Friday, July 25, 2014

Morning prayer

This is the oddest submission on my list, I admit. It is a recitation of every day’s morning prayer from The Book of Common Prayer — fifteen minutes or so of biblical readings and ancient prayers set against a relaxing soundtrack. I don’t listen to this every day, but there are times when I’ll put it on in the car or house and just sit back and “listen” to the Word delivered according to the time-tested pattern of Cranmer’s liturgy.
I was reminded in conversation last night that many of my fellow evangelicals know nothing of this worship resource although they have almost certainly participated in weddings or funerals that used this book. It is an invaluable resource and ought to be known and used. "Morning Prayer"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Barbarians at the gates

From "A Line Crossed in the Middle East" by Mark Movsesian:
Say goodbye to one of the most ancient Christian communities in the world. Last week, members of ISIS—the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” a Sunni Islamist group that recently has captured parts of Iraq and declared a new caliphate—began going through the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter “Nun.” “Nun” stands for “Nasara,” from “Nazarenes,” a word that refers to Christians. The implications were clear. Mosul’s Christians faced the same fate the Christians of Raqqa, Syria, had when ISIS captured their city last spring. “We offer them three choices,” ISIS announced: “Islam; the dhimma contract—involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.”

The dhimma is the notional contract that governs relations between the Muslim community, or umma, and Christians (as well as Jews) in classical Islamic law. The dhimma allows Christians to reside in Muslim society in exchange for payment of a poll tax called the jizya—in Mosul, ISIS required a jizya of about $500—and submission to various social and legal restrictions. The dhimma forbids Christians from attracting attention during worship, for example, from building new churches, and generally from asserting equality with Muslims. ....

By last week, most Christians in Mosul had already taken a fourth option—evacuation. Their departure marks the end of a continuous Christian tradition in Mosul. For thousands of years, Mosul has been a center for Christians, particularly for Assyrians, an ethnic group that predates the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia. Indeed, the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, where the Prophet Jonah preached, lies across the Tigris River. ....

As recently as a decade ago, tens of thousands of Christians lived in Mosul, some of them descendents of victims of the genocide the Ottoman Empire perpetrated against Assyrians, as well as Armenians and Greeks, during World War I. After this weekend, virtually none remain. On Saturday, ISIS expelled the fifty-two Christian families still in the city, after first requiring them to leave behind all their valuables. For good measure, ISIS also burned an 1800-year-old church and the Catholic bishop’s residence, along with its library and manuscript collection. .... [more]

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Avoid the Ivy League?

As the graduate of a small, not at all prestigious, liberal arts college, who taught at a very good public high school many of whose graduates aspired to attend elite universities, I found this article fascinating. I anticipate vigorous responses from those who are attending or have attended such schools. "Don't," the the title advises, "send your kid to the Ivy League":
.... Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it. ....

So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion.

There are exceptions, kids who insist, against all odds, on trying to get a real education. But their experience tends to make them feel like freaks. ....

Elite schools like to boast that they teach their students how to think, but all they mean is that they train them in the analytic and rhetorical skills that are necessary for success in business and the professions. Everything is technocratic—the development of expertise—and everything is ultimately justified in technocratic terms.

Religious colleges—even obscure, regional schools that no one has ever heard of on the coasts—often do a much better job in that respect. What an indictment of the Ivy League and its peers: that colleges four levels down on the academic totem pole, enrolling students whose SAT scores are hundreds of points lower than theirs, deliver a better education, in the highest sense of the word. ....

