Thursday, August 27, 2015

Restore Thou those who are penitent

.... I’m speaking, of course, about confession – a time when the church comes together as a repentant people, and asks God to forgive and cleanse, to renew and restore, to inflame our cold hearts and fill us with overflowing love.

Confession is one of the defining marks of a Christian because it is linked to repentance and faith. When we confess our sins to God, we are agreeing with God that our sin is something that needs to be forgiven. We are recognizing that our sin hurts us, hurts others, and most importantly, hurts the heart of God.

Confession is the expression of repentance in which we name our sin for what it is, turn away from sin, and turn toward a merciful God. The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not that the non-Christian sins and the Christian does not, but that the Christian sins and repents, while the unbeliever hardens their heart toward God – either by refusing to admit the sin or by trying to deal with the sin in some other way. ....

Today .... [the] problem is not the idea of a God who is perpetually angry, but a shriveled god who is shallow and nice. If we don’t see God taking sin seriously, we won’t take it seriously either. And once we stop taking sin seriously, repentance loses its power. No surprise, then, that confession falls away, and the one thing for which all Christians should be known – repentant faith – is something we no longer express together in public.

My hope is that the practice of corporate confession will make a comeback – whether in a time of silent prayer, corporate confession, or songs that plead for mercy. After all, we are not in a posture to receive God’s Word until we have first renounced our sin. .... [more]
From the Book of Common Prayer:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare Thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore Thou those who are penitent; According to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of Thy holy Name. Amen.
From Challies:
.... Where our knowledge of one another is limited, where it is built upon the little bit we know of the other person, God’s knowledge of us is unlimited by the past, present, and future. He already knows our deepest, darkest secrets, and he loves us still. And this is a profound comfort to us. J.I. Packer says, “There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love for me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.”

He goes on:
There is, certainly, great cause for humility in the thought that he sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow humans do not see (and I am glad!), and that he sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough). There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, he wants me as his friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given his Son to die for me in order to realise this purpose.”
God takes no risk in his love, because he knows everything about me. He knows all I have done, all I am doing, all I ever will do. He will never receive new knowledge of me that may cause him to question his determination to call me his friend. And for that reason, no relationship I have will ever be more secure than my relationship with him. ....

Monday, August 24, 2015

First things first

Having previously considered "The Problem With Liberalism," J. Budziszewski now addresses "The Problem With Conservatism." In each case he is arguing against the prioritizing of political ideology over religious faith. He writes that not all conservatives are guilty of all (or, perhaps, any) of the problems he raises:
A minor difficulty in setting forth these errors is the ambiguity of the term “conservatism.” Conservatives come in many different kinds, and their mistakes are equally heterogeneous. I should like to stress, therefore, that not every conservative commits every one of the errors that I describe in the following pages. But there is a common theme. Each kind of conservative opposes the contemporary government-driven variety of social reformism in the name of some cherished thing which he finds that it endangers. One speaks of virtue, another of wealth, another of the peace of his home and the quiet of his street—but although these pearls are of very different luster, none wishes his to be thrown before swine. So it is that conservatives are often able to make common cause, putting all their pearls in a single casket. ....
He then proceeds to elaborate eight "moral errors" conservatives make that should be troublesome for Christians. For example:
The first moral error of political conservatism is civil religionism. According to this notion America is a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious aspiration; according to Christianity America is but one nation among many, no less loved by God, but no more. ....

.... She is not the inheritor of the covenant, not the receiver of the promises, not the witness to the nations. It may well be that all nations have callings of sorts—specific purposes which God in His providence assigns them. But no nation can presume to take God under its wing. However we may love her, dote upon her, and regret her, the Lord our God can do without the United States. ....
Another:
The seventh moral error of political conservatism is mammonism. According to this notion wealth is the object of commonwealth, and its continual increase even better; according to Christianity wealth is a snare, and its continual increase even worse. Mammonism is what the Big Tent that some political analysts urge for the Republican Party is all about: ditch the social issues, but hold onto the capital gains tax reduction. To keep your liberty you have to keep your money. ....
More, very much worth reading by those of us for whom politics are very important but who may sometimes lose sight of the things that are far more important.

