Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Illumine our darkness

Via internetmonk.com, the St. Olaf Choir singing "Light Everlasting":


O Light Everlasting
O Love never failing
Illumine our darkness
And draw us to Thee
May we from Thy spirit
Receive inspiration
As children together
Thy wisdom may see
Make known to all nations
Thy peace and salvation
And help us O Father
Thy temple to be.
by Olaf Christiansen

http://youtu.be/NAa3NC1Fuc4

Freedom

In 1865 on this date Congress passed the 13th Amendment, sending it to the states for ratification. That amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Yesterday, Letters of Note posted "To My Old Master":
In August of 1865, a Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote to his former slave, Jourdan Anderson, and requested that he come back to work on his farm. Jourdan — who, since being emancipated, had moved to Ohio, found paid work, and was now supporting his family — responded spectacularly by way of the letter seen below (a letter which, according to newspapers at the time, he dictated). ....
Dayton, Ohio,
August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.
Several commenting at Freed by the Civil War, concerned about the authenticity of the letter, did some online research:
I was curious about the authenticity, so I did the dorky two-minute check:

1870 census, Dayton, Ohio:
Jordan Anderson, 45, black, born Tennessee, hostler (means "stableman")
Amanda Anderson, 39, black, born Tennessee
Jane Anderson, 19, black, born Tennessee, attending school
Felix Anderson, 12, black, born Tennessee, attending school ("Grundy"?)
[and some more kids]

Seems to be a real guy.
And,
There's also a P.H. Anderson living at Tuckers Crossroads PO, Wilson County, TN in 1870. In 1860 he owns 32 slaves. Tuckers Crossroads refers to the junction of modern SR-141 and Big Springs Road, which makes him a very good contender to be the owner.
And,
The 1900 Federal Census confirms that Jordan never learned how to read or write (he was 74 by that point) -- but his wife Amanda learned how to read and his children could do both. Jordan died sometime between 1900 and 1910, so he was between 74 and 84, and Amanda died sometime between 1910 and 1920, so she was between 80 and 90. So they did get to live nice long lives, far longer than the average lifespan of their day and especially notable given the hardships of their earlier lives as slaves.

The 1900 Federal Census also says that Jordan and Amanda's son Valentine Winters Anderson (born November 1870) became a physician! The "Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929" says he attended Louisville National Medical College, class of 1900, followed by Michigan College of Medicine and Surgery, Detroit, class of 1904. He practiced in Dayton, Ohio.

Guess he got that schooling that his father wanted for him so badly...
Also this from Snopes.

Via Mollie Hemingway at Ricochet.com

Letters of Note: To My Old Master

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Great mysteries

C Michael Patton gives us "The Doctrine of the Trinity in a Nutshell," affirming the importance of the doctrine and explaining why it should be believed. From the essay:
Christians do not believe in contradictions or logical fallacies. Rational thinking and harmony of truth are found in the essence of God’s being, therefore, God cannot exist as a contradiction. Christians do not believe in three God’s for reasons spoken of above. However, we do believe that Scripture has revealed that God, who is one in essence, is three in person. We often talk about this as “one what, three whos.” While this is a great mystery in the Christian faith, there are many mysteries that we are compelled to believe due to necessity and what has been revealed in Scripture. For example, we believe that God created all things out of nothing (Heb. 11:3; doctrine of creation ex nihilo). We believe that God is the sovereign first cause of all things, yet man is morally responsible for his actions. We believe that while Christ was complete in his humanity, he also remained complete in his deity (often called the “hypostatic union”). We believe that the Bible is the product of humans and the product of God. None of these, including the doctrine of the Trinity, are contradictions, but they are great mysteries.
His final paragraph:
No Christian understands the doctrine of the Trinity fully. In fact, if people are not confused to some degree by this doctrine, if someone says, “Ohhhh, now I understand,” it probably means that they have slipped into heresy in their thinking. If we think about it too long, try to solve it, or nuance it according to our desire to comprehend things, we will find ourselves refusing the hand of God who has given the mysterious Trinity to us a description of Himself. While it is impossible that finite beings can fully comprehend an infinite God, we can understand him truly. The doctrine of the Trinity does not give us the full understanding of God, but it does give us a true understanding of God.
The Doctrineof the Trinity in a Nutshell | Parchment and Pen

Thursday, January 26, 2012

And the Word was made flesh

Dean Russell D. Moore on why "The Humanity of Christ Matters":
Several years ago, a brutal stomach virus crept through the seminary community where I serve as dean. One day, knowing that most of the students in my classroom were on the upswing from this sickness, I posed the question, “Did Jesus ever have a stomach virus?”

.... These students were still reeling not just from the discomfort of the stomach flu, but also from its indignity. They had been wracked with vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and chills. They still smarted from the sense of having no control over the most disgusting of bodily functions.

So when I asked this question, these ministers of the gospel hesitated. The stomach virus wasn’t just awful; it was undignified. And thinking of Jesus in relation to the most foul and embarrassing aspects of bodily existence seemed to them to be just on the verge of disrespectful, if not blasphemous.

Why is it so hard for us to imagine Jesus vomiting?

The answer to this question has to do, first of all, with the one-dimensional picture of Jesus so many of us have been taught, or have assumed. Many of us see Jesus either as the ghostly friend in the corner of our hearts, promising us heaven and guiding us through difficulty, or we see him simply in terms of his sovereignty and power, in terms of his distance from us. No matter how orthodox our doctrine, we all tend to think of Jesus as a strange and ghostly figure.

But the bridging of this distance is precisely at the heart of the scandal of the gospel itself. It just doesn’t seem right to us to imagine Jesus feverish or vomiting or crying in a feeding trough or studying to learn his Hebrew. From the very beginning of the Christian era, those who sought to redefine the gospel argued that it doesn’t seem right to think of Jesus as really flesh and bone, filled with blood and intestines and urine. It doesn’t seem right to think of Jesus as growing in wisdom and knowledge, as Luke tells us he did. Somehow such things seem to us to detract from his deity, from his dignity.

