Monday, February 20, 2017

George Washington's faith

Mark Tooley republishes his review, "George Washington's God," "in honor of Washington’s Birthday and of Michael Novak, who died Friday, February 17, 2017." Michael Novak and his daughter, Jana Novak, were authors of Washington’s God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country, published in 2006; it was written at the request of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. From Tooley's review:
.... The assumption of the last century’s scholarship that Washington was irreligious is partly his fault. Reserved and emotionally reticent, he left no extant theological treatises on his personal religious beliefs. The clues must be extracted from Washington’s ecclesial habits, his family life, his character, and the numerous references to the Almighty in his public writings and personal letters. ....

Most of Washington’s family, friends, and associates assumed he had at least conventional if not necessarily expressive Christian faith. “He took these things [religion] as he found them existing, and was constant in his observance of worship according to the received forms of the Episcopal Church in which he was brought up,” James Madison matter-of-factly observed of his fellow Virginian. ....

Washington was indeed tight-lipped about the specifics of his theology. But he was surprisingly frequent in his references to the Deity. His God was not remote or impersonal. Washington’s God, as he described Him in his public declarations and personal letters, was quite active and quite personal. This deity saved the young Washington several times from French and Indian bullets, saved Washington’s army from near destruction by the far larger British army, and saved the young republic from chaos and division. ....

Washington’s few specific references to Jesus Christ and his lack of Trinitarian language helped fuel the assumption that he was a deist. The Novaks devote a whole chapter to deism, which they explain as a rationalization of Christianity. The deist God is a creator whose world is governed by natural laws and who desires moral living by humanity, whose conduct will be judged in the afterlife.

Much of early Protestantism initially rejected Catholicism’s use of human reason, choosing instead to focus on faith alone. Deism, the Novaks suggest, allowed Protestants to incorporate the language of reason during the Enlightenment. Some deists remained Christians, while others would follow the European model of strict rationalism. Washington, as he related the many interventions of his God, clearly believed in a continuously active deity who was more than the detached “clockmaker” of strict deism. ....

The Washingtons usually attended Pohick Church near Mount Vernon and sometimes Christ Church in Alexandria. Either trip by carriage involved a couple hours of travel round trip. Washington financially supported both churches and gave considerable personal time over the decades to his work on the church vestry. Throughout his presidency he regularly attended churches in New York and Philadelphia. ....

Washington’s spiritual life within his family appears to have been conventionally orthodox. He prayed before meals, read sermons out loud to Martha, and bought devotional material for his stepchildren. When stepdaughter Patsy was dying, he prayed audibly while on his knees at her bedside. ....

.... Washington’s public utterances about God were unifying rather than divisive and were admired by Anglicans, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and even Jews. He carefully wrote to their congregations, visited their places of worship, and received their delegations, commending their faith and urging their loyalty to the new republic and its promise of religious liberty to all. .... [more]
From 10 George Washington Quotes Pointing to God's Providence":
“Whereas it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God, with gratitude and praise for the wonders which his goodness has wrought in conducting our fore-fathers to this western world…and above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory.” — Washington’s General Orders, November 27, 1779
 George Washington's God - Juicy Ecumenism, 10 George Washington Quotes Pointing to God's Providence - Juicy Ecumenism

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Re-storied"

...[B]iblical Sabbath is not an injunction against work for work's sake. We don't idle the body only to improve its performance. That is our culture's impoverished, work-centric, and inevitably anxious view of rest. Rather, biblical Sabbath displaces work from the centre of human life and reimagines a world cohering in Christ—a world where houses are built by more than human industry, where cities are protected by more than human vigilance, even a world where work is imbued with greater dignity and urgency because "in the Lord [no] labour is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Sabbath, in the most Christian sense, affords a rest by which we are not so much restored as re-storied—not simply refreshed but freed to "be still and know that he is God." Sabbath rest is more satisfying (and possibly even busier) than retirement. ....

Friday, February 17, 2017

Political thought of C.S. Lewis

From an interview with one of the authors of C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law:
Berny Belvedere: Your book is on C.S. Lewis’ political thought. But didn’t Lewis avoid politics at all costs?

Justin Dyer: There is some truth to the notion that Lewis was apolitical.

Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, said flatly that “Jack was not interested in politics.” In the 1950s Lewis turned down the honorific title of Commander of the British empire because he worried that his writings would be viewed as political propaganda. He claimed he never read a newspaper and once wrote to his brother that he “loathed great issues” and would prefer to see a “Stagnation Party — which at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place.” ....

Belvedere: Where do you turn in Lewis’ sizable catalogue to see examples of his political thought?

Dyer: There are political themes in nearly all of Lewis’ works.

In his academic magnum opus, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis gives sophisticated treatments of political theorists such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Hooker.

Lewis’ Abolition of Man chronicles the consequences of humanity’s attempt to conquer human nature, and he presents those themes in fictional form in the third volume of his Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength — which centers on a nefarious government bureaucracy called the National Institutes for Coordinated Experiments (or N.I.C.E. for short).

In letters and shorter essays, Lewis wrote about equality, criminal justice, capital punishment, pacifism, nuclear war, unalienable rights, social contract theory, Christian political parties, and the welfare state, among other explicitly political topics. But even some of the less overtly political works, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, have political themes running throughout. .... [more]

"Well-meaning, censorious puritans"

Was Ray Bradbury more prescient than Orwell? Fahrenheit 451 than 1984? Patrick West thinks so:
In [Fahrenheit 451] firemen go round not extinguishing fires, but igniting them — specifically to burn books that are deemed too dangerous for people to read, to protect people’s feelings and shield them from suggestive thoughts and ‘evil ideas’.

The society imagined in Fahrenheit 451 is one in which hyper-sensitive identity politics have been taken to their logical conclusion. As the book-burning police chief, Captain Beatty, explains: ‘All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean… Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it… You must understand that our civilisation is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred.’

The dystopia represented here isn’t an Orwellian, top-down tyranny, but one created from the bottom, by well-meaning, censorious puritans. Beatty elaborates: ‘It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time.’ ....

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Fascist!"

“The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far 
as it signifies 'something not desirable'"
Orwell

Brendan O'Neill on the disappearing meaning of "fascism":
...[T]he term fascist is beyond repair. It’s a dead word. It now means bastard. It’s an emotional insult, expressing a sense of powerlessness on the part of the person making it, whose belief that he faces a fascist threat grows in direct proportion to his own inability to make sense of political developments. The insult of ‘fascist’ speaks far more to the insulter’s own sensation of impotence than it does to the insulted’s actual power, or ideology, or ambition. ....

.... Orwell was worried that the word would lose its ‘last vestige of meaning’ if people insisted on applying it to everyone they disagreed with — and that has happened. The word is now used with an ahistoricism and thoughtlessness that are genuinely alarming. And among the upper echelons of society, not merely by scruffy protesters or online blowhards. ....

We seem to be witnessing the falling apart of historical categories; the unhinging of political language from reason; a profound break between historical experience and political expression. That people can openly talk about a return of the 1930s — as if that decade were some kind of free-floating thing, an attitude, rather than a specific, grounded moment in history — shows how meaningless the idea of fascism has become. ....

It is a fantasy to claim fascism has made a comeback. And it’s a revealing fantasy. When the political and media elites speak of fascism today, what they’re really expressing is fear. Fear of the primal, unpredictable mass of society. Fear of unchecked popular opinion. Fear of what they view as the authoritarian impulses of those outside their social, bureaucratic sphere. Fear of the latent fascism, as they see it, of the ordinary inhabitants of Nazi-darkened Europe or of Middle America, who apparently lack the moral and intellectual resources to resist demagoguery. As one columnist put it, today’s ‘fascistic style’ of politics is a creation not so much of wicked leaders, as of the dangerous masses. ‘Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you’, he says. ‘Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you.’ In short, not leaders but the led; not the state but the people. This, precisely, is who terrifies them. This, precisely, is what they mean when they say ‘fascism’. They mean you, me, ordinary people; people who have dared to say that they want to influence politics again after years of being frozen out. When they say fascism, they mean democracy.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Hard lessons

