Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Those who hear will live"

Via Alan Jacobs, from "A sermon for Remembrance Day," (the day Americans call Veterans' Day):
.... Today we remember especially the dead who died with their lives and their promise unfinished and unfulfilled. They died by violence, and their loss is beyond our understanding. We see the waste of the lives they did not live as we look upon the tossing waste of waters between them and us, and we mourn for them even as we thank them for the actions of their often brief lives. As we do these things, we grieve that the dead cannot hear us.

But the dead can hear one voice. They can hear the voice of the one whom death could not hold, the one through whom death is joined back into life. In our Lord Jesus Christ, who knows our griefs and has carried our sorrows, the unspeakable joy of God’s life beyond loss is his gift to the dead and to those who die. He joins us, in himself, to the Creator of all things, redeeming all the lost time, and saving everything that is good and true. For the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. Amen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


One of the consequences of the First World War was the Russian Revolution. The current issue of the Claremont Review of Books has reviews of new biographies of both Lenin and Stalin. From the latter: "Blood-Soaked Monster."
.... In 1928, Soviet peasants stopped selling their grain to the state in the face of low fixed prices and a lack of goods to buy. Stalin’s response was to order vast seizures of grain and then, beginning in 1929, to initiate collectivization. This entailed rounding up and deporting millions of “rich” peasants—who were supposedly hoarding grain—while simultaneously seizing and reorganizing the Soviet Union’s land into state-owned collective farms. Met by massive resistance, collectivization threw the Soviet Union into a low-level civil war for the next four years. Some of the seized grain and meat went to feed Soviet cities. But, more importantly for Stalin, much of the seized food was sold overseas for financial capital to buy machine tools and industrial equipment, which in turn he used to build more factories and expand the Soviet working class. The human cost was a famine that exploded in 1931-32, killing between five and seven million people—a year in which Stalin ordered the export of 4.8 million tons of grain. ....

The horrific violence Stalin unleashed between 1936 and 1938 is almost impossible to fathom. Never in history had a leader murdered so many of his own elites and bureaucrats—including old friends and many relatives—while simultaneously executing vast numbers of those tasked with the actual executions themselves. About one in every hundred Russians was arrested, with somewhere around 700,000 executed in less than two years. The army was decapitated, with 30,000 officers executed, arrested, or dismissed. Huge numbers of the diplomatic corps, intelligence services, and secret police were similarly slaughtered. What is perhaps most shocking is that, at the end of it all, Stalin acknowledged to the politburo that the vast majority of those shot or arrested—1.6 million people—had not been spies or guilty of any crime. Given that he had signed so many death warrants himself, Stalin’s monstrousness is hard to grasp. ....

In August 1939 Stalin, who had been negotiating a collective security pact with Great Britain and France, suddenly performed an about-face and signed the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Hitler. Why? Half blinded by the purges, which had eliminated much of Soviet foreign intelligence and the Soviet diplomatic corps, he relied on his ideological worldview as he played what Kotkin calls “Three-Card Monte.” This was a triangular game of bluff among Hitler, Stalin, and Britain’s Neville Chamberlain to steer when and where the coming war would begin. Stalin’s aim was to entangle Germany and the Western powers into a long conflict from which he might benefit. To pick which side he would ally with Stalin held an “auction for spheres of influence in Eastern Europe.” Hitler won.

Stalin’s gamble failed, of course. As a result, for the next 18 months, Hitler had the initiative, overrunning much of Europe. During this period, Stalin supplied staggering quantities of oil and other raw materials to feed Hitler’s war machine, secure in his belief that Hitler would not dare start a two-front war. This false notion convinced him that Hitler’s build-up for invasion in 1940-41 was merely a negotiating tactic aimed at compelling the Soviet Union to provide more raw materials to Germany. It was a nearly fatal miscalculation, a product of the purges and Stalin’s ideological blinders. When Hitler struck in June 1941, the Soviet Union was completely unprepared militarily or institutionally. The Red Army would suffer five million casualties in the war’s first six months. ....

Sunday, November 11, 2018

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month...

Allen Guelzo on "The Great War's Price":
.... Given that almost 8 percent of the American population was (like my great-grandfather) either German-born or the offspring of German parents, and another 4.5 percent Irish, who had every reason to sympathize with the 1916 Irish uprising against British rule, the United States might have felt little incentive to take the Allies’ side. ....