But that’s just the point. .... [more]

Hanged, not hung

Mystery on PBS will soon give us the second season of Sherlock, the superbly updated version of the Sherlock Holmes stories. In the final story of the first season Holmes gives a murderer a lesson in proper usage:
Sherlock: "Just tell me what happened from the beginning."
Barry: "We've been to a bar, a nice place, and I was chattin' with one of the waitresses and Karen weren't happy with that, so we got back to the hotel and ended up having a bit of a ding dong, didn't we? She was gettin' at me, saying I weren’t a real man— "
Sherlock: "Wasn’t."
Barry: "What?"
Sherlock: "It’s not weren’t, it’s wasn’t."
Barry: "Oh..."
Sherlock: "Go on."
Barry: "Well, then I don’t know how it happened but suddenly there's a knife in my hands. And you know, my old man was a butcher so I know how to handle knives. He learned us how to cut up a piece—"
Sherlock: "Taught."
Barry: "What?"
Sherlock: "Taught you how to cut up a piece."
Barry: "Yeah, well, then I done it."
Sherlock: "Did it."
Barry: "I stabbed her over and over and over and I looked at her and she weren’t— ... wasn't movin' no more. ... Any more. Hey, you gotta help me, Mr. Holmes! Everyone says you're the best. Without you... I'll get hung for this."
Sherlock: "No, no, Mr. Bewick, not at all. Hanged, yes."
Pictures are hung. People were [are?] hanged.

The Great Game Quotes - Sherlock on BBC One - Fanpop

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I fear no more

Via Denny Burk:
Hymn to God the Father
John Donne [c. 1631]

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.


Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.
Hymn To God the Father | Denny Burk

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Trust in God. Believe in the Gospel. And don’t be afraid.

Philadelphia Catholic Archbishop Chaput delivered "A Thread for Weaving Joy" on the anniversary of Roe v Wade in Washington D.C. He concentrated on the tragic abortion of most of the unborn who are diagnosed with Down syndrome. I think what he addresses to Catholics applies equally to every Christian:
.... Catholic public officials who take God seriously cannot support laws that attack human dignity without lying to themselves, misleading others and abusing the faith of their fellow Catholics. God will demand an accounting. Catholic doctors who take God seriously cannot do procedures, prescribe drugs or support health policies that attack the sanctity of unborn children or the elderly; or that undermine the dignity of human sexuality and the family. God will demand an accounting. And Catholic citizens who take God seriously cannot claim to love their Church, and then ignore her counsel on vital public issues that shape our nation’s life. God will demand an accounting. As individuals, we can claim to believe whatever we want. We can posture, and rationalize our choices, and make alibis with each other all day long — but no excuse for our lack of honesty and zeal will work with the God who made us. God knows our hearts better than we do. If we don’t conform our hearts and actions to the faith we claim to believe, we’re only fooling ourselves.

We live in a culture where our marketers and entertainment media compulsively mislead us about the sustainability of youth; the indignity of old age; the avoidance of suffering; the denial of death; the nature of real beauty; the impermanence of every human love; the oppressiveness of children and family; the silliness of virtue; and the cynicism of religious faith. It’s a culture of fantasy, selfishness, sexual confusion and illness that we’ve brought upon ourselves. And we’ve done it by misusing the freedom that other — and greater — generations than our own worked for, bled for and bequeathed to our safe-keeping. ....

Catholics need to wake up from the illusion that the America we now live in — not the America of our nostalgia or imagination or best ideals, but the real America we live in here and now — is somehow friendly to our faith. What we’re watching emerge in this country is a new kind of paganism, an atheism with air-conditioning and digital TV. And it is neither tolerant nor morally neutral.

As the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb observed more than a decade ago, “What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized.” But even more importantly, she added, “As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant. The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral — the ‘bourgeois’ family as it is invidiously called — is now seen as pathological” and exclusionary, concealing the worst forms of psychic and physical oppression.

My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God. ....

The great Green Bay Packer theologian, Vince Lombardi, liked to say that real glory consists in getting knocked flat on the ground, again and again and again, and getting back up — just one more time than the other guy. That’s real glory. And there’s no better metaphor for the Christian life. Don’t give up. Your prolife witness gives glory to God. Be the best Catholics you can be. Pour your love for Jesus Christ into building and struggling for a culture of life. By your words and by your actions, be an apostle to your friends and colleagues. Speak up for what you believe. Love the Church. Defend her teaching. Trust in God. Believe in the Gospel. And don’t be afraid. Fear is beneath your dignity as sons and daughters of the God of life. .... [more]
A Thread for Weaving Joy

Monday, January 23, 2012

Women and children first

The behavior of the captain and many of the crew of the Costa Concordia brings forth these reflections by Mark Steyn. He is right. None of the progress society has seen required the loss of the kind of honorable behavior he describes here:
.... In the centenary year of the most famous of all maritime disasters, we would do well to consider honestly the tale of the Titanic. When James Cameron made his movie, he was interested in everything except what the story was actually about. .... In my book, I cite First Officer William Murdoch. In real life, he threw deckchairs to passengers drowning in the water to give them something to cling to, and then he went down with the ship — the dull, decent thing, all very British, with no fuss. In Cameron’s movie, Murdoch takes a bribe and murders a third-class passenger. ....

On the Titanic, the male passengers gave their lives for the women and would never have considered doing otherwise. On the Costa Concordia, in the words of a female passenger, “There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboat.” After similar scenes on the MV Estonia a few years ago, Roger Kohen of the International Maritime Organization told Time magazine: “There is no law that says women and children first. That is something from the age of chivalry.”

If, by “the age of chivalry,” you mean our great-grandparents’ time.
In fact, “women and children first” can be dated very precisely. On Feb. 26, 1852, HMS Birkenhead was wrecked off the coast of Cape Town while transporting British troops to South Africa. There were, as on the Titanic, insufficient lifeboats. The women and children were escorted to the ship’s cutter. The men mustered on deck. They were ordered not to dive in the water lest they risk endangering the ladies and their young charges by swamping the boats. So they stood stiffly at their posts as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. As Kipling wrote:
We’re most of us liars, we’re ’arf of us thieves, an’ the rest of us rank as can be, But once in a while we can finish in style (which I ’ope it won’t ’appen to me).
Sixty years later, the men on the Titanic — liars and thieves, wealthy and powerful, poor and obscure — found themselves called upon to “finish in style,” and did so. They had barely an hour to kiss their wives goodbye, watch them clamber into the lifeboats, and sail off without them. They, too, ’oped it wouldn’t ’appen to them, but, when it did, the social norm of “women and children first” held up under pressure and across all classes.