In a good essay about the appeal of murder mysteries Alan Jacobs reflects on his enjoyment of such television series as Inspector Morse and its sequel Lewis. He writes "These shows are, it’s often said, old people’s television: Inspector Morse was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth, and I’d be surprised if Her Majesty didn’t keep up with the later developments," and he "wonder[s] whether the detective story as a genre is made for people with more than a few years behind them." Jacobs:
...W.H. Auden, in a famous essay about detective fiction, speculated that the fundamental logic of such fiction involves the portrayal of an apparent Eden that is broken by the intrusion of crime, and the specific crime of murder, so that by the intervention of clever and wise persons the social world can be healed and order restored—but not the original order since the dead cannot be brought back to life. “Murder is unique” among crimes, Auden says, “in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society has to take the place of the victim and on his behalf demand restitution or grant forgiveness.” This is a kind of legal fiction, this substitution of the society itself for one who can no longer seek, or benefit from, justice: in a broken world, things can never be what they were. But partial restoration is better than none, and hope for it is a reasonable aspiration, one claimed by those who have known what the poet James Wright calls “The change of tone, the human hope gone gray.” The satisfactions of the murder mystery are real but somewhat grim, in ways that perhaps best suit the no-longer-young. They are anything but utopian.

In the murder mystery, society does not simply stand in for the victim, it undergoes its own development, for if the story begins in a seemingly orderly and peaceful world, the operative word in that description is “seemingly.” Its initial state is, Auden says, one of “false innocence,” and a murder does not bring evil into society but rather reveals the evil that is already there. The human tendency to take complacent pleasure in a fictional innocence is something that can best be seen in a small and mostly closed society, which is why so many classic detective novels are set in places like English country houses or long-distance railways or isolated villages....

In Auden’s essay on detective fiction he muses on the curious fact that many of its fans have no interest in other “genre” stories—romances, Westerns, science fiction, fantasy—and he speculates that the mystery offers something unique: “I suspect that the typical reader of detective stories is, like myself, a person who suffers from a sense of sin.” ....

And so we’re left with a world in which justice is hoped for but never fully achieved, in which sin and crime can be exposed and punished but never, never quite, paid for—at least not by us. Hard lessons, but ones we all learn if we live long enough. .... [more]

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Religion and politics

Richard Ostling, onetime religion writer for the AP, Time, and PBS writes about a new study of religious lobbies in Washington. The author of that study notes the lobby that does better than “just about any other faith group involved in politics.” That lobby is the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission headed by Russell Moore. Ostling:
Last May 9, Donald Trump tweeted (yes, at 3:05 a.m.) that the Rev. Dr. Russell Moore is “truly a terrible representative of evangelicals,” not to mention “a nasty guy with no heart!”

As beat specialists know, Moore...had issued numerous sharp moral denunciations of Trump during the campaign. ....

Moore issued a Christmastime semi-apology if anyone thought he scorned Christians who voted for Trump, explaining: “There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality, and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience.” ....

...[W]hat’s the key to the Baptists’ effectiveness? In a word, focus. The ERLC emphasizes religious liberty under the Constitution, one reason Gorsuch is so appealing, sidestepping matters like, say, nuclear proliferation on which Christians and Southern Baptists lack consensus.

Lupfer says with D.C. religion lobbies too often “you get harried staff rushing in and out of coalition meetings, irrelevant sign-on letters that never sway members of Congress, and a general lack of accountability or effectiveness.” .... [more]

"The better angels..."

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. These words from the conclusion of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1861) have an obvious relevance to our times:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Lincoln Addresses the Nation - NYTimes.com

Friday, February 10, 2017

"Metaphor is the only means"

According to Wikipedia, "One of [Austin Farrer's] closer friends was the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis who dedicated his book Reflections on the Psalms to him. Farrer took the last sacraments to Lewis before his death. Others included J.R.R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers." From Parker Bauer, in "Mirrors to God":
.... Imagination, in Farrer's view, is not simply the formation of images but of images that function as metaphors, pointing to something else, both reflecting it and shedding new light on it. (Arguably, any image that comes to mind has metaphorical undertones, however minor, but Farrer is looking at a larger canvas, the essences of life.) The image tells us not what something is, directly; it reveals what something is like. A kiss might be described in terms of the chemistry of saliva, but if anyone asks, we compare it to a night-blooming jasmine.

