Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"[T]hose who value religious freedom have cause for great concern"

The Supreme Court has decided not to grant a writ of certiorari to hear the appeal of the 9th Circuit's decision in Stormans v. Washington State. From Justice Alito's dissent:
....As I discuss below, Ralph’s has made a strong case that the District Court got it right, and that the regulations here are improperly designed to stamp out religious objectors. The importance of this issue is underscored by the 38 national and state pharmacist associations that urge us to hear the case. The decision below, they tell us, “upheld a radical departure from past regulation of the pharmacy industry” that “threatens to reduce patient access to medication by forcing some pharmacies—particularly small, independent ones that often survive by providing specialty services not provided elsewhere—to close.” .... Given the important First Amendment interests at stake and the potentially sweeping ramifications of the decision below, I would grant certiorari.

At issue are Washington State regulations that are likely to make a pharmacist unemployable if he or she objects on religious grounds to dispensing certain prescription medications. There are strong reasons to doubt whether the regulations were adopted for—or that they actually serve—any legitimate purpose. And there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State. Yet the Ninth Circuit held that the regulations do not violate the First Amendment, and this Court does not deem the case worthy of our time. If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern. ....

...Washington would rather have no pharmacy than one that doesn’t toe the line on abortifacient emergency contraceptives. Particularly given the State’s stipulation that “facilitated referrals do not pose a threat to timely access” to such drugs...it is hard not to view its actions as exhibiting hostility toward religious objections. ....

“The Free Exercise Clause commits government itself to religious tolerance, and upon even slight suspicion that proposals for state intervention stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices, all officials must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures.” .... Ralph’s has raised more than “slight suspicion” that the rules challenged here reflect antipathy toward religious beliefs that do not accord with the views of those holding the levers of government power. I would grant certiorari to ensure that Washington’s novel and concededly unnecessary burden on religious objectors does not trample on fundamental rights. I respectfully dissent. [more]
Justice Alito's dissent was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas. The votes of four were needed for the Court to have heard the case.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Progressivism

.... A faith has been shaken, illusions shattered, pieties punctured. This is what happens when a life-orienting system of belief gets smashed on the rocks of history.

The name of that shattered system of belief? Progressivism.

I used to be a conservative. I now consider myself a liberal. But I have never called myself a progressive. There's a reason why, and it has nothing to do with policy.

Liberals believe in the rule of law; in individual rights to speech, worship, assembly, and private property; in an independent judiciary and civilian control of the military; in representative institutions founded on the consent of the governed; in democratic elections, not as ends in themselves but as checks on the power of government and as a means of gauging and forging popular support for policies pursued by public officials in the name of the common good.

Progressives believe in all of that, too, but they add something else: a quasi-eschatological faith in historical progress that gives the movement its name. This belief has many sources, and it takes many forms. One stream flows from liberal Protestant theology on down through Woodrow Wilson's hopes for moral advances at home and an end to armed conflict abroad — with both of them realized by an elite class of public-spirited experts. The same theologically infused faith informs Barack Obama's frequent invocation of an "arc of history" that "bends toward justice." ....

Whether or not it's expressed in explicitly theological terms, progressivism holds out a very specific moral vision of the future. It will be a world beyond particular attachments, beyond ethnic or linguistic or racial or religious or national forms of solidarity. In their place will be the only acceptable form of solidarity: humanitarian universalism. ....

.... The big questions of politics will already be answered, the big disputes settled once and for all. Everyone will understand that all particular forms of solidarity are morally indefensible (just various forms of racism) and that all strong political stands against humanitarian universalism in the political realm are politically unacceptable (just various forms of fascism).

It would be one thing if progressives understood their universalistic moral and political convictions to constitute one legitimate partisan position among many. But they don't understand them in this way. They believe not only that their views deserve to prevail in the fullness of time, but also that they are bound to prevail. ....