But once in, Americans were all in. “There was a crusading spirit in the air,” recalled one new recruit in the spring of 1917, “bands were playing martial music on the courthouse squares.” Newspapers hawked stories of German atrocities and pictured the German emperor, Wilhelm II, as “the Beast in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, who wanted to conquer the world.” Re­cruitment posters (led by James Montgomery Flagg’s frowning Uncle Sam) confronted young men with the demands “I want you for u.s. army” and “Uphold our honor, fight for us.” Those more hesitant would be drafted under the Selective Service Act of 1917.

After three years of watching the Great War from the sidelines, Americans ought to have been better prepared for taking up arms. They weren’t. The Army’s tactical doctrine showed no sign of any of the brutal lessons being taught in the trenches in France about machine guns, barbed wire, and poison gas.

The country would soon learn otherwise, for what the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) walked into was an entirely new and horrific way of making war, honed by three years of remorseless practice. All told, the United States put into uniform less than 4 percent of its population that was eligible for military service; from that number, 116,000 Americans died in the short span of their involvement. ....

From the muck of the war, American soldiers were able to retrieve at least a few moments of glory. The first sizable American units to go into action fought at Cantigny on May 26, 1918, at Soissons and Château-Thierry in July, at Saint-Mihiel in September (where up to 14 American divisions participated), and, in October and November, in the 47-day battle to clear the Argonne Forest. The U.S. Marines earned their first great title to combat glory in the fighting for the Belleau Wood in June 1918, along with the memorable response given by Lieutenant Lloyd Williams when the French advised him to retreat: “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” The Germans gave the Marines one of the names they’ve lived with ever since: Teufel Hunden (Devil Dogs). ....

Friday, November 9, 2018


Alan Jacobs likes maps and really likes this book:
Barring some unforeseen miracle of publishing occurring in the next few weeks, The Writer’s Map will be my book of the year for 2018. It gathers intelligently charming meditations from writers and festoons them with map after map after map after map of imaginary, and sometimes non-imaginary, lands. (Only after several days of staring at the beautifully reproduced images did I force myself to read the words, but I am glad I finally did.) I am so enamored of this book that I bitterly resent what takes me away from it, whether that be the need to eat, or sleep, or write this review. But when duty calls, I sometimes answer. ....

During the rainy Scottish summer of 1881, Robert Louis Stevenson made an elaborate (and very skillfully drawn!) map for his stepson, and from that map emerged, inevitably it seems, the story called Treasure Island. The whole tale was implicit in the shape of the place, and when no other places are on the map that kind of thing can be more easily seen.

This is true even when places aren’t literally islands but are self-contained to a degree that nothing outside their boundaries is effectively real. A.A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood might as well be an island, as might Trollope’s Barsetshire, Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, and Richard Adams’s Watership Down. (Adams knew from the beginning the boundaries of his locale, because it is a real place, but Trollope and Faulkner only started making maps when they were well into their storytelling and had begun to be confused.) .... (more)
N.C. Wyeth"s map of Treasure Island is a fvorite of mine (no idea whether it is in the book reviewed above)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Father Brown

If you read detective fiction but are unfamiliar with G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories there is potential pleasure ahead. From "The Mystical Vision of Father Brown":
Chesterton contends that the detective story, though often sensational and occasionally rude, is unique among popular literary forms for its ability to express “some sense of the poetry of modern life.” It can infuse a plain and dreary city with a heightened sense of Romance; it can turn a lowly cab driver into a figure of supreme importance. Where other genres risk turning haughty or pedantic, the detective mystery “declines to regard the present as prosaic or the common as commonplace.” For Chesterton it is ordinary circumstances, not extraordinary ones, that conceal the greatest mysteries—it is ordinary circumstances that are the most extraordinary. ....

Chesterton’s detectives—especially Father Brown—approach mysteries with a preference for the ordinary. Though Chesterton frequently expressed his admiration for the craft of the Sherlock Holmes stories, he still suspected that there was something fundamentally unrealistic about the way the Baker Street Bloodhound went about solving crimes. Chesterton’s own detectives never rely on any special knowledge of the coagulation of blood or encyclopedic familiarity with cigar ash, or a copious awareness of every headline in every paper on any given day. Instead we see them making sense of evidence from a broad familiarity with the common patterns of life and the common natures of things. ....

...Father Brown is a student of human nature and sin—a knowledge he gained from years listening to men in the confessional. He is a longtime observer of the thing most common to man—the heart itself; that body of general knowledge renders him immune to the distractions of extraordinary circumstances. ....

