Thursday, December 31, 2015

Those we've known and loved

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and days of auld lang syne?

Peggy Noonan, in 2011, on the song:
"Auld Lang Syne"—the phrase can be translated as "long, long ago," or "old long since," but I like "old times past"—is a song that asks a question, a tender little question that has to do with the nature of being alive, of being a person on a journey in the world. It not only asks, it gives an answer.

It was written, or written down, by Robert Burns, lyric poet and Bard of Scotland. In 1788 he sent a copy of the poem to the Scots Musical Museum, with the words: "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, has never been in print." Burns was interested in the culture of Scotland, and collected old folk tales and poems. He said he got this one "from an old man"—no one knows who—and wrote it down. Being a writer, Burns revised and compressed. He found the phrase auld lang syne "exceedingly expressive" and thought whoever first wrote the poem "heaven inspired." The song spread throughout Scotland, where it was sung to mark the end of the old year, and soon to the English-speaking world, where it's sung to mark the new.

The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn't be. We'll remember those times and those people, we'll toast them now and always, we'll keep them close. "We'll take a cup of kindness yet." .... [more]
SHOULD auld acquaintance be forgot,    
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne

And here 's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae rin about the braes,
And pu'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.
And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine;
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
We twa hae paidl't i' the burn,
Frae mornin' sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd      
Sin' auld lang syne.

Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

Days of Auld Lang What?

Only by grace

Phil, at Brandywine Books, writes about the importance of Confession as a part of corporate worship:
.... John Hendryx says he had to warm up to use of corporate confessions, but now he cherishes them. “For most it makes the time of worship more authentic and joyful for it strikes a blow against self-righteousness and humbles us before God as we say what we know to be true of ourselves and the only Lord who saves us. It reminds us that we are not better than others and that it is only grace (an alien righteousness) which makes us what we are.”

That mirrors my experience with corporate confession of sin. Reading with those around me how I have not done what I should have done and did what I should not have done opens me up to the wonderful announcement that Christ Jesus has given me his righteousness and set me free from the power of sin. ....
When I lead worship in our small church we sometimes use the General Confession from The Book of Common Prayer:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare Thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore Thou them that are penitent; According to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus Our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of Thy holy Name. Amen.
Immediately followed by:
Listen to the words of Our Lord: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

And these words from the Apostle John: “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the Propitiation for our sins.”

Monday, December 28, 2015

"Settled science"

Once a myth is here, it is often here to stay. Psychological studies suggest that the very act of attempting to dispel a myth leads to stronger attachment to it. In one experiment, exposure to pro-vaccination messages reduced parents' intention to vaccinate their children in the United States. In another, correcting misleading claims from politicians increased false beliefs among those who already held them. “Myths are almost impossible to eradicate,” says Kirschner. “The more you disprove it, often the more hard core it becomes.”
The scientific myths addressed:
  • Myth 1: Screening saves lives for all types of cancer
  • Myth 2: Antioxidants are good and free radicals are bad
  • Myth 3: Humans have exceptionally large brains
  • Myth 4: Individuals learn best when taught in their preferred learning style
  • Myth 5: The human population is growing exponentially (and we're doomed)
In-service training indoctrinated us in the "learning style" approach throughout my time as a secondary school teacher. I was particularly interested in what the article had to say about that.
.... One such myth is that individuals learn best when they are taught in the way they prefer to learn. A verbal learner, for example, supposedly learns best through oral instructions, whereas a visual learner absorbs information most effectively through graphics and other diagrams.

There are two truths at the core of this myth: many people have a preference for how they receive information, and evidence suggests that teachers achieve the best educational outcomes when they present information in multiple sensory modes. Couple that with people's desire to learn and be considered unique, and conditions are ripe for myth-making. ....

In 2008, four cognitive neuroscientists reviewed the scientific evidence for and against learning styles. Only a few studies had rigorously put the ideas to the test and most of those that did showed that teaching in a person's preferred style had no beneficial effect on his or her learning. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the authors of one study wrote. ....

In the past few decades, research into educational techniques has started to show that there are interventions that do improve learning, including getting students to summarize or explain concepts to themselves. And it seems almost all individuals, barring those with learning disabilities, learn best from a mixture of words and graphics, rather than either alone.