...[W]hat if progressivism isn't inevitable at all? What if people will always be inclined by nature to love their own — themselves, their families, their neighbors, members of their churches, their fellow citizens, their country — more than they love the placeless abstraction of "humanity"? In that case, the act of ignoring or even denigrating this love will have the effect of provoking its defensive wrath and ultimately making it stronger. .... [more]
From Wikipedia
In political theory and theology, to immanentize the eschaton means trying to bring about the eschaton (the final, heaven-like stage of history) in the immanent world. It has been used by conservative critics as a pejorative reference to certain utopian projects, such as socialism, communism, and transhumanism. In all these contexts it means "trying to make that which belongs to the afterlife happen here and now (on Earth)" or "trying to create heaven here on Earth."
How Brexit shattered progressives' dearest illusions

Friday, June 24, 2016

That "men might perceive the glory"

I once met Russell Kirk. He spoke at a public meeting in Janesville, Wisconsin, very close to the town where I was attending college. I had by that time read The Conservative Mind and as much else of his that I could find. So, when a friend suggested that we attend his lecture I was very interested. I no longer remember the subject but I have a strong impression of his courtesy and the patience with which he answered questions. After the program ended we approached him and then spent some time talking at a table near some vending machines while he waited for his transportation. He was friendly. I asked him about the progress of a book I knew he was planning to write: The Roots of American Order, but he was more interested in discussing another project, what became Eliot and His Age: T.S. Eliot's Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century. I confess that I read that book before I read much of T.S. Eliot himself and, in consequence, understood Eliot much better than would have been the case otherwise. Kirk knew Eliot:
.... We first met in 1953, in an obscure little private hotel, unattractive wicker furniture in its parlor, where Eliot was staying in Edinburgh before the first performance of The Confidential Clerk. I called upon him because he had persuaded Faber & Faber, of which firm he had been a director for many years, to publish the London edition of a fat book of mine, and because I had been asked to criticize The Confidential Clerk in the pages of The Month.

Kindliness, simplicity, and directness were among Eliot's characteristics, I discovered; and this impression was confirmed by our later meetings, in London, over the years—at the Garrick Club or in his little office upstairs at Faber & Faber, in Bloomsbury. Disciplined like his literary style, Eliot's mind was humane with a consistency rare today. It was easy to talk with him, because he was both keenly intelligent (though never abstract in discourse) and gracefully unassuming. ....

...Eliot knew a concern that (at least by 1953, when we met) he had ceased to feel for himself. For five decades, from Prufrock and Other Observations to the essays that were published after his death, Eliot labored to renew the wardrobe of a moral imagination, that generation might link with generation—and that, beyond the boredom and the horror, men might perceive the glory.

Through poem and play and essay, Eliot hoped to work upon his age—through what he wrote, not through what he experienced privately; and in that spirit this book has been undertaken. With what might have been arrogance in a man less amiable by nature, Thomas Stearns Eliot aspired to represent in his day the power of moral imagination possessed by his Mantuan and Florentine exemplars. He was an ethical poet, bent upon redeeming the time. What Unamuno called "the tragic sense of life" was Eliot's to the full—although, as old Robert Burton had written in The Anatomy of Melancholy, melancholy men are the wittiest. In his austere and subtly humorous way, Eliot perceived his own age more poignantly than did anyone else in the republic of letters. ....

It is the power of moral imagination that will give long life to Eliot's work. And some fifty-five years after "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was published, tardy discursive judgment needs to be rendered. So I propose to examine Eliot's chief endeavors, and to touch now and again upon the work of his allies or of his adversaries. If we apprehend Eliot—who is not easy to plumb—we apprehend the intellectual and moral struggles of our time.

My own object in this present book is to discuss the significance of Eliot's convictions for this age, and to set in his social perspective the most eminent writer of the past half-century. ...I agree with Irving Babbitt that all important literature is ethical in character, and that the man of letters moves his society for good or ill. This book, then, has to do with Eliot the champion of the moral imagination and with Eliot the critic of the civil social order. ....
Eliot and His Age: T.S. Eliot's Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

As we grow in age, may we grow in grace...

From the Book of Common Prayer (1928), in the section of "Forms of Prayer to be used in Families":
Dedication of Soul and Body to God’s Service, with a Resolution to be growing daily in Goodness.
AND since it is of Thy mercy, O gracious Father, that another day is added to our lives; We here dedicate both our souls and our bodies to Thee and Thy service, in a sober, righteous, and godly life: in which resolution, do Thou, O merciful God, confirm and strengthen us; that, as we grow in age, we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
Prayer for Grace to enable us to perform that Resolution.
BUT, O God, who knowest the weakness and corruption of our nature, and the manifold temptations which we daily meet with; We humbly beseech thee to have compassion on our infirmities, and to give us the constant assistance of Thy Holy Spirit; that we may be effectually restrained from sin, and incited to our duty. Imprint upon our hearts such a dread of Thy judgments, and such a grateful sense of Thy goodness to us, as may make us both afraid and ashamed to offend Thee. And, above all, keep in our minds a lively remembrance of that great day, in which we must give a strict account of our thoughts, words, and actions to Him whom Thou hast appointed the Judge of quick and dead, Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For Grace to guide and keep us the following Day, and for God’s Blessing on the business of the Same.
IN particular, we implore Thy grace and protection for the ensuing day. Keep us temperate in all things, and diligent in our several callings. Grant us patience under our afflictions. Give us grace to be just and upright in all our dealings; quiet and peaceable; full of compassion; and ready to do good to all men, according to our abilities and opportunities. Direct us in all our ways. Defend us from all dangers and adversities; and be graciously pleased to take us, and all who are dear to us, under Thy fatherly care and protection. These things, and whatever else Thou shalt see to be necessary and convenient to us, we humbly beg, through the merits and mediation of Thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.
THE grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.