Many great literary detectives succeed by “getting into the mind of a killer,” but according to the prophet Jeremiah, it is the heart of man that is most deceitful, most unknowable. Facts provide a poor path into it because they are singular. Peculiar evidence is specific to this or that crime, but common realities can be observed again and again; they grow into patterns and become basis for intuition. The intuitions of Chesterton’s detectives lead them into the common truth of uncommon circumstances and the extraordinary reality of ordinary signs.

By employing this poetic turn again and again, Chesterton trains his reader to look with a vision that turns the world inside out—a vision that exposes the vacuity of astonishing spectacle and reveals the unexpected mystery of the ordinary. ....

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

"No God: no law. No law: no morals"

Peter Hitchens, who is not an atheist, reviews John Gray's Seven Types of Atheism. Gray is an atheist but seems to have a very clear-eyed understanding of what that means and not much respect for atheism as most of its believers understand it. From the review:
This is a justifiably testy book, by an atheist about atheists. Perhaps it means that the long and lucrative fashion for books about how God does not exist, and how God is simultaneously hateful and wicked, is over. Since John Gray is a capable thinker, knowledgeable about philosophy and a respecter of facts, the recent outburst of arguments for and even about atheism, presented as if they were fresh discoveries, must have struck him as thin. As he himself says, atheism does not really amount to very much. It is just an absence, even if it is a willful one. There is no Gospel of Godlessness, as such, no anti-scripture to which the unbeliever may turn for guidance or solace. ....

Unlike so many modern scoffers at religion, he grasps that while the idea of a just God is terrifying, so is the suspicion or the conviction that there is no just God. The idea of a universe where there is no power that stands for order and justice is, or ought to be, very frightening. So men who can no longer believe in God have instead invented various more or less fatuous concepts to provide such a power, especially a belief in human progress. The trouble with such ideas is that, without God, they are so much whistling in the dark. The godless believer in “progress” is in reality like the victim of an avalanche tumbled deep in snow. He has no idea which way is up because he has no means by which to measure anything of the kind. Ultimately he must use religious categories to orient himself.

.... Perhaps most definitive of all is his observation that godless searches for a universal law are futile. “Without a law giver, what can a universal moral law mean?” he asks. “If you think of morality as part of the natural behaviour of the human animal, you find that humans do not live according to a single moral code. Unless you think one of them has been mandated by God, you must accept the variety of moralities as part of what it means to be human.” Well, exactly. No God: no law. No law: no morals, just situational, alterable ethics. I am amazed that so few seem to realize the implications of atheism for the rule of law over power, the one thing that really sustains human civilization.

...Gray teases those who try to build a morality on evolution by natural selection, pointing out how that theory has been used in the past to justify what its modern supporters would rightly denounce as appalling racial bigotry and perhaps worse than that. He reminds us of T.H. Huxley’s typically clear-eyed and undeceived warning that evolution “is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before.”

Gray gleefully drives a bulldozer through and across what are really already the ruins of historical inevitability, the belief in progress, and the other Marxist and pseudo-Marxist rubbish that clutters the minds of the conventionally wise. ....

As I think Gray understands very well, a good poem may describe more than it apparently expresses. This is not least because it will be concerned precisely with unimaginable reality. I considered that unimaginable reality recently as I looked down into a grave in the warm, familiar chalk soil of Hampshire in England, and contemplated the coffin, already half-covered with earth, of a good friend, younger than I am, who has just gone into eternity a little way ahead of me. And it was the profound poetry of monotheism, specifically that of the English Prayer Book...that best enabled me to consider and respond to the unimaginable reality of the fact that in the midst of life, I was in death.

.... “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.” And then, as we turned away, ambushed by beauty and perhaps blinded by tears, we might consider the possibility that it is not a pose to believe that God was once man and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, and knew death, and overcame it. For if there are justice and law and hope in the universe, they are surely to be found only on the far side of the grave. And if none of these things exists, then there is no unimaginable reality, nor any point in one, nor any point in poetry and music and speech and temporal love—just mud and silence.