Today there is no social norm, so it’s every man for himself — operative word “man,” although not many of the chaps on the Titanic would recognize those on the Costa Concordia as “men.” From a grandmother on the latter: “I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls.” .... [more]
The Sinking of the West - Mark Steyn - National Review Online

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Joy comes with the morning

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:4-5 [ESV]

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pro family

The current National Review explains why the Wall Street Journal is wrong when it faults Senator Santorum for advocating increasing the tax deduction for dependent children:
Senator Santorum has a tax plan that, among other things, triples the personal deduction for children. Other candidates, such as Speaker Gingrich and Governor Perry, have similar provisions in their plans, but for some reason our friends at the Wall Street Journal have been particularly troubled by Santorum, zinging him in both an editorial and a Kimberley Strassel column. .... Making it easier for families to raise children is a mere “hobbyhorse” of Christian conservatives, in their view, and provisions of the tax code that recognize the costs of parental investment in children amount to special favors for those “Americans fortunate enough to have a child” (as Strassel puts it). The Journal does not treat low taxes on capital gains as special favors for those fortunate enough to have investment portfolios, even though they too look like preferential treatment to the untutored eye. It is right not to: Treating capital-gains income like labor income would create a bias in favor of consumption. For the tax code to treat parental investments in children like consumption would, likewise, create a bias against parents—whose financial sacrifices swell the future coffers of Social Security and Medicare while earning them no additional benefits from those programs. Expanding the child credit, or increasing the child deduction, is not a special favor but the reduction of an unfair tax. All conservatives should ride that hobbyhorse.
As someone who is not "fortunate enough to have a child" I have never objected to tax provisions or negotiated contract provisions that advantaged families with children. I've always thought they were something to be encouraged.

No more Narnia?

The quality of the Narnia movies varied a great deal. Each film had strengths and weaknesses. I liked The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe best. But even so I looked forward to more. There may not be another and if there is it may be years away. "'Narnia 4' Movie in Limbo":
Fans of popular book series The Chronicles of Narnia have been left in limbo over when, or even if, they will see a new movie from the franchise on the big screen.

Walden Media, which produced the first three Narnia films – “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (2005), “Prince Caspian” (2008) and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (2010), apparently no longer hold the rights to the movies. What is more, the C.S. Lewis Estate must wait a number of years before they can resell them to Walden or another studio....

A new upper class?

Charles Murray knows that we have never had a "classless society" but argues that the class divergences now are qualitatively different—and more problematical—than those that existed as recently as the 1960s.
.... When two parts of America behave markedly differently with regard to marriage, the socialization of their children, their work habits, their criminality, and their religiosity, they differ on some of the most fundamental dimensions of life. Taking the white population ages 30–49 as a whole, those whose behavior is intrinsically problematic for the civic culture—men who are not making a living, women who are raising children without fathers, those who commit crimes, and those who are simply social isolates—amount to about 20 percent of the population. That, in rough terms, is a reasonable way to think of the size of the new white lower class.

It would be bad enough if America experienced just a new lower class pulling away from mainstream America. But during the same half century, a new upper class developed that pulled away from the other direction. They were new not just because they were getting richer, but because they constituted a class that shared distinctive tastes and preferences that increasingly isolated them from everyone else. ....

.... The problem is not the lifestyle of the members of America’s new upper class, which in many ways is attractive, but the degree to which the new upper class has become sealed off from the rest of America.

.... The members of America’s new upper class tend not to watch the same movies and television shows that the rest of America watches, don’t go to kinds of restaurants the rest of America frequents, tend to buy different kinds of automobiles, and have passions for being green, maintaining the proper degree of body fat, and supporting gay marriage that most Americans don’t share. Their child-raising practices are distinctive, and they typically take care to enroll their children in schools dominated by the offspring of the upper middle class—or, better yet, of the new upper class. ....

Worst of all, a growing proportion of the people who run the institutions of our country have never known any other culture. They are the children of upper-middle-class parents, have always lived in upper-middle-class neighborhoods and gone to upper-middle-class schools. Many have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn’t have a college degree, never hunted or fished. They are likely to know that Garrison Keillor’s monologue on Prairie Home Companion is the source of the phrase “all of the children are above average,” but they have never walked on a prairie and never known someone well whose IQ actually was below average.

When people are making decisions that affect the lives of many other people, the cultural isolation that has grown up around America’s new upper class can be disastrous. It is not a problem if truck drivers cannot empathize with the priorities of Yale law professors. It is a problem if Yale law professors, or producers of the nightly news, or CEOs of great corporations, or the President’s advisers, cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers. .... [more]
Belmont & Fishtown by Charles Murray - The New Criterion

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A theological house of cards

Michael Patton gives us useful and helpful advice about "Dealing with the Doubting" — advice that is as useful to those who are doubting [each of us, I suppose, at one point or another] as to those ministering to doubters. A couple of quotations from a much longer essay:
.... The last thing the doubting need are cliché answers. In fact, these will almost always make the crisis worse. People normally go through these trials because they are thinking deeply about their faith. They are critically examining it, possibly for the first time. Sound-bite answers only reinforce a naive picture of the faith. People in the crisis have a new ability to tell if you are being fake, even when you don't know it yourself.

Be ready. Be honest about your faith. Enter into the crisis with them and find answers together. ....

It could be something as small as someone at school ridiculing them for believing that a donkey talked, discovering an apparent discrepancy in what Christ said in Matthew compared to Mark, or hearing a science class presentation on the theory of evolution. However, for those who have never been prepared for this crisis, they cannot discriminate between essentials and non-essentials. For many, everything is essential. Their theology is a house of cards. Once one card falls, no matter how small, the entire house comes tumbling down.

We can do much to lessen the effects of this crisis if we can help those going through it gain some perspective. Someone may be questioning the legitimacy of his belief in the rapture, whether to include the Apocrypha in the canon, whether hell is eternal, whether God changes his mind, whether Christ can work through other religions, or the inerrancy of Scripture. Whether the crisis of faith is brought about due to intellectual or emotional reasons, start by encouraging doubters to consider core issues of the faith and then move out from there. I think the primary core issue of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Christ. All dominoes fall from there. It is also the easiest to rest our intellectual head on. I have yet to meet someone who was going through a prolonged crisis of faith who was well established in the historicity of Christ's resurrection. .... [much more]

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Common sense and education

Common sense is always fighting a head-wind in the schools. Teachers are victimized by fads and trendy nonsense but much less so than students. The two stories below provide at least some encouragement.

First, from the Washington Post, "In schools, self-esteem boosting is losing favor to rigor, finer-tuned praise":
For decades, the prevailing wisdom in education was that high self-esteem would lead to high achievement. The theory led to an avalanche of daily affirmations, awards ceremonies and attendance certificates — but few, if any, academic gains.

Now, an increasing number of teachers are weaning themselves from what some call empty praise. Drawing on psychology and brain research, these educators aim to articulate a more precise, and scientific, vocabulary for praise that will push children to work through mistakes and take on more challenging assignments. .... [more]
And then, from The New York Times Sunday, skepticism about one of the most dreaded faculty in-service experiences: "brainstorming." From "The Rise of the New Groupthink":
SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.  ....