Farrer discerns a category of "primary images" in the Bible that reveal (as far as we can understand them) the essential truths about God, man, and nature. Among these primary images are Son of Man; Father, Son, Holy Spirit; and Kingdom of Heaven. In light of these we are, then, to interpret lesser images—for example, Farrer's title The Glass of Vision. As MacSwain notes, this alludes not only to a pane, as usually understood by Paul's "Now we see through a glass, darkly," but originally to a mirror, what Paul's word meant when he wrote. Either way, it points to man's inability to perceive spiritual truth directly. Metaphor is the only means. ....

Wit—that is, inventiveness, not humor—is given by grace, a manifestation of divine love. In the prophet, it calls up "a process of images which live as it were by their own life and impose themselves with authority." ....

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A walking-tour

From the first book in C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Chapter One:
THE LAST DROPS of the thundershower had hardly ceased falling when the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on his tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut-tree into the middle of the road. A violent yellow sunset was pouring through a rift in the clouds to westward, but straight ahead over the hills the sky was the colour of dark slate. Every tree and blade of grass was dripping, and the road shone like a river. The Pedestrian wasted no time on the landscape but set out at once with the determined stride of a good walker who has lately realized that he will have to walk farther than he intended. That, indeed, was his situation. If he had chosen to look back, which he did not, he could have seen the spire of Much Nadderby, and, seeing it, might have uttered a malediction on the inhospitable little hotel which, though obviously empty, had refused him a bed. The place had changed hands since he last went for a walking-tour in these parts. The kindly old landlord on whom he had reckoned had been replaced by someone whom the barmaid referred to as 'the lady,' and the lady was apparently a British innkeeper of that orthodox school who regard guests as a nuisance. His only chance now was Sterk, on the far side of the hills, and a good six miles away. The map marked an inn at Sterk. The Pedestrian was too experienced to build any very sanguine hopes on this, but there seemed nothing else within range.

He walked fairly fast, and doggedly, without looking much about him, like a man trying to shorten the way with some interesting train of thought. He was tall, but a little round-shouldered, about thirty-five to forty years of age, and dressed with that particular kind of shabbiness which marks a member of the intelligentsia on a holiday. He might easily have been mistaken for a doctor or a schoolmaster at first sight, though he had not the man-of-the-world air of the one or the indefinable breeziness of the other. In fact, he was a philologist, and fellow of a Cambridge college. His name was Ransom.

He had hoped when he left Nadderby that he might find a night's lodging at some friendly farm before he had walked as far as Sterk. But the land this side of the hills seemed almost uninhabited. It was a desolate, featureless sort of country mainly devoted to cabbage and turnip, with poor hedges and few trees. It attracted no visitors like the richer country south of Nadderby and it was protected by the hills from the industrial areas beyond Sterk. As the evening drew in and the noise of the birds came to an end it grew more silent than an English landscape usually is. The noise of his own feet on the metalled road became irritating.

He had walked thus for a matter of two miles when he became aware of a light ahead. He was close under the hills by now and it was nearly dark, so that he still cherished hopes of a substantial farmhouse until he was quite close to the real origin of the light, which proved to be a very small cottage of ugly nineteenth-century brick. A woman darted out of the open doorway as he approached it and almost collided with him.

'I beg your pardon, sir,' she said. 'I thought it was my Harry.'

Ransom asked her if there was any place nearer than Sterk where he might possibly get a bed.

'No, sir,' said the woman. 'Not nearer than Sterk. I dare say as they might fix you up at Nadderby.'

She spoke in a humbly fretful voice as if her mind were intent on something else. Ransom explained that he had already tried Nadderby.

'Then I don't know, I'm sure , sir,' she replied. 'There isn't hardly any house before Sterk, not what you want. There's only The Rise, where my Harry works, and I thought you was coming from that way, sir, and that's why I come out when I heard you, thinking it might be him. He ought to be home this long time.'

'The Rise,' said Ransom. 'What's that? A farm? Would they put me up?' ....
And so begins the adventure.