Friday, November 2, 2018

"Good intentions are not sufficient to make us good men and women"

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, 
and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. 
But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. 
And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” 
Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

From Jordan Peterson's Forward to a new anniversary edition of The Gulag Archipelago (the cover picture below is from the book in my library — the one volume abridged version.): it still acceptable—and in polite company—to profess the philosophy of a Communist or, if not that, to at least admire the work of Marx? Why is it still acceptable to regard the Marxist doctrine as essentially accurate in its diagnosis of the hypothetical evils of the free-market, democratic West; to still consider that doctrine “progressive,” and fit for the compassionate and proper thinking person? Twenty-five million dead through internal repression in the Soviet Union (according to The Black Book of Communism). Sixty million dead in Mao’s China (and an all-too-likely return to autocratic oppression in that country in the near future). The horrors of Cambodia’s Killing Fields, with their two million corpses. The barely animate body politic of Cuba, where people struggle even now to feed themselves. Venezuela, where it has now been made illegal to attribute a child’s death in hospital to starvation. No political experiment has ever been tried so widely, with so many disparate people, in so many different countries (with such different histories) and failed so absolutely and so catastrophically. ....

And it is exactly the necessity for interminable sacrifice that constitutes the terrible counterpart of the utopian vision. “Heaven is worth any price”—but who pays? Christianity solved that problem by insisting on the sacrifice of the self; insisting that the suffering and malevolence of the world is the responsibility of each individual; insisting that each of us sacrifice what is unworthy and unnecessary and resentful and deadly in our characters (despite the pain of such sacrifice) so that we could stumble properly uphill under our respective and voluntarily-shouldered existential burdens. But it was and is the opinion of the materialist utopians that someone else be sacrificed, so that Heaven itself might be attained; some perpetrator, or victimizer, or oppressor, or member of a privileged group. A cynic might be forgiven, in consequence, for asking: “Is it the City of God that is in fact the aim? Or is the true aim the desire to make a burning sacrificial pyre of everyone and everything, and the hypothesis of the coming brotherhood of man merely the cover story, the camouflage?” Perhaps it is precisely the horror that is the point, and not the utopia. .... And we should also note that the utopian vision, dressed as it is inevitably in compassion, is a temptation particularly difficult to resist, and may therefore offer a particularly subtle and insidious justification for mayhem. ....

The dangers of the utopian vision have been laid bare, even if the reasons those dangers exist have not yet been fully and acceptably articulated. If there was any excuse to be a Marxist in 1917 (and both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche prophesied well before then that there would be hell to pay for that doctrine) there is absolutely and finally no excuse now. And we know that mostly because of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and The Gulag Archipelago. .... It was Solzhenitsyn who carefully documented the price paid in suffering for the dreadful communist experiment, and who distilled from that suffering the wisdom we must all heed so that such catastrophe does not visit us again. Perhaps we could take from his writing the humility that would allow us to understand that our mere good intentions are not sufficient to make us good men and women. Perhaps we could come to understand that such intentions are instead all too often the consequence of our unpardonable historical ignorance, our utter willful blindness, and our voracious hidden appetite for vengeance, terror and destruction. Perhaps we could come to remember and to learn from the intolerable trials endured by all those who passed through the fiery chambers of the Marxist collectivist ideology. Perhaps we could derive from that remembering and learning the wisdom necessary to take personal responsibility for the suffering and malevolence that still so terribly and unforgivably characterizes the world. We have been provided with the means to transform ourselves in due humility by the literary and moral genius of this great Russian author. We should all pray most devoutly to whatever deity guides us implicitly or explicitly for the desire and the will to learn from what we have been offered. May God Himself eternally fail to forgive us if in the painstakingly-revealed aftermath of such bloodshed, torture and anguish we remain stiff-necked, incautious, and unchanged.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

This world is not my home

Each generation of young Christians has to face the reality that biblical teaching conflicts decisively with contemporary secular morality. That conflict is often especially acute in the area of sexual morality. Moreover, the price of social acceptance is often theological compromise. Yes, people in good faith reach contrary positions on the authority and meaning of individual scriptures, but one would have to be willfully blind to deny the persistent pressure toward “inclusivity” and the irrebuttable presumption of moral superiority inherent to secular progressive ethics.

That is the temptation of faith. The temptation of tribe is different. It’s the temptation to find a “place” in contemporary American culture outside of the church. You’ll see Christians acknowledge that, yes, they’re members of the church, before asking with anguish, “But where else do I belong?” They have a religious home, but they want a political home, too, and as American society becomes increasingly politicized, the latter feels more important every day. ....