Friday, August 21, 2015

“A litigious and wrangling disposition”

Kevin DeYoung has been working on a dissertation this summer. This morning, from it, he posts about John Witherspoon (pastor, college president and signer of the Declaration of Independence) and "Christian Unity without Doctrinal Indifferentism":
John Witherspoon
.... Witherspoon believed that men “often differ[ed] more in words than in substance.” He adopted Doddridge’s words as his own: “If this doctrine, in one form or another, be generally taught by my brethren in the ministry, I rejoice in it for their own sakes, as well as for that of the people who are under their care.” Truth was truth whether it came from Anglicans, Catholics, or Dissenters.

Although he remained staunchly committed to and invested in Presbyterianism his whole life, Witherspoon was not a man of narrow party spirit. In his Treatise on Regeneration (1764), Witherspoon noted, “I am fully convinced, that many of very different parties and denominations are building upon the one ‘foundation laid in Zion’ for a sinner’s hope, and that their distance and alienation from one another in affection, is very much to be regretted.” In his farewell sermon in Paisley, Witherspoon warned against “going too much into controversy” and developing “a litigious and wrangling disposition” that would lead Christians—and here he is quick to add the qualification “I mean real Christians”—into “innumerable little parties and factions.” He longed for the day when the “unhappy divisions” among “protestants in general” would be “abolished” and those truly centered on Christ crucified would “be no longer ranked in parties and marshaled under names” but only strive with each other to see “who shall love our Redeemer most, and who shall serve him with the greatest zeal.” ....

For Witherspoon, Christian unity was not rooted in downplaying doctrinal distinctives (least of all among those who could not be counted true believers), but in stressing the theological similarities that existed among born again Christians from a variety of denominations. “No man, indeed,” Witherspoon wrote, “deny it to be just, that every one should endeavor to support that plan of the discipline and government of the church of Christ, and even the minutest parts of it, which appear to him to be founded upon the word of God. But still sound doctrine is more to be esteemed than any form.” ....

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Amy Kass, 1940-2015, RIP

Bill Kristol notes the death of Amy Apfel Kass last night and writes of her:
A legendary teacher at the University of Chicago and a very fine scholar, she was at once a most perceptive student of great literature and a spirited and enlightened patriot. She was able to combine in an unusual way philosophic detachment and moral seriousness, a rare kind of enriching gravity and a wonderfully enlivening wit. Her marriage to Leon was a model for all; her friendship was a blessing for those of us fortunate to have known her.
Amy and Leon Kass co-edited, with Diana Schaub, What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song. It is a collection of documents, speeches, fiction and poetry, with commentary by the editors. From its introduction:
This is a book about America for every American. More precisely, this is a book about American identity, American character, and American citizenship. Addressing hearts as well as minds, exploiting the soul-shaping powers of story, speech, and song, it is designed to make Americans more appreciatively aware of who they are as citizens of the United States. Its ultimate goal, stated without apology, is to produce better patriots and better citizens: men and women knowingly and thoughtfully attached to our country, devoted to its ideals, and eager to live an active civic life.

Although we are committed to the goal of producing thoughtful patriots and engaged citizens, the editors have no partisan political agenda or ideological intentions. The patriotism we seek to encourage is deep, not superficial; reflective, not reflexive; and, above all, thoughtful. This anthology addresses liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans and independents, employers and employees, rich and poor, young and old, and Americans of every race, religion, and ethnicity, for all Americans have a stake in the well-being of our nation. ....
I bought that book and it and certain other writings (some of which I have quoted repeatedly, especially on Memorial Day) mark the extent of my acquaintance with the work of Amy and Leon Kass.  It seems to have been good and worthy work.