Although at Oxford, not Cambridge, Tolkien was a philologist. Both Lewis and Tolkien enjoyed going on walking tours, usually staying overnights at village pubs.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Rule XIX

I've always been something of a political junky. In my thirty-five years teaching secondary social science the classes I enjoyed the most were government and politics electives. I watch C-SPAN a lot. Last night I was watching the Senate debate on confirmation of Sen. Sessions as Attorney General just as Senate Rule XIX was invoked against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass). I've become weary of the acrimony that seems to characterize most political discourse these days but remain very interested in political process. This morning The Washington Post explained the origin of this section of Rule XIX:
.... It was February 1902 and a feud was escalating between the two Democratic senators from South Carolina. Benjamin Tillman, the senior senator and something of a political boss in the state, had grown angry that John McLaurin, his protege, was allowing Senate Republicans to court him on some issues, including the annexation of the Philippines.

Furious that McLaurin was colluding with the other side of the aisle, Tillman used a Feb. 22, 1902, speech on the Senate floor to harangue the younger senator. Gesturing toward McLaurin’s empty chair, Tillman accused his counterpart of treachery and corruption, saying he had succumbed to “improper influences,” according to a Senate history of the dispute.

When McLaurin caught wind of Tillman’s remarks, he rushed into the chamber and shouted that Tillman was telling a “willful, malicious and deliberate lie.”

A fistfight erupted. As Senate historians recounted, “The 54-year-old Tillman jumped from his place and physically attacked McLaurin, who was 41, with a series of stinging blows. Efforts to separate the two combatants resulted in misdirected punches landing on other members.”

When the fight ended, the Senate voted to censure the two men. A panel found that their behavior was “an infringement of the privileges of the Senate, a violation of its rules and derogatory to its high character, tending to bring the body itself into public contempt.”

The episode prompted the senate to tighten its rules governing decorum in floor debate. Rule 19 (sections 2 and 3, to be precise) was adopted later that year.

In the time since, the rule has rarely come up. One instance flagged by Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux occurred in 1979, when Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.) called Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) “an idiot” and “devious” in a debate on the Senate floor. Heinz reportedly stormed to the front of the room with a rule book and showed him Rule 19. Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) defused the situation and asked them to shake hands. ....
There has been some suggestion that Rule XIX was on the Republican leader's mind because Sen. McConnell may be considering using another section of that rule to frustrate a filibuster against Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch. Apparently the last time Rule XIX was used to end a filibuster was when southern Senators were attempting to prevent passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Another mystery

Various First Things editors contribute every now and then to an entry called "What We've Been Reading." Veery Huleatt has been reading one of Dorothy L. Sayers' mysteries: The Nine Tailors.
.... Although the series as a whole is temporally and geographically defined by twentieth-century Britain, each mystery immerses the reader in a different world. An Oxford women’s college in Gaudy Night, a London advertising agency in Murder Must Advertise, and a country estate in Clouds of Witness (which also ventures into an Anarchist dive, featuring an unforgettable young Boheme who cannot keep her interminable string of beads out of the soup).

The Nine Tailors all but deafens the readers with the technicalities of church bell ringing, and then drops a grisly murder. Enter Wimsey and Bunter from a providential motoring accident on a dark and stormy night, and the race is on. Impressively researched and crafted, Nine Tailors is often acclaimed as the best of Sayers’s mysteries. I don’t like to pick favorites among my darlings, but I’m willing to concede to the critics here.
The full title of the book is The Nine Tailors: Changes Rung on an Old Theme in Two Short Touches and Two Full Peals. I don't think I knew anything about change ringing before I read this book. The "Nine Tailors" are bells hanging in the belfry of the "Parish Church of Fenchurch St. Paul," the church at the center of the plot. The picture is from my 1934 copy of the novel.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"...no law...prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