Yet the learning-styles myth makes it difficult to get these evidence-backed concepts into classrooms. When Howard-Jones speaks to teachers to dispel the learning-styles myth, for example, they often don't like to hear what he has to say. “They have disillusioned faces. Teachers invested hope, time and effort in these ideas,” he says. “After that, they lose interest in the idea that science can support learning and teaching.”
Charles Krauthammer addressed another persistent myth last week:
When the federal government’s 1980 “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” warned about the baleful effects of saturated fats, public interest activists joined the fight and managed to persuade major food companies to switch to the shiny new alternative: trans fats. Thirty-five years later, the Food and Drug Administration finally determined that trans fats are not just useless but unsafe, and ordered them removed from all foods. Oops.

So much for settled science. .... [more]

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Lessons and Carols from King's College


A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (Carols from King's) - YouTube

"O that birth forever blessèd"



Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!
[Prudentius, 5th Century]

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Marley was dead..."


The book is better than the films and plays. If you've never read it, you should. I rather envied the friend whose father read it to his family every Christmas Eve.
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.  Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. ....

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley.  Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names: it was all the same to him.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas. ....  [more]
The story can be downloaded free for any form of e-reader: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"He became poor"


For you know the grace of
our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich,
yet for your sake He became poor,
so that you by his poverty might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9

"The only begotten..."

Monday, December 21, 2015

"Bidding you joy in the morning!"

From The Wind in the Willows, Christmas at Mole End:
"What's up?" inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.

"I think it must be the field-mice," replied the Mole, with a touch of pride in his manner. "They go round carol-singing regularly at this time of the year. They're quite an institution in these parts. And they never pass me over—they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will be like old times to hear them again."

"Let's have a look at them!" cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the door.

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the forecourt, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, "Now then, one, two, three!" and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry streets to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.
CAROL

Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet—
You by the fire and we in the street
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison—
Bliss to-morrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow—
Saw the star o'er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
"Who were the first to cry Nowell?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning."
The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong glances, and silence succeeded—but for a moment only. Then, from up above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

"Very well sung, boys!" cried the Rat heartily. "And now come along in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something hot!"
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, Chapter Five: Dulce Domum

Sunday, December 20, 2015

How did December 25 become Christmas?

.... There are two theories today: one extremely popular, the other less often heard outside scholarly circles (though far more ancient).

The most loudly touted theory about the origins of the Christmas date(s) is that it was borrowed from pagan celebrations. The Romans had their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December; barbarian peoples of northern and western Europe kept holidays at similar times. To top it off, in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals. According to this theory, early Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world: If Christmas looked like a pagan holiday, more pagans would be open to both the holiday and the God whose birth it celebrated.

Despite its popularity today, this theory of Christmas’s origins has its problems. It is not found in any ancient Christian writings, for one thing. ....

There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. ....

Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25. ....

Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. In On the Trinity (c. 399–419) he writes: “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.” ....

Connecting Jesus’ conception and death in this way will certainly seem odd to modern readers, but it reflects ancient and medieval understandings of the whole of salvation being bound up together. One of the most poignant expressions of this belief is found in Christian art. In numerous paintings of the angel’s Annunciation to Mary—the moment of Jesus’ conception—the baby Jesus is shown gliding down from heaven on or with a small cross...a visual reminder that the conception brings the promise of salvation through Jesus’ death.

The notion that creation and redemption should occur at the same time of year is also reflected in ancient Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud.....

In the end we are left with a question: How did December 25 become Christmas? We cannot be entirely sure. Elements of the festival that developed from the fourth century until modern times may well derive from pagan traditions. Yet the actual date might really derive more from Judaism—from Jesus’ death at Passover, and from the rabbinic notion that great things might be expected, again and again, at the same time of the year.... [more]

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"The most valuable magazine in the world"

Conan Doyle's earliest Sherlock Holmes stories were not particularly successful. Michael Dirda explains how they came to be written, why Conan Doyle didn't believe they were his most important work, and how, nevertheless, they and the subsequent stories made his characters famous and enduring.
.... A Study in Scarlet was turned down by one publisher after another, until it was finally accepted by Ward, Lock, and Co., who offered to buy the British copyright for a derisory twenty-five pounds. Out of desperation, Conan Doyle took the paltry sum, then still had to wait a year before his short novel came out in Beeton’s Christmas Annual for 1887. Today, that annual may be the most valuable magazine in the world. Only thirty-three copies are known to exist and many are tattered or incomplete. If a truly fine copy were to appear on the market today, it might bring a quarter of a million dollars or more.