From an interview with both of them about two speeches, one fictional and one historical, included in the section of the book about Courage and Self-Sacrifice: Toward Country and Its Ideals (about 45 minutes):

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The past is prologue

Wilfred M. McClay is a history professor who also served on the National Council on the Humanities. His PhD was from Johns Hopkins. In this talk recently delivered at Hillsdale College he laments the state of US History education in our high schools:
Historical study and history education in the United States today are in a bad way, and the causes are linked. In both cases, we have lost our way by forgetting that the study of the past makes the most sense when it is connected to a larger, public purpose, and is thereby woven into the warp and woof of our common life. The chief purpose of a high school education in American history is not the development of critical thinking and analytic skills, although the acquisition of such skills is vitally important; nor is it the mastery of facts, although a solid grasp of the factual basis of American history is surely essential; nor is it the acquisition of a genuine historical consciousness, although that certainly would be nice to have too, particularly under the present circumstances, in which historical memory seems to run at about 15 minutes, especially with the young.

No, the chief purpose of a high school education in American history is as a rite of civic membership, an act of inculcation and formation, a way in which the young are introduced to the fullness of their political and cultural inheritance as Americans, enabling them to become literate and conversant in its many features, and to appropriate fully all that it has to offer them, both its privileges and its burdens. To make its stories theirs, and thereby let them come into possession of the common treasure of its cultural life. In that sense, the study of history is different from any other academic subject. It is not merely a body of knowledge. It also ushers the individual person into membership in a common world, and situates them in space and time. ....

We often speak these days of global citizenship, and see it as a form of advanced consciousness to which our students should be made to aspire. But global citizenship is, at best, a fanciful phrase, abstract and remote, unspecific in its requirements. Actual citizenship is different, since it entails membership in the life of a particular place. It means having a home address. Education does young people no favors when it fails to equip them for that kind of membership. Nor does it do the rest of us any favors. We will not be able to uphold our democracy unless we know our great stories, our national narratives, and the admirable deeds of our great men and women. ....

...[W]e need an approach to the past that conduces most fully to a healthy foundation for our common, civic existence—one that stoutly resists the culture of fracture rather than acceding to it. This is not a call for an uncritical, triumphalist account of the past. Such an account would not be an advance, since it would fail to give us the tools of intelligent and morally serious self-criticism. But neither does an approach that, in the name of post-national anti-triumphalism, reduces American history to the aggregate sum of a multitude of past injustices and oppressions, without bringing those offenses into their proper context—without showing them as elements in the great story of a longer American effort to live up to lofty and demanding ideals. ....

Historians will find their public again when the public can find its historians—historians who keep in mind that the writing of our history is to be for that public. Not for in the sense of fulfilling its expectations, flattering its prejudices, and disguising its faults. Not for in the sense of underwriting a particular political agenda. But for in the sense of being addressed to them, as one people with a common past and a common future, affirmative of what is noblest and best in them, and directed towards their fulfillment. .... [more]

"Cast me not off in the time of old age"

Called to my attention by a Facebook friend: "Identity Is Lost Without A Moral Compass". This may explain why, although suffering from Alzheimer's for the last years of her life, my mother's personality didn't change. From the report:
What defines a person? Is it their memories? Their hobbies? Look deeper, argue a pair of researchers—into the soul, so to speak. According to a new study, kindness, loyalty, and other traits of morality are what really constitute someone's being. ....

"Contrary to what generations of philosophers and psychologists have thought, memory loss doesn't make someone seem like a different person," Strohminger writes. "Rather, morality...played the largest role in whether someone comes across as themselves or whether their identity has been swallowed up by the disease."
Identity Is Lost Without A Moral Compass - Pacific Standard

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Daily prayer

Found in my library this afternoon: The Book of Daily Prayer compiled by Robert E. Webber and published in 1993. I think it was a Christmas gift from my parents (we all made lists for each other after my brother and I reached adulthood).

Amazon describes the book: "Organized around the Christian year which, reflecting the life of Christ, celebrates Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost, this thoughtful and convenient guide to daily prayer helps carry Christians more fully into the experience of Christ."

Webber was a professor of theology at Wheaton College and was particularly interested in introducing or re-introducing Evangelicals to the rich heritage of Christian worship. The book provides prayers for every day of the year. What follows are his selections for a Tuesday in August (like today):
Theme: Our choice to believe in and follow Jesus is no mere intellectual decision, but a life-changing event.