If there is anywhere that college is still college—anywhere that teaching and the humanities are still accorded pride of place—it is the liberal arts college. Such places are small, which is not for everyone, and they’re often fairly isolated, which is also not for everyone. .... Instead of trying to compete with Harvard and Yale, these schools have retained their allegiance to real educational values. .... [more]

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"Alone...isolated and proscribed"

In "Buchan's Power House" Philip Jenkins writes about one of my favorite authors. Jenkins thinks his heroes "boring upper class twits from a snobbish clubland England that was, happily, long-dead. And oh my, how badly most of them have dated, in language above all, not to mention in matters of gender, class and race." I think of them merely as representing a time and place with prejudices then common. In any event I enjoy the books and they are among the thrillers I re-read. Jenkins considers Power House (1916) which, as he says, is available online, a "strange and truly unsettling novella, The Power-House, can still force you to rethink the nature of the world you inhabit." Buchan's protagonist in this book is Edward Leithen, barrister and sportsman, who would appear in several later novels:
At first sight, The Power-House looks like familiar territory. Leithen discovers the evil plotting of Andrew Lumley, a wealthy Englishman who leads an international anarchist organization called the Power-House.... Lumley hopes and plans to destroy Western civilization. ....

Lumley believes that he can achieve his goal easily enough, because civilization is far weaker than anyone imagines. It will yield to pressure properly applied. As he asks,
“Did you ever reflect, Mr Leithen, how precarious is the tenure of the civilization we boast about?”

“I should have thought it fairly substantial,” I said, “and the foundations grow daily firmer.”

He laughed. “That is the lawyer’s view, but, believe me, you are wrong. Reflect, and you will find that the foundations are sand. You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn.”
.... As Leithen pursues the Power-House, he is walking a respectable central London street, where everyone observes the proprieties. Stern but fatherly police officers stand ready to discipline the criminal, or to remonstrate with the ill-mannered. Nothing can go wrong.

And gradually he realizes that anyone and everyone in the crowd might be an agent of the Power-House. Everyone is against him. Everyone is an anarchist:
I was alone in that crowd, isolated and proscribed, and there was no help save in my own wits. If I spoke to a policeman he would think me drunk or mad, and yet I was on the edge of being made the victim of a far subtler crime than fell within the purview of the Metropolitan force.

Now I saw how thin is the protection of civilization. An accident and a bogus ambulance — a false charge and a bogus arrest — there were a dozen ways of spiriting me out of this gay, bustling world….

Here there were fewer people, and several queer things began to happen. A little group of workmen with their tools were standing by the kerb, and they suddenly moved towards me. A pavement artist, who looked like a cripple, scrambled to his feet and moved in the same direction. There was a policeman at the corner, and I saw a well-dressed man go up to him, say something and nod in my direction, and the policeman too began to move towards me.

I did not await them. I took to my heels and ran for my life down Grosvenor Place.
That tearing noise you hear is the rending of the fabric of all known reality. This is one of the great literary descriptions of paranoia: “I was alone in that crowd, isolated and proscribed.” .... [more]
"How thin is the protection of civilization."

Friday, July 18, 2014

Children's literature

There was a golden age of children's literature in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There were magazines like St Nicholas, and authors like Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, George MacDonald, Howard Pyle, Edith Nesbit, and many others. ManyBooks.net provides access to many of their books in electronic form. Although I would think young readers would much prefer the actual physical books, during the "read aloud to me" phase parents might well access this resource. Today I came across these which I think should be experienced by every growing child. Each is provided in formats easily downloaded for electronic readers.

Slow down and read

Via Althouse, a review of Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two, a collection of 79 letters from people like Mark Helprin, Mary McCarthy, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and William S. Burroughs, and, obviously, many others. From Florence King's advice to the next generation:
When I was getting ready to graduate from college in 1957, I was fed up and ready to drop from exhaustion, but still my mind kept telling me, “Hurry, hurry, hurry.” I felt I had to do something, go on to the next step, whatever it was — career, graduate school, as long as it was important.

This is an American disease. Put yourself on cruise control and go into limbo for a year. .... [F]orget about success for a while, get yourself an ordinary job, an ordinary place to live, and live without worrying about what Americans call, in uppercase, the Future.

Go somewhere different, but stay away from big cities. If you’re from a place you call “godforsaken,” go to a small city in another part of the country…

Get a dead-end job — they’re plentiful now because nobody wants them. Tell your employer the truth: that you’ll be around only a year or so, but promise to work hard. Keep your promise. Little triumphs are the pennies of self-esteem. ....

Live alone, even at a financial sacrifice. If you have a roommate, the whole college uproar will just start all over again. Get a one-room apartment, or simply a room in the home of a nice widow. Get to know her. She’s dying to tell somebody the story of her life, so listen.

