauty is irretrievably lost, they jump to their death. If they don’t jump exactly, they at least cease to hang on to life. Autumn is dark in that way.

What are humans to do when they find themselves in the same situation as these leaves? What is to become of a person who, in the autumn of his life finds that he no longer has the strength of a young man and sees his “sable curls all silver’d o’er with white”?

One can, and ought to, take good care of himself physically and mentally. The right attitude and precautions against premature aging can act as a greenhouse for the exotic plant that is man. One cannot stop aging, “and nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence,” but the summer of one’s life can be somewhat extended.

Beer of the Week: The Premium Malt’s by Suntory – Moderate amounts of alcohol have been shown time and again to promote heart health, so beer clearly has a place in our prescribed well-being regimen. Luckily, modern bottling, refrigeration and storage techniques make fresh beer available year-round. Even beers from overseas.  Why they decided that there should be an apostrophe in “The Premium Malt’s” is not clear, but questionable grammar aside, this is a rather good beer. It pours light gold and very clear. The aroma is pleasantly malty with some herbal hops. It is smooth and sweet and finishes with a nice bit of grassy hops and bit of fruity sweetness. Grapes, perhaps. This is almost certainly the best Japanese beer reviewed to date.

Reading of the week: Sonnet #12 by William Shakespeare – Everything is withering and dying, and soon you will too. That seems to be the general sentiment of this sonnet. It is not the cheeriest of sonnets.

Question of the week: The last line of the sonnet proposes the one potential defense against death: procreation. Can the survival of one’s genes (in the form of progeny) really offer comfort against the death of the self? Or is it simply the closest thing one has to immortality, so one grasps at it as at straws?


Driven

Only seconds after the opening kickoff, Tom went to ground clutching his knee and screaming. He had torn some cartilage; his season may have ended prematurely. Only minutes later, a shout came from the field, “don’t let the ambulance leave yet!” Richard had just taken a heavy tackle and was similarly left on the ground with an apparent knee injury. Evaluation later showed a broken tibia and two torn cruciate ligaments. He won’t be playing rugby for quite some time.

Mr. Bedford, the narrator of H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon found himself in a similar situation. If any Earthly experience can be called “similar” to being stranded on the moon. (Aside from the fact that Tom, Richard and Bedford are all English,) what they have in common is that none of them was content “simply to go about being safe and comfortable and well fed and amused.” Something, it seems, “urges [man] for ever to depart from happiness and security, to toil, to place himself in danger, to risk even… death.” But what is this force that drives men to do “unreasonable things?”

In every action, man is making a bargain, and no man makes a bargain unless he has decided that he profits by it. That is not to say that he is always right, but life is a constant cost/benefit analysis. Bedford went to the moon because he saw the potential for great material wealth. He reasoned, perhaps not carefully enough, that the odds of becoming rich outweighed the odds of dying on some foreign world. Tom and Richard decided the reward of enjoying their physical prowess on the rugby pitch was worth the risk of injury that comes with such an endeavor.

Bedford says, “that all my life I had in truth never served the purposes of my private life.” But he is mistaken. He is not subject to some outside force that causes him to make choices to that serve its grand scheme. He only seems to be working against his own personal interest because he has proved to be a poor judge of what he really wants and what he really needs. If the risks were really greater than the potential rewards, he has only himself to blame for not analyzing them adequately beforehand.

Beer of the Week: Kunstmann Torobayo Pale Ale – Long before anybody was seriously thinking of setting off on dangerous trips to the moon, Europeans were setting off on dangerous trips to uncharted terrestrial worlds. Kunstmann may not seem like a Chilean name, but back in the middle of the 19th century, quite a few Germans immigrated to South America. And they brought beer brewing with them. This, my first ever Chilean beer, is a great take on the classic English pale ale. It is light amber in color and has an aroma of caramel and fruit with just a hit of fresh grass. The taste meets and exceeds expectations after the smell, with plenty of caramel flavor in the finish with just a small bite of hops. Really, a delightful beer.

Reading of the week: The First Men in the Moon, by H. G. Wells, Chapter 19, Excerpt – Lost and alone in a world altogether unlike his own, Mr. Bedford is given an opportunity to reflect on how and why he made the trip to the moon.

Question of the week: In Bedford’s case, the decision to go to the moon was primarily the potential for great wealth. It is easy to see the risk/reward analysis in such an endeavor. But others have sought out adventure seemingly for adventure’s sake. How does one assess the amount of risk that is reasonable if the reward is something as abstract as “adventure”?