Antiphon and Opening Prayer
Give ear to my words, O LORD; give heed to my sighing.
Listen to the sound of my cry. Psalm 5:1-2a
Lord God, you who give peace to those who follow you, work in my heart and life those virtues that are becoming to your children, to your glory.
Scripture Reading
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Romans 5:1-5, optional: Job 6:1-15
Responsorial Psalm
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
so that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O LORD;
you cover them with favor as with a shield. Psalm 5:11-12
Prayers, pp. 529-32 (Where are found several prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. I've chosen the one that follows.)
Prayer of General Thanksgiving
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, I your unworthy servant give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to me and to all whom you have made. I bless you for creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, I pray, give me such an awareness of your mercies, that with a truly thankful heart I may show forth your praise, not only with my lips, but in my life by giving up myself to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all my days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages.
Closing Psalm Prayer
Listen to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch. Psalm 5:2-3

Monday, August 17, 2015

"Thirty young women fled..."

A reference in The Weekly Standard to an interview with Christina Hoff Sommers sent me to the full interview on YouTube. Sommers is a defender of "equity feminism" as opposed to what she calls "fainting couch feminism."
... In her talk with The Scrapbook’s boss (Bill Kristol), Sommers recounts how she got into this groove almost 30 years ago, as a professor of philosophy at Clark University.

Asked by her department chair to work up a course on feminist theory—and assuming herself to be a feminist—she ordered the leading textbooks on the subject and started to read. What confronted her was a witch’s brew of conspiracy theories, grievance-mongering, and vilification of men, backed up with phony statistics. What shocked her most was these textbooks’ flagrant violation of what she calls “the sacred commandment of college teaching: Thou shalt present both sides of the argument.”

From there it was but a short step—one paper presented to the American Philosophical Society and one article published in the New Republic—to Christina’s excommunication from a religion she says she hadn’t known existed. ....
The interview (just over an hour):

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"And give us, we pray..."

New to me:



Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,
Whose trust, ever child-like,
no cares could destroy,
Be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,
Your bliss in our hearts, Lord,
at the break of the day.
Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace,
Your hands swift to welcome, 

your arms to embrace,
Be there at our homing, and give us, we pray,
Your love in our hearts, Lord,

at the eve of the day.

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
Whose strong hands were skilled 

at the plane and the lathe,
Be there at our labors, and give us, we pray,
Your strength in our hearts, Lord,

at the noon of the day.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment, 

whose presence is balm,
Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts,  Lord,

at the end of the day.
 
Songs of Praise, 1931

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The sure provisions of my God

Pastor Herb Saunders led worship this morning for the Madison Seventh Day Baptist Church. Worship and the sermon were both based on the 23rd Psalm. Most of the hymns we sang, naturally, also were based on that psalm. But we didn't sing my favorite: Isaac Watts "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need."


My shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
He leads me, for His mercy’s sake,
In paths of truth and grace.
The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.

When I walk through the shades of death
Thy presence is my stay;
One word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.

Ed Psych

Robert Conquest died on August 3rd. He was a poet and historian of some note. A recent Weekly Standard provided this verse from one of Conquest’s less serious efforts: “Grouchy Good Night to the Academic Year”
‘Those teach who can’t do’ runs the dictum,
But for some even that’s out of reach:
They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em
To teach other people to teach.
Then alas for the next generation,
For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.
Where psychology meets education
A terrible bull—t is born.
That's about right.

"The flight to safety"

Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress....

.... The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. ...[I]t presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. ...[T]his movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. .... more
How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus - The Atlantic

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Embrace the freakishness"

Via Rod Dreher, a link to 'The Freakishness of Christianity: What would the American culture wars look like if they were less about “values” and more about Jesus?, an article about Russell Moore's new book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Moore is the "the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the political nerve center of the Southern Baptist Convention." A few of the quotations from Moore in the article:
  • I think what is dying is cultural, nominal Christianity, and I don’t think we should panic about that. I think we should see that as an act of God’s grace.
  • We were never given a mission to promote ‘values’ in the first place, but to speak instead of sin and of righteousness and judgement, of Christ and his kingdom.
  • Our message will be seen as increasingly freakish to American culture.... Let’s embrace the freakishness, knowing that such freakishness is the power of God unto salvation.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Worship should be about delight in Him

