Saturday, August 30, 2014

A true and faithful witness

The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, 
I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:6
Lord Christ, let me not be put to shame.
Christ, I beseech you,
    let me not be put to shame.
Christ, come to my aid,
    have pity upon me,
    let me not be put to shame.
Christ, I beseech you, give me the strength
    to suffer what I must for you.
Dativus the Senator martyred in the Diocletian persecutions, c. 304

This is the end,
    but for me
It is the beginning
    of life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer hanged at Flossenburg Concentration Camp, 1945

Blessed be the God and Father
    of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who of His great and abundant goodness ,
    willed that I should be a partaker
of the sufferings of His Christ
    and a true and faithful witness
of His divinity.
Ignatius of Antioch executed in Rome c. 107
From Prayers of the Martyrs, Zondervan, 1991. I hadn't had this book down from the shelf in a long time but its relevance to current events drew my attention.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"The clean sea breeze of the centuries"

A friend's link on Facebook reminded me of the argument C.S. Lewis made in his 1944 introduction to a translation of Athanasius's On the Incarnation. That introduction has often been reprinted as an essay titled "On the Reading of Old Books," from which:
.... Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them. .... (The entire essay is available here in HTML  and here as a pdf.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"The future belongs to us"

"One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century." said President Obama in response to the murder of James Foley. Ross Douthat doesn't think those who oppose liberal democracy are necessarily on "the wrong side of history" because it is difficult to argue historically that history takes sides.
.... Both illiberal nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism are younger than the United States. They aren’t just throwbacks or relics; they’re counterforces that liberal modernity seems to inevitably conjure up.

So writing off the West’s challengers as purely atavistic is a good way to misunderstand them — and to miss the persistent features of human nature that they exploit, appeal to and reward.

These features include not only the lust for violence and the will to power, but also a yearning for a transcendent cause that liberal societies can have trouble satisfying. ....

Which is why liberalism’s current dominance is contingent rather than necessary, and why its past victories have often been rather near-run things. .... The ideals of democracy and human rights are ascendant in our age, but their advance still depends on agency, strategy and self-sacrifice, no matter what date the calendar displays. (emphasis added) ....

...[T]he most successful counterideologies, the most threatening of liberalism’s rivals, have always managed to give the impression that their ideas are on the winning side of history, and that it is the poor milquetoast liberal democrats who are antique and out of date.
This was obviously true of Marxist-Leninism, but it was true of fascism as well. The fascists were reactionaries, to a point, in their appeals to mythic Roman and Teutonic pasts. But they offered far more than nostalgia: What the late Christopher Hitchens called “the mobilizing energy of fascism” was inseparable from a vision of efficiency, technology and development, one that helped persuade many Europeans (and some Americans) that Mussolini and then even Hitler stood at history’s vanguard, that the future was being forged in Rome and Berlin. .... [more]

Monday, August 25, 2014

"I’ll never, no never, no never forsake"

Today Challies presents his selection of "The 10 Greatest Hymns of All-Time." They are all fine choices but, as witness the comments to his post, ten is much too small a number to encompass the "greatest." I particularly liked one of his ten:
How Firm a Foundation by an unknown author. This hymn is unique in the way it speaks in God’s voice, so that God himself assures us of his goodness, his care, and his mercy. Few hymns are sweeter in times of suffering or despair. “The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, / I will not, I will not desert to its foes; / That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, / I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
Very early at this blog I posted this. Here is a slightly modified version of that post:

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

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

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

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

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


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

The 10 Greatest Hymns of All-Time | Challies Dot Com

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A scrap of paper

Great Britain entered the First World War on August 4, 1914 because of the German violation of the Treaty of London (1839). From The Spectator (UK), August 22, 1914:
...[T]he Imperial Chancellor expressed with considerable irritation his inability to understand the attitude of England, and added: “Why should you make war upon us for a scrap of paper?” The Times goes on to tell us that “Sir Edward Goschen is reported to have replied that he understood the German statesman’s inability to comprehend British action, but that England attached importance to ‘the scrap of paper’ (the Treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality) because it bore her signature, as well as that of Germany.” Here we have in a nutshell the causes which produced the war—that essential difference of opinion and conflict of will which when they occur can only be decided by the sword, or by one or other of the nations concerned giving way, and through fear yielding to or adopting the view which it began by contesting. To put it in concrete form, we had either to adopt the German view that “scraps of paper “—that is, the solemnly pledged words of nations—must be treated as mere shams of no binding force, or else endeavour to make our view that they are something more than” scraps of paper” prevail by the supreme sacrifice of war. Thank God! the British Government and people did not hesitate, but were unanimous in resolving to keep their plighted word, though it might be to their own hurt, and not yield to the “scrap of paper” view of public morality. .... [more]

Friday, August 22, 2014

Trying not to sound stupid

Reviewing an English grammar and usage book that he doesn't really like ("...a poor stylist with a propensity to gross overstatement probably shouldn’t write a book on English grammar and usage"), Barton Swaim explains the appeal of such guides based on his own experience as an "authority":
.... Nearly every day my phone would ring and someone would ask, “Is it ‘none is’ or ‘none are’?” or “Can you use ‘impact’ as a verb?” or “Do you capitalize ‘judicial branch’?”