The 1887 Beeton’s containing A Study in Scarlet sold moderately well, and the novel was later republished as a book, with rather crude illustrations by Conan Doyle’s artist father. And that was all. There was no great hoopla, no recognition of a new star in the nascent detective story firmament.

Yet from the first page, Conan Doyle’s storytelling mastery—the genial narrative voice, the fast-moving action—sweeps the reader along. In short order we learn that John H. Watson has been an army doctor, was grievously wounded at the battle of Maiwand in the Second Afghan War, and now, broken in health, has wearily returned to England. One day he encounters an old acquaintance who tells him about a chap looking for someone to share digs with in Baker Street.

Watson and Holmes meet at St. Bart’s hospital, where Holmes’ first recorded words are “I’ve found it!”—that is, the English for “Eureka,” exclaimed by Archimedes when he grasped the displacement of liquids as he sat in his bath. A Study in Scarlet also provides the first appearance of the original Baker Street Irregulars, the London street urchins who can go anywhere and overhear anyone, and who serve the detective as a city-wide surveillance system. Most important of all, Watson discovers his own new vocation: Near the story’s end, he tells Holmes, “You should publish an account of the case,” and then adds, “If you won’t, I will for you.” The detective shrugs. “You may do what you like, Doctor.” .... [more]

Monday, December 14, 2015

Rudyard Kipling

From an appreciation of, and an appeal to reconsider Kipling:
Kipling is not at all like his image, which is a good thing, since he is widely regarded as jingoistic, narrow and racist. It is a pity if, for this reason, some never read him.

Kipling was always an outsider, and never a member of the Establishment. He received the Nobel Prize, but refused any honour, including the Order of Merit, that would identify him with a single country. ....

Beerbohm...puts his finger on a more important feature of Kipling’s world: its rejection of Christianity. Kipling lost all that in the Southsea boarding house.

It didn’t seem to trouble late Victorian readers who had seen their tide of faith ebb on Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” (1867). Kipling did often refer to the Law, almost as if it were the Law of Moses, but his version is the Law of the Jungle, or of schoolboys, or soldiers, or hunters.

The Law may be unjust to an individual caught up in its workings, but it is ineluctable. In his poem Recessional (marking the diamond jubilee of the Queen and Empress Victoria in 1897), the “lesser breeds without the Law” are not the natives on whose behalf the White Man takes up his burden; they are rival empire-builders such as Russia and Germany. ....

It is not for political theory that Kipling is read, but for his astonishing prose (notably in short stories) and his poetry. ....

“His touch is uncanny,” says Daniel Karlin, whose edition of Kipling’s stories and poems has just been reissued. “He can evoke a taste, a smell, a look, a human expression with immediate and infallible conviction, so that reading him is often a series of delighted assentings.”

Yes, the female labourers walking north along Grand Trunk Road in Kim, for example, are overpoweringly real. “A solid line of blue, rising and falling like the back of a caterpillar in haste, would swing up through the quivering dust,” overtaking the boy and his companion.

But I find that a response as frequent as delight to Kipling’s convincing reality is tears. Indeed he himself sees tears, not rationality, as the distinguishing mark of humanity..... [more]

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Adiaphora

In "On Disputable Matters" D.A. Carson argues that "just because something is in fact disputed does not mean that it is theologically disputable."
Every generation of Christians faces the need to decide just what beliefs and behavior are morally mandated of all believers, and what beliefs and behavior may be left to the individual believer’s conscience. The distinction is rooted in Scripture: for example, the practice of certain kinds of behavior guarantees that a person will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9–10), but other kinds of behavior are left up to the individual Christian: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Rom 14:5–6).

The matters where Christians may safely agree to disagree have traditionally been labeled adiaphora, “indifferent things.” They are not “indifferent things” in the sense that all sides view them as unimportant, for some believers, according to Paul, view them as very important, or view their freedom from such behavior as very important: “Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” They are indifferent matters in the sense that believing certain things or not believing certain things, adopting certain practices or not adopting them, does not keep a person from inheriting the kingdom of God. Today there is a tendency to refer to such adiaphora as “disputable matters” rather than as “indifferent matters”—that is, theologically disputable matters. On the whole, that terminology is probably better: in contemporary linguistic usage “disputable matters” is less likely to be misunderstood than “indifferent matters.”