I didn't vote for Trump. I threw away my vote for President. Many Christians did though — mostly, I think, as a lesser evil and because they thought he was more likely to protect religious liberty. The Supreme Court nomination rewards that hope. If the leaked contents of a purported executive order prove accurate those voters will be very pleased indeed.
  • It tells the entire federal government to respect federal statutes and Supreme Court decisions that make clear the free exercise of religion applies to all people, of all faiths, in all places, and at all times—that it is not merely the freedom to worship.
  • It notes that religious organizations include all organizations operated by religious principles, not just houses of worship or charities. And it follows the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in saying that religious exercise “includes all aspects of religious observance and practice,” not just those absolutely required by a faith.
  • It instructs all agencies of the federal government, “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” to reasonably accommodate the religion of federal employees, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • It instructs the secretaries of health and human services, labor, and treasury to finally grant relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who weren’t exempted from the Obamacare abortifacient and contraception mandate.
  • It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that all citizens have the ability to purchase health care plans through Obamacare that do not cover abortion or subsidize plans that do.
  • It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that the federal government does not discriminate against child welfare providers, such as foster care and adoption services, based on the organization’s religious beliefs.
  • It adopts the Russell Amendment and instructs all agencies of the federal government to provide protections and exemptions consistent with the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to all religious organizations that contract with the federal government or receive grants.
  • It instructs the secretary of the treasury to ensure that it does not revoke nonprofit tax status because a religious organization’s ordinary religious speech deals with politics, or because it speaks or acts on the belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife, that a person’s sex is based on immutable biology, or that life begins at conception.
  • It instructs all agencies of the federal government to refuse to recognize any decision by a federally recognized accrediting body that revokes or denies accreditation to an organization because of such beliefs.
  • It instructs all agencies that they may not take adverse action against federal employees, contractors, or grantees because of their speech about marriage outside of their employment, contract, or grant, and that agencies shall reasonably accommodate such beliefs inside of employment, contract, or grant.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

It is appointed unto men once to die



Take him, earth, for cherishing,
to thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
noble even in its ruin.
Not though ancient time decaying
wear away these bones to sand,
ashes that a man might measure
in the hollow of his hand:
Once was this a spirit's dwelling,
by the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the prince of all its living.
Not though wandering winds and idle,
drifting through the empty sky,
scatter dust was nerve and sinew,
is it given to man to die.
Guard him well, the dead I give thee,
not unmindful of his creature
shall he ask it: he who made it
symbol of his mystery.
Once again the shining road
leads to ample Paradise;
open are the woods again,
that the serpent lost for men
Comes the hour God hath appointed
to fulfil the hope of men,
then must thou, in very fashion,
what I give, return again.
Take, O take him, mighty leader,
take again thy servant's soul.
Grave his name, and pour the fragrant
balm upon the icy stone.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Certitude

My General Conference theme was "A Firm Foundation." I once had a poster quoting T.S. Eliot, somewhat out of context, about "the still point of the turning world." A favorite scripture is from our Lord: "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." And a book I found while in college was Elton Trueblood's A Place to Stand. From the chapter titled "A Center of Certitude":
For the Christian, Christ is not the end of the quest; He is the beginning. Starting with Him, we are forced by intellectual integrity to proceed a long way. If we are committed to Him, we trust Him about the being and the character of God, about the reality of prayer, about the possibility of miracle, and about the life everlasting. The deepest conviction of the Christian is that Christ was not wrong! Particularly, we are convinced that He was not wrong in His report about Himself. It is important to remember that our commitment is to one who said "All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Matt. 11:27).
Elton Trueblood, A Place to Stand

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Take a breath

Alan Jacobs has decided to (paraphrasing) stay off Twitter, cut back on the news sites in his RSS feed, and delete bookmarks to newspapers.
...[T]hanks to a series of well-known technological changes, the news cycle has grown shorter and shorter until now many people get their news minute-by-minute.

...[T]he Twitter-cycle is far, far too short. People regularly get freaked out by stories than turn out to be false, and by the time the facts are known a good deal of damage (not least to personal relationships) has often already been done — plus, the disappearance of the cause of an emotion doesn’t automatically eliminate the emotion itself. In fact, it often leaves that emotion in search of new justifications for its existence.

I have come to believe that it is impossible for anyone who is regularly on social media to have a balanced and accurate understanding of what is happening in the world. To follow a minute-by-minute cycle of news is to be constantly threatened by illusion. ....