Re-posted:

Jason Helopoulos on "One Truth That Changes Worship":
.... The truth is this: Worship is not so much about what we receive, nor about what we give, rather, it is about being. Do we give in worship? Of course, we give our praise and thanksgiving to God. We give our offerings for the use of His Church. Do we receive in worship? Of course, we receive mercy and grace. We receive encouragement and peace. But worship is not primarily caught-up with giving or receiving. It is primarily about being, meeting with God. Or more rightly put, God meeting with us. ....

This one idea can change how we approach worship. It rightly moves our petty concerns to the side. It takes our focus off self and directs it to the Lord. It makes worship more about truth than the latest gimmick. It moves us from wanting to leave with something more and rather focused upon what we have already received and shall enjoy someday. Worship becomes less about being an information download and more about engaging my whole person with the whole Christ of the Scriptures. It becomes less about my preferences and more about Him; becomes less about what moves me, stirs me, encourages me, and fills my cup and more about just purely delighting in Him. .... [more]

Hayek, right and wrong

Writing in the New Statesman, John Gray on what Friedrich Hayek got right and what he got wrong:
.... Having abandoned his youthful socialism under the influence of the doctrinaire market economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), Hayek came to believe that a process of social evolution would impel humankind in the direction of the values he favoured. His legacy to liberal thinking has been a type of scientism – the mistaken attempt to apply the methods of the natural sciences when examining the human world. It’s an ironical outcome, given that he was a forceful critic of scientism in economics. In his speech on receiving the Nobel Prize in 1974, Hayek described the efforts of economists to mimic the methods of the natural sciences as having produced a “pretence of knowledge”. ....

Hayek was most original when he ­argued that the market is a means of discovering and transmitting information that is dispersed throughout society. It was this insight into the knowledge-creating function of markets that enabled him to formulate a decisive argument against central economic planning. Generations of socialists have maintained that the failings of the Soviet economy were because of historical causes extraneous to the planning system: a lack of democracy rooted in tsarist traditions of despotism, the underdevelopment of the Russian economy when the Soviet system came into being, and Stalin’s deformation of Lenin’s supposedly more benign inheritance.

As Hayek perceived, none of these factors can account for the universal failings of planned economies, which have followed a similar pattern in countries as different as Czechoslovakia and Mongolia, East Germany and Cuba. The fundamental reason for the failures of central economic planning is that economic knowledge cannot be centralised. More than the love of power or the inevitability of corruption, it is the limitations of human knowledge that make socialist planning an impossible dream. Here Hayek’s argument was unanswerable. ....

Underpinning his defence of the free market was a belief in what he called “spontaneous order in society” – the idea that, if only human beings were not subject to oppressive governments, they would evolve in ways that allowed them to live together in peace and freedom. This was not a view held by Hayek’s friend and LSE (London School of Economics) colleague Karl Popper, who gently demolished it when I talked with him, or by the conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott, also a colleague at the LSE, who dismissed it – accurately – as “rubbish”. A type of unplanned order may well emerge in society but there is no reason why it should respect liberal values. There is nothing particularly liberal about the Mafia. ....

Hayek’s belief that vital freedoms can be enshrined in law and thereby taken out of politics is ultimately delusive. But it is not an aberration peculiar to the brand of right-wing liberalism that he professed. An anti-political liberalism is the ruling illusion of the current generation of progressive thinkers. Philosophers such as John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin had views of justice very different from Hayek’s. Whereas Hayek rejected any redistribution of income beyond that required by a minimum level of subsistence, Rawls and Dworkin demanded different versions of egalitarianism. What all these thinkers had in common was the idea that reasonable people will converge on a shared conception of what justice requires. In this view, politics isn’t a rough-and-tumble in which rival interests and ideals contend with one another unceasingly, but a collective process of deliberation that leads to a common set of values. ....