In the easy cases, the difference between indisputable matters and disputable matters is straightforward. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an indisputable matter: that is, this is something to be confessed as bedrock truth if the gospel makes any sense and if people are to be saved (1 Cor 15:1–19). If Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is futile, the witnesses who claimed they saw him are not telling the truth, we remain in our sins, and we are of all people most to be pitied because we are building our lives on a lie. By contrast, Paul allows people to differ on the matter of honoring certain days, with each side fully persuaded in its own mind.

Immediately, however, we recognize that some things that were thought theologically indisputable in the past have become disputable. Paedobaptism was at one time judged in some circles to be so indisputably right that Anabaptists could be drowned with a clear conscience: if they wanted to be immersed, let us grant them their wish. Until the last three or four decades, going to movies and drinking alcohol was prohibited in the majority of American evangelical circles: the prohibition, in such circles, was indisputable. Nowadays most evangelicals view such prohibitions as archaic at best, displaced by a neat transfer to the theologically disputable column.....

What follows are ten reflections on what does and does not constitute a theologically disputable matter. .... [more]

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tolerance

In an essay that makes the important distinctions Glen A. Sproviero explains "The problem with pluralism," and uses categories Avery Cardinal Dulles cited after 9/11 to show how we can live together without compromising conviction:
Whittaker Chambers wrote that “the crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God.” Pluralism is the manifestation of such indifference because it admits that belief is subjective and personal rather than an expression of existential reality. A believer cannot profess to be a good Jew, Christian, or Muslim while admitting to the theological truth of another faith. But, while different faiths cannot simultaneously represent the truth of ultimate existence, belief in one faith does not demand intolerance toward others.

...[I]n a lecture entitled “Christ Among the Religions.” ...Dulles acknowledged that we live in a society that “includes people of many faiths and of no faith at all,” and examined four possible models by which different faiths can relate to one another: coercion, convergence, pluralism, and tolerance.

Coercion was the predominant model throughout the majority of human history. Political leaders often compelled religious unity among their subjects, and conquerors forced their own beliefs upon their subject peoples. .... [I]n most cases, “religious coercion survives only in nations that have come late to modernity.” This is particularly true with regard to Islamic extremism as propagated by ISIS and the Taliban. ....

The second model, convergence, is also untenable because it demands that believers concede that differences among faiths are superficial and that every religion is an equally valid path to God. This model is premised on the theory that all religions are human constructions and, in the words of Dulles, are “faltering attempts to articulate the whole and transcendent mystery by which human existence is encompassed.”

But to maintain the integrity of this view, it is necessary for orthodox believers to concede too much. ....

In the politically correct atmosphere of early twenty-first century America, the third model – pluralism – has become a near ubiquitous ideal. To some degree, it has become a polytheistic faith in its own right and reflects the idea that all religious teachings embody particular aspects of the Logos, and that every faith must be a partial manifestation of reality, which can be improved by its interactions with other faiths.

Like the convergence model, this is a favorite of relativists who believe in the epistemic impossibility of objective truth. To the average apologist of pluralism, religion is a personal feeling or sentiment, and claims relating to ultimate reality are viewed as strictly private matters. But to the devout believer, faith is not an individual preference and the idea that every religion is entitled to equal deference belies the very idea of truth. To be a pluralist, for many, is to propagate a lie.

But, how are we to coexist peacefully in a world of many faiths? Are we to live as isolated beings, disconnected from each other and utterly separated by our beliefs? I would propose that the most reasonable answer is the fourth model – tolerance.

While religious beliefs form the core of our being and inform every aspect of our existence (including atheists and agnostics), we need not shut out people of other faiths, nor should we treat them as a subclass. Civilized people understand that the freedom to choose one’s faith is a God-given right, an intimate part of personhood.

Tolerance allows believers to engage with people of different beliefs, but to do so in a manner that does not compromise first principles. .... [more]

Friday, December 11, 2015

“To take life with real seriousness is to take it joyfully”

I always enjoy reading Andrew Ferguson. In the current Weekly Standard he writes about "Jingle Hell: The debasement of Christmas Songs."
.... In the early church, Christmas replaced the baptism of Jesus as the preeminent celebration of the season because it stood as a happy rebuke to the Manicheans. Believing as they did in the absolute division of spirit and matter, no group of heretics has ever been gloomier. The celebration of Christmas was a way of telling the world: This really happened, to a real mother and a real child, made in flesh and blood, the coming together of God and man. And music itself is the natural expression of the union of spirit and matter, the physical act of plucking strings or hammering keys or thrumming vocal cords to produce something that points beyond the physical. ....