Our schools have also been transformed by the New Groupthink. Today, elementary school classrooms are commonly arranged in pods of desks, the better to foster group learning. Even subjects like math and creative writing are often taught as committee projects. In one fourth-grade classroom I visited in New York City, students engaged in group work were forbidden to ask a question unless every member of the group had the very same question. ....

...[B]rainstorming sessions are one of the worst possible ways to stimulate creativity. The brainchild of a charismatic advertising executive named Alex Osborn who believed that groups produced better ideas than individuals, workplace brainstorming sessions came into vogue in the 1950s. ....

But decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases. The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” wrote the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

The reasons brainstorming fails are instructive for other forms of group work, too. People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that when we take a stance different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection. Professor Berns calls this “the pain of independence.” .... [more]
In schools, self-esteem boosting is losing favor to rigor, finer-tuned praise - The Washington Post, The Rise of the New Groupthink - NYTimes.com

Monday, January 16, 2012

Unalienable rights


"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the 'unalienable Rights' of 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'"
Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963

"The only thing I could do...."

Andrew Klavan, who has become one of my favorite authors, was interviewed by Teen Ink primarily about the creative process — how he goes about writing books and screenplays. One of the questions, though, was about his conversion. Klavan:
.... It wasn't a kind of Road to Damascus shock. It was a really long journey.

I was born and raised a Jew. So I had a long way to go. I was not born into that fold, as it were. I kind of lost my faith, very early on. I walked away from religion. I felt it was dishonest. I felt I was being dishonest by trying to participate in any religion at all.

I went through a period where I was an atheist. That wasn't very long. Mostly I was just an agnostic who just thought that there was no way you could know the answers, so there was no point in thinking about it.

But I do a lot of reading and thinking about these things, and over time I began to realize that the answer that you can't know is incomplete. What I was really saying was that you can't prove anything, which is different than not being able to know or believe.

Ultimately what happened was I experimented with a prayer. You know, I said a prayer of thanks for all the good things in my life: my wife, my children, my work. It was very short. It was just a thank you. I found that the response that came to me was so electric, so enlightening, so powerful that it woke me up. Suddenly I was not only experiencing the things that were happening; I was experiencing gratitude on a new level. I was experiencing life on a new level.

So, I continued to pray. As I prayed, my relationship with God developed and deepened, until finally, I realized (it was quite a shock, I have to tell you) that I wanted to be baptized. I realized that I had come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Really, it's funny, I know some people come to God through Christ, but I came to Christ really through God, by understanding that the God that I believed in was the God of Christ.

That was a very shocking revelation because it meant leaving the religion of my birth, possibly offending people in my family, my friends. But it was the only thing I could do to live an honest and authentic life.
Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand.
Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033 – 1109)

Author/Screenwriter Andrew Klavan | Celebrity Interview About author/writer, professional and screenwriter

Ideal, not sentimental

Anthony Esolen likes Norman Rockwell:
.... I know I’m not supposed to do this. As a college professor, I have a duty to pretend to others that I derive real satisfaction from poems whose sentences cannot be parsed, from sculptures that look like green blobs from a bad space-alien movie, from spattered canvases, from photographs of sullen people doing things with their bodies that even machines shouldn’t have to suffer, and from philosophies that propose the justice of letting a baby die to save a certain number of dogs, the number determined by precise calculation. I’m supposed to nod appreciatively as all these emperors pass by.
The truth is, I can’t stand the lot of them. But as I said, I delight in the paintings of Norman Rockwell. I don’t pretend to be able to judge their technical mastery. They sure seem to me to be subtle and complex as compositions, but I’ll have to defer to others who know the business better. ....
Esolen discusses the dismissive accusation that Rockwell's work is just sentimental illustration. He disagrees and illustrates his appreciation of Rockwell with, for example:
.... his illustrations of the four seasons. All four feature a boy, his whiskered grandfather, and a spaniel mutt. Now this already is peculiar. Why should we care about an old man who probably doesn’t do anything important anymore, if he ever did, and a small boy, and a tag-along dog? The Greeks didn’t care for them; the piety-mouthing Romans never cared for them. The modern intellectual ignores them, as does the modern poet.

But Rockwell lavishes them with attention. In spring, we see them going fishing. The old man is carrying the tackle over his shoulder and is looking into the distance, while the boy is almost bent double as he races, barefoot, with eagerness, and the dog scampers along. In summer, the three of them are on the grass. The old man is on his back, dozing peacefully, while the boy is sitting and plucking the petals off a wild daisy, maybe thinking about a pretty girl he likes. In autumn, there’s a pile of leaves, and the boy leans over it intently, about to light the leaves on fire, while the grandfather, leaning on the rake, pretends not to be watching too closely, and the dog crouches, fascinated by what’s about to happen. Then at last in winter, of all times, when one might expect that age would finally wither for good, our three heroes are on a frozen pond, and the boy in the background, his hands on his knees and his skates askew so he can stand still, gapes with glad surprise while the old man, like a real athlete, executes a perfect figure eight, and cocks his head with pride. He’s a boy again, he is! And the dog barks, his silly legs slipping sideways out from under him. ....

...[T]heir whole attitude toward the world is open. The old man looking off into the distance in spring, or falling asleep in the summer, is a man capable of contemplation, as is the boy, lost in thoughts of love; and even the humble dog accepts things cheerfully as they come. This is a world capable of great sorrow — we know that the old man will die, and the boy will grow up and know his share of disappointments — but also, and more important, a world of great beauty and joy. It is a world in which the adult may aspire to the condition of the child, not in sentimentality, but in fundamental openness to the gifts of God. .... [more]
What Makes Norman Rockwell Possible? | Crisis Magazine

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saving Grace

The Cinch Review calls attention to this:
A whole slate of videos have been uploaded to YouTube by the Melbourne Mass Gospel Choir featuring that 80 voice choir performing the gospel songs of Bob Dylan. Their channel is at this link, where you can explore them all....