Monday, June 20, 2016

"The one thing we cannot do is redraw the map..."

From Rod Dreher today, on "Progressive Religion, Orthodox Religion":
.... The orthodox approach to revealed religion is to accept it as a statement of reality, and go from there. Of course these teachings always get sorted through an interpretive community, whose judgments are considered authoritative. What doesn’t happen, though, is that one gets to decide on the attributes of divinity based on what one wishes God were like. Otherwise it’s self-worship. ....

.... To oversimplify, progressives believe religion primarily (but not exclusively) concerns what man says about God, while conservatives believe religion primarily (but not exclusively) concerns what God says about man.

The lines are not clearly drawn, and can’t be. Doctrine and theology does change, even under conservatives, while progressives really do take some religious truths as axiomatic. The crucial difference, as I see it, is that conservatives (or, if you prefer as I do, the small-o orthodox) believe that there is an objective, real, transcendent order that exists outside of us and prior to us, and truth claims are usually claims about it, and how we must relate to it. Any changes in what has been received or thought must be accomplished through valid authorities within the interpretive community. If the authorities try to stretch the tradition too far too fast, they risk schism.

Progressives generally believe that the individual is allowed to decide for himself what constitutes religious truth — something an orthodox believer cannot do, even if he wants to. ....

...I would genuinely like to believe that Christians are free to decide what they like about homosexuality. It would make my gay friends think better of me, and it would make my professional life easier in many ways. But as a matter of intellectual integrity, I can’t rationalize away the prohibition within Christianity (nor can I rationalize away Biblical ethics binding heterosexual conduct).

I often think that progressive Christians judge us orthodox Christians to be bigots because they assume that we read Scripture and relate to Tradition in the same way that they do. For orthodox believers, Scripture and Tradition are like maps; if you don’t follow them, you won’t get where you are supposed to go. Maps are only a representation of the real world, it is true, but we have to hew as close to what we have been given as we can. The one thing we cannot do is redraw the map to make it take us where we wish to go, because we judge it to be a more pleasant place.

The orthodox says: “We can’t diverge too far from this map, or we’ll get lost.”

The progressive says: “What? That map is way out of date. We’ll redraw it. It was just somebody’s opinion. We know better now.”

The orthodox says: “What’s ‘better’? You have no way of knowing if your new coordinates are accurate. How do you know if they correspond to reality?”

The progressive says: “Huh?” ....

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Scotland Yard

At some point roaming about London I came across New Scotland Yard with the famous revolving sign in front of the building. This was really the new, New Scotland Yard I believe — the third location of the Metropolitan Police. I have very few true crime books in my collection but among the few is The Story of Scotland Yard by Sir Basil Thomson, a "former head of Scotland Yard's Criminal Investigation Department (C.I.D.)" The book is an inexpensive Literary Guild reprint but is in pretty good shape for its age — published in 1936, with a copyright date of 1935. It would, I think, be interesting to anyone who enjoys British crime novels involving the Yard. It begins with a description of the conditions that led to the creation of Scotland Yard and then recounts the history, including many of the criminal investigations, up until the post World War I period — when Thomson had personal involvement. From the flyleaf:
No author more suited to the task could possibly have been found than Sir Basil Thomson, himself one of the Yard's most celebrated heads.... His book, for the general reader, is an endlessly fascinating series of anecdotes about crime and criminals, great detectives and constables on the beat; about more than a hundred years of the London behind the scenes, of Limehouse and Whitechapel, of death in foggy dockside alleys, of murder and violence and the triumphing growth of the law's power; of what goes on behind the blank walls of the forbidding red brick building by the Thames. For the criminologist and student of crime it is a work of authority and reference unique in the literature of the subject.