At first I tried to respond with nuanced explanations about how this rule wasn’t followed much anymore or that usage was pretty common but best avoided. But I sensed impatience. All my questioners wanted to know was what was right and what was wrong. They didn’t care what was “generally accepted” or defensible; they wanted to know what they should say in order not to sound stupid. So I gave it to them on my own authority: “none is”; “impact” is never a verb; “judicial branch” is lower case. That seemed to satisfy.

And that’s all most readers want from a book on English grammar and usage. They want to know what to write and what to avoid—not because they want to follow arbitrary rules set down by the anonymous rulemakers of the past, but because they want to express themselves in ways that don’t cause distraction. ....

It doesn’t matter how many academic linguists tell us that language changes over time and that what’s accepted today was considered ungrammatical a century ago. .... All of this may be true, but none of it matters. Educated people still want to know whether they should write “amuck” or “amok,” “between” or “among,” “flounder” or “founder,” “infer” or “imply,” “it’s he” or “it’s him.”

The market is constantly ripe, therefore, for any book that will flout the fashion for permissiveness and explain to readers in direct, unfussy prose how they should construct sentences and what mistakes they should avoid. .... [more]

Carpe diem

Mockingbird offers "A Quick Peanuts":


And also links to a 2011 post about The Gospel According to Peanuts

The Mockingbird site describes itself as "...a ministry that seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways."

Political philosphy

When I was studying politics in college and graduate school the course work included both political "science" — the supposedly value-free study of how political systems work — and political theory, including political philosophy. I found political theory far more interesting than statistical studies. Today I discover "The Great Thinkers," a site devoted to political philosophy. From the introduction:
Hegel
Political philosophy is the study of the fundamental questions of human life generally and political life in particular. Its first basic problem concerns the profound issue of human happiness: how should I live? Is the best way of life one devoted to the satisfaction of desire, the ethical and political virtue of a Lincoln or Washington, the intellectual excellence of a Socrates, religious faith and observance, or the poetry of a Shakespeare? Its second central question is how should we live? What is justice, and what is the most just form of government?

Political philosophy explores all the central phenomena of human action and political choice in the light of its two central questions. [more]
The twenty-two "thinkers" thus far included at the site cover a considerable range from Plato to Augustine to Maimonides to Burke to Nietzsche with brief biographies of each and links to their "Featured Works," commentary and video lectures.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Book

"I have a long-standing interest in the relationship between religious faith and the media in which it is presented: books make faith, and faith makes books" writes Philip Jenkins:
.... The story of Christianity is intimately bound up with the rise of new ways of presenting information, especially in the replacement of the traditional scroll by the codex, the ancestor of the modern book. (I am here drawing heavily on Alan Jacobs’s excellent article from 2011 on “Christianity and the Future of the Book”.)

The invention of the codex created the Bible. In Greek, ta Biblia can mean either “the books" (neuter plural) or "the book" (feminine singular). When the books of the Bible were available on separate scrolls, it was easy to see them as separate free-standing works, “the books”, which could be subject to a mix and match approach of acceptance and rejection. But when they were kept within a single text between two covers, then it was clearly The Book, one book, a concept that gave a mighty boost to the notion of canonizing certain texts and excluding others.

The codex was, in its origins, a highly theological invention. As Jacobs suggests, one primary goal of the new medium was to include both Old and New Testaments within one cover, to stress the harmony and continuity of the texts, and to refute heretics like the Marcionites who set the two at odds. As anyone could see or feel, clearly the two Testaments were one. This allowed and encouraged the quest for parallels and resonances between the two, the ancient quest for typology that so shaped Christian art through the centuries.

To return to the Reformation, in no respect were Protestants more radical than in the dominant forms of media used to teach and discuss religious truths, with all that shift implies for cultural sensibilities. As has often been remarked, the Reformation was a media revolution. Traditional societies had taught their truths through visual imagery, such as stained glass and sculpture; through music; and above all, through drama and ritual action, which often involved a large amount of communal participation. Protestants taught through the word, in the form of books and tracts, hymns and sermons. God became Word.