.... Make all the jokes you want about a bunch of elderly white Australians singing black American gospel music (and black American gospel music composed by Robert Allen Zimmerman, at that). Make any joke you want but then just listen to it. .... [more]
For instance:



T.S. Eliot, Baker Street Irregular

I am thoroughly enjoying Dirda's On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling [this is my fifth post about the book]. About halfway through the Kindle edition I found this passage about T.S. Eliot and Sherlock Holmes:
.... During my freshman year I also grew besotted with T.S. Eliot, and boldly decided to read everything from the early essays in The Sacred Wood to the later verse-dramas. At some point I discovered that Eliot revered the Sherlock Holmes stories. At a party one evening, some friends asked him to name his favorite passage of English prose, and the great poet answered by virtually performing the following exchange:
"Well," cried Boss McGinty at last, "is he here? Is Birdy Edwards here?"
"Yes," McMurdo answered slowly. "Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards."
Was Eliot joking with his audience by choosing this climactic passage from The Valley of Fear? At least a little, I suspect. Nonetheless, Eliot reportedly reread the Holmes canon every couple of years, was an honorary member of the Trained Cormorants of Los Angeles, and looked—as Vincent Starrett observed—more like the Great Detective than many of the actors who played him.

Moreover, Eliot wrote at length about Holmes in the Criterion, modeled "Macavity, the Mystery Cat," aka the Hidden Paw, after that other Napoleon of Crime, Professor James Moriarty, and in "East Coker" quite pointedly evoked the atmosphere of The Hound of the Baskervilles by alluding to the novel's ominous Grimpen Mire: "in a dark wood, in a bramble / On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold." While Eliot famously insisted that great poets steal, I was nonetheless taken aback when I first came across this striking exchange between Thomas Becket and a diabolical Tempter in Murder in the Cathedral:
THOMAS: Who shall have it?
TEMPTER: He who will come.
THOMAS: What shall be the month?
TEMPTER: The last from the first.
THOMAS: What shall we give for it?
TEMPTER: Pretence of priestly power.
THOMAS: Why should we give it?
TEMPTER: For the power and the glory.
In "The Musgrave Ritual"—one of Holmes's earliest cases—an aristocratic family preserves for centuries a queer litany, which, of course, provides the key to a riddle and the solution to a strange disappearance:
"Whose was it?"
"His who is gone."
"Who shall have it?"
"He who will come."
("What was the month?"
"The sixth from the first.")....
"What shall we give for it?"
"All that is ours."
"Why should we give it?"
"For the sake of the trust."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Genre reading

Continuing to read Michael Dirda's On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, this paragraph appears in the chapter "Twilight Tales":
.... Gradually, I was becoming aware that in one generation—in effect, during the lifetime of Arthur Conan Doyle—there appeared most of our pattern-establishing masterpieces of science fiction, horror, fantasy, and adventure. Recall just some of the English-language books published in the forty years between 1885 and 1925: King Solomon's Mines, Kidnapped, The Prisoner of Zenda, The Time Machine, Dracula, Kim, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Five Children and It, Peter Pan, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Man Who Was Thursday, Tarzan of the Apes, Flatland, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, The War of the Worlds, Trent's Last Case, Riders of the Purple Sage, The Wind in the Willows, Captain Blood, and dozens of others. ....
Do boys and girls still read books like this? How much I envy any person who has not read it yet — because there are few experiences like reading a book like Kidnapped or The Wind in the Willows or The Time Machine or Dracula or The Prisoner of Zenda or The Thirty-Nine Steps or The Hound of the Baskervilles for the first time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Reading and young minds

One of the most enjoyable [and dangerous] things about Kindle is the ease of instantly possessing a book. I'm already reading On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, the book to which I refer in the post just below. From Dirda's Preface:
Graham Greene famously observed that only in childhood do books have any deep influence on our lives. "In later life, we admire, we are entertained, we may modify some views we already hold, but we are more likely to find in books merely a confirmation of what is in our minds already." But when we are young, "all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune-teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future."

Remembered pleasure

Upon reading this review I immediately bought the book. The experiences of both the author and the reviewer seemed to so closely to parallel my own as a youthful reader, including the reluctance to re-visit some authors out of fear that they wouldn't stand up to the remembered pleasure. From "The Sheer Joy of Genre Reading: Dirda’s ‘On Conan Doyle, or, The Whole Art of Storytelling’," by Curtis Evans:
I was fascinated by Dirda’s account of his own experiences with fiction, which date back to the 1950s, the great era of pulp paperbacks and E.C. Comics. Dirda’s seminal childhood reading material was somewhat loftier than, say, Vault of Horror, but he still got from it that same delicious frisson of fright:

The Hound of the Baskervilles...was the first ‘grown-up’ book I ever read—and it changed my life…Romantic poets regularly sigh over their childhood memories of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower. But what are daisies and rainbows compared to…sleek and shiny paperbacks? …. With a dollar clutched in my fist, I pedaled my red Roadmaster bike to Whalen’s drugstor, where I quickly picked out two or three candy bars, a box of Cracker Jack, and a cold bottle of Orange Crush. After my family had driven off in our new 1958 Ford, I dragged a blanket from my bed, spread it on the reclining chair next to the living room’s brass floor lamp, carefully arranged my provisions near to hand, and crawled expectantly under the covers with my paperback of The Hound—just as the heavens began to boom with thunder and the rain to thump against the curtained windows…. The Hound of the Baskervilles left its teeth marks in me and seriously aroused my then still slumbering passion for reading. I was no longer the same ten-year-old when I reached its final pages.
Dirda goes on to discuss other amazing genre discoveries he made after Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle showed him the way:

G.K. Chesterton’s clerical Father Brown (“each story chronicled a crime utterly beyond human ken”)

Sax Rohmer’s diabolical Dr. Fu Manchu (Dirda writes that he dare not go back and reread the Fu Manchu tales, “lest I be seriously appalled by my youthful taste”)

Howard Haycraft’s Boys’ Book of Great Detective Stories (where Dirda “first read the stunning Thinking Machine classic, ‘The Problem of Cell 13′ “)

Ernest Bramah’s blind detective, Max Carrados (see
http://thepassingtramp.blogspot.com/2012/01/all-hail-max-12-cases-for-max-carrados.html)

“The highly scientific Dr. Thorndyke of R. Austin Freeman”

If you’re a longtime fan of this amazingly rich period of mystery genre fiction, from the 1890s to World War One and beyond, to the “Golden Age” of the 1920s and 1930s, Dirda’s book makes entrancing reading.
I read all of those including, of course, Conan Doyle, except for the Haycroft — but I read "The Problem of Cell 13" in some other collection and then went on to read more of Futrelle's "Thinking Machine" stories. I've posted about many of these authors here and most, having fallen into the public domain, are available online. Curtis Evans writes about a few of these authors and others here and here. One of the most enjoyable accounts of the "Golden Age" mystery writers was by the above mentioned Howard Haycraft, Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story.