I confess I’m vulnerable to this temptation. I’m not “merely” a Christian, you see. I’m part of the “Christian conservative” sub-tribe. And I realized how much that sub-tribe meant to my life when, for the first time, it fractured over politics. I remember feeling a sense of homelessness when the vast majority of friends and neighbors and colleagues in the conservative movement chose Trump, and I did not.

This attitude was fundamentally wrong. My true home had never changed. Only my false home was exposed. ....

So, young Christians, hold your faith tightly and your politics loosely. You will not find a home here. As Peter says, you are a “foreigner and exile.” It’s best to get used to it early on. Trust me, it can be a gut-wrenching discovery to make when you’re old.

"Consequence, not vengeance..."

Continuing with The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers: Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays, I'm coming across some things I don't recall reading before. This is from one of her plays, The Devil to Pay:
...Hard it is, very hard,
To travel up the slow and stony road
To Calvary, to redeem mankind; far better
To make but one resplendent miracle,
Lean through the cloud, lift the right hand of power
And with a sudden lightning smite the world perfect.
Yet this was not God's way, Who had the power,
But set it by, choosing the cross, the thorn,
The sorrowful wounds. Something there is, perhaps,
That power destroys in passing, something supreme,
To whose great value in the eyes of God
That cross, that thorn, and those five wounds bear witness.
Son, go in peace; for thou hast sinned through love;
To such sin God is merciful. Not yet
Has thy familiar devil persuaded thee
To that last sin against the Holy Ghost
Which is, to call good evil, evil good.
Only for that is no forgiveness — Not
That God would not forgive all sins there are,
Being what He is; but that this sin destroys
The power to feel His pardon, so that damnation
Is consequence, not vengeance; and indeed
So all damnation is. I will pray for thee.
And you, my children, go home, gird your loins
And light your lamps, beseeching God to bring
His kingdom nearer, in what way He will.

Until we meet again...

In "Saying Goodbye for Good" Wesley Hill writes:
In his book A Severe Mercy, a memoir of Christian conversion and student life in Oxford, Sheldon Vanauken tells the story of his last meeting with C.S. Lewis, who had become a friend. The two men ate lunch together, and when they had finished, Lewis said, “At all events, we’ll certainly meet again, here—or there.” Then he added: “I shan’t say goodbye. We’ll meet again.” And with that, they shook hands and parted ways. From across the street, above the din of traffic, Lewis shouted, “Besides, Christians never say goodbye!”
Hill recounts this story to make a different argument. Saying "goodbye" is important because doing so acknowledges the reality and pain of physical separation. Vanauken's book is largely about his separation, because of her death, from his wife. And of course Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after the death of Joy Davidman. They both felt the pain of physical separation in this life. Feeling the grief of separation is important but so is remembering what Lewis is saying here.

A Severe Mercy is still in print and it is very good. My copy dates from the year of its publication. I haven't read it in many years. I should read it again.

This is the somewhat longer account that appears in the book. So, on All Saints' Day, it may be particularly appropriate to remember that we will meet again.
On that last day I met C.S. Lewis at the Eastgate for lunch. We talked, I recall, about death or, rather, awakening after death. Whatever it would be like, we thought, our response to it would be 'Why, of course! Of course it's like this. How else could it have possibly been.' We both chuckled at that. I said it would be a sort of coming home, and he agreed. Lewis said that he hoped Davy and I would be coming back to England soon, for we mustn't get out of touch. 'At all events,' he said with a cheerful grin, 'we'll certainly meet again, here—or there.' Then it was time to go, and we drained our mugs. When we emerged on to the busy High with the traffic streaming past, we shook hands, and he said: 'I shan't say goodbye. We'll meet again.' Then he plunged into the traffic. I stood there watching him. When he reached the pavement on the other side, he turned round as though he knew somehow that I would still be standing there in front of the Eastgate. Then he raised his voice in a great roar that easily overcame the noise of the cars and buses. Heads turned and at least one car swerved. 'Besides,' he bellowed with a great grin, 'Christians NEVER say goodbye!'
A Severe Mercy at Amazon