Hayek may have shown the unreality of left-liberal visions of egalitarian capitalism, but it was Keynes who understood fully the vanity of liberal rationalism. In “My Early Beliefs” (1938), a talk later published as a memoir, Keynes mocked the philosophy held by himself and his friends before the First World War: “We were not aware that civilisation was a thin and precarious crust...only maintained by rules and conventions skilfully put across and guilefully preserved.”

Hayek watched the interwar collapse with horror, as Keynes did, and shared many of Keynes’s liberal values. What he failed to understand is that these values cannot be renewed by applying any formula or doctrine, or by trying to construct an ideal liberal regime in which freedom is insulated from the contingencies of politics. [more]

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"And the war came."

July seems to be my month for reading history. I just ordered Mark Tooley's The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War based on this description at the book's site:
In February 1861, many of America's great statesmen—including a former president, dozens of current and former senators, Supreme Court justices, governors, and congressmen—came together at the historic Willard Hotel in a desperate attempt to stave off Civil War.

Seven southern states had already seceded, and the conferees battled against time to craft a compromise to protect slavery and thus preserve the union and prevent war. Participants included former President John Tyler, General William Sherman's Catholic stepfather, General Winfield Scott, and Lincoln's future Treasury Secretary, Salmon Chase—and from a room upstairs at the hotel, Lincoln himself. Revelatory and definitive, The Peace That Almost Was demonstrates that slavery was the main issue of the conference—and thus of the war itself—and that no matter the shared faith, family, and friendships of the participants, ultimately no compromise could be reached.
From Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address:
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

"In every circumstance of life..."

Patrick Kurp, in "The Daily Texture of Our Lives," refers to Anthony Hecht's observation that W.H. Auden had a “remarkable resemblance” to Samuel Johnson. (Hecht, in turn, refers to a book I have in my library, W. Jackson Bate's Samuel Johnson.) Some of the similarities:
W.H. Auden
...Johnson `was able to distinguish between “loving” and “being loved” and to value the first without demanding equal payment through the latter,’ while Auden wrote, `If equal affection cannot be,/Let the more loving one be me.’” Continuing with Bate’s observations, Hecht writes: “Both men were determined, if at all possible, `to be pleased’ with their circumstances and with their fellow human beings, as a reproval of their own `impatience and quickness to irritability or despair. Johnson and Auden maintained, in Bate’s words, that “the `main of life’ consists of `little things’; that happiness or misery is to be found in the accumulation of `petty’ and `domestic’ details, not in `large’ ambitions, which are inevitably self-defeating and turn to ashes in the mouth. `Sands make the mountain,’ [Johnson] would quote from Edward Young.”

Both were courteous and respectful of others – rare qualities among artists of all types. Again quoting Bate, Hecht writes: “Both firmly believed that fortitude `is not to be found primarily in meeting rare and great occasions. And this was true not only of fortitude but of all the other virtues, including “good nature.” The real test is what we do in our daily life, and happiness – such happiness as exists – lies primarily in what we can do with the daily texture of our lives.’” Both men, in short, were thoroughgoing gentlemen of the middle class, religiously observant, who believed in regular habits even as they failed to live up to them. ....

"Oxford Disneyland"

Reviewing Philip and Carol Zaleski's The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, Professor Ordway credits it with avoiding sentimentality:
...[O]ne of the virtues of The Fellowship is that it helps to correct a certain sentimental-nostalgic picture of the Inklings, one that I call the ‘Oxford Disneyland’ vision. We see vividly the difficulties, pains and struggles of the Inklings’ lives—not just in their experiences of two World Wars, but in the day to day challenges of working life, marriage, raising families, ill health, and the loss of loved ones. In this light, their literary accomplishments are even more to be admired, and the Inklings become all the more an example worth following.