The Sheer Joy of Genre Reading: Dirda’s ‘On Conan Doyle, or, The Whole Art of Storytelling’ | The American Culture

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A reader-friendly Bible

My ESV Single Column Legacy Bible (TruTone, Brown/Saddle) arrived from Amazon in two days. It's a bit thicker and heavier than I anticipated but I'm very pleased. It's a reader's Bible — not a study Bible — and will serve admirably for that purpose. None of the usual apparatus interrupts the flow of the text. The page here was scanned from my copy.
Mark Bertrand at the "Bible Design Blog" hasn't reviewed this Bible yet but he has published some questions and replies from an executive at Crossway, Randy Jahns. Two of the exchanges:
Q. What is the story behind the Single Column Legacy ESV? How did the idea originate?

The original project was conceived under the working title of “Reader’s Thinline Bible.” The goal was to create a single-column, text-only, reader’s edition that focused on an inviting readable page and beautiful design.

Our Bible typesetter relied heavily on Canadian typesetter Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style as he developed the page design. Essentially, we tried to follow the "Renaissance Ideal" or "perfect page" layout. This layout refers to a set of principles called the “canons of page construction” that all focus around a 2:3 ration of page geometry. Jan Tschichold reintroduced this typographic ideal in the twentieth century, calling it a method “upon which it is impossible to improve” and which produces “the perfect book.” We stuck closely to this design philosophy, although we did have to make a few adjustments for the sake of overall page count. ....

Q. The most striking things about the page spread are that there are no cross-references and even the section headings are moved to the margin. What was the thinking behind these choices?

From the initial idea of having a Reader’s Thinline, we wanted the Bible text itself to be beautiful on the page, with simple and effective design. Our goal was to achieve clean blocks of uninterrupted text that would aid in the reading experience, which is why we moved the headings into the margin. This also added the benefit of slightly shortening the overall page count. ....
Bible Design and Binding: Single Column Legacy ESV (Part 1): Interview with Crossway

"Men of intemperate minds cannot be free"

This day in 1729 was the birthday of Edmund Burke (1729-1797), political philosopher, statesman, abolitionist, friend of liberty, conservative.
The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
Speech at a County Meeting of Buckinghamshire (1784)

Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.
Letter to M. de Menonville (October 1789)

Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to any thing but power for their relief.
Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
Edmund Burke - Wikiquote

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Free exercise

In a unanimous decision today the Supreme Court defended religious liberty. For the moment those in government who would decide for us who we must accept as our religious teachers and clergy have been thwarted. A couple of summaries of the significance of the decision:

Richard Garnett:
.... Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. EEOC vindicates clearly and strongly a crucial constitutional principle: The First Amendment protects religious liberty by forbidding governments from second-guessing religious communities’ decisions about who should be their teachers, leaders, and ministers. The chief justice’s opinion for the Court is well-reasoned, welcome, and correct. ....

.... The question for the Court was whether the Constitution’s protections for religious liberty allow secular courts to consider lawsuits brought by “ministers” against religious institutions, organizations, and communities. .... In today’s opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed what the overwhelming majority of lower federal courts and state courts in the United States have already ruled, and rejected the well-outside-the-mainstream view advanced by the Obama administration’s lawyers. This last point is worth emphasizing: The administration’s lawyers had pressed an extreme view — one that no other court, and few scholars and experts, had embraced — and they convinced no one. ....
Ed Whelan:
The opinion thus rejects the remarkably hostile contentions of the Obama administration that there is no general ministerial exception and that religious organizations are limited to the right to freedom of association that labor unions and social clubs enjoy. That latter contention, the Chief explains,
is hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations. We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.
.... In one concurring opinion, Justice Thomas expresses his view that courts should “defer to a religious organization’s good-faith understanding of who qualifies as a minister.” In a second concurrence, Justice Alito, joined by Justice Kagan, calls for the inquiry to “focus on the function performed by persons who work for religious bodies,” rather than on whether a religious organization uses the term “minister” or has a concept of ordination.
At Christianity Today

A Win for Religious Freedom - By Richard Garnett - Bench Memos - National Review Online, Major Victory for Religious Liberty Against Obama Administration Attack - By Ed Whelan - Bench Memos - National Review Online

The calm before the storm

From a bench at B.B. Clarke Beach, Madison, Wisconsin, at about noon today. Lake Monona is frozen over but the temperature is almost 50, the wind is calm and the sun shines.  I'm sitting comfortably wearing a T-shirt. Tomorrow, they tell us, the high will be in the low twenties and much snow beginning this evening.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Boomers," our parents, and authenticity

Yesterday responding to a letter about his negative reaction to Mark Driscoll’s latest book, Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk made some useful distinctions:
.... I am a member of a generation (Baby Boomers) that has promoted the idea that qualities like vulnerability are key to a healthy life and relationships. The accepted wisdom is that the generations before us were “uptight” and kept secrets. Our parents and grandparents lived in a culture of “shame” that valued a respectable outward appearance, while the reality underneath was often not so pretty. Taboos were strong and subjects like sex were not talked about freely and openly. It wasn’t the Victorian Age, but it might as well have been.

But that is not all. Feelings of all kinds were not shared aloud. It was considered bad form, a loss of self-control, an admission of weakness. “Keeping up appearances” was paramount. We feared shame more than hypocrisy. We feared loss of status and the disapproval of our peers. We didn’t like drawing attention to ourselves. We hated to think that people might pity us or think we were not self-reliant. ....

I know these folks well. I grew up among them. I have always had a healthy representation of them in my churches. As a hospice chaplain, I now visit with them daily. This is what I hear and have heard my whole life about “vulnerability.” ....
He discusses the reaction to my parents' generation: that "authenticity" and "vulnerability" and "transparency" were better — and he affirms that — but then:
I think that the practice of “vulnerability” as personal transparency may have gone to seed. ....

Vulnerability defined as “letting it all hang out” is not necessarily the same thing as serving others personally and humbly in my weakness. “Telling my story” may be more about meeting my own needs than about ministering to others. Sharing my feelings and personal experiences can be an act of humility and generosity, or a selfish attempt to put myself in the spotlight. It can keep me from listening well to what another is saying. It can prevent me from understanding my friend’s needs by keeping the focus on my own “need” to share. I may be so intent on sharing the details of my life that I fail to see that what I share about myself may be irrelevant to my friend’s situation. My story may give them a completely misleading idea about what it means for their journey.

Being vulnerable or transparent, sharing my feelings, speaking honestly and openly about my own mistakes and failures, confessing my doubts and fears and limitations, acknowledging my weaknesses, being willing to laugh at myself, shed tears without shame, admit my need for help, and say, “I don’t know” — these are essential qualities of humility and honesty. These qualities won’t look the same in everybody, they will be channeled through our individual personalities and temperaments. But they are necessary if we are to relate to one another well.