The idea of Christmas as a musical celebration finally took hold when peasants and other lowly folk began adapting local dance tunes to the purpose. The origin of Christmas music in dance music is worth remembering. The tunes, outfitted with words of praise and the appropriate narratives of Jesus and Mary and Joseph, of the Three Kings and the shepherds, were an effusion of popular piety—and a rebellion against the grim impositions of church hierarchy throughout Germany and, later, England. A good carol, said the great musicologist Percy Deamer, “was witness to the spirit of a more spontaneous and undoubting faith.” The effusions were organic, growing from the bottom up, and like the Gospels themselves, filled with metaphors taken from field and hearth:
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.
Deamer traced the word “carol” back through old French to the Greek word for “an encircling dance.” Movement and dynamism and joy were the essential attributes, inseparable from the religious meaning. The message of Christmas was the Christian message, too: the Light coming into the world and the darkness proving powerless against it. What’s not to celebrate? Why not dance?

“To take life”—and hence Christmas—“with real seriousness is to take it joyfully,” Deamer went on. “For seriousness is only sad when it is superficial: the carol is thus nearer to the truth because it is jolly.” ....

In the past that lesson has often been lost, at times even more thoroughly than in our own day—a reminder that should cheer us up, if you’ll forgive the expression. The serious joy, or the joyful seriousness, of Christmas is offensive to the grim Christian. When Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans seized power from a pious English king, one of their first official acts was to ban Christmas observances of any kind. ....

“Yule tide is fool tide,” went the Puritans’ dismissive slogan.... And once in a while, at Christmas, buried in tinsel and credit card receipts, a practicing Christian might be tempted to agree. It’s a familiar human paradox that the phony good cheer of secular Christmas increases even as the genuine joy of Christmas recedes....
Jingle Hell | The Weekly Standard (probably behind a subscription wall)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Sifting and winnowing"

The University of Wisconsin regents may act to insure that controversial speech is protected. If they take the proposed action they will be doing better than those in authority at certain other public and private universities. From The Capital Times:
.... The resolution to be considered when regents meet Thursday and Friday in Madison calls on members of the university community to maintain civility and a climate of mutual respect during heated debate.

The statement invokes UW’s famed 1894 commitment to open inquiry through “fearless sifting and winnowing.” It also prohibits university community members from interfering with the freedom of others “to express views they reject or even loathe.”

The resolution will be taken up first by Board of Regents education committee on Thursday afternoon and sent to the full board on Friday. ....

The regents’ proposed resolution....declares that it is up to members of the university community, not for the institution itself, to judge what speech is “offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” And for them, too, “to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress exploration of ideas or expression of speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.”

The proposed resolution also cites legal limits to free expression, including genuine threats, privacy interests and false defamation. In addition, the university may under the law reasonably limit the time, place and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt ordinary activities....
Next to the main entrance to Bascom Hall, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sabbath

Poetry from First Things: "Sabbath" by Amy Imbody:
Sabbath: You make demands
upon my heart, upon my hands,
and, certainly, upon my mind:
a quietness, profound, benign
where receptivity will find
its satisfaction: fruitfulness flows
from this place of deep repose.
Sabbath by Amy Imbody | Articles | First Things

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Books for the grumpy, lugubrious, or distraught

George Weigel recommends books for Christmas, among which:
The Inimitable Jeeves; Very Good, Jeeves; Right Ho, Jeeves; Thank You, Jeeves; The Code of the Woosters; and Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse (Norton or Touchstone): It’s going to be a tough year, 2016; it’s impossible to stay grumpy reading Wodehouse. So start now, and invite lugubrious or distraught family and friends to the party.
All available at Amazon.
Books for Christmas | George Weigel | First Things

"It is only the past that lives."