Have a radio for emergency news, but no TV. Read, read, read. .... [more]

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"...A song of light..."

A Facebook friend asks his friends "What is your favorite piece of classical music?" This was my choice:

'The Lark Ascending', inspired by a poem of the same name by George Meredith, was begun shortly before the outbreak of the First World War but not completed until Vaughan Williams returned from active service in France. This performance is by Nicola Benedetti with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton.
The Lark Ascending - Ralph Vaughan Williams - YouTube

"No enemies,...just phobias"

...[T]oday we like to think that enemies are a thing of the past. There are no enemies, just phobias we haven’t been cured of yet....

...[T]oday in much of the West, as we bask in the afterglow of our achievements — eager to enjoy our rights, but unwilling to defend them — it is the West that is, slowly but surely, drifting away from itself.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A condition of freedom

Apart from the fact that John Zmirak wrote a book about Wilhelm Röpke, it is not immediately obvious to me why this portion of his review of a new book is relevant to that book. But it stands on its own as an important reminder for conservatives and especially for a certain type of libertarian:
Wilhelm Röpke
The architect of the post-war German economic “miracle,” Wilhelm Röpke, used to warn his old friends Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek that a free economy and society could only survive the convulsive changes wrought by the market’s creative destruction if the non-state sector — families, churches, and the rest of what Tocqueville called “civil society” — was strong and solid. The “spontaneous order” that makes freedom possible can break down, and as social chaos worsens, the populace will look to big government for shelter and protection. Hence fragmented families and their dysfunctions fuel the demand for social programs, and the fading of faith drives people to seek the civil religion of socialism, as Catholic historian Michael Burleigh documents in Earthly Powers. .... [more]
Which reminded me of what Burke had to say about the need for self-control:
Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
Edmund Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791).

Monday, July 14, 2014

We Glorify Thy Name

The Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society has linked to one of my previous posts and provided the pdf of "We Glorify Thy Name":
Seventh Day Baptists have long been a musical people.  From our earliest origins in England, there have been hymn writers and psalm singers among us.  The result of this has been a long musical tradition.

From the Stennett family in England to the evangelistic quartets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the Stained Glass ministries of the current General Conference to the music of Citizen Way, two members of which were brought up in our churches, we have been a musical people.

Today, we have added one resource to our Additional Resources page which is still in use in many SDB churches but is not widely available in print–”We Glorify They Name.” ....
[more]

Films from the '40s


Kyle Smith counts down his list of "The 10 Best Films of the 1940s" and it includes some of my favorite films of all time. The list is below. If you follow the links you will find the movie's original preview and a connection to Amazon where the DVD can be purchased. Some of my own favorites among the ten are indicated with a * but I have enjoyed and re-watched all except number 7 which I have never seen.
10. Double Indemnity (1944)*
9. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
8. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)*
7. A Letter to Three Wives (1949)
6. His Girl Friday (1940)*
5. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
4. Pinocchio (1940)
3. The Third Man (1949)*
2. Casablanca (1942)*
1. Citizen Kane (1941)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Unintended consequences

Britain is engaged in debate about legalizing "assisted dying," i.e. killing the elderly and terminally ill at least initially with their consent. A former Archbishop of Canterbury has now come out in favor of it. I think it's a terrible idea and agree with this blogger:
...[T]he argument isn’t that there isn’t suffering that could be curtailed by a doctor killing a terminally ill patient. It’s that the effects of the change on a great number of other people will be incalculably damaging. ....

.... The moment people at the end of their lives feel that by getting a doctor to kill them they can save their family trouble and the state money, you put an intolerable pressure on them to consider that choice. There is an altruistic streak in many of our elderly, whereby they feel they shouldn’t be a burden. With the option of assisted dying, they will be obliged to entertain a notion they should not even have to consider, that they can save other people a lot of trouble by dying. ....