The new religious model was made possible only by the rise of printing, which we think of most directly in terms of books and especially Bibles. .... [more]

Monday, August 18, 2014

The best way to commit a murder

Very much related to the last post: Alfred Hitchcock's film Shadow of a Doubt includes two characters who are readers of that kind of mystery popular in the middle of the twentieth century: the protagonist's father Joseph Newton and his good friend Herbie Hawkins. They often meet to discuss the stories they have recently read and their own arguments about how to carry out the perfect murder:
Herbie: Say, ha-have you read this one? Huh? That little Frenchman beats them all. You can talk all you like about Sherlock Holmes. That little Frenchman beats 'em all.
Joseph Newton: I read it. Air bubbles don't necessarily kill a person. Those writers from the other side get too fancy. — The best way to commit a murder—
Herbie: — I know, I know. Hit 'em on the head with a blunt instrument.
Newton: Well, it's true, isn't it? Listen, If I wanted to murder you tomorrow, do you think I'd waste my time on fancy hypodermics? — Or on Inee?
Herbie: — What's that?
Newton: — Inee. Indian arrow poison.
Herbie: — Oh.
Newton: Listen, I'd find out if you were alone, walk in, hit you on the head with a piece of lead pipe or a loaded cane —
Herbie: What'd be the fun of that? Where's your planning? Where's your clues?
Newton: I don't want any clues. I want to murder you. What do I want with clues?
Herbie: Well, if you haven't got any clues, where's your book?
Newton: I'm not talkin' 'bout writing books. I'm talking about killing you!
Herbie: If I was going to kill you, I wouldn't do a dumb thing like hitting you on the head. First of all, I don't like the fingerprint angle. Of course, I could always wear gloves, press your hands against the pipe after you were dead and make you look like a suicide.
Newton: But you wouldn't beat yourself to death.
Herbie: I'd do it so it didn't look like murder. ....
And, in a later conversation:
Newton: What were we saying, Herb? Did I notice what?
Herbie: Well, did you taste anything funny about that coffee you had at my house this evening?
Newton: No. It tasted all right.
Herbie: That's what I mean. It wasn't all right.
Newton: — Put something in it?
Herbie: — Put a little soda. About the same amount that I'd have used if I'd wanted to use poison.
Newton: Well, you don't say? I never tasted a thing. Of course, I might not notice the soda.
Herbie: You'd notice the soda more than you would the poison. (Scoffs) For all you knew, you might just as well be dead now. ....

Playing fair with the reader

I am culling my library: discarding books, using as my rule of thumb whether I am likely to ever read the book again or to ever need it as reference. The latter, of course, is greatly influenced by the vast availability of material online. I will eventually considerably reduce the weight of books on my shelves — when I began I had about nine hundred hardcover titles and additional paperbacks. The discards will go to the Madison Public Library to do with as they please. Most will probably be offered for sale to raise money. A pleasant consequence of this process is the rediscovery of books I haven't looked at for a very long time. One that caught my attention today is The Art of the Mystery Story, edited by Howard Haycraft and published right after World War II. It is a wonderful collection of essays about mysteries that focuses on what has been called the "Golden Age" of the mystery story — the period before and between the world wars — the era of Chesterton and Sayers and Christie and so many more. One of the essays collected is S.S. Van Dine's "Twenty rules for writing detective stories" (also found here). Van Dine (actually Willard Huntington Wright) was the author of the Philo Vance mysteries. The rules:
  1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.
  2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
  3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.
  4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It's false pretenses.
  5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.
  6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.
  7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.
  8. The problem of the crime must he solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic seances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.
  9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his codeductor is. It's like making the reader run a race with a relay team.
  10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.
  11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion.
  12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.
  13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.
  14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.
  15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.
  16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.
  17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.
  18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.
  19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader's everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.
  20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. (b) The bogus spiritualistic seance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) The word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.
Agatha Christie famously violated number 4 and number 12 and no doubt others. But once done such tricks lose any surprise. These are "Golden Age" rules that have long since been superseded but I still enjoy such stories.

"If the right people don't have power..."

Via Kevin DeYoung:

Friday, August 15, 2014

The world at war

I am re-watching what I think is still the best documentary of the Second World War: The World at War. It was produced by the BBC in 1974 right at the point when many of the classified materials about World War II had been declassified but when many of the principle individuals on all sides who had participated were still available to be interviewed. The perspective is British which means from the beginning — not only from Pearl Harbor on. It is an extraordinary effort. Amazon's description:
More than 35 years after its initial broadcast, The World at War remains the definitive visual history of World War II. Unsurpassed in depth and scope, its 26 hour-long programs feature an extraordinary collection of newsreel, propaganda, and home-movie footage drawn from the archives of 18 nations, including color close-ups of Adolf Hitler taken by his mistress, that present an unvarnished perspective of the war s pivotal events. Penetrating interviews with eyewitness participants from Hitler s secretary to Alger Hiss to ordinary citizens who stood outside the battle lines add spine-tingling, first-hand accounts to an already unforgettable viewing experience.