Via Phil at Brandywine Books:
It is a mistake to think that the past is dead. Nothing that has ever happened is quite without influence at this moment. The present is merely the past rolled up and concentrated in this second of time. You, too, are your past; often your face is your autobiography; you are what you are because of what you have been; because of your heredity stretching back into forgotten generations; because of every element of environment that has affected you, every man or woman that has met you, every book that you have read, every experience that you have had; all these are accumulated in your memory, your body, your character, your soul. So with a city, a country, a race; it is its past, and cannot be understood without it. It is the present, not the past, that dies; this present moment, to which we give so much attention, is forever flitting from our eyes and fingers into that pedestal and matrix of our lives which we call the past. It is only the past that lives. (Will Durant, “The Map of Human Character“)
"[T]his present moment, to which we give so much attention, 
is forever flitting from our eyes and fingers into that pedestal and matrix of our lives 
which we call the past."

Sunday, December 6, 2015

"I refute it thus"

Asked for "the most immortal lines by or about Dr. Johnson," a contributor offers a favorite of mine:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus.’ (James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson)
Another from Boswell:
Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords.
And from The Idler (September 1, 1759):
The business of life is to go forwards: he who sees evil in prospect meets it in his way; but he who catches it by retrospection turns back to find it. That which is feared may sometimes be avoided, but that which is regretted today may be regretted tomorrow.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

"Far to busy with the present to give a whit about the past"

Rod Dreher passes along a "testimonial from a refugee from academia" whose love of history was almost destroyed by those who teach it:
.... As long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep love of history. It began in elementary school when I would devour any book I could find about ancient and medieval armies—the English Longbowman, the Egyptian Charioteer, the Frankish Knight—I still remember the vivid hand-drawn pictures and descriptions from those thin hardback books in the library. In high school I was blessed to have some wonderful history teachers that fanned the flames even more. It was then that my interests moved on from exclusively military history to theology, politics, and economics—I loved it all. ....

After enrolling at the local state college in 2008 I eagerly selected history as my major—for four years, my only job would be to think about the past! It seemed too good to be true. The first course that stood out to be was a 3-hour credit on the Crusades. I bought the required reading and read it all weeks in advance, ready to come in and talk about Raymond of Toulouse, Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and all the rest.

The professor of the class was a wispy, thin woman with thin black hair and eyes that looked like they could break into tears at any moment. She began the class with a line that I would hear all too many times in the next four years: “We’re not really interested in specific dates or people in this class.” For the rest of the semester, she talked. I use the in-descriptive word “talked” because I’m not entirely sure what she talked about. I remember snippets—Christian violence against Jews and Muslims, multiculturalism in Outremer. All I know is that by the end of the class no one had gained any knowledge about the Crusades themselves. And I was certain that I was the only student who had actually read the required reading.

The next four years were a bit of a blur—I know I showed up to all my classes. I know I paid attention. I can also look at my transcripts and see almost all As with a smattering of Bs. But just like in that first class, I couldn’t tell you what we actually learned about.... I was too ignorant at the time to really understand what was going on—of course, now I do: they were speaking the language of politics, of race class and gender, of theory. .... As I reflect I suppose that my previous knowledge and love of history was in a way an inoculation against it. These professors weren’t interested in history—they were interested in politics and social change. They were far too busy with the present to give a whit about the past. ....

As it came time to apply for grad school, I never even wrote an application. It wasn’t just my disinterest in academia, but I had mostly lost my love of history. I wasn’t reading the way I used to—I probably read more unassigned books in one summer of high school than I did in all of college. I had also become intellectually incurious. ....
After graduation I took the only job I could get with a fairly worthless history degree—teaching Middle School Social Studies. I’ve come to actually enjoy it, and my interest in history has returned in full force.

Every day I get to teach about Hernan Cortes, the Ancient Greeks, Charles “The Hammer” Martel (a class favorite—they think he’s Thor), the debate between Hamilton and Jefferson, the Civil War; I’m doing history again. Real history, not theory.