...[T]he message of the cross isn’t that suffering is something that should be avoided at all costs. The Christian notion of suffering involves uniting your suffering with that of Christ on Calvary and thereby giving it a very different dimension. Christians do not, at least nowadays, wilfully take suffering on themselves – beyond a bit of fast and abstinence – but they take up their cross when it comes to them. When it comes to suffering their role is to relieve it in the sufferer, not to kill him or her and so do away with it, which is why so many hospices are former or present Christian foundations. ....

We have medicalized immaturity (and a lot more)

Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life was authored by the chairman of the taskforce that created the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV (DSM-IV). He regrets much that ensued. From the review:
.... He is particularly concerned about the exponential increase in the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions in children, writing: ‘We failed to predict or prevent three new false epidemics of mental disorder in children – autism, attention deficit, and childhood bipolar disorder. And we did nothing to contain the rampant diagnostic inflation that was already expanding the boundary of psychiatry far beyond its competence.’

Take Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is ‘spreading like wildfire’. This diagnosis is applied so promiscuously that ‘an amazing 10 per cent of kids now qualify’, Frances writes. In the US, boys born in December are 70 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than boys born in January. The reason diagnosing ADHD is so problematic is that it essentially is a description of immaturity, including symptoms such as ‘lack of impulse control’, ‘hyperactivity’ or ‘inattention’. Boys born in December tend to be the youngest in their school year group (in the US) and thus they are more likely to be immature. In the UK, the youngest children in a school classroom are born in August, and so here, August-born kids are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. We have medicalised immaturity. .... [more]

Friday, July 11, 2014

Positive and negative rights

In 1993 a bipartisan Congress almost unanimously passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act then signed into law by President Clinton. What was uncontroversial then certainly isn't now. In "Who's the Real Hobby Lobby Bully?", Megan McArdle explains what seems a disproportionate reaction by the left to the Hobby Lobby decision:
...[W]hile the religious right views religion as a fundamental, and indeed essential, part of the human experience, the secular left views it as something more like a hobby, so for them it’s as if a major administrative rule was struck down because it unduly burdened model-train enthusiasts. That emotional disconnect makes it hard for the two sides to even debate; the emotional tenor quickly spirals into hysteria as one side says “Sacred!” and the other side says, essentially, “Seriously? Model trains?” That shows in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, where it seems to me that she takes a very narrow view of what role religious groups play in the lives of believers and society as a whole.

The second, and probably more important, problem is that the long compromise worked out between the state and religious groups — do what you want within very broad limits, but don’t expect the state to promote it — is breaking down in the face of a shift in the way we view rights and the role of the government in public life.

To see what I mean, consider an argument I have now heard hundreds of times — on Facebook, in my e-mail, in comment threads here and elsewhere: “Hobby Lobby’s owners have a right to their own religious views, but they don’t have a right to impose them on others.” As I wrote the day the decision came out, the statement itself is laudable, yet it rings strange when it’s applied to this particular circumstance. How is not buying you something equivalent to “imposing” on you?

I think you can understand this, however, as the clash of principles designed for a world of negative rights, in a society that has come to embrace substantial positive rights — as well as a clash between old and new concepts of what is private and what is public.

All of us learned some version of “You have the right to your beliefs, but not to impose them on others” in civics class. It’s a classic negative right. And negative rights are easy to make reciprocal: You have a right to practice your religion without interference, and I have a right not to have your beliefs imposed on me.

This works very well in situations in which most of the other rights granted by society are negative rights, because negative rights don’t clash very often. Oh, sure, you’re going to get arguments about noise ordinances and other nuisance abatements, but unless your religious practices are extreme indeed, the odds that they will substantively violate someone else’s negative rights are pretty slim.

I’m not saying that America ever perfectly hewed to this sort of ideal. (Blue laws, anyone?) I’m just saying that the statement of this ideal was perfectly consistent with the broadly held conception of what government was for, which was to provide “public goods” in the classical economics sense, but otherwise mostly to keep other people from doing stuff to you, not to do things for you or force you to do them for other people.