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


In the mail today: The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers: Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays. The material below is from the editor's introduction (all I've read so far). It will be best understood by those who've read The Screwtape Letters. (I've read a couple of the chapters now and would advise those who haven't read the mysteries to read them before reading this book. The editor gives away way too much plot.)
One of the best examples of Sayers's humorous letters is the earliest extant from her long correspondence with C.S. Lewis. Writing as though she is one of the devils in Lewis's book, The Screwtape Letters, which had just come out the previous year, she enclosed an advance copy of The Man Born to Be King. In the letter she writes as "Sluckdrib," the devil personally responsible for Dorothy L. Sayers:
The effect of writing these plays upon the character of my patient is wholly satisfactory. I have already had the honour to report intellectual and spiritual pride, vainglory, self-opinionated dogmatism, irreverence, blasphemous frivolity, frequentation of the company of theatricals, captiousness, impatience of correction, polemical fury, shortness of temper, neglect of domestic affairs, lack of charity, egotism, nostalgia for secular occupations, and a growing tendency to consider the Bible as Literature....[but] the capture of one fifth-rate soul (which was already thoroughly worm-eaten and shaky owing to my assiduous attention) scarcely compensates for the fact that numbers of stout young souls in brand-new condition are opening up negotiations with the Enemy and receiving reinforcement of faith. We knew, of course, that the author is as corrupt as a rotten cheese; why has no care been taken to see that this corruption (which must, surely, permeate the whole work) has its proper effect upon the listeners? ... Either the Enemy is really able to turn thorns into grapes and thistles into figs, or (as I prefer to believe) there is mismanagement somewhere.

For the glory of God

Today is Reformation Day and tomorrow is All Saints' Day.  Last year we celebrated both in our worship service. This was the introduction to the service:
 This Reformation Day is the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther issued his challenge to debate his 95 theses – not the beginning of the Reformation but an important point in it. Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day. Days were thought of as evening to evening so the eve was the beginning of the next day – think New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve. Although today most approach it as a secular holiday that wasn’t its origin and for us Protestants all believers are “saints” – and All Saints’ Day is when we acknowledge “the great cloud of witnesses” who have passed on. So our service today both recognizes the Protestant Reformation and all those believers who have gone before.

Therefore being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand,
and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2 [KJV]

No fear

I've posted this several times in years past as Halloween has approached. I was reminded to do so once again today by reading someone else repeating the ahistorical nonsense about Druids and Samhain:

As Halloween approaches it is useful for the more excitable among us to be reminded that the Evil One has already been defeated. From "Concerning Halloween" by James B. Jordan:
.... "Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.) ....

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. [emphasis added] Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. ....

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR! .... [more]
Biblical Horizons » Concerning Halloween

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Ef you Don’t Watch Out!"

Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley:
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other childern, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
     Ef you
Onc’t they was a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,—
So when he went to bed at night, away up stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wasn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found was thist his pants an’ roundabout—
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
     Ef you
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’one, an’ all her blood an’ kin;
An’ onc’t, when they was “company," an’ ole folks was there,
She mocked ‘em an’ shocked ‘em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They was two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
     Ef you
An’ little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,—
You better mind yer parents, an’ yer teachers fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns’ll git you
     Ef you
Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley

Monday, October 29, 2018


Becoming Mrs. Lewis was delivered this afternoon. I will read almost anything that touches on CSL. The book is described here:
.... From New York Times best-selling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C.S. Lewis called "my whole world." When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C.S. Lewis — known as Jack — she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn't holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn't destroy.

In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. ....

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Avoiding partisanship

Aeon posts an interesting essay about Simone Weil, (1909-1943) from which:
.... Weil, a firm believer in free thought, argued that: ‘The intelligence is defeated as soon as the expression of one’s thought is preceded, explicitly or implicitly, by the little word “we”.’ Uncritical collective thinking holds the free mind captive and does not allow for dissent. For this reason, she advocated the abolition of all political parties, which, she argued, were in essence totalitarian. To substantiate this claim, Weil offered three arguments:
  1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions.
  2. A political party is an organisation designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members.
  3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit.
These tentacular organisations make people stupid, requiring a member to endorse ‘a number of positions which he does not know’. Instead, the party thinks on his behalf, which amounts to him ‘having no thoughts at all’. People find comfort in the absence of the necessity to think, she claims, which is why they so readily join such groups. ....
I think political alliances, i.e. parties, are inevitable in a democracy but I also think she was right about the effect of political partisanship.
Weil supported the freedom of individual expression. (She believed, however, in certain speech restrictions for institutions such as newspapers and government propaganda offices that, as collectivities, were, for her, naturally suspect.) She writes that ‘complete, unlimited freedom of expression for every sort of opinion, without the least restriction or reserve, is an absolute need on the part of the intelligence’. The health of the intelligence relies on full access to the facts, and without it, thinking is always deficient. She would have sided with even the most detestable of speakers, if for no other reason than that thy enemy must be known.