Metaphor

And more yet from Dorothy L. Sayers:
Moreover, whether we are dealing with simile or metaphor, it has to be remembered that every image is true and helpful only at its relevant point. God is, in a manner, light: but He is not a succession of wave-lengths in the prime matter. My love is like a red, red rose: but it is not advisable to mulch her with manure. The common sense of mankind can usually be trusted to disentangle the relevant from the irrelevant—but not always. The great dispute that was fought out at Nicaea turned upon the relevant point of a metaphor. That the Divine Son was begotten of the Divine Father was common ground; the Arians, a literal-minded set of people, argued that He must therefore be subsequent to Him, like a bodily procreation. The Orthodox, more sensitively aware of the trap concealed in metaphor, rejected the temptation to enclose God in space-time, holding stubbornly to the paradox of the Son's co-eternity. Indeed, nearly all heresies arise from the pressing of a metaphor beyond the point where the image ceases to be relevant.
from "The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement" (1963) as reprinted in A Matter of Eternity.
"...[N]early all heresies arise from the pressing of a metaphor beyond the 
point where the image ceases to be relevant."

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"An apprehension of the eternal moment"

More from Sayers:
This tension between joy and the opposite of joy is, once again, something that is viewed with a certain distrust by an age committed to the pursuit of happiness. It can be readily pigeonholed. as lack of adjustment or, in severe cases, as a psychosis. In very severe cases it may indeed be a psychosis. But we must not disguise from ourselves that happiness is a gift of the heathen gods, whereas joy is a Christian duty. It was, I think, L.P. Jacks who pointed out that the word "happiness" does not occur in the Gospels; the world "joy", on the other hand, occurs frequently—and so does the name and image of Hell. The command is to rejoice: not to display a placid contentment or a stoic fortitude. "Call no man happy until he is dead", said the Greek philosopher; and happiness, whether applied to a man's fortunes or his disposition, is the assessment of something extended in time along his whole career. But joy (except for those saints who live continually in the presence of God) is of its nature brief and almost instantaneous: it is an apprehension of the eternal moment. And, as such, it is the great invading adversary that can break open the gates of Hell.
from "The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement" (1963) as reprinted in A Matter of Eternity.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched"

Dorothy L. Sayers:
...there seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency, to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of Hell comes from. One finds frequent references to "the cruel and abominable mediaeval doctrine of hell", or "the childish and grotesque mediaeval imagery of physical fire and worms"....

But the case is quite otherwise; let us face the facts. The doctrine of Hell is not "mediaeval": it is Christ's. It is not a device of "mediaeval priestcraft" for frightening people into giving money to the Church: It is Christ's deliberate judgment on sin. The imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from "mediaeval superstition", but originally from the Prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it. If we are Christians, very well; we dare not not take the doctrine of Hell seriously, for we have it from Him whom we acknowledge as God and Truth incarnate. If we say that Christ was a great and good man, and that, ignoring His divine claims, we should yet stick to His teaching—very well; that is what Christ taught. It confronts us in the oldest and least "edited" of the Gospels: it is explicit in many of the most familiar parables and implicit in many more: it bulks far larger in the teaching than one realises, until one reads the Evangelists through instead of merely picking out the most comfortable texts: one cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ. from "Introductory Papers on Dante" (1954) as reprinted in A Matter of Eternity.
A Matter Of Eternity: Selections From The Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers

Friday, January 20, 2017

An inaugural prayer

The first Inaugural prayer was offered for FDR. This is from 1937. It was delivered by ZeBarney Phillips who was an Episcopal clergyman and Chaplain of the U.S. Senate:
Almighty God and Heavenly Father, ruler and guardian of the world: Sanctify to the nation the meaning of this hour that Thy people with one heart and mind may acknowledge their fealty to Thee.

Be with the President and the Vice President, as under Thee they renew their solemn pledges of devotion to their country’s weal in the high and holy offices to which again they have been called; let the blessings of Thy bounteous goodness be upon them, upon the Congress, upon the Judiciary and upon all who bear rule in our land.

In particular, we beseech Thee for our President that, casting all his care upon Thee, he may feel underneath Thine everlasting arms. Touch Thou his lips that he may speak, in the words of the unshorn truth and never-wearying kindness, the message for the healing of the nations, and hasten the day when men shall rise above all lesser things to those glorious heights where love shall weave a holy bond of peace enduring till earth’s shadows vanish in the light of light. Amen.