But…

Vulnerability must always be limited and guided by love. To love means to be with another and for another for their benefit. If allowing a glimpse inside my life through telling my story or sharing my feelings will accomplish that, then I should do so thoughtfully and with care and discernment. But I may be called to simply listen, ministering by my silence and presence. It may be more important for me to point my friend away from me in order to provide help. What is essential is that I am committed to loving others by laying down my life for them. But “laying down my life” does not always mean “sharing every detail of my life.”

The love that limits and guides vulnerability is a virtuous love. Sharing my life transparently with others is limited by love that recognizes a place for privacy. Certain details of life are private. Some things are not meant to be shared with anyone but kept in my own heart. Other things are meant only to be shared with those who share my private spaces. Without that, intimacy with the appropriate people in our lives is not possible. ....
Virtue and the Limits of Vulnerability | internetmonk.com

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tebowing

I thoroughly enjoyed Denver's victory yesterday largely — and not to my credit — because I knew it would annoy those who object to his very public expressions of faith. Elizabeth Scalia, a Catholic who blogs at Patheos, writes today about how to interprete "Tebowing":
.... Father James Martin, asked the question by the WaPo, goes full-Jesuit on the story:
All this raises the inevitable question, and one that I’ve been asked numerous times over the last few months: Is God answering Tim Tebow’s prayers?

Well, in good Jesuitical fashion the answer is: Yes, no, and I don’t know.
He’s right on all counts: yes, God is hearing and answering Tebow’s prayers, because he hears and answers all of our prayers. No, we cannot possibly understand what the answer really is, and being a public Christian is not a free pass to success, and who can know the mind of God, anyway?

Lost in all of this is the simple truth that a person’s relationship with God, no matter how publicly lived, is still profoundly personal and deeply, mysteriously unknowable.

I suspect Tebow, when he prays during a game, is praying “thy will be done” and “praise be to you”, and any contemplative will tell you that these simple prayers, when prayed regularly and heartfully before the start and end of every activity, become profound and intimate interactions.

But to many–perhaps to most—Tebow’s actions are interpreted to be little more than “God, help me complete this pass” and “Hey, thanks for the completed pass!” and, as Fr. Martin suggests, that view can easily mislead and distort the reality of Tebow’s faith and the whole point of the life of faith, in general. This is why I rather dislike the intense interest in Tebow and God and Answered Prayers: I think it is helping to put a very shallow spin on a practice of true depth.

Our answered prayers often confuse us; sometimes we wonder if we really wanted what we ended up with. In truth, the answer to our prayers is always—in the long run—an affirmative, but often it can seem like “no,” and either way, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we are told to “give thanks in all circumstances,” — a tall order that, with obedience, can bring great peace and a deepening of joy, at least in my experience, and I’ll bet in yours, too.

Giving thanks for what we perceive to be a “no” is the perspective-changer that helps us understand the hidden “yes.” .... [more]
Tim Tebow: Luke 12:8 or 1 Thess 5:18? « The Anchoress

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"I had a father who read to me"

John was resident at the same assisted-living facility where my mother spent her last years. My brother would occasionally assist him getting back to his rooms. My brother and I have often since wished that we had talked more to those who were resident there. John would have been a good one. This week John's daughter remembered his delight in reading and reading to her. From the Milton Courier:
"I had a father who read to me." That is a derivation of the last line of a poem titled The Reading Mother, by Strickland Gillian. It's the piece I read at my father's memorial service last September. He was 95 when he died. after falling and breaking his hip. He had a book on the table next to his chair that he never had the chance to finish. ....

My fondest memories growing up are of sitting on the living room couch next to my father as he read to me. At first they were the Little Golden books, with characters like Uncle Wiggly or Donald Duck. But soon he was reading chapter books that required a week or more to finish. Even when I became a capable reader on my own we continued this practice until I became a teenager. ....

The love of books, for both knowledge and entertainment, is the best gift my father could have given to me. My life would be diminished without the ability to learn on my own or entertain myself through the power of the written word. ....

The final stanzas of this compelling poem are,"You may have tangible wealth untold; Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be. I had a Mother who read to me."

It's a new year. Please consider enriching your children beyond buying things that may break or lose their value. Give a lifetime of success and happiness to your children. Read to them!
I agree. I had a father who read to me.

Milton Courier, January 5, 2012

The ESV "Single Column Legacy Bible"

I've enjoyed using the English Standard Version [ESV] of the Bible for a number of years now — not as a result of any judgement I'm capable of making about the scholarship involved, although those competent to make such judgements seem to like it, but because it is just so very readable. There are a number of very good editions available [including a a free one for Kindle], and today Crossway announces another, and perhaps the nicest one they have so far published:
The Single Column Legacy Bible has just arrived in the Crossway warehouse and will start shipping over the coming weeks. We’re excited about this new edition for at least four reasons.

1. It features a fresh, new design. .... It’s based off the Renaissance ideal for a perfect page...., which means there’s a precise layout of the text and the margins – what Renaissance thinkers considered perfect proportions. ....

2. We aimed for a high standard of excellence in production. .... The paper, binding, and printer were all carefully selected to ensure the quality of this edition.

3. It’s our first Bible that uses line-matching. Line-matching is a process that aligns the text on both sides of a page, minimizing the see-through of text. ....

4. It’s designed specifically for undistracted reading. Because we wanted this to be an ideal “reader’s Bible,” we chose a single-column format and opted to not include cross-references, introductions, or other special features (although there are maps and a concordance in the back). We also placed the section titles in the margin instead of in-line with the text. The result is an edition where the reader can move smoothly from passage to passage without jumping around or being distracted by added textual divisions. ....
Crossway's product page for the Single Column Legacy Bible. The images are from the Crossway site. The page image ought to give a good sense of the layout.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Manners

One of those commenting on yesterday's Iowa caucus results linked to this, a book by Senator Santorum's wife compiled for children — according to Amazon — "3 and up." Even though I'm somewhat older than that I've ordered it. I am sufficiently deficient in some of the areas it addresses that I have no doubt it will do me good. From the Amazon description:
In Everyday Graces: Child's Book Of Good Manners (Foundations), Karen Santorum has produced for parents and teachers a wonderfully rich and instructive anthology. Her volume speaks to the regrettable fact that the subject of manners is not much discussed anymore, and good manners seem practiced even less. Yet, good manners are a prerequisite for the growth of moral character; they are the habits of conduct and behavior by which we express in the most ordinary circumstances our fundamental respect for others, whether parents, friends, colleagues, or strangers. It is evident, then, that when we fail to instill good manners in our youth we invite a decline of civility and a coarsening of our common life. Under such headings as "Honor Your Mother and Father", "Please and Thank You", "No Hurtful Words", "Good Behavior in Sport", and "Showing Respect for Country", Mrs. Santorum has arranged a collection of stories and poems that will develop and enrich the moral imagination. Some of her selections are well known; others are forgotten gems that deserve a new hearing. Authors include Hans Christian Anderson, Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain, Frances Hodgson Burnett, M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, Max Lucado and Arnold Lobel, to name only a few. Karen Santorum writes that this anthology "grew out of the frustration of not being able to find a book on manners that instructs through stories rather than by rules of dos and don'ts." Each of her selections has been tried and tested on her own children, and each is introduced and concluded by her own thoughtful commentary. The result is an informality and intimacy that is inviting and infectious. Everyday Graces will be useful both as a bedside book and as a reference for home, school, and church library.
The introduction is by Joe Paterno.... but Bono liked it, too.