Not least interesting are the chapters showing exactly how the Yard goes about its work, from the moment a murder is reported until the criminal stands before the bar of judgment.
Thomson's own life was not without controversy.

Friday, June 17, 2016

"Red Rover, Red Rover. Let _____ come over"

Growing up in the '50s. This all seems very familiar:
.... We were a largely unsupervised horde that played rough games and lived most of our non-school hours out of doors, no matter the weather. We built snow forts in order to wage protracted snowball wars, splashed in puddles in the rain, and threw rocks or played sports until it got too dark to see the various balls.

I’m not saying that abandoning your kid in the woods for punishment is an idea whose time has come, but I am saying that it was not at all unusual for parents to have no idea where the hell we were at any given moment – woods, lake, swamp – and most of us kids survived. ....

.... Nobody, and I mean nobody, was obese. The few who were slightly chubby would appear scrawny today. Of course there were no Gameboys or iPads yet. Many of us didn’t even have television. We got our first one when I was 12.

Most of our amusements then are now close to illegal: Tag, Dodgeball, Crack the Whip, Red Rover, Mumblety-Peg, and the aptly-named Kill the Man with the Ball. Others are just hated by the Left: Cowboys and Indians, Soldier, any game with a gun, real or plastic.

We also policed ourselves fairly well, in games, in decisions about what to play. In disputations, we would often vote and enforce the decision with a chorus of “Majority rules!” There was some deference to the older kids, out of fear mostly, but democracy was a quaint cherished ideal to ’50s children and “Majority rules!” was a magic incantation. Of course it mattered who owned the bat and ball. One option was always to “take your ball and go home,” assuming you wanted to play alone till high school graduation. ....

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"God has a wonderful plan for your life"

I have previously noted the importance to me of Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View (1980) by Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson and was pleased to find it still in print. It is one of several books that seem to have come along at just the right time in my life. From Chapter 9, "Thy Word is Truth":
The expression will of God is used in the Bible in two ways. God's sovereign will is His secret plan to determine everything that happens in the universe. God's moral will consists of the revealed commands in the Bible that teach how men ought to believe and live.

To these biblical usages, a third has been added. It is commonly taught that for each person, God has an individual will — an ideal, detailed life-plan for each person. In this traditional view, the key to decision making is to discover God's individual will, and then do it. Accordingly, the burden of most books on guidance is to explain how God's specific leading is to be discerned in each situation.

By contrast, the emphasis of Scripture is on God's moral will. In fact, the Bible reveals nothing of an "individual will" governing each decision. Rather, the teaching of Scripture may be summarized by these basic principles:
  1. In those areas specifically addressed by the Bible, the revealed commands of God (His moral will) are to be obeyed.
  2. In those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle (nonmoral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action. Any decision made within the moral will of God is acceptable to God.
  3. In nonmoral decisions, the objective of the Christian is to make wise decisions on the basis of spiritual expediency.
  4. In all decisions, the believer should humbly submit, in advance, to the outworking of God's sovereign will as it touches each decision.
By "spiritual expediency" in point three they mean wisdom, and say "The ultimate Source of the wisdom that is needed in decision making is God. Accordingly, we are to ask Him to provide what we lack. God mediates His wisdom to us through His Word, our personal research, wise counselors, and the applied lessons of life."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A man of character

I am still reading All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt. John Hay as a young man had been secretary to Abraham Lincoln, living in the White House. In the years afterward he continued to be very active in Republican politics although never holding elective office himself. He ended his public life as Secretary of State for first, William McKinley, and then after McKinley's assassination, for Theodore Roosevelt. Hay had supported McKinley for the nomination in 1896. McKinley's campaign was managed by Mark Hanna. From the book about those two men:
William McKinley
THERE WAS PLENTY TO like about McKinley, even if there was not that much to love. Hay and McKinley had both grown up in what was still regarded as the West (McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio, in 1843), and both had flourished during the war under leaders whose blessings would accelerate their ascent of the Republican ladder (Hay under Lincoln, McKinley under General, then Governor, Rutherford Hayes). Their personalities and intellects, however, were vastly different. For McKinley, literature was the Bible; poetry he found in a hymnal. He neither danced nor attended the theater. He rarely tasted strong drink and did not try ice cream until he was in law school. He played whist, never poker. His one vice was cigars: he smoked (or chewed) as many as fifty a week. In personal appearance, his sole vanity was tidiness: every day an immaculate boiled white shirt and piqué waistcoat, a black frock coat with a carnation in his lapel. In an era when most men, Hay included, cultivated some form of whiskers, McKinley was bare-faced (and so disciplined in his grooming that he could shave without a mirror). His marble jaw and gray eyes inevitably invited comparison to statuary. As a letter writer he was perfunctory, as a storyteller unmemorable. His public oratory was clear and effective, but never histrionic—rarely more than a clenched fist punched gently into an open palm to drive home a point.