Informative and unbiased, The World at War is the recipient of numerous accolades, including an International Emmy Award, The National Television Critics' Award for Best Documentary, and knighthood for its creator, Sir Jeremy Isaacs. Narrated by Academy Award winner Sir Laurence Olivier and painstakingly restored in 1080p high-definition (with newly-created 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks), this is epic history at its absolute best.
It is indeed "epic."

Trolls

"Web Trolls Winning as Incivility Increases" says the headline at The New York Times. I belong to a conservative/libertarian site that has found a solution: Ricochet. They do succeed in weeding out the trolls:
.... We started with two principles: (1) The internet is full of rude, malicious people who will go out of there way to derail civil conversation; (2) These people are cheap.

Our solution? Basic economics (hey, we’re conservatives!). We created a small barrier to entry in the form of requiring a paid membership to comment on posts. And we fortified our commitment to civility by requiring our members to adhere to a Code of Conduct enforced by our editors. The result? A community so civil that it can generate a debate on abortion that runs to over 350 comments without degenerating into a flame war. Take that, assembled scholarly community!

Is the system perfect? No. We’ve had to drop the hammer on troublemakers from time to time, but that’s just the way of the world. .... [more]

Kidnapped

Of all of Robert Louis Stevenson's books Treasure Island (1883) is my favorite. Kidnapped (1886) is a very close second. The best hardbound edition of that second book, with magnificent illustrations by N.C. Wyeth, was published by Scribner in 1913 and has been re-published periodically ever since. The cover illustration on the right is from one of the best of the later editions. I came across electronic versions of the book today at ManyBooks.net where, since the book is out of copyright, it can be downloaded free. 

From the title page of the book:
Kidnapped: Being memoirs of the adventures of David Balfour in the year 1751: How he was kidnapped and cast away; his sufferings in a desert isle; his journey in the wild highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious highland Jacobites; with all that he suffered at the hands of his uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so called.
My favorite Wyeth illustration from Kidnapped:

The Torrent in the Valley of Glencoe

Let me not fight for God as if the devil were in me

James M. Kushiner is the Executive Editor of Touchstone. In a recent email to its readers his subject was how doctrinal disagreement is best handled:
.... Two hundred years ago, President of Princeton, Samuel Stanhope, wrote this to his cousin, Samuel Blair, who happened to believe all men would be saved:
I shall never believe that you are to be rejected from salvation for holding that all other men are to be saved—therefore your asserting this principle will not provoke any pious rage in me. I will give your argument a fair and cool examination. If I am not convinced, I will represent my objections to you with the same candor—if I cannot answer you I will not grow angry—and that is more than you can say of every Christian Brother—but I have learned long since, not to fight for God as if the devil were in me. If reason and charity cannot promote the cause of truth and piety, I cannot see how it should ever flourish under the withering fires of wrath and strife.
His closing words seem wise—especially "not to fight for God as if the devil were in me." Jesus, though, did not speak softly nor politely (or did he?) when he saw the devil in someone else. "Get thee behind me, Satan!" he says to Peter. Of course, Jesus was never mistaken in his assessments and judgments. We see things less clearly, but at times we do see. ....

John Witherspoon, a prominent Evangelical minister from the Church of Scotland, emigrated in 1768 to become president of the College of New Jersey (which became Princeton). Concerning the importance of manners for clergy, he wrote, "Let no man seek to avoid that reproach which may be his lot, for preaching the truths of the everlasting Gospel, but let him always avoid the just reproach of handling them in a mean, slovenly, and indecent manner." ....

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014), RIP

Lauren Bacall, the smoky-voiced movie legend who taught Humphrey Bogart how to whistle in To Have and Have Not, has died at the age of 89, according to her family. ....

Bacall launched her career with To Have and Have Not, the 1944 film that turned "Bogie and Bacall" into one of Hollywood's legendary couples on screen and off. ....

Bogart and Bacall, who married in 1945 and were together until his death 12 years later, were teamed up in three more Warner Bros. movies, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo. .... [more]
Bacall with Bogart:

To Have and Have Not (1944):




The Big Sleep (1946):


Dark Passage (1947):


Key Largo (1948):


And much later, in Murder On The Orient Express (1974):


Lauren Bacall, legendary actress, dies at 89 - LA Times

"The great duty...is repentance...."