Amazon.com: Everyday Graces: Child's Book Of Good Manners (Foundations) (9781932236095): Karen Santorum: Books

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How then should we vote?

2012 promises to be a particularly contentious political year. Here Kevin DeYoung addresses how, as Christians, "we should try to think Christianly about the issues and candidates before us"
.... On the one hand, I’m concerned that some of us think there is a Christian position on every issue—as if the Bible determines the one and only God-honoring decision regarding rates of taxation or how to respond if Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz. But on the other hand, I fear other Christians are so loathe to seem partisan, or they consider politics so unclean, that they don’t dare bring Christian principles to bear on their political thinking. This too is a mistake. ....
He then lists some of the principles he believes Christians should apply in making realistic political judgements [I particularly like number 6]:
  1. Man is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). No matter how small or frail or old or impaired every human being has value and dignity. Government should protect human life and punish those who harm it (Rom. 13:4; Gen. 9:6).
  2. Man is made to work (Gen. 2:15). We ought to maximize incentives for hard work and remove incentives that encourage laziness (2 Thess. 3:6-12).
  3. Part of being human, as opposed to God, is that we are subject to appropriate authorities. This includes subjection to government and the requirement to pay taxes (Rom. 13:1-7).
  4. Humans are motivated by self-interest. Jesus understands this when he tells us to love our neighbors as we already love ourselves (Matt. 22:39). Self-interest is not automatically the same as greed or covetousness, which is why Jesus doesn’t hesitate to motivate the disciples with the promise of being first or the guarantee of reward (Matt. 6:19-20; Mark 10:29-31). Granted, our self-interest is not always virtuous. The work of the gospel is to teach people how their self-interest (joy) can square with God’s interest (glory). But the best policies are those that can harness the power of self-interest for the greater good.
  5. Humans are not just consumers on the planet; we are creators too. The physical world is a gift and a tool. We have the ability to spoil, but also the responsibility to subdue (Gen. 1:28).
  6. Because of Adam’s sin, the world is fallen (Rom. 5:12; 8:18-23). Things are not the way they are supposed to be. Utopia is not possible. Therefore, political decisions must deal with trade-offs, weighing pros and cons of various policies. We cannot eliminate the realities of living in a fallen world (John 12:8), but good policies can help mitigate some of the worst of them. [my emphasis]
  7. Human nature is bent toward evil (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9). This means we cannot count on the goodwill of others or of other nations, no matter how well-intentioned we may be or how much we may mind our own business. The question is not where war comes from. That is to be expected given our nature. The question is what institutions and policies are most effective at establishing peace.
Christian Principles for Realistic Politics – Kevin DeYoung

Monday, January 2, 2012

"Things fall apart..."

"Jonathan Sacks has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth since September 1991...." according to the biography at The Office of the Chief Rabbi. In "The Limits of Secularism" he argues that not only does religion address fundamental questions that secularism cannot but that it is important for the survival of society. A few excerpts from a much longer article:
.... Religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? We will always ask those three questions because homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal, and religion has always been our greatest heritage of meaning. You can take science, technology, the liberal democratic state and the market economy as four institutions that characterise modernity, but none of these four will give you an answer to those questions that humans ask.

Science will explain how but not why. It talks about what is, not what ought to be. Science is descriptive, not prescriptive; it can tell us about causes but it cannot tell us about purposes. Indeed, science disavows purposes. Second, technology: technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power. Thanks to technology, we can instantly communicate across the world, but it still doesn't help us know what to say. As for the liberal democratic state, it gives us the maximum freedom to live as we choose, but the minimum direction as to how we should choose. The market gives us choices but it does not tell us what constitutes the wise or the good or the beautiful choices. Therefore, as long as we ask those questions, we will always find ourselves turning to religion. ....

The fundamental argument that I make in my book The Great Partnership, subtitled "God, Science and the Search for Meaning", is that science and religion are extreme cases of two different ways of thinking about the world. .... To summarise 120,000 words in a single sentence: "Science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean." ....

.... We need religion and we need science. We need science to explain the universe and we need religion to explain the meaning of human existence. We stand to lose a great deal if we lose religious faith. We will lose our Western sense of human dignity. I think we will lose our Western sense of a free society. I think we will lose our understanding of moral responsibility. I think we will lose the concept of a sacred relationship, particularly that of marriage, and we will lose our concept of a meaningful life. I think that religious belief is fundamental to Western civilisation and we will lose the very heart of it if we lose our faith. ....

...[I]ndividuals may live good lives without religion — the moral sense is part of what makes us human — but a society never can, and morality is quintessentially a social phenomenon. It is that set of principles, practices and ideals that bind us together in a collective enterprise. The market and the state may be driven by the pursuit of interests but societies are framed by something larger and more expansive, by a shared vision of the common good. Absent this and societies begin to fragment. People start thinking of morality as a matter of personal choice. The sense of being bound together — the root meaning of "religion" — in a larger enterprise starts to atrophy and social cohesion is lost. The West was made by what is nowadays called the Judeo-Christian heritage which gave it its unique configuration of values and virtues. Lose that and we will lose Western civilisation as we have known it for the better part of two millennia. ....

I once defined faith as the redemption of solitude. It sanctifies relationships, builds communities, and turns our gaze outward from self to other, giving emotional resonance to altruism and energising the better angels of our nature. These are some of the gifts of our encounter with transcendence, and whether it is love of humanity that leads to the love of God or the other way round, it remains the necessary gravitational force that keeps us, each, from spinning off into independent orbits, binding us instead into the myriad forms of collective beatitude. A society without faith is like one without art, music, beauty or grace, and no society without faith can endure for long. [read it all]
The Limits of Secularism | Standpoint