The Inklings’ “project of recovery” continues; “what permanent place the Inklings may come to occupy in Christian renewal and, more broadly, in intellectual and artistic history, is for the future to decide.” But their legacy depends not on chance, but on the work of modern-day Christians who share their vision. And, if we have learned from the Inklings’ lives as well as their writings, we will see the necessity of hard work and real community—including friendships sustained over many years, and the difficult and vital work of raising children in the Faith, as Tolkien’s mother Mabel did—for creating the conditions in which scholars, writers, artists, and teachers can sustain and extend the Inklings’ achievement of a “revitalization of Christian intellectual and imaginative life.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A firm foundation

The annual sessions of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference will take place next week at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The President of this year's Conference, Bill Probasco,  has chosen "Steadfast" as his theme and How Firm a Foundation as his theme hymn. As I mentioned to him last year, that hymn was also the theme hymn when I was President of Conference. "Standfast" is the very much related internet moniker I chose for myself. Very early at this blog I published this post about that hymn:

How Firm A Foundation is my favorite hymn, especially when sung to the tune known as "Foundation" or "Protection." It first appeared in John Rippon's A Selection of Hymns in 1787, and was well-known and often sung in 19th century America. As with any good hymn, the words are all-important — and the words of this hymn are an affirmation of confidence in God and His promises. The verses affirm that God has more than sufficiently proven His reliability to us through His Word. What more could He possibly do or say than He has already said and done? Each verse is based on a passage from Scripture, especially from Isaiah. If we trust in His Word, everything that may happen to us will be for our good. The final verse is a paraphrase of Hebrews 13:5-6:
"...be content with what you have, because God has said 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'"
I
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
Isaiah 28:16; I Corinthians 3:11

II
"Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed;
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious omnipotent hand."
Isaiah 41:10

III
"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."
Isaiah 43:2a; Romans 8:28

IV
"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine."
Isaiah 43:2b; II Corinthians 2:9; Zechariah 13:9

V
"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"
Deuteronomy 31:6,8; Hebrews 13:5b-6


Two additional verses — seldom sung today — can be found here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"Beatific urges toward peace"

Reading further into Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, I come to the description of the period right after the Civil War when, for several reasons including the cost of the war and Reconstruction, there was no will in Washington to send troops to protect the frontier against Comanche raids.

I am liking this book a lot!
.... There was something else, too, that contributed to this lack of will to stop Indian raiding on the western frontier. This was the particular and very strong belief shared by many people in the civilized East that the Indian wars were principally the fault of white men. The governing idea was that the Comanches and other troublesome tribes would live in peace if only they were treated properly, and the farther its devotees were from the bleeding frontier, the more devoutly they believed it. This was the old fight between the army, who knew better, and the "rosewater dreamers" in the Indian office, who called their uniformed adversaries "butchers, sots determined to exterminate the noble redmen, and foment wars so they had employment." As General John Pope later observed, the army found itself in a no-win position. "If successful, it is a massacre of Indians; if unsuccessful, it is worthlessness or imbecility, and these judgments confront the Army in every newspaper and in public speeches in Congress and elsewhere—judgments by men who are absolutely ignorant of the subject." Reports of Chivington's massacre and white atrocities in Minnesota seemed to prove what the army's. critics were saying.

The notion that the trouble with Plains Indians was entirely due to white men was spectacularly wrongheaded. The people who cherished it, many of whom were in the U.S. Congress, the Office of Indian Affairs, and other positions of power, had no historical understanding of the Comanche tribe, no idea that the tribe's very existence was based on war and had been for a long time. No one who knew anything about the century-long horror of Comanche attacks in northern Mexico or about their systematic demolition of the Apaches or the Utes or the Tonkawas could possibly have believed that the tribe was either peaceable or blameless. ....

Such beatific urges toward peace, combined with relentless and brutal raiding by Comanches in Texas and the Indian Territory led to the last and most comprehensive treaty ever signed by the Indians of the southern plains. The conference that spawned it took place in October 1867 at a campground where the Kiowas held medicine dances, about seventy-five miles southwest of the present site of Wichita, Kansas. The place was known as Medicine Lodge Creek. The participants were members of a U.S. peace commission and representatives of the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache tribes. The conference was the last great gathering of free Indians in the American West. The event was magnificent, surreal, doomed, absurd, and bizarre, and surely one of the greatest displays of pure western pageantry ever seen. Nine newspapers sent correspondents to cover it.
Doomed, of course, because neither side had either the intention or the ability to enforce the subsequent treaty. The account seems to me to have a certain contemporary relevence.