The public reading of Scripture

Stephen Presley at the Center For Baptist Renewal observes that "one of the startling ironies facing our church culture is the simple fact that as access to the Bible has increased biblical literacy has decreased." He argues that a part of the remedy might be "Recapturing a Love for Public Scripture Reading.":
I don’t assume that corporate Scripture reading alone will cure the problem, but it can’t hurt either. If only for a few moments, it will unite the entire church in a communal act of listening and engaging the word of God, which might just help us take some incremental steps toward hiding the word in our hearts. ....

...[T]he early church has always prized the public reading of Scripture. They could not imagine a worship service without some one reading healthy portions of Scripture drawn from across the canon. The thought that a pastor might read only a few verses (or no verses at all!) and then entertain the congregation for forty minutes with funny stories and pop culture references would strike them as bizarre at best. ....

...[I]n the early church, public reading was not—as some today might imagine—boring. They did not advocate a dry, monotone-reading that slowly plodded through the text. Public reading in the early church was a lively and imaginative performance, where the reader interpreted the text, through gestures, tone, intonation, rhythm, and cadence. ....

This also means that the one who reads Scripture corporately was not a random member of the congregation selected five minutes before the service started, but a serious student of the Scriptures, who studied the pronunciation and nuances of each passage.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Wodehouse in the Poets' Corner

From the London Times, October 13, 2018, "Wodehouse at Westminster Abbey":
“About seven feet in height, and swathed in a plaid ulster which made him look about six feet across, he caught the eye and arrested it. It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment.”
Bertie Wooster’s first impressions (in The Code of the Woosters, 1937) of Roderick Spode, founder of the fascist Black Shorts movement, remain a matchless send-up of the vaulting ambition and attenuated intellectual powers of would-be dictators. Yet PG Wodehouse, creator of Bertie and his brilliant manservant Jeeves, was later inadvertently caught up in a wartime controversy that sullied his public reputation and drove him to voluntary exile in the United States. It was unfair, but the blow to Wodehouse is now at last being partially redressed. This peerless comic writer is to be justly immortalised close to his heroes in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Wodehouse, then aged 58 and living in France, was incarcerated by the Nazis as an “enemy alien” in 1940. Politically naive and out of touch with British public opinion, he agreed to do a humorous broadcast on German radio in 1941 about this experience.

It was a crass and stupid decision, but it was not, contrary to allegations that dogged Wodehouse till his death in 1975, an act of treachery. As George Orwell bravely wrote in 1945: “I have striven to show how the wretched Wodehouse – just because success and expatriation had allowed him to remain mentally in the Edwardian age – became the corpus vile in a propaganda experiment, and I suggest that it is now time to regard the incident as closed.”

Officially, at last, it is. Wodehouse is a great figure of English letters and eminently deserves his place near Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Shelley. Rehab was never sweeter.
Kevin DeYoung on Wodehouse, and Joseph Epstein on the same.

The "Great Pumpkin"

 On October 26, 1959, Linus first mentions the "Great Pumpkin":
From a "tweet": Baseball by BSmile on Twitter: "Today In 1959: Linus mentions the "Great Pumpkin" for the first time!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ross Thomas

I've posted about Ross Thomas before. Yesterday at CrimeReads appeared "Ross Thomas: A Crime Reader's Guide," a good introduction to an author who never disappointed me. The opening paragraphs:
Nobody wrote scoundrels the way Ross Thomas could. His heroes all had checkered pasts, though often with a Bogartian streak that led them to do the right thing against their own self-interest. His villains were a spectacular assortment of con men, spies, shady politicians, corrupt cops, wheelers, dealers, fixers, and schemers. His complex plots often revolved around political intrigue and backroom chicanery leading to sudden violence, and featured double-, triple-, or quadruple-crosses, so much so that it might not be until the very end that you knew exactly who had done what to whom.

All of this, in a too-brief span from 1966 to 1994, was written with keen intelligence, sharp humor, and a brilliant gift for character, description, dialogue, and intimate observation. So good was he at all of the latter that Stephen King called him “the Jane Austen of political espionage.” His worldview was jaded, but to charges that he was overly cynical, Thomas only responded, “If there is a trace of cynicism in my books, it’s only based on reality. People are always saying, ‘Things can’t be as bad as you make them,’ and I say, ‘No, they’re worse.’” .... (more, including a list of "The Essential Thomas")