Yet if he was not the smartest man in the room, he was the most trusted. If his was not the strongest voice, he was the best listener. Adjectives used by McKinley's peers to describe his character could fill a Sunday School tract: responsible, industrious, determined, patient, imperturbable, sincere, fair, courteous, and kind. He was devoid of guile, incapable of manipulation. It scarcely mattered that he was often impassive or that he had few close friends. Among Republicans, he had rivals but precious few enemies.

In 1893, when Hay had stepped forward to help bail McKinley out of debt, he hardly knew the man whose honor and career he was rescuing. Surely they had met on more than a few occasions during McKinley's years in Congress and then as governor of Ohio, but McKinley was not someone Hay would have invited to dinner, like James Garfield, James Blaine, Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt, or even Don Cameron. (The invitation probably would not have been accepted, anyway; due to Ida McKinley's frailty, attributed to epilepsy and the wrenching death of two young daughters, she and her husband rarely went out.) But by now Hay was shrewd enough to appreciate that one did not have to be chummy with a candidate to respect him. He had backed Blame more steadfastly than any politician since Lincoln, yet Blame proved not to be electable. McKinley was. ....

Mark Hanna
Hanna knew how to delegate; he also appreciated better than anyone before him the importance of strong central command in a political campaign. In 1895, Hanna turned over responsibility for his business affairs in Cleveland to his brother, which freed him to devote his full attention to the task of getting McKinley nominated and elected. So single-minded was Hanna that the perception grew that he had some devious, Svengaliesque control over his candidate.... The New York Journal, purchased by William Randolph Hearst that same year, hastened to establish its pot-stirring, "yellow" reputation by predicting that Hanna would "play McKinley like a pack of cards." The paper's cartoons depicted Hanna as the bloated Beast of Greed, his suit checked with dollar signs; as a puppet master pulling the strings of McKinley; or as an organ grinder calling the tune for his trained monkey.

The reality was something quite different. Hanna was a millionaire, to be sure, his fortune made in coal, steel, shipping, and banking, and he was indeed full-figured in his profile. But despite his affluence, he lived a relatively conservative, abstemious life. While he was by nature acquisitive and aggrandizing, he had nothing but admiration and respect for McKinley, whom he had first met in 1876, when McKinley had defended a group of coal miners arrested during a strike. Hanna was one of the mine's owners, and he never forgot the poise and humanity McKinley displayed in the courtroom. Here was a horse to bet on.

Though six years older than McKinley, Hanna would always be somewhat obsequious toward him. "His attitude was always that of a big, bashful boy toward a girl he loves," explained H.H. Kohlsaat, publisher of the Chicago Evening Post and another early McKinleyite. "It was not the power that it brought Mr. Hanna that made him fight for McKinley's nomination and election; it was the love of a strong man for a friend who was worthy of that affection."

And even if Hanna had wanted to control McKinley, he would not have succeeded; McKinley was not so pliable, and for all the effort Hanna put into McKinley's campaign, it was Hanna who depended upon McKinley more than the other way around. Hanna possessed the blunt ambition of a businessman, but McKinley had the tact, and equilibrium of a lifelong statesman. "Hanna was impulsive and intuitive where McKinley was calm and reasonable," the Kansas newspaperman William Allen White remarked. "Hanna would rip out a good red double-distilled God damn where McKinley would stifle a scowl with a smile." Hanna was the more brusque of the two, White added, and yet, "Hanna gave McKinley his heart." ....
All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"Cover my defenseless head / With the shadow of Thy wing."

As will have been obvious to anyone following this blog I have been slowly making my way through Ian Bradley's Penguin Book of Hymns (1989). Today I came to the entry about Charles Wesley's "Jesu, Lover of My Soul." One of the stories there:
Ira Sankey, who recalls that it was sung as the body of his fellow evangelist Dwight Moody was lowered into the grave, tells a moving story about an incident in the American Civil War. A Confederate soldier had aimed his rifle and was about to shoot through the heart of a Unionist sentry when he was stopped short by hearing his intended victim singing the words, 'Cover my defenceless head with the shadow of thy wing.' Nearly thirty years later the Confederate veteran recognized the voice of the man whose life he had spared singing the same hymn on an excursion steamer on the Potomac river. He went up and told him how and why his life had been spared.
The YouTube performance omits the third and fourth verses. The tune is "Aberystwyth."

Jesu, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high;
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last.
Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is thy name;
I am all unrighteousness:
False and full of sin I am;
Thou art full of truth and grace.
Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;     
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me:
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound,
Make and keep me pure within:
Thou of life the fountain art;
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.
Wilt Thou not regard my call?
Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall!
Lo, on thee I cast my care!
Reach me out Thy gracious hand!
While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand,
Dying, and behold I live.




Thursday, June 9, 2016

In, but not of...

Responding to critics of what is known as the "BenOp" Alan Jacobs asks those critics "to pretend that they’ve never heard the phrase 'Benedict Option' or the name Rod Dreher" and then consider his (Jacobs') summary of the idea:
  1. The dominant media of our technological society are powerful forces for socializing people into modes of thought and action that are often inconsistent with, if not absolutely hostile to, Christian faith and practice.
  2. In America today, churches and other Christian institutions (schools at all levels, parachurch organizations with various missions) are comparatively very weak at socializing people, if for no other reason than that they have access to comparatively little mindspace.
  3. Healthy Christian communities are made up of people who have been thoroughly grounded in, thoroughly socialized into, the historic practices and beliefs of the Christian church.
Therefore: If we are to form strong Christians, people with robust commitment to and robust understanding of the Christian life, then we need to shift the balance of ideological power towards Christian formation, and that means investing more of our time and attention than we have been spending on strengthening our Christian institutions.
Now: What there do you disagree with?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"God be with you"

Again from Ian Bradley's Penguin Book of Hymns about "God Be With You Till We Meet Again":
This is an unashamedly sentimental hymn and, such things being out of fashion nowadays, it fails to make an appearance in any of the modern hymn-books I have consulted.... Traditionally sung at partings and farewells, it never failed to bring a lump to the throat. I personally very much regret its loss from our current stock of hymns. I can think of nothing more appropriate or moving to sing at times of parting from old friends.

The author, Dr Jeremiah Eames Rankin (1828-1904), was a Congregational minister and President of Howard University, Washington, D C. He wrote this hymn in 1882, basing it on the etymology of the word 'goodbye' which is a shortened form of 'God be with you'. The hymn was first sung at the First Congregational Church in Washington where Rankin was minister, and it was immensely popular. He himself attributed its popularity largely to the tune to which it was sung, which had been composed by William Gould Tomer (1832-96)[...]a former soldier in the Civil War and clerk in the US Treasury Department who had taken up schoolteaching.

Tomer's tune, also known as God be with You, was for long favoured by British Nonconformists, but Anglicans have largely rejected it in favour of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Randolph. The latter is undoubtedly more sophisticated, but I have to say that I prefer Tomer's melody despite the fact that one critic has dismissed it as 'a tedious maudlin tune'. Its sentimentality goes well with Rankin's words. ....
There were two settings for the hymn in the hymnbook we used in my church when young but I believe we only sang Tomer's tune. This is the Ralph Vaughan Williams setting, "Randolph":



Bradley also provides some more modern verses:

God be with you till we meet again,
May he through the days direct you;
May he in life's storms protect you;
God be with you till we meet again.
God be with you till we meet again;
May he go through life beside you,
And through death in safety guide you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Same tune, different words

Reading in The Penguin Book of Hymns this afternoon I came across this in the section about Newton's hymn "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken":
The tune still first and foremost associated with this hymn is, I suppose, Austria, which was written by Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) for the Hapsburg emperor Francis II. The hymn was first performed on the emperor's birthday in 1797. It is said to have been a particular favourite of Haydn's and the story goes that it was the last piece of music that the composer ever played on his piano. It was first used as a hymn tune in England in 1805. Later it was taken up as the music for the German national anthem, 'Deutschland! Deutschland! über alles'. The German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, is said to have been very startled when, during a visit to his godmother, Queen Victoria, at Windsor Castle, he found himself singing the words of Newton's hymn to it.
As a subject of the Queen might react, I suppose, to hearing citizens of the US sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee."


A sermon

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the delivery of a sermon. The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis, was preached in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942. From Justin Taylor's essay:
As Lewis ascended the pulpit that evening, he looked out at the Oxford students and dons to witness what Walter Hooper later described as “one of the largest congregations ever assembled there in modern times.”

The anticipation to hear Lewis must have been significant, but the listeners could hardly have predicted that they were about to hear what would become one of the most famous sermons of the twentieth century, still being read and appreciated seventy five years hence.

Lewis’s announced text for the address was Revelation 2:26, 28, a passage different from the day’s New Testament reading in the Book of Common Prayer: “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations...And I will give him the morning star” (KJV). Lewis does not quote from the passage directly or refer to it by its reference, though he does discuss near the end of the sermon what it means to be given “the morning star.”

The title of the sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” comes from 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” ....

“The Weight of Glory” can be read online in its entirety. (You can also read my summary of each section here.) As the length of this post might suggest, it is worth the investment of your time to read and consider the whole thing. For it was 75 years ago tonight that the church received one of the great sermons of the 20th century. [much more, including why the sermon has remained so important and photographs of the locations]
The sermon link in the final paragraph above will supply a pdf of the entire sermon and one can also be found here.

75 Years Ago Tonight: C. S. Lewis Delivers a Sermon in Oxford on “The Weight of Glory” | TGC

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"The joy that is fierce and defiant rather than safe and smiley"

In "Songs of Exile" Alexi Sargeant agrees with Leah Libresco that the gospel is about much more than the "happy-clappy" message in a lot of contemporary worship music. He writes "After all, the Bible, though full of Good News, is often notably not perky. The all-joy-all-the-time model is not only insufficiently Biblical, it can leave entire groups of Christians out in the cold...." Sargeant provides a counter-example from an older tradition:
.... A favorite hymn of mine is “O God Our Help In Ages Past” by Isaac Watts and William Croft. This famous tune expresses both an enduring hope in God and an awareness of the terrifying contingency of man in the face of time’s advance.
Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
The lines above are fairly famous, but other dark stanzas are often cut from the song, perhaps because the compilers of hymnals thought them simply too depressing. Here is one:
Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.
The message, however, is not one of despair, though it paints a shadowy picture of earthly life. It’s an admonishment to remember the transience of all things save God. He and He alone is “our eternal home”—to everything else we say, this too shall pass. For the poor and poor in spirit, it’s actually a comforting message. We feel ill at ease in the world because the world is not where our hearts should rest. Psalm 90, the basis of the song, travels from fearful awe (“We are consumed by your anger/ and terrified by your indignation”) to a hopeful plea (“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,/ for as many years as we have seen trouble./ May your deeds be shown to your servants,/ your splendor to their children”). It’s a psalm for all seasons, following a winter believer towards a dream of spring.

The best Christian songs are songs of this journey, songs that acknowledge the exilic nature of the Church in the world. Here we have no lasting home, so our hymns can have the timbre of exile—the grief, the anger, the wrestling with God, the joy that is fierce and defiant rather than safe and smiley. .... [more]

Monday, June 6, 2016

D-Day, 1944

On June 6, 1944, American, Canadian, and British forces under the command of Dwight D. Eisenhower landed in Normandy to begin the final campaign to defeat the Nazis. Everyone knows the story of that day. The cost was very high. About 2,500 Americans were killed. The landing was successful and by the end of the day the Allies had moved beyond the beaches — but the war was far from over.

In an era less concerned about a "wall of separation" between church and state, President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the nation in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice. ....

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.
 
More Photos: D-Day, 1944

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Time evaporates

For the first time in a long time I spent most of my waking hours on Saturday in conversation. I had begun to suspect that it, like yodeling and poetry, was a dead art. Preaching and complaining are not conversation. Neither is an exchange of one-liners from last night’s television show. Conversation is a give and take of memories, thoughts and stories among two or more people. It is never one-sided or strident. It has a discernible rhythm. At its best it causes time to evaporate. ....

.... Boswell reports the great man saying: “The happiest conversation is that of which nothing is distinctly remembered but a general effect of pleasing impression.”

Friday, June 3, 2016

An irresistible temptation

Once upon a time conservative magazines of opinion were concerned with defining conservative principle. That was certainly true of National Review in the 1950s and '60s. One of the editors at the magazine, Frank S. Meyer, compiled a collection of essays by individuals some of whom were comfortable being called conservatives and others who had rather been known as classical liberals or libertarians. The contributors included F.A. Hayek, Gary Wills, Russell Kirk, Wilhelm Ropke, William F. Buckley, and Meyer himself.

I enjoyed reading the back-and-forth debates in the magazine and when I had a chance to get a second-hand copy of Meyer's What is Conservatism? I bought it. It remains for sale as a paperback and is available for Kindle. This is from Meyer's introductory essay "Freedom, Tradition, Conservatism." Meyer was an advocate of "Fusionism" wedding traditional conservatism with more libertarian economics. From the essay:
.... But the only possible basis of respect for the integrity of the individual person and for the overriding value of his freedom is belief in an organic moral order. Without such a belief, no doctrine of political and economic liberty can stand. ....

... Although the classical liberal forgot—and the contemporary libertarian conservative sometimes tends to forget—that in the moral realm freedom is only a means whereby men can pursue their proper end, which is virtue, he did understand that in the political realm freedom is the primary end. If, with Acton, we "take the establishment of liberty for the realization of moral duties to be the end of civil society," the traditionalist conservative of today, living in an age when liberty is the last thought of our political mentors, has little cause to reject the contributions to the understanding of liberty of the classical liberals, however corrupted their understanding of the ends of liberty. Their error lay largely in the confusion of the temporal with the transcendent. They could not distinguish between the authoritarianism with which men and institutions suppress the freedom of men, and the authority of God and truth. ....

...[C]ontemporary conservatism has inherited elements vital to its very existence. ....  Aware, as the classical liberals were not, of the reality of original sin, they forgot that its effects are never more virulent than when men wield unlimited power. Looking to the state to promote virtue, they forgot that the power of the state rests in the hands of men as subject to the effects of original sin as those they govern. They could not, or would not, see a truth the classical liberals understood: if to the power naturally inherent in the state, to defend its citizens from violence, domestic and foreign, and to administer justice, there is added a positive power over economic and social energy, the temptation to tyranny becomes irresistible, and the political conditions of freedom wither. ....
Frank S. Meyer, ed., What is Conservatism?, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Direct, control, suggest, this day, All I design, or do, or say..."

Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise, 
To pay thy morning sacrifice.
Heav’n is, dear Lord, where’er Thou art,
O never then from me depart;
For to my soul ’tis hell to be
But for one moment void of Thee.
Thy precious time misspent, redeem, 
Each present day thy last esteem,
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.
Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew.
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.
By influence of the Light divine
Let thy own light to others shine.
Reflect all Heaven’s propitious ways
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.
Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.
In conversation be sincere;
Keep conscience as the noontide clear;
Think how all seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.
I would not wake nor rise again
And Heaven itself I would disdain,
Wert Thou not there to be enjoyed,
And I in hymns to be employed.
Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
All praise to Thee, who safe has kept
And hast refreshed me while I slept
Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake
I may of endless light partake.



This stirring morning hymn was the work of Thomas Ken (1637—1711), one of the most saintly figures in the history of the Church of England.

Left an orphan as a young child, he was brought up by Izaak Walton, the author of The Compleat Angler. He was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, and ordained at the age of twenty-six. Six years later he returned to his old school as a teacher and chaplain, becoming also a Prebendary of Winchester Cathedral.

Ken later achieved considerable fame as chaplain to King Charles II, whose amorous adventures he found impossible to sanction. On one celebrated occasion Charles found himself in Winchester with his mistress Nell Gwyn and asked Ken to put them up in his house. Ken refused, declaring, 'Not for your kingdom would I allow such an insult on the house of a Royal chaplain.' ....

'Awake, my soul' was written while Ken was still at Winchester and before he had become embroiled in the world of politics. In 1674 he published a manual of prayers for the boys at the College, and in the 1695 edition of that work this hymn appeared together with hymns to be sung in the evening and at midnight. ....

Modern hymn-books tend to print a shortened version. The hymn is generally sung to the tune Morning Hymn by François Hippolite Barthelemon (1741-1808). Also known as Hippolytus and Magdalene, it was specially written for 'Awake, my soul' at the request of the chaplain of a female orphan asylum in London and was first published in 1785. ....

At his own request Ken was buried at sunrise in the churchyard at Frome, Somerset, with his beautiful morning hymn being sung. (Ian Bradley, ed., The Penguin Book of Hymns, 1989.)