A few posts ago I referred to the Yale Digital Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson. Included in that collection are sermons that Johnson composed, presumably, for preachers unwilling or unable to write their own. These were not published until after Samuel Johnson's death. This is from the second sermon in the collection:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,
and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Isaiah 55:7
...[T]here is mercy with him, therefore shall he be feared. It is reasonable, that we should endeavour to please him, because we know that every sincere endeavour will be rewarded by him; that we should use all the means in our power, to enlighten our minds, and regulate our lives, because our errours, if involuntary, will not be imputed to us; and our conduct, though not exactly agreeable to the divine ideas of rectitude, yet if approved, after honest and diligent enquiries, by our own consciences, will not be condemned by that God, who judges of the heart, weighs every circumstance of our lives, and admits every real extenuation of our failings and transgressions.

Were there not mercy with him, were he not to be reconciled after the commission of a crime, what must be the state of those, who are conscious of having once offended him? A state of gloomy melancholy, or outrageous desperation; a dismal weariness of life, and inexpressible agonies at the thought of death; for what affright or affliction could equal the horrours of that mind, which expected every moment to fall into the hands of implacable omnipotence?

But the mercy of God extends not only to those that have made his will, in some degree, the rule of their actions, and have only deviated from it by inadvertency, surprize, inattention, or negligence, but even to those that have polluted themselves with studied and premeditated wickedness; that have violated his commands in opposition to conviction, and gone on, from crime to crime, under a sense of the divine disapprobation.

Even these are not for ever excluded from his favour, but have in their hands means, appointed by himself, of reconciliation to him; means by which pardon may be obtained, and by which they may be restored to those hopes of happiness, from which they have fallen by their own fault.

The great duty, to the performance of which these benefits are promised, is repentance; a duty, which it is of the utmost importance to every man to understand and practise....

Monday, August 11, 2014

Eight lessons

I don't know whether — when I get to see it — I will think Calvary a good film. Quite a few reviewers like it a lot. But I do think the eight lessons for "faith-friendly" movies offered in this essay are good advice for any film maker intending to portray Christianity in a way that will gain a secular audience in our post-Christian society:
1. People come to listen to a story, not a sermon.
If your story can be summed up as “a nonbeliever learns the error of his ways,” it’s not a story, it’s a sermon. ....
2. Good intentions don’t replace good quality.
.... Message for moviemakers: Take time to learn your craft. Be willing to pay dues. Love the craft of writing, not just the message. Love the beauty of film work, not just the platform. If you don’t get excited about a long camera shot or a brilliant script, this isn’t the field for you.
3. Love all your characters, even the nonbelievers. ....

4. We’ve all got doubts. Make room for them. ....

5. Faith-friendly and family-friendly are not the same thing.
If your main goal is to make a PG rated film with no boobs or f-bombs, you’ll miss great human stories, including many of the ones in the Bible. Make great kids’ movies for kids, but make great grown up movies for adults. “Calvary” is rated R for language, brief violence, and adult themes, but isn’t salacious or graphic. ....
6. Acknowledge that believers sometimes do bad things.
.... Message to filmmakers: Be brave enough to show the downside of the faithful. God can take it.
7. Don’t pull your punches.
Father Lavelle is a priest. Who is Catholic. Like the Pope. He tells people what God has said in Scripture, calls them on their evasions, and never apologizes for what he believes. The best Christian characters are nuanced, but unapologetically Christian. It’s at the core of who they are. Audiences respect consistent characters. Don’t hint or use euphemisms or tiptoe around faith. ....
8. Go for the heart, not the brain.
Christian subculture films often focus on convincing the viewer of some sermon-friendly point. “Calvary” hits deeper. It makes the case for faith by presenting the emptiness of life without it.

When you think about it, most people occupying church pews didn’t come to belief through a logical debate. Ask people about the moment they found God and they will tell you emotional, mystic moments: The time they sat in Taco Bell and saw the beauty and diversity of the faces around them and knew there must be a Creator. The time they came to the desperate end of their own goodness in a hotel room and begged for mercy. The time they heard their baby laugh and knew there must be a soul.

Message to filmmakers: Film is about feelings. Find the emotion of faith, the dark night of the soul, the joy of being used by God, a deep love of humanity in its beautiful brokenness, or the experience of the God of the Universe touching a human heart—and you will find a movie worth making. For everyone. [more]

Friday, August 8, 2014

James Madison

I have always been interested in this, one of the most interesting of the Founding Fathers and I would have been even if I didn't live in a city named after him and hadn't taught for two decades at James Madison Memorial High School. Lynne Cheney's new biography, James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, is described by The Weekly Standard's reviewer as "consistently engrossing." From that review:
.... He was still in his early 20s and only recently out of Princeton when the crisis of the Revolution began. From that moment on, he lived and breathed politics, learning at a phenomenal rate and quickly drawing favorable notice from domestic and foreign observers. ...[T]he French minister to the new republic, the Chevalier de la Luzerne, described him in 1783 as “the man of the soundest judgment in the Congress.” On the other hand, he never suffered fools gladly and had no small talk. Martha Bland, a more frivolous contemporary, described him as a “gloomy, stiff creature,” adding that he was “the most unsociable creature in existence.”

Short in stature, unprepossessing in appearance, a workaholic, plain-spoken and typically unemotional, he suffered from a form of epilepsy. This affliction kept him out of the Army when the Revolutionary War began and dogged him throughout his career, especially at moments of great stress. His many friends and admirers cautioned him against working himself to an early grave, though he outlived all the other Founders, surviving until 1836 to die at the age of 85. ....

Cheney sees the preservation of political balance as the central issue of Madison’s career. Dismayed that the republic seemed to be breaking up in the mid-1780s, Madison worked to create a stronger federal government to which the states would be subordinate. In opposition to the Federalists of the 1790s, by contrast, he feared an over-mighty federal government, which made him join Jefferson in asserting states’ rights in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798. He opposed the creation of a national bank in the 1790s, but later, as president during the War of 1812, came to believe that one was necessary.

Where most historians have understood him to have changed his views over time, Cheney argues for an underlying consistency to which each of these responses was a pragmatic attempt at preserving the balance. He was, however, willing, when opportunity knocked, to deviate from strict adherence to principle. President Jefferson agonized over the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase, especially as he had, until then, been outspokenly opposed to bold federal initiatives. Madison, the secretary of state who helped accomplish the purchase, was on hand to soothe the president’s conscience. .... [more]

Useless trifles and vain searches

Samuel Johnson:
BEFORE ANY NEW STUDY.

NOVEMBER. Almighty God, in whose hands are all the powers of man; who givest understanding, and takest it away; who, as it seemeth good unto Thee, enlightenest the thoughts of the simple, and darkenest the meditations of the wise, be present with me in my studies and enquiries.

Grant, O Lord, that I may not lavish away the life which Thou hast given me on useless trifles, nor waste it in vain searches after things which Thou hast hidden from me.

Enable me, by thy Holy Spirit, so to shun sloth and negligence, that every day may discharge part of the task which Thou hast allotted me; and so further with Thy help that labour which, without Thy help, must be ineffectual, that I may obtain, in all my undertakings, such success as will most promote Thy glory, and the salvation of my own soul, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Via Brandywine Books where it is also noted that Yale has put the complete works of Samuel Johnson online.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

CSL, fantasy, and realism

Lev Grossman explains how C.S. Lewis differed from earlier writers of fantasy and why he is so good. Grossman first read Narnia when he was seven or eight years old.
...I’m fairly certain that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was the first book that I ever was transported by. I think it’s the book that taught me what novels are supposed to do. It’s the book that taught me how books work, and what—if they’re good—they do for you. ....

Why is Lewis so important to me? In part, it’s because—technically, from the point of view of craft—he tells the story with truly exemplary economy. By the time we’re only six or seven pages into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we already know all four Pevensies, we know how each child feels about the other three, and he’s gotten Lucy through the wardrobe and into Narnia. With incredible speed, he acquaints us with the characters—just one or two well-placed details, and we’re able to know each one—and delves right away into the adventure.

Even more than that, it’s the way he uses language—which is nothing like the way fantasists used language before him. There’s no sense of nostalgia. There’s no medieval floridness. There’s no fairy tale condescension to the child reader. It’s very straight, and very clean.... You see everything clearly, not with sparkles or a flowery sense of wonderment, but with very specific physical details. Look at the attention to detail as you watch Lucy going through the wardrobe:
This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!" thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. "I wonder is that more mothballs?" she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hand. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold. "This is very queer," she said, and went on a step or two further.

Next moment she found that what was rubbing against her face and hands was no longer soft fur but something hard and rough and even prickly. "Why, it is just like branches of trees!" exclaimed Lucy. And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.
She feels the softness of the coats, she hears the crunching under her feet, she bends down and feels the snow, she feels the prickliness of the trees, and just like that she’s through the wardrobe and into Narnia. There are no special effects in the passage. He’s making magic, but he’s making magic out of very ordinary physical impressions. It’s very powerful, and it’s very new. I don’t think anybody wrote this way before he did. He came up with a new way to describe magic that made it feel realer than it ever had.