In this context, “Do what you want, as long as you don’t try to force me to do it, too” works very well, which is why this verbal formula has had such a long life. But when you introduce positive rights into the picture, this abruptly stops working. You have a negative right not to have your religious practice interfered with, and say your church forbids the purchase or use of certain forms of birth control. If I have a negative right not to have my purchase of birth control interfered with, we can reach a perhaps uneasy truce where you don’t buy it and I do. But if I have a positive right to have birth control purchased for me, then suddenly our rights are directly opposed: You have a right not to buy birth control, and I have a right to have it bought for me, by you. .... (emphases added) [more]

"The best question anyone had asked yet"

From the third chapter of C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle, in which Shift, the ape, argues that every god is God:
"Please, please," said the high voice of a woolly lamb, who was so young that everyone was surprised he dared to speak at all.

"What is it now?" said the Ape. "Be quick."

"Please," said the Lamb, "I can't understand. What have we to do with the Calormenes? We belong to Aslan. They belong to Tash. They have a god called Tash. They say he has four arms and the head of a vulture. They kill Men on his altar. I don't believe there's any such person as Tash. But if there was, how could Aslan be friends with him?"

All the animals cocked their heads sideways and all their bright eyes flashed toward the Ape. They knew it was the best question anyone had asked yet.

The Ape jumped up and spat at the Lamb.

"Baby!" he hissed. "Silly little bleater! Go home to your mother and drink milk. What do you understand of such things? But the others, listen. Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That's why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash."
The Chronicles of Narnia are pretty good at reminding us of ancient errors always present.

When I published this quotation from The Last Battle once before a reader seemed to think I posted it because I agree with the Ape! Not hardly.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Unbroken

Coming on Christmas Day, 2014, script by Joel and Ethan Coen, directed by Angelina Jolie, the story of Louis Zamperini, Olympian, WWII flier, Japanese POW, Christian. I intend to see this:


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Real life

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”
C.S. Lewis, 1943

Monday, July 7, 2014

John Wayne's library

Almost finished reading John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman. The author obviously deplores Wayne's politics but likes him a lot nevertheless. I came across this:
.... Wayne's library was unfocused, but with an emphasis on his business. He had first editions of The Searchers and True Grit, novels by Zane Grey, stories by Bret Harte, coffee-table books of Frederic Remington and Tom Phillips.

There were conservative-oriented books on politics, pop fiction (Jaws, Centennial) and some very un-pop literary fiction: Nabokov's Lolita. There were books on Hollywood westerns, a signed copy of Darryl Zanuck's biography, unsigned copies of books about Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, and Marilyn Monroe, as well as compatriots such as Raoul Walsh and Edward Dmytryk. He had a surprising taste for Tolkien, with hardcovers of all the Lord of the Rings novels. ....
That last surprised me, too.

“Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”

In the preface to Screwtape C.S. Lewis warned that "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them." Some Christians may be guilty of such an unhealthy interest. From "Bound to Work: 3 reasons you should not try [to] bind Satan":
Spiritual warfare is real. It might not make the news; but it ought to. Paul acknowledges this in Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

But the weapons of this warfare are often somewhat misunderstood. In some church circles, for example, it is commonplace to hear pastors and their people talk of “binding Satan” or “renouncing the devil’s presence” or some such display of confidence.

Here are three reasons I believe this is misguided.

1. Satan is (most probably) not in earshot

There is a pernicious paranoia that permeates churches today: folks think Satan can hear them speak. Some people unwittingly pad Satan’s résumé to include God’s unique attributes of omniscience and omnipresence. Yes, Satan certainly is ambulant (1 Pet 5:8), but he is confined to one place at a time. He can’t read your mind, and he doesn’t perk his ears when he hears his name mentioned in your prayers. ....

2. Binding Satan is above your pay grade

Satan can be bound, just not by you. The task of binding Satan is given to an angel. (Rev 20:1-3). It’s a pretty important task, and a lot of eschatology depends in it being done properly. ....

3. God has a better idea

The Bible is not written in code. There are sections written as descriptive narrative, which record what happened in history. And there are other narrative sections written as prescriptive commands that apply to you and me.

The only instruction Christians are given about how to confront the spiritual forces of darkness is Ephesians 6. .... [read it all here]