Saturday, September 29, 2012

Seven of ten

Assuming the Bible and excluding devotional works and classics of the faith, James Emery White proposes composing a list of ten books that would qualify as "mainstream, accessible to the average reader, and offering foundational help to anyone’s walk with Christ." He suggests seven, and asks his readers to recommend three more. His is a very good selection, at least based on the five I know. I haven't read the Gordon MacDonald title or Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace but everything else I've read by Yancey, especially Disappointment with God, was very good. Several of White's commenters suggest Timothy Keller's The Reason for God, a choice which I would enthusiastically support. His seven, alphabetical by author:
Friesen, Gary. Decision Making and the Will of God.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity.
MacDonald, Gordon. Ordering Your Private World.
Packer, J.I. Knowing God.
Stott, John R.W. Basic Christianity.
ten Boom, Corrie. The Hiding Place.
Yancey, Philip. What's So Amazing About Grace?
Church & Culture Blog | Church and Culture

Not at all cuddly

Today, September 29, is observed by some Christian traditions in the West as Michaelmas [or the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels]. One site identifies Michael this way:
.... The name Michael signifies "Who is like to God?" and was the war cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against Satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as "one of the chief princes," and leader of the forces of Heaven in their triumph over the powers of Hell. ....
Peter Kreeft's blog includes "Angels: The Twelve Most Important Things to Know About Them" [excerpted from his book Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know about Them?]:
  1. They really exist. Not just in our minds, or our myths, or our symbols, or our culture. They are as real as your dog, or your sister, or electricity.
  2. They’re present, right here, right now, right next to you, reading these words with you.
  3. They’re not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or “cool.” They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors.
  4. They are the real “extra-terrestrials,” the real “Super-men,” the ultimate aliens. Their powers are far beyond those of all fictional creatures.
  5. They are more brilliant minds than Einstein.
  6. They can literally move the heavens and the earth if God permits them.
  7. There are also evil angels, fallen angels, demons, or devils. These too are not myths. Demon possessions, and exorcisms, are real.
  8. Angels are aware of you, even though you can’t usually see or hear them. But you can communicate with them. You can talk to them without even speaking.
  9. You really do have your very own “guardian angel”. Everybody does.
  10. Angels often come disguised. “Do not neglect hospitality, for some have entertained angels unawares”—that’s a warning from life’s oldest and best instruction manual.
  11. We are on a protected part of a great battlefield between angels and devils, extending to eternity.
  12. Angels are sentinels standing at the crossroads where life meets death. They work especially at moments of crisis, at the brink of disaster—for bodies, for souls, and for nations. .... [more]
Angels by Peter Kreeft

Friday, September 28, 2012

I will arise and go to Jesus

A friend reminds me of this great hymn from the Sac­red Harp tradition: "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy"

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
Refrain
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Refrain
Refrain:
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?
Refrain
Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Refrain
Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
Refrain
Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Refrain
Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
Refrain

A variation on the hymn by the Missouri All State Choir:


Stupidity

Anthony Esolen notes that “to thine own self be true” were words spoken by Polonius "a shallow, prating, tedious old man, who is anything but straightforward in his behavior" and that "Shakespeare is deeply suspicious of people who are true to themselves, and not to God or to their country." From "Lemmings, Unite! Be True to Yourself?":
...[T]he leaders of the Girl Guides of Australia...have recently revised the oath the girls must take. From now on, instead of swearing loyalty to God, to the Queen, and to Australia, each girl will swear, “I will be true to myself and to my beliefs.”

It’s easy enough to enjoy a hearty laugh at the stupidity of the change. Indeed, the oath is not an oath at all, but rather implies the repudiation of all oaths. To say, “I will be true to myself,” is equivalent to saying, “I will do just as I please,” nor does the addition of “my beliefs” provide any limit to the narcissism, since what is emphasized is not the objective truth of those beliefs, or their transcendent authority, but merely the fact that they happen to be mine. When they cease to please me, then, I am free to alter them, to “believe” something else, to “bend with the remover to remove.” When the wind turns, so does the weathervane. ....

...It is bad to be ignorant, but someone who is ignorant of the courses of the planets can yet be wise in the ways of men. Stupidity is different. Stupidity, I believe, takes real work. Nature provides each of us with a certain measure of dullness and sluggishness of mind; it is only by means of persistence and, for some, hard study that one can deepen that dullness into stupidity. The leaders of the Girl Guides give us a fine example. They say they have striven to be “relevant,” just as the cultural lemmings of the last fifty years have striven to be relevant, whatever that is supposed to mean. So they took a fine old oath, one that just might jog one girl in a hundred from her sleepy self-satisfaction, and tossed it away, in favor of their new invention. They are too stupid to suspect the stupidity. .... [more]
Lemmings, Unite! Be True to Yourself? « Public Discourse

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Doxology

"How the Doxology Shapes Us" by Zac Hicks is a reminder of how much is packed into just a few words:
James K. A. Smith, in Desiring the Kingdom, reminds us that the very form and rituals of worship have a shaping effect on us. We don’t just become more godly by learning the theology of the songs and imbibing the propositional content of the sermon. Our desires and habits, as we move along the path of the liturgy, are shaped to more subconsciously and instinctively move along the direction of that path. ....

First, the Doxology shapes us into whole worshipers.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
The first line gives us the “why” of worship (because of what He does). But next is the “who.” First, “all creatures” are summoned to God’s praise, and suddenly our minds are blown about the fact that worship is not merely a human activity. It is an activity of all creation. ....

Second, the Doxology blows open the supernatural nature of worship.

When we begin worship, I will often start by reminding congregants that today’s worship attendance numbers are larger than they appear. If the folks tallying our worship count were really being honest, every week, they’d write “myriads upon myriads.” Revelation 4-5 reminds us that when we enter into gathered worship on earth, we step into the already moving stream of the perpetual worship of heaven–the elders, the heavenly beings, the white-robed martyrs, the saints that have gone before. In the Doxology, we sing:
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host.
The Doxology does not allow us to tally worship attendance based on who is seen physically in the room.  ....

Third, the Doxology makes us a Trinitarian people.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Is the Trinity just an esoteric theological construct, or does it have existential import? In other words, what good is it to us in our day to day lives that our God is one, yet three? To tease out just one implication, it reminds us that because God exists in interdependent community, so should we. ....
Doxology and Theology » How the Doxology Shapes Us by Zac Hicks

Do it to experience it

From an interview with Dr. Matthew Sleeth, author of the book 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life:
Gayle Trotter: How do we build a Sabbath refuge?

Matthew Sleeth: For me, building a Sabbath refuge means that we — my wife and I have been married 31 years — have to do the work to make sure that we have a day off. We cannot leave a chore undone because the thing is we can all run to the store any day of the week now. We plan for that. We build some margin into our lives so that day we are not miserable thinking about the work we have not gotten done. We really plan for simple meals. We almost always go on an extended walk. Describing the Sabbath is like describing ice cream to somebody. If somebody has never eaten ice cream, you can describe it all you want. But the proof is in the big spoonful of Cherry Garcia.

GT: Yes.

MS: I remember, I have been able to give about a half a dozen children their first bite of ice cream. Being a doctor in a small town like I was then you could get away with stuff. People would put their babies in their lap. Lots of these children had been raised with perfect nutrition. Sugar was never going to cross their mouths. But when I put the spoonful of ice cream in, those children gave me a look like they would love me forever.

The Sabbath is like that. I can talk about it forever, but you have to try it for yourself. You have to try it more than once. In 24/6, I make the analogy of sit-ups. If we did some sit-ups one day, the next day all you are going to have is a sore belly. There is not much good that happens.

The Sabbath is like that, if you just take one Sabbath and try it out. You are not going to get the effect that you are going to have at least trying it for one month, every seven days and taking one day off. It is something that has to be experienced. It can only be described up to a point. I think the Bible is pretty clear about that. God tells people to do it, but they do it in order to experience it. ....
Antidote to Fast Living » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"There is nothing in the world so good as good neighbours."

The Library of America has just published The Little House Books, all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books in two volumes. I don't believe I ever read most of them but I do recall reading Little House in the Big Woods—the one about the family's time in Wisconsin—in grade school. I probably should read them. Everyone seems to think they are good and the Ingalls' family experiences seem very like those my Skaggs and Whitney ancestors had during the same times.

From Meghan Clyne's review of the new collection:
The fictionalized account of a girl's transformation into a young woman is also the story of America's growth and maturation. Wilder's stories for children document the Westward Expansion and explore surprisingly grown-up themes—the nature of self-government, the responsibilities that go along with freedom and what it means to be an American.

Essential to understanding those themes is the fact that Wilder wrote the "Little House" books during the Depression and New Deal, at a time when she saw the nation sliding into an unhealthy dependency on government. In addition to educating American children about a crucial period of their history, Wilder wanted to show them a freer way of life. "Self reliance," she explained in a speech in the winter of 1935-36, is one of the "values of life" that "run[s] through all the stories, like a golden thread." ....


If Wilder's pioneer families are resourceful, government is depicted as meddling and incompetent—a contrast that emphasizes the importance of providing for oneself. Indeed, Washington's bungling is blamed for the Ingallses' forced departure from Indian Territory in "Little House on the Prairie," and in "The Long Winter" a family friend denounces politicians who "tax the lining out'n a man's pockets" and "take pleasure a-prying into a man's affairs." Fear of debt hangs over these stories like a dark cloud; to be "beholden" to anyone is a mark of shame. The only respectable path to subsistence—let alone comfort—is hard work. "Neither [my parents] nor their neighbors begged for help," Wilder explained in a 1937 speech. "No other person, nor the government, owed them a living."

But no man in Wilder's stories is an island. When people fall on desperate times—and they do constantly—Wilder's pioneers exhibit one of those other "values of life": "helpfulness." There is a sacred code of neighborliness, and Wilder's heroes are those who forgo their own safety to the benefit of others. In "The Long Winter," for instance, Almanzo and a friend make a near-suicidal trip to find wheat for the starving residents of De Smet. In "On the Banks of Plum Creek," a prairie fire threatens to destroy the family's home. Knowing Pa is away, a neighbor, Mr. Nelson, rides to the farm to help Ma, beating back the fire with wet sacks. After he leaves, Ma remarks: "There is nothing in the world so good as good neighbours." .... [more]
Book Review: The Little House Books - WSJ.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"We bow down before Him, and we stand upright before Men"

Via Power Line, Rabbi Leo Baeck, October 10, 1935, Berlin, for the Kol Nidre service beginning Yom Kippur:
At this hour the whole House of Israel stands before its God, the God of Justice and the God of Mercy. We shall examine our ways before Him. We shall examine what we have done and what we have failed to do; we shall examine where we have gone and where we have failed to go. Wherever we have sinned we will confess it: We will say “we have sinned” and we will pray with the will to repentance before the Lord and we will pray: “Lord forgive us!”

We stand before our God and with the same courage with which we have acknowledged our sins, the sins of the individual and the sins of the community, shall we express our abhorrence of the lie directed against us, and the slander of our faith and its expressions: this slander is far below us. We believe in our faith and our future. Who brought the world the secret of the Lord Everlasting, of the Lord Who is One? Who brought the world understanding for a life of purity, for the purity of the family? Who brought the world respect for Man made in the image of God? Who brought the world the commandment of justice, of social thought? In all these the spirit of the Prophets of Israel, the Revelation of God to the Jewish People had a part.

It sprang from our Judaism, and continues to grow in it. All the slander drops away when it is cast against these facts.

We stand before our God: Our strength is in Him. In Him is the truth and the dignity of our history. In Him is the source of our survival through every change, our firm stand in all our trials. Our history is the history of spiritual greatness, spiritual dignity.

We turn to it when attack and insult are directed against us, when need and suffering press in upon us. The Lord led our fathers from generation to generation. He will continue to lead us and our children through our days.

We stand before our God; we draw strength from His Commandments, which we obey. We bow down before Him, and we stand upright before Men. Him we serve, and remain steadfast in all the changes around us. We put our faith in Him in humility and our way ahead is clear, we see our future….
Beginning in September, 1935, the Nuremberg Laws required every Jew over the age of six to wear a Star of David when in public. This was only one of the many discriminations and indignities visited on German Jews with much worse to follow.

Leo Baeck, Berlin, 1935 | Power Line

Permanence and "Progress"

I don't think I agree with David Brooks' analysis of the current situation within conservatism [which he seems to confuse with Republicanism]. But he does do a good job of describing the sort of conservatism with which I have always been in sympathy:
..[T]he traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government.

Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.

Recently the blogger Rod Dreher linked to Kirk’s essay, “Ten Conservative Principles,” which gives the flavor of this brand of traditional conservatism. This kind of conservative cherishes custom, believing that the individual is foolish but the species is wise. It is usually best to be guided by precedent.

This conservative believes in prudence on the grounds that society is complicated and it’s generally best to reform it steadily but cautiously. Providence moves slowly but the devil hurries. .... [more]
We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason;
because we suspect that this stock in each man is small,
and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves
of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.

Edmund Burke

"Ten Conservative Principles" by Russell Kirk

The Conservative Mind - NYTimes.com

"Mind the Gap"

I'm an Anglophile, or at least a lover of the country as it once was, and, apart from visits, my sense of place was largely formed by films and books written about the country before or during the first half of the last century. Today, Conservative History Journal, a British site, called my attention to "London Underground posters dating back a century to fetch £500,000 at Christie's auction":
An extraordinary collection of more than 300 vintage London Underground posters which date back to as early as pre-World War One are set to fetch a combined £500,000 at auction next week.

The posters, which include slogans such as 'Shop Between Ten & Four’, 'Please Pass Along The Platform' and 'The Lure of the Underground' are expected to go for £800 to £15,000 each.

Auctioneers Christie’s described the chance to buy the posters - which date from 1913 to 1955 and are being held in South Kensington, south-west London - as ‘unrivalled and never-to-be-repeated’. ....
This one is from 1926:


Here are more London Underground posters for sale - nice!

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Life...should be pebbled with principle..."

So very bad that it's good? I defy you to read the quotations from Amanda McKittrick Ros, Authoress, while maintaining your composure. From David Bentley Hart's "Brilliantly Bad Books":
.... Most bad writers, after all, tend to be bad in only the most boringly conventional and drearily predictable ways. But the joy of reading Amanda McKittrick Ros is all but inexhaustible. In the realm of bad literature, she was a pioneer of the spirit, tirelessly exploring new frontiers: a true innovator, prodigious and unique. No mere hack could have perfected a style of such horrendous and delirious originality.
“Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!” (Irene Iddesleigh)
To her admirers (and I am among the most fervent), her books are as inspired in their way as any great works of art could ever be. ....

It was all quite unintentional. She was not some brilliant parodist or cunning absurdist. She was, in fact, almost insanely devoid of a sense of humor. Her visiting card in her later years says it all: “Amanda McKittrick Ros, Authoress, At Home always to the honourable.” She took herself and her art with the utmost seriousness, and regarded all of those “critic crabs”—those “evil-minded snapshots of spleen”—who failed to recognize her genius as spiteful fiends. One could say, I suppose, that she was a brilliant surrealist; but she was so only by inadvertence. ....

.... Amanda was unaware of the sheer scale and robustness of the mockery her book had provoked. She was, in any event, a sublimely arrogant and self-regarding woman, and quite incapable of interpreting adverse comments on her work as anything other than expressions of envy. So she pressed on. Delina Delaney—also privately published at the expense of her haplessly indulgent husband—was a longer, more ambitious work than its predecessor....

It...contains some of the most splendid specimens of her prose. Of the wicked Madam-de-Maine, sitting alone in her bedroom soon after shooting to death the poor old servant who knew it was she who had poisoned Lord Gifford’s pudding, we read: “Her frame sometimes shook to chorus a thirsty sob, as if she were again contemplating a similar ordeal. Eventually, however, the signs of nervousness, that now visited her, died and withered away, and a miraculous peace, sometimes seen on the marbled faces of Roman statuary, that exhibit strongly the polished calm of revengeful rulers, rested on her features.”

It was, sadly, the last of her novels to appear while she was alive. She did, however, produce two volumes of verse: Poems of Puncture in 1912 and Fumes of Formation in 1933. And she printed a few broadsheets for the troops during the Great War, one of which featured her poem “A Little Belgian Orphan,” a tale of German atrocities that begins with the extraordinary line “Daddy was a Belgian and so was Mammy too,” and that includes such plangent couplets as “Just then they raised the little lad and threw him on the fire, / And wreathed in smiles they watched him burn until he did expire.” ....

At times, I confess, I feel a little guilty about my fondness for Amanda’s books; I fear there has always been a hint of cruelty in the devotion she excites in her admirers. My only defense is that I have come to feel, far from anything like disdain, a very genuine and sincere affection for her over the years, and I am profoundly grateful for the delight she has afforded me continually since I first discovered her writings. There really was something madly brilliant about her books, and I treasure them. What better posterity should a writer crave? So, rather than reproach myself, I prefer simply to recall that, as Amanda wrote, “Life is too often stripped of its pleasantness by the steps of false assumption, marring the true path of life-long happiness, which should be pebbled with principle, piety, purity, and peace.”

Again, I could not possibly have said it better.
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were among those who read Amanda McKittrick Ros aloud to uproarious laughter.

The World War I poem quoted above ends:
Go! Meet the foe undaunted, they're rotten cowards all,
Present to them the bayonet, they totter and they fall,
We know you'll do your duty and come to little harm
And if you meet the Kaiser, cut off his other arm.
And upon visiting Westminster Abbey, Amanda McKittrick Ros:
Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue'
Undergoes the same as you.
There is apparently a contest held in Belfast which is won by the person able “to read the longest passage from Amanda’s work without laughing.” [Note: I read that the Inklings played this game sometimes when there was no new work by one of the members to read.]

Irene Iddesleigh is available free, here, for Kindle.

Brilliantly Bad Books

Limits

John Fabian Witt explains how the Emancipation Proclamation led directly to new rules restricting the behavior of armies at war:
.... Drafted by the Columbia professor Francis Lieber and approved by Lincoln himself, the code set out a host of humane rules: it prohibited torture, protected prisoners of war and outlawed assassinations. It distinguished between soldiers and civilians and it disclaimed cruelty, revenge attacks and senseless suffering.

Most of all, the code defended the freeing of enemy slaves and the arming of black soldiers as a humanitarian imperative, not as an invitation to atrocity. The code announced that free armies were like roving institutions of freedom, abolishing slavery wherever they went. And it defended black soldiers by insisting that the laws of war made “no distinction of color” — indeed, mistreatment of black soldiers would warrant righteous retaliation by the Union.

The pocket-size pamphlet quickly became the blueprint for a new generation of treaties, up to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Strong nations like Prussia and France had long suspected that law-of-war initiatives were little more than maneuvering by weaker countries and closet pacifists hoping to make war more difficult. Lincoln’s code broke that diplomatic logjam: It contained no hidden European agenda, and no one could accuse the Lincoln administration of trying to hold back strong armies. ....

The rules of armed conflict today arise directly out of Lincoln’s example. They restrain brutality. But by placing a stamp of approval on “acceptable” ways to make war, they legitimate terrible violence. The law does not relieve war of all its terrors; it does not even purport to. But it stands as a living reminder, a century and a half later, of how thoroughly the United States’ most significant moment still shapes our moral universe. [more]
War and the Emancipation Proclamation - NYTimes.com

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Whoever would be great among you..."

Tim Tebow provides Russell Moore an opportunity to explain an important aspect of the faith to an uncomprehending feminist website:
Tim Tebow says he wants a wife with “a servant’s heart.” Does that make him a misogynist? ....

Jezebel (their name for themselves; I’m not name-calling) summed this up as that Tebow’s perfect woman is “hot, kind and servile.” ....

I know, I know. You hear this language and you assume Tebow wants a Stepford wife in a French maid’s uniform, massaging his feet and refilling his glass of sweet tea. But this isn’t what evangelical Christians mean when they say “a servant’s heart.”

First of all, in Christianity, a “servant” isn’t a slur. ....

Jesus serves his Bride, the church, by washing her feet in the upper room. This is what greatness is, Jesus tells Christians, to serve one another and to outdo one another in building one another up. That servant-heartedness isn’t unique to women; all Christians are called to it. ....

Husbands serve wives. Wives serve husbands. Children serve parents. Parents serve children. Pastors serve churches. Churches serve pastors. That concept might be demeaning in the world of Vogue, but it’s not in a new creation where “the leader is the one who serves” (Lk. 22:26). ....

When Tim Tebow says he wants a wife with “a servant’s heart,” he is, like any Christian man, hoping also for a woman who is seeking a husband with “a servant’s heart.” It doesn’t mean he wants a doormat. It just means he wants a Christian. [more]
Moore to the Point – Is Tim Tebow a Chauvinist?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Envy

Matthew Lee Anderson is enjoying an experience I would love to have. He is living in The Kilns. Some friends and I once were given a tour of the house, but he is living there:
Sometimes when young folks read a lot of old books, they wake up one day and think that C.S. Lewis wasn’t really all that insightful. ”It’s all in Plato,” the Professor in the Chronicles says. And there’s a temptation for us to think that all of Lewis is there, or in Augustine or Dante. But try writing at his level and with his clarity and the awe returns, with a vengeance, and makes a mockery of the hubris that ever dared doubt Lewis’ ultimately unquestionable brilliance. To synthesize several strands of Western Christian thought and then package the whole into a children’s book series? Unless your name is Tolkien, you ought to be astonished.

Which is why I feel like you need to know that I am living in C.S. Lewis’s house. Like, The Kilns. The place where he did the bulk of his writing. The place where he spent time walking and thinking and smoking his pipe. For the next nine months, at least, we’ll be here. And maybe, if they’ll have us, for longer. ....
Day One from Oxford: A View from The Kilns - Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity, Politics, and Culture, C. S. Lewis Foundation - Living the Legacy of C.S. Lewis

The Hobbit at 75

Seventy-five years ago tomorrow The Hobbit was published:
In a letter to the poet W.H. Auden, J.R.R., Tolkien describes the events that took place on a quiet summer’s day in 1930 as he was working at home in his study on a quiet, tree-lined street in residential Oxford: “All I remember about the start of The Hobbit is sitting correcting School Certificate papers in the everlasting weariness of that annual task forced on impecunious academics with children.

On a blank leaf I scrawled: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I did not and do not know why. I did nothing about it, for a long time.” ....

The Hobbit was published 75 years ago on September 21, 1937. Without its publication, there certainly would never have been the public demand for a sequel which resulted in The Lord of the Rings sixteen years later in 1953. Even with the now-famous opening line written, the whole thing might have ended there, except for the author’s extraordinary interest in names and word origins. “Names always generate a story in my mind,” Tolkien later explained. “Eventually I thought I'd better find out what hobbits were like.”

Eleven days after The Hobbit came out, on October 2, 1937, readers opened The Times Literary Supplement to find a review of this remarkable new book.

“This is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery,” the reviewer explained. He also made the point that the book “will be funniest to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realize what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true.”

The reviewer was C.S. Lewis. .... [more]
C. S. Lewis Blog: Happy 75th Birthday to The Hobbit!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is freedom more trouble than it is worth?

Reviewing a book about blasphemy and apostasy laws worldwide, Claire Berlinski makes some points that seem even more relevant after our government's reaction to the violent Islamist reaction to that film. We need to be certain about what we believe.
...[W]e must resist these bans for our own sake. This we can and must do. Students now coming of age at European and American universities will not remember the intellectual and moral climate in 1989 after Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was published. I was at the time studying at the most left-wing college at Oxford University, where the embrace of every old-fashioned pinko platitude was commonplace and the college turtle was named Rosa Luxemburg. But I do not recall one single student, one single academic, expressing anything but proper outrage upon learning of the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa. There was perfect moral clarity: the fatwa was the very essence of savagery, and it was unimaginable that we should dream of compromising with those who would issue such a thing.

Compare this to the reaction to the case of Molly Norris, the Seattle cartoonist who in 2010 drew a cartoon in honor of "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." Following the pronouncement of a death sentence upon her, she was effectively forced into the equivalent of an FBI witness protection program. She no longer exists. Her identity has been erased. But popular sentiment, in this case, was mixed: many were outraged, but this comment, posted below the news item reporting the story, was not anomalous:
I will say that what she did was shortsighted and frankly kind of dumb. While I believe in free speech I also believe that if I say something offensive I'm likely to receive unpleasant reprisal and if I were to attack a religious group known for defending their beliefs with violence by creating a contest desecrating their most holy of symbols I could end up with a lot of death threats and possibly end up dead in a ditch. So, frankly, I don't feel sorry for her.
This failure to grasp the very point of freedom of expression, and its connection to civilization, represents not a revolutionary change of mind in the world, which has always been savage, but a revolutionary change of mind in the West, which for a too-brief moment was not. ....

...[T]he inherent right to believe as one's reason and conscience dictate, free from political penalties or state coercion [is what makes] blasphemy and apostasy laws a violation of human rights and dignity. But this does not mean that we have a right not to be contradicted or offended, or to exact bloody revenge when we are. Yet the majority of human beings throughout history and throughout the world today consider freedom of religion an outrage and suspect intuitively that unfettered freedom of speech would be the expressway to chaos, ethnic cleansing, and the breakdown of social order. There is much in human experience to suggest they are right.

It is only in this broader context that we can understand how quickly and readily the West has collectively decided that freedom of speech might be more trouble than it's worth. The problem is not so much the Islamic world, which is typical of the world as it has always been; it is our own fragile commitment to liberty.
It seems to me that freedom of political and religious expression ought to be something all Americans, from right to left, should affirm and defend. We have become much too tender-hearted to those with grievances at the expense of a robust defense of freedom. Free speech means nothing unless it protects unpopular speech from violence or legal sanction.

The Claremont Institute - First Freedoms

Hiraeth

I have Welsh ancestors and I have been to Wales, twice. I've climbed up into Snowdonia, toured Conwy Castle, heard the language spoken, traveled by rail from Cardiff, listened to the male choirs, and long felt an identification with that heritage, but not like Pamela Petro:
Hiraeth.

It’s pronounced “here-eyeth” (roll the “r”) and it’s a Welsh word. It has no exact cognate in English. The best we can do is “homesickness,” ....

Mae hiraeth arna amdanot ti. There’s a homesickness on me for you. Or, if we’re mincing words, I miss you. That’s fair, too. But the deeper, national hiraeth is something you don’t have to go away to experience. You can feel it at home in Wales. In fact, that’s where you feel it most.

I’m American, but I have a hiraeth on me for Wales. I went there first as a grad student in the 1980s. I learned to drink whiskey and do sheep impressions (I can differentiate between lambs and ewes). I learned what coal smoke smells like (nocturnal and oily). And I fell in love with the earth. It happened one late afternoon when I went for a walk in the Brecon Beacons. (The dictionary defines beacons as “conspicuous hills,” which is about as apt as you can get.) When I set off from sea level the air was already growing damp as the sun faded. Ahead of me the Beacons’ bald, grey-brown flanks were furrowed like elephant skin in ashes-of-roses light. It soon became chilly but the ground held onto its warmth, so that the hills began to smoke with eddying bands of mist. That dusk was unspeakably beautiful and not a little illicit. It seemed, for a millisecond, as if I were witnessing the earth drop its guard and exhale its love for the sky, for the pungent cattle, the rabbits whose bones lay underfoot, and for me, too. I felt as if my bodily fluids, my wet, physiological self, were being summoned to high tide. The hills tugged on my blood and it responded with a storm surge that made me ache—a simple sensation more urgent and less complicated than thought, like the love of one animal for another. Or the love of an animal for its home. .... [more]

Via Brandywine Books

Paris Review – Dreaming in Welsh, Pamela Petro

A Protestant martyr

Doctrine is something many may find tedious but there was a time when what one believed was a matter of life or death, and there were martyrs, both Catholic and Protestant, in England during the Reformation. Wikipedia describes one who was very briefly Queen of England:
Lady Jane Grey had an excellent humanist education and a reputation as one of the most learned young women of her day. A committed Protestant, she was posthumously regarded as not only a political victim but also a martyr.
Justin Taylor tells us "How a 16-Year-Old Girl Explained the Sacraments to a Catholic Interrogator in 1554":
In early 1554 Queen Mary I sent John de Feckenham to seek to persuade her 16-year-old Protestant cousin, the Lady Jane Grey, of the truth of the Catholic faith, thereby avoiding execution. Feckenham was unsuccessful, and she was beheaded February 12, 1554.

After dialoging about justification by faith, they turned to the subject of the sacraments:
Feckenham. — How many sacraments are there?
Lady Jane. — Two; the one the sacrament of Baptism, and the other the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Feckenham. — No, there are seven.
Lady Jane. — By what scripture find you that?
Feckenham. — Well, we will talk of that hereafter. But what is signified by your two sacraments?
Lady Jane. — By the sacrament of Baptism I am washed with water, and regenerated by the Spirit, and that washing is a token to me that I am the child of God. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper offered unto me, is a sure seal and testimony that I am, by the blood of Christ which he shed for me on the cross, made partaker of the everlasting kingdom.
Feckenham. — Why, what do you receive in that sacrament? Do you not receive the very body and blood of Christ?
Lady Jane. — No, surely, I do not so believe. I think that at the supper I neither receive flesh nor blood, but bread and wine, which bread, when it is broken, and which wine, when it is drunken, putteth me in remembrance how that for my sins the body of Christ was broken, and his blood shed on the cross, and with that bread and wine I receive the benefits that came by the breaking of his body, and shedding his blood for our sins on the cross.
Feckenham. — Why, doth not Christ speak these words, Take, eat, this is my body? Require you any plainer words? Doth he not say, it is his body?
Lady Jane. — I grant he saith so; and so he saith, ‘I am the vine, I am the door’: but he is never the more the door nor the vine. .... [more]
How a 16-Year-Old Girl Explained the Sacraments to a Catholic Interrogator in 1554 – Justin Taylor

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"To snuff out evil, you’d have to get rid of us all"

One of my favorite crime writers was John D. MacDonald. He wrote seventy-some books and I think I've read all of them. His books were [are], for me, a compulsive read. His series detective was Travis McGee [every one of the twenty-one books in the series included a color in the title, e.g. Bright Orange for the Shroud]. One of the non-McGee books was The Executioners, from which was made the great noir film Cape Fear starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. [This was one of Mitchum's great villain roles, the other being in The Night of the Hunter. The film was later remade with Robert DeNiro in the role.]

Mark Bertrand has only recently read the book and it caused him to reflect on "Noir as Moral Instruction":
.... Noir fiction doesn’t assume a Manichean division between good and evil. It acknowledges the individual and systemic extent of human corruption, which touches even the good guys.

Over the past week, apropos the recent riots throughout the Middle East, I’ve seen a quotation of Steven Weinberg’s paraphrased numerous times, to the effect that good people do good things, evil people do evil things, but for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. It’s one of those pithy rhetorical statements that sounds pretty good until you stop and think. In melodrama, the human race is divided up between the good and the evil, the white hats and the black. The good tribe battles the bad tribe—if only they could be snuffed out, everything would be fine. Reality is a bit more complicated. To snuff out evil, you’d have to get rid of us all. ....

Societal solutions that rely on an alliance of the good people against the bad are naive (at best) because they tend to be especially blind to the evil they themselves do. These are the evils which the noir mindset can’t help bringing to light. .... [more]
Crime Genre: Noir as Moral Instruction

Elections matter

Justice Scalia explains why the Supreme Court divides as it does on many issues, and one in particular. This is a very important reason why Presidential and Senatorial elections should matter very much to those of us who are pro-life, since Presidents appoint and Senators consent. Scalia:
.... Neither I, nor any one of my colleagues, votes a certain way because he or she likes this president or is a member of the party that that president belongs to. I couldn’t care less who the president is. They vote that way because that’s who they are. They were selected because of who they are.

So why should it be surprising, that when you have a Democratic Party that has been trying for years to appoint people who approve of Roe v. Wade—which means people who are not originalists, who do not stick to the text, who believe in substantive due process or whatever—why should it be surprising that when the Democrats have been doing that for 30 years at least, and the Republicans have been doing the opposite for 30 years, swearing that they’re going to appoint people who are not judicial activists, hew to the text, why should it be surprising? That you end up with a court where the Democratic appointees are quite different from the Republican appointees, I mean, you know, maybe the legislature and the president are not as stupid as you think.

But they assuredly pick those people because of who they are, and when they get to the court they remain who they were. [emphasis added]
Scalia Blasts Critics of Court | Washington Free Beacon

A Baptist "disconnect"?

When he was six James Kushiner's parents told him that he shouldn't take communion until he was old enough to understand and until after he had been baptized. That sequence has certainly been my understanding of Baptist doctrine [believer's baptism, church membership, then participation in the Lord's Supper], but, as he discovers, perhaps not Baptist practice. Shouldn't partaking in communion be for those who have made a profession of faith and who have been baptized? Kushiner:
...I read this story yesterday from the Baptist Press about a survey taken among Southern Baptist congregations:
According to the survey, 52 percent of SBC churches offer the Lord’s Supper to “anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ.” Thirty-five percent say “anyone who has been baptized as a believer” may participate. Five percent of SBC churches serve communion to “anyone who wants to participate,” while 4 percent of churches don’t specify any conditions for participation.

Only 4 percent restrict participation to local church members.
I was curious about offering Communion to those not baptized and whether this had been a change in policy among Baptists, so I read on. A change in policy, no, but a change in practice, yes:
“Clearly, though, this survey points out a difference between the beliefs expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message, and the Lord’s Supper practices of many Southern Baptist churches,” [researcher Scott] McConnell said.

Article VII of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (SBC.net/bfm) lists baptism as a “prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.” Article VII also says the Lord’s Supper is for “members of the church.”
That official policy is what I would have expected. Some congregations (of various denominations) will invite “baptized Christians” to partake. Others will invite anybody who wants to partake to come and do so, sometimes without even specifying being a Christian.

Partaking of the Lord’s Supper surely requires a deep commitment to Jesus Christ, to the Way of the Cross, to “drinking the cup” which he drank, as well as to be baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized. To not have accepted baptism yet but to feel all the same that one is ready for participation in the the Body and Blood of the Lord would indicate some level of “disconnect.” .... [more]
Who May Partake? - Mere Comments

Monday, September 17, 2012

225 years

Today is Constitution Day, the anniversary of the day in 1787 on which the oldest written constitution ever in continuous effect was signed. Julia Shaw at Heritage notes some aspects of it that people tend to forget. For instance:
When the 13th Amendment was ratified, not a single word of the Constitution needed to be deleted. The word “slave” or “slavery” never appears. In fact, the framers refused to use the words—opting instead for persons held to service or labor—to avoid legitimizing slavery and to emphasize that they were people, not objects.

The Constitution does not classify people according to race, not even in the oft-misunderstood Three-fifths Clause. Free blacks in the North and the South were counted on par with whites for purposes of apportionment. The three-fifths compromise was designed to prevent Southern states from magnifying their political power. .... [more]
Heritage's The Constitution of the United States, "The authoritative reference with expert, clause-by-clause analysis."

The Forgotten Constitution

Blasphemy and the law

UW law prof Althouse, reacting to some arguments made by Egyptian protesters, notes that it was not so long ago that anti-blasphemy laws existed in this country. Althouse:
We're not that far from criminalizing blasphemy in the United States, though it seems obvious to educated Americans today that these laws are unconstitutional. Here's a quick summary of the history of blasphemy law in the U.S. And here's the 1952 case Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson where the Supreme Court struck down a New York law that banned showing "sacrilegious" movies. New York's highest court had interpreted the statute to mean "that no religion, as that word is understood by the ordinary, reasonable person, shall be treated with contempt, mockery, scorn and ridicule." The U.S. Supreme Court said:
[T]he state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them which is sufficient to justify prior restraints upon the expression of those views. It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches, or motion pictures.
My point is: it took a Supreme Court case as recently as 1952, to establish that principle in our country, with its rich free-speech tradition. Lawyers even saw fit at that time to argue that movies shouldn't get free-speech protection at all because "their production, distribution, and exhibition is a large-scale business conducted for private profit."

Oh, wait, the President of the United States today argues that corporations don't have free-speech rights, and many Americans, including highly educated lawyers, are saying the Constitution should be amended to delete those rights.

Let's not be so quick to assume the man with the "Shut Up America" sign is thoroughly alien. The threats to free speech lie within. They always have. [more]
Althouse: "We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?"

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Science and Christian faith

Thomas Nagel, a philosophy professor at NYU and an atheist, provides a balanced and interesting review of Alvin Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism:
.... One of the things atheists tend to believe is that modern science is on their side, whereas theism is in conflict with science: that, for example, belief in miracles is inconsistent with the scientific conception of natural law; faith as a basis of belief is inconsistent with the scientific conception of knowledge; belief that God created man in his own image is inconsistent with scientific explanations provided by the theory of evolution. In his absorbing new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga, a distinguished analytic philosopher known for his contributions to metaphysics and theory of knowledge as well as to the philosophy of religion, turns this alleged opposition on its head. His overall claim is that “there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.” By naturalism he means the view that the world describable by the natural sciences is all that exists, and that there is no such person as God, or anything like God. ....

Plantinga discusses many topics in the course of the book, but his most important claims are epistemological. He holds, first, that the theistic conception of the relation between God, the natural world, and ourselves makes it reasonable for us to regard our perceptual and rational faculties as reliable. It is therefore reasonable to believe that the scientific theories they allow us to create do describe reality. He holds, second, that the naturalistic conception of the world, and of ourselves as products of unguided Darwinian evolution, makes it unreasonable for us to believe that our cognitive faculties are reliable, and therefore unreasonable to believe any theories they may lead us to form, including the theory of evolution. In other words, belief in naturalism combined with belief in evolution is self-defeating. However, Plantinga thinks we can reasonably believe that we are the products of evolution provided that we also believe, contrary to naturalism, that the process was in some way guided by God. ....

Most of Plantinga’s book is taken up with systematic discussion... [of] specific claims about how science conflicts with, or supports, religion. He addresses Richard Dawkins’s claim that evolution reveals a world without design; Michael Behe’s claim that on the contrary it reveals the working of intelligent design; the claim that the laws of physics are incompatible with miracles; the claim of evolutionary and social psychologists that the functional explanation of moral and religious beliefs shows that there are no objective moral or religious truths; the idea that historical biblical criticism makes it unreasonable to regard the Bible as the word of God; and the idea that the fine-tuning of the basic physical constants, whose precise values make life possible, is evidence of a creator. He touches on the problem of evil, and though he offers possible responses, he also remarks, “Suppose God does have a good reason for permitting sin and evil, pain and suffering: why think we would be the first to know what it is?” .... [more]
A Philosopher Defends Religion by Thomas Nagel | The New York Review of Books

A landscape turned red

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the battle of Antietam. Geoffrey Norman, in The Weekly Standard:
More were killed or mortally wounded here, that day, than on September 11 or on D-Day. Casualties, according to official records, totaled 22,719 in both armies. Twenty-five percent of the Union forces. Over 30 percent of the Confederates. There were 1,546 Confederate dead, 2,108 Union. Many of the 1,771 missing were dead, and many of the wounded would die. It was, in the minds of many who survived the battle and, then, the entire war, the worst day they ever experienced. “Beyond words,” they would almost invariably write. ....

...Antietam was an unusually—even epically—tragic battle. Not least, of course, for the casualties but also because, if things had gone just a little differently, if mortals had behaved with just slightly less imperfection, those two and a half years could have been avoided and the war could have been won, completely, that day. ....
Iron Brigade soldiers

It was just three days earlier that the Iron Brigade got its name, during the Battle of South Mountain:
.... The attack on Turner’s Gap—the day’s larger movement—was a tough fight with heavy casualties on both sides, including Union general Jesse Reno. The final assault that carried the pass was the work of General John Gibbon’s Black Hats, who became the Iron Brigade that day when McClellan, watching the assault, called them the best soldiers in his army and said, “They must be made of iron.” ....
One of the most famous units in the Union Army was the Iron Brigade consisting at that time of the 2nd Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, 7th Wisconsin and 19th Indiana. The 24th Michigan would later become part of this famous brigade.

The Iron Brigade saw heavy fighting in the cornfield and suffered heavy losses. The Brigade began the battle with 800 men and lost 350 of them with the 6th Wisconsin losing over 150. ....
The Iron Brigade had the highest percentage of casualties of any brigade in that war.

Norman describes the battle.

The War’s Worst Day | The Weekly Standard, Remembering Our Bloodiest Day « Stuff That Interests Me

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Actions have consequences

Mark Bertrand, who himself has written a series of crime novels, and who maintains the Bible Design blog, has selected the "Top 5 Crime Shows on TV (American-Style)" [his nominations for British series will come soon] and his number one choice is a series I am currently watching, and enjoying, on Netflix:
1. Breaking Bad

A high school science teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer starts cooking meth to provide for his family after he’s gone, only it’s the most chemically pure meth anyone has seen, leading to high demand and a whole lot of trouble. Done. I'm all in. ....

...[T]he moral questions explored are gripping. Jesse Pinkman's Season 4 speech at the NA meeting about responsibility for your actions is one of those places most shows never earn the right to go. [more]
From a Wikipedia article about the series:
In an interview with The New York Times, creator Vince Gilligan said the larger lesson of the series is that "actions have consequences". He elaborated on the show's philosophy:
If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I hate the idea of Idi Amin living in Saudi Arabia for the last 25 years of his life. That galls me to no end. I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something. I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen. My girlfriend says this great thing that’s become my philosophy as well. 'I want to believe there's a heaven. But I can't not believe there's a hell.'
Ross Douthat of The New York Times...compared Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, stating that both series are "morality plays" that are "both interested in moral agency". Ross went on to say that Walter White and Tony Soprano "represent mirror-image takes on the problem of evil, damnation and free will". Walter as a man who "deliberately abandons the light for the darkness" while Tony is "someone born and raised in darkness" who turns down "opportunity after opportunity to claw his way upward to the light."
Crime Genre: Top 5 Crime Shows on TV (American-Style)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Choices

Jonathan Tobin on Mayor Bloomberg’s most recent effort to compel virtue:
...[G]ood intentions have always paved the road to hell or, more important, the path to tyranny. Bloomberg is right to say that New Yorkers ought to be watching their diets. He’s dead wrong in attempting to use the ubiquitous power of the state to impose his ideas about what they should be eating and drinking on them. ....

The justification presented for this unprecedented government interference in both commerce and individual behavior is that the public and the government bear much of the cost of the illnesses that derive from obesity. But the logic of this argument breaks down when you realize that such reasoning would allow government to interfere in just about any sphere of private behavior including procreation. That is exactly the point that the Communist regime in Beijing has given in defense of its tyrannical one-child policy and the forced abortions that are performed in order to enforce it. ....

Personal choices, such as the consumption of sugar, do not fall under any reasonable definition of government responsibility. However serious our obesity problem may be, it cannot be solved by government fiat. Indeed, it isn’t likely that there will be a single less fat person in New York because of Bloomberg’s power play. But there will be a little less individual freedom....
Liberalism used to be about liberty. But more recently it has seemed to be about laws restricting where one can smoke, or whether one must wear a helmet, or whether prayers can be offered in public, or what unpopular opinions one can utter. I am no libertarian but it seems to me the burden of proof should be on those who would further restrict choice rather than on an individual's freedom to choose. The only "choice" liberals seem to favor is whether a mother should be able to destroy life [and thus eliminate any possibility for that helpless person ever to choose].

Absolute liberty is absence of restraint; responsibility is restraint;
therefore, the ideally free individual is responsible to himself.

Henry B. Adams

Bloomberg’s War on Individual Freedom « Commentary Magazine

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lincoln

I very much hope this film is good:


LINCOLN - Official Trailer (2012) [HD] - YouTube

The last of the Plantagenets

Let me sit heavy on thy soul to-morrow!
I, that was wash'd to death with fulsome wine,
Poor Clarence, by thy guile betrayed to death!
To-morrow in the battle think on me,
And fall thy edgeless sword: despair, and die!—

The ghost of Clarence in Shakespeare's Richard III

In Leicester, England, it was reported Monday, that archeologists were "tantalisingly close" to discovering the body of the loser of the Battle of Bosworth Field:
The dig to recover the body of the king, who was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry Tudor in 1485, has already unearthed the long-lost Franciscan Friary where he was buried.

The church, which is also called Grey Friars, was known to be where Richard III was buried but its exact whereabouts had become lost over time. ....
The Richard III Foundation, Inc. has welcomed the news that the current archaeological project at the Greyfriars church site in Leicester appears to have led to the recovery of the last mortal remains of King Richard III. Whilst DNA testing will be used to verify the identity of the body, archaeologists are convinced that it is Richard III.

Richard was the last Plantagenet king of England and the only English king to die in battle. He was killed on 22 August 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth and is known to have fought bravely to the end. His body was removed from the battlefield by the victorious army of Henry Tudor and was buried three days later in nearby Leicester – but the precise location of Richard’s last resting place was not known – until now. ....
The articulated skeleton was found in what is believed to be the Choir of the church.

The articulated skeleton found in the Choir is of significant interest to us. Dr Jo Appleby has carried out a preliminary examination of the remains. There are five reasons for our interest:
  1. The remains are in good condition and appear to be of an adult male.
  2. The Choir is the area reported in the historical record as the burial place of King Richard III. John Rous, reports that Richard "at last was buried in the choir of the Friars Minor at Leicester".
  3. The skeleton, on initial examination, appears to have suffered significant pen-mortem trauma to the skull which appears consistent with (although not certainly caused by) an injury received in battle. A bladed implement appears to have cleaved part of the rear of the skull.
  4. A barbed metal arrowhead was found between vertebrae of the skeleton's upper back.
  5. The skeleton found in the Choir area has spinal abnormalities. We believe the individual would have had severe scoliosis - which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder. This is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard's appearance. The skeleton does not have kyphosis - a different form of spinal curvature. The skeleton was not a hunchback. There appears to be no evidence of a "withered arm". ....
Via Conservative History Journal: They might have found him

Richard III search: archaeologists 'tantalisingly close' to finding king's body - Telegraph, Richard III Foundation welcomes success of archaeological dig and looks forward to re-burial of England’s Last Plantagenet King, Dropbox - University of Leicester statement, 12 September.pdf

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dylan and darkness

I've been listening to Dylan's new CD, Tempest, and liking it a lot. The reviewer at Christianity Today liked it, too.

Today I came across an excerpt from an interview Dylan did for Rolling Stone during which he responds to some of his critics and in the process noting a criticism from a few decades ago that he seems to have particularly resented:
.... These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you've been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. ....
And also a longer article again at Christianity Today focusing on the religious implications of "The Dark Side of Dylan":
.... Maybe it's an accident of timing, but Dylan's ecclesiastical voice is absolutely unique within the confines of the Baby Boomer generation and the art they crafted. The fact that his musical sojourns so frequently and artfully included well formed considerations of the gospel simply adds to his gravitas. The material that closely followed his conversion to Christianity in the late 1970s reflected a far darker and more biblically accurate view of the life and priorities of a Jesus follower than most socially polite "gospel" music would ever dare. There were no holds barred, for instance, in the decidedly impolite and absolute sentiments of "Gotta Serve Somebody":
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody
Smack in the middle of the "me" decade, here was a prophet crying in the wilderness that any of our concepts of personal freedom are ultimately a myth. Our option is not to serve or to be independent, but simply to choose to whom we will ultimately bow. Sure, many of his fans hated this era of his music, but any honest consideration of his meta-narrative would have to include stark observations such as this.

There is nothing darker, and more liberating, than the ultimate message of the gospel. Despite the sentiments of self-help televangelists, politically correct professors, and greeting card theologists, the gospel is as dark as it gets. Every human is born guilty. Every person lives under a death sentence. The human life is ultimately a choice between a temporal (though eventually victorious) struggle against our own nature—the death of the self—followed by an eternal reward of rest and peace, or it is about a loving God surrendering his creation to its own willful desire to be apart from him eternally. The choice is up to each individual person, but they face a host of enemies and allies along their own journey.

Regardless of his well-shrouded personal theology, Dylan has always been extremely adept at recognizing the human condition and calling it what it is: a life-long struggle with eternal implications. Certainly many Christians wish he would have remained as didactic as he seemed to be on his "Christian" records Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love, but that's because many Christians seem uncomfortable with the process of discernment. Why wrestle with meaning when there are easier answers to be had elsewhere? .... [more]
Bob Dylan Strikes Back at Critics | Music News | Rolling Stone, The Dark Side of Dylan | Christianity Today