I hope that in some small way I can give my students their own inoculation against the beast. When they tell me they want to study history in college, I warn them against it. Not because I don’t love history, but because I love it too much. [more]

Friday, December 4, 2015

Just war and Donald Trump

For about twenty years I taught a semester-long high school elective called "International Relations and National Security Issues." A unit titled "Theory" touched on things like realpolitik, revolutionary attempts to create a unified world without conflict, pacifism, and other approaches. Christian thinkers have been writing about these issues, including the moral issues surrounding when and how wars should be fought, since the early church. Most Christian believers are not pacifists and so these questions ought be important and, over time, a certain consensus developed about what causes justify going to war and what limits should be placed on those fighting. Donald Trump's views on the subject fail to make the usual (and, I believe, correct) distinctions:
Here [Trump] is dealing with ISIS:
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families!”
Now, there’s a few minor points that might be considered before embracing Trump’s position: the Christian just war tradition (in this case jus in bello), the Laws of War (or International Humanitarian Law as it is called nowadays) and American military Rules of Engagement (ROE) all prohibit the direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants [a good example of the extent to which the US attempts to limit harm to noncombatants can be found here]. Attacking noncombatants is unjust, immoral, and a clear violation of the laws of war to directly and intentionally attack a terrorist’s child or any other member of his family.  ...[I]t is simply unlawful and immoral for a combatant to deliberately target noncombatants as a means to get to a legitimate target (e.g, an ISIS “combatant”). In fact, to target that child as a means to get at the terrorist is itself an act of terrorism.

Unfortunately, Trump’s bombastic statement, “you have to take out their families” gains plausibility among Americans who are primed to overreact against a widespread popular distortion of the requirements of the jus in bello. That popular misunderstanding considers any “collateral damage” resulting from a direct and intentional attack on a legitimate terrorist target to be unjust and immoral. This view, popular among theological and secular pacifists, both principled (e.g. the pacifism of the Evangelical peace churches) and functional (e.g., those who will deny being pacifists in theory but never support military force in practice), too often recognize no moral difference between the direct and intentional targeting of a terrorist’s child as a means to get at the terrorist and the unintentional (even though perhaps foreseen) death of innocents as a result of directly attacking the terrorist. Ironically, both the Trumpkins and the pacifists fail to make the requisite moral distinctions. For the former it leads to killing the families of terrorists as a means to get to the terrorists, for the latter it means avoiding attacking terrorists altogether. But the distinction that both fail to make is fundamental not only to the Christian just war tradition but also to the Laws of War and American ROEs.

The Christian just war tradition’s prohibition on the direct and intentional harm of noncombatants and the permissibility of unintended innocent harm to noncombatants, are both predicated on a commitment to protect noncombatants in a time of war.... [more]
The article is from a new on-line magazine, PROVIDENCE: A JOURNAL OF CHRISTIANITY & AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY that promises to be very interesting.

One of the handouts I once used for my classes included this:
Just War: A Guide By Boston Globe Staff, Oct. 6, 2002 
jus ad bellum [justification for the use of war]
To declare a just war, one must be able to show:
  1. Just cause — Is there a real and certain danger: a threat to the lives of innocent people or a violation of basic human rights? The presumption is against war.
  2. Competent authority — Does the party declaring war have responsibility for public order in the region? The presumption is for state sovereignty.
  3. Comparative justice — Are the rights or values at stake serious enough to justify war?
  4. Right intention — Will the party declaring war pursue peace and reconciliation, avoiding unnecessary destruction and unreasonable conditions?
  5. Last resort — Have all peaceful alternatives been exhausted?
  6. Probability of success — Is there a chance of victory?
jus in bello [limits on the use of force in war]
To fight a war justly, one must use:
  1. Discrimination — Do not target noncombatants. It is likely that innocents will die, but it is impermissible to plan to kill them.
  2. Proportionality — Are the many costs of war proportionate to the social good expected as a result of victory? What principles govern when and how you are allowed to kill combatants?
The Donald Trumps Morality - Providence

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Premature jollity

Alexi Sargeant is annoyed:
Forget the War on Christmas. The real battle raging out there is the War on Advent. Rather than beginning a season of prayerful preparation for the Lord's coming, the commercial world would have us believe we are already over a month into an early, raucous Christmas feast. An inverted White Witch has cast a spell: Always Christmas and never winter. But there is a time and season for all things—and the time for the songs of Christmas is the season of Christmas. All that premature jollity divorced from the shivering expectation of Advent is enough to make anyone say “Bah, humbug!” So turn off your Christmas playlists, tune out the jingle-bells, and deck anyone hauling premature boughs of holly. This is Advent...
And he provides "Your Advent Playlist", among which:


More Advent music at this link

"If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities..."