It works because he’s writing fantasy—but he’s working with the tools of realism. .... [more]

Delight in being

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

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Coerced goodness is not goodness at all

"Why We Need The Giver" is about a film that will appear in theaters at the end of next week. I rarely go to theaters any more but this may get me to one.
.... In this future world, the sun shines, homes are clean and white, and children ride bikes in safety and security through well-manicured paths. This dystopia looks a lot like utopia. Until you dig deeper.

There is a cost. Differences are negated. Dissent is hushed away as distressingly impolite. Passion is outlawed. Even the idea of choice is an archaic concept. The state dictates your mate, your family, your career. Prefer loneliness or the life of a ne’er-do-well? Too bad. Not an option. For your own benefit, your future is determined.

Music? Too emotionally liberating. Family? Irrational and unpredictable. Love? Too messy, too uncontrolled, as likely to end in murder as in bliss. After all, if the individual is allowed to choose, he or she might choose poorly. ....

For perfect order, those who don’t fall inside the lines must be sacrificed. A tyranny that lays claim to the inside of your own mind, for your own good, allows no dissent, no differing views. It can only end in re-education camps, some sort of opiate, or death. ....

The Giver is concerned less with the how—the specifics of Jonas’s rebellion—than the why. And the why is where it soars. In beautiful flashes of image and emotion, we feel, rather than are told, the why. The thrill of danger on a sled ride. The smile on a bride’s face. The pride on a father’s. The agony of losing a friend. The heroism of a man standing alone in front of a line of tanks.

Without freedom to do wrong, there can be no right. Without the ability to choose evil, the option of choosing good is negated. Coerced goodness is not goodness at all, but something else entirely. .... [more]

"Inclined and enabled..."

John Witherspoon is described at Wikipedia as "a Scots Presbyterian minister and a signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of New Jersey. As president of the College of New Jersey (1768–94; now Princeton University), he trained many leaders of the early nation and was an active clergyman...." Via Kevin DeYoung, a quotation from Witherspoon, "A Birdseye View of the Gospel in One Big Sentence":
The doctrine asserted in the above and other passages of Scripture may be thus paraphrased:

that every intelligent creature is under an unchangeable and unalienable obligation, perfectly to obey the whole law of God:

that all men proceeding from Adam by ordinary generation, are the children of polluted parents, alienated in heart from God, transgressors of his holy law, inexcusable in this transgression, and therefore exposed to the dreadful consequence of his displeasure;

that it was not agreeable to the dictates of his wisdom, holiness and justice, to forgive their sins without an atonement or satisfaction:

and therefore he raised up for them a Saviour, Jesus Christ, who, as the second Adam, perfectly fulfilled the whole law, and offered himself up a sacrifice upon the cross in their stead:

that this his righteousness is imputed to them, as the sole foundation of their reception into his favor:

that the means of their being interested in this salvation, is a deep humiliation of mind, confession of guilt and wretchedness, denial of themselves, and acceptance of pardon and peace through Christ Jesus, which they neither have contributed to the procuring, nor can contribute to the continuance of, by their own merit;

but expect the renovation of their natures, to be inclined and enabled to keep the commandments of God as the work of the Spirit, and a part of the purchase of their Redeemer.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"I to my pledged word am true..."

The editors at The Poetry Foundation provide a selection of "The Poetry of World War I":
.... To commemorate the WWI centenary, we’ve put together a sampling of poems written in English by both soldiers and civilians, chosen from our archive of over 250 poems from WWI. ....

While many of these poems do not address a particular war event, we’ve listed them by year, along with a selection of historical markers, to contextualize the poems historically. You may notice that more poems in 1914 and 1915 extoll the old virtues of honor, duty, heroism, and glory, while many later poems after 1915 approach these lofty abstractions with far greater skepticism and moral subtlety, through realism and bitter irony. .... [more]
For instance this, by an American who served in the French Foreign Legion and died at the Somme. The poem was published the year following his death.
I Have a Rendezvous with Death (1917)
Alan Seeger
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear ...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
The Poetry of World War I by The Editors

"Progress"

.... The phrase seeks to win an argument by not having one. It says, “Your ideas are so laughably backward, they don’t deserve to be taken seriously. In time everyone will be embarrassed who ever held to them.”

No doubt, the “wrong side of history” retort is rhetorically powerful. But it also happens to be intellectually bankrupt. What’s wrong with the phrase? At least three things.

First, the phrase assumes a progressive view of history that is empirically false and as a methodology has been thoroughly discredited. Today’s historians often warn against “Whig history,” a phrase coined by Herbert Butterfield in 1931 which has come to refer to historiography which assumes the past has been an inexorable march from darkness to light and from ignorance into enlightenment. Whig history has in common with Marxist views of history a confidence in the rationality of man and the inevitability of progress. But of course, history is never that neat and knowing the future is never that easy. The Whiggish approach, with its presumption of enlightenment and progress, is not the best way to understand the past and not by itself an adequate way to make sense of the present. .... [more]

To make the world safe...

World War I began one hundred years ago this month. Three years later the United States declared war on the Central Powers. David Adesnik explains why and draws lessons for today:
.... Today, even a well-rounded college graduate is unlikely to know more about American intervention than the fact that it had something to do with German submarines. Yet why did the United States send two million men to fight in France and Belgium after the Germans sank a handful of merchant vessels? The answer is that Americans across the political spectrum believed they were fighting to defend their inalienable rights, which included the freedom of the seas. If the United States let the German empire trample on its rights, this weakness would invite other challenges. There seemed to be no option but war. ....

As in Wilson’s time, Americans want the benefits of order while remaining uneasy about the costs. This does not mean that the United States must respond with force every time that order is threatened. It may reconcile itself to Russia’s flagrant violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. It may reconcile itself to Beijing’s intimidation in the South China Sea, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the rise of a terrorist protostate within Syria and Iraq. What cannot be known is whether and when a crumbling order will bring the threat of violence directly to American shores.

The choice confronting Americans is whether to remain the kind of country that will act before its back is against the wall, or whether it will accept whatever kind of security environment emerges in the absence of American leadership. The advantage of being proactive is that the United States can respond to threats before they achieve maximum lethality. The disadvantage is that Americans will never know, even in hindsight, whether a war was truly necessary. What would have been the impact of a German victory in the Great War, a Communist occupation of South Korea, or Saddam’s annexation of Kuwait? .... [more]

Monday, August 4, 2014

"The most lushly imagined, sprawling soap opera ever written..."

Jonathan Last gave up on reading (listening to) George R.R. Martin's books:
.... To read—or listen to—A Game of Thrones is immersive in the best sense of the word. And yet, after the third week, I returned the audiobook to the library. I was bored.

Good genre fiction is always about something more than the story—it’s about a Big Idea. It has something to say. Irving Kristol saw this. “Science fiction,” he wrote, “as every student of the genre knows, is a peculiar vision of power: What it is really about is politics.” That strikes me as more or less true. And fantasy, which is the twin of sci-fi, is really about metaphysics. But A Song of Ice and Fire seemed to me much less a work of ideas than a soap opera. The most lushly imagined, sprawling soap opera ever written, perhaps. But a soap just the same. It’s an endless succession of character scenes where the big questions are who is betraying or scheming with or sleeping with whom. Which, by the by, may account for its enormous mainstream popularity. ....
Tolkien's books really are about metaphysics and I love his books. I read little fantasy otherwise. I have considered watching the HBO series based on the Martin books but this isn't encouraging.

Weekly Standard, August 11, 2014, p. 5.

The Scopes Trial

Via Justin Taylor, several references on the 89th anniversary including: Joe Carter's "9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial". Taylor outlines the nine:
  1. Inherit the Wind was an anti-anti-communist play.
  2. The trial was a publicity stunt.
  3. Scopes wasn’t a martyr—he was a co-conspirator.
  4. Darrow wasn’t the first choice.
  5. Bryan wasn’t the lead prosecutor—and he knew the defendant.
  6. The prosecution’s “Bible expert” believed in the day-age theory.
  7. Teaching evolution...and eugenics.
  8. The defense wanted to lose the case.
  9. The ruling was reversed, but no one wanted to retry the case.
Taylor recommends a book I own and have read and would also recommend: Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. And he also links to this YouTube of an American Experience documentary that he calls "helpful and fairly balanced":


If All You Know about the Scopes Trial Is from “Inherit the Wind,” You Don’t Know the True Story | TGC

Always be prepared...

A problem noted:
...Family Force 5’s “Let It Be Love,” [is] number #14 on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs list. Of course this means it is one of 20 songs that local contemporary Christian radio programs play over and over ad nauseam. The song’s lyrics go:
I’ve never seen a soul set free
Through an argument

I’ve never seen a hurt get healed
In a protest…

It’s not about the stand we take
But the grace we give
...[T]he first line “I’ve never seen a soul set free through an argument” couldn’t be further from reality.... In addition remembering that the Apostle Peter urged believers, “[A]lways be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) .... [more]
I can think of several rather prominent Christians for whom the way to conversion was prepared by argument.

Contemporary Christian Music’s Sinking Witness