Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pericopes for the Week: Orwell and Arendt

Like thousands of other troubled Americans, I have been re-reading George Orwell and Hannah Arendt. I first read their writings in a required freshman-level humanities course at Concordia College, Portland, Ore. That was in the fall of 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president.

George Orwell

In light of yesterday's delusional tweets (not to mention earlier Alice-in-Wonderland tweets that have now been definitively falsified in the House Intelligence Committee hearing) and the subsequent WH briefing, here are six pericopes for the week, two from Orwell's classic 1984 and four from Arendt's timely 1971 essay, "Lying in Politics," which she composed in the wake of the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

First, Orwell (from chapter one of the book, the forbidden text that Winston secretly reads near the middle of 1984):

Oceanic society rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and that the Party is infallible. But since in reality Big Brother is not omnipotent and the Party is not infallible, there is the need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. The key word here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink. (George Orwell, 1984 [New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1949], 175)

...Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies--all this is indispensably necessary (ibid., 177).

Hannah Arendt
And now Arendt, who offers a glimmer of hope:

Under normal circumstances the liar is defeated by reality, for which there is no substitute; no matter how large the tissue of falsehood that an experienced liar has to offer, it will never be large enough, even if he enlists the help of computers, to cover the immensity of factuality. The liar, who may get away with any number of single falsehoods, will find it impossible to get away with lying on principle. This is one of the lessons that could be learned from the totalitarian experiments and the totalitarian rulers' frightening confidence in the power of lying--in their ability, for instance, to rewrite history again and again to adapt the past to the 'political line' of the present moment or to eliminate data that did not fit their ideology....   For the trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. In this sense, truth, even if it does not prevail in public, possesses an ineradicable primacy over all falsehoods.... The self-deceived deceiver loses all contact with not only his audience, but also the real world, which still will catch up with him, because he can remove his mind from it but not his body.... That the public had access for years to material that the government vainly tried to keep from it testifies to the integrity and to the power of the press even more forcefully than the way the Times broke the story. What has often been suggested has now been established: so long as the press is free and not corrupt, it has an enormously important function to fulfill and can rightly be called the fourth branch of government. Whether the First Amendment will suffice to protect this most essential political freedom, the right to unmanipulated factual information without which all freedom of opinion becomes a cruel hoax, is another question. (Hannah Arendt, "Lying in Politics," as quoted in Crises of the Republic [New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1972], 7, 31, 36, 45)

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Tour of Stade/Schwidder Churches in Chicago

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Des Plaines
The collaboration between architect Charles Stade and his liturgical designer/artist, Ernst Schwidder, produced some remarkable church buildings and worship environments in the Chicagoland area in the 1960s. Stade, who was also the principal architect and designer for Valpo's Chapel of the Resurrection, designed four suburban churches in the early 1960s that received awards from the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects. These same churches--St. Paul Lutheran in Mt. Prospect, St. John's Lutheran in Lincolnwood, Good Shepherd United Methodist in Park Ridge and St. Peter Lutheran in Arlington Heights--were selected in 1978 by the AIA and the Chicago Historical Society to become part of the Chicago Architectural Archive.

St. Joseph Catholic Church, Summit
According to Stade's obituary in the Chicago Tribune (he died in 1993), one of his teachers had told him once, "If you like people, you will do something that will make them happy; it could just be a good cocktail lounge."

His design preparations included getting close to the people who would use his buildings, "to walk and talk and eat and live with them," and, in the case of church buildings, also to worship with them.

For additional information on Stade, who attended Concordia University, Chicago, and was a life-long Lutheran Christian, go here.

Ernst Schwidder
Schwidder, who was the son of a Lutheran pastor, became the first director of the arts department at Valpo. He began his collaboration with Stade in the early 1960s and left the university to work full-time with Stade in 1963. Even after returning to his native northwest, Schwidder continued to work closely with Stade on several church projects. According to the website devoted to his work, "During this transition, [Schwidder] shifted his methods from those of a painter to those of a sculptor; he worked first with repoussé copper and later with wood carving. He preferred rough-hewn surfaces with chisel marks, textured for touch. On more than one occasion, he humorously called himself a 'chiseler.'”

For additional information on Schwidder, who died in 1998, go here. An exhibit of some of his artistic creations will be on display at this year's Institute for Liturgical Studies, April 24-26, on Valpo's campus. For info on that, go here.

On Sunday, April 23, my colleague Gretchen Buggeln (Duesenberg Chair in Christianity and the Arts), Pr. Joel Nickel (emeritus pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church, Stayton, Ore.), and I will be leading a pre-ILS tour of several of these churches: St. Peter Lutheran Church, Arlington Heights (where we will also worship); Immanuel Lutheran Church, Des Plaines; St. Mary Catholic Church, Des Plaines; Korean Bethany Presbyterian Church, Lincolnwood (formerly St. John Lutheran Church); St. Joseph Catholic Church, Summit; and Peace Memorial United Church of Christ, Palos Park. We will also drive by a few other Stade church buildings, for example, St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Park Ridge, and we will visit his former house there, which also contains some Schwidder art.

St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, Des Plaines
Dr. Buggeln, who has written extensively about Stade, will examine his distinctive style of church architecture. Pr. Nickel, who is an artist in his own right and an expert on Schwidder, will comment on the latter's liturgical art. I will throw in my occasional two cents regarding the theological significance of these worship environments.

The tour will leave Valpo's Arts and Sciences parking lot at 8:30am on Sunday, April 23, and will return to our campus around 9:30pm. The cost for the tour (including a box lunch) is $65. The group will also eat dinner together at a Chicago area restaurant (for an additional cost).

For more information and/or to register for the tour, please contact me at my Valpo email address: matthew.becker@valpo.edu. Space is limited.