Barry Hankins, a professor of history at Baylor, comments on the controversy at Princeton about removing campus references to former college president and erstwhile Progressive hero Woodrow Wilson:
Woodrow Wilson
.... As a southern Presbyterian he was catechized on the Westminster Confession, which includes the clause: “This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.” This is the concept of total depravity, the “T” of the famous TULIP of Calvinism. Such a concept should keep Christians sober and realistic about the potential for human reform efforts. For Wilson, it did not—except on race.

When Wilson ran for president in 1912 he assured African-American leaders that he would pursue racial justice “in the spirit of the Christian religion,” indeed as a “Christian gentleman.” They believed him and campaigned for his election, this despite the fact that at the time most blacks were in the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln. Once in office, Wilson brought into his administration many southerners who began to segregate agencies in the executive branch. Black leaders called Wilson to account. When they did, Wilson gave all manner of reasons why segregation was acceptable, including the implausible and paternalistic claim that it was good for African Americans themselves.

African American leaders across the country lambasted Wilson, often on religious grounds. This was especially so after the president blew up in a dialogue with black editor William Monroe Trotter and threw Trotter out of the Oval Office. Editor Nick Chiles of the Topeka Plaindealer, an African-American newspaper, wrote a lengthy editorial contrasting “The Wilson Way” with “The Christian Way.” Chiles had endorsed Wilson in 1912, predicting he would become “a second Lincoln.” Now, after the Trotter incident, Chiles wondered “why the president who professes to walk in the footsteps of Christ should lose his temper when a delegation of colored men called on him to discuss the wrongs that are being perpetrated against their race.” ....

To all of this Wilson made a quasi-theological response in 1918. As the race issue receded somewhat in the midst of the America war effort, he spoke to the National Race Congress, saying, “We have to be patient with one another. Human nature doesn’t make giant strides in a single generation.” ....

...[O]n every issue save race, [Wilson] seems to have forgotten that “this corruption of nature, during this life, does remain.” By contrast, a group of students at Princeton pushing back against the effort to remove Wilson’s legacy seems to understand the sinful nature of humankind better than he did. In a letter to their president they wrote: “If we cease honoring flawed individuals, there will be no names adorning our buildings, no statues decorating our courtyards, and no biographies capable of inspiring future generations.” If the controversy over Wilson results in a heightened awareness that all our heroes are flawed, it will be a debate worth having. [more]

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Some day

More from Blue Highway:

Some day when my last line is written
Some day when I’ve drawn my last breath
When my last words on earth have been spoken
And my lips are sealed in death:

Don’t look on my cold form in pity
Don’t think of me as one dead
It will just be the house I once lived in
My spirit by then will have fled

I’ll have finished my time here allotted
But I won’t be in darkness alone
I will have heard from heaven
The summons to come on home

And when my body is in the grave
Don’t think that I’ll be there
I won’t be dead, but living
In the place Jesus went to prepare

And after all is said and done
Know that my last earnest prayer
Was that my loved ones be ready
Some day to meet me there
Blue Highway performing Some Day - YouTube

"Fill vast eternity with the news!"


What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
To lay aside his crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

Then friends shall meet again, who have loved, who have loved,
Then friends shall meet again, who have loved;
Then friends shall meet again, in Jesus' presence, when
We'll meet to part no more, who have loved, who have loved,
We'll meet to part no more, who have loved.

Ye winged seraphs, fly! Bear the news, bear the news.
Ye winged seraphs fly! bear the news;
Ye winged seraphs fly! Like comets through the sky,
Fill vast eternity with the news, with the news,
Fill vast eternity with the news!


Anonymous; composite; 19th cent.
Tune: WONDROUS LOVE (6.6.6.3.6.6.6.6.6.3.)
American folk tune; The Southern Harmony, 1840

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"The last best hope..."

On December 1, 1862 Abraham Lincoln delivered his Second Annual Message to Congress:
.... The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must dis-enthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Fellow-citizens, we can not escape history. We of this Congress and this Administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just—a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.

"He set a window in the tiny dark dungeon of the ego..."

Muggeridge on the Incarnation:
So the story of Jesus has to begin with the Incarnation; without it, there would be no story at all. Plenty of great teachers, mystics, martyrs and saints have made their appearance at different times in the world, and lived lives and spoken words full of grace and truth, for which we have every reason to be grateful. Of none of them, however, has the claim been made, and accepted, that they were Incarnate God. In the case of Jesus alone the belief has persisted that when he came into the world God deigned to take on the likeness of a man in order that thenceforth men might be encouraged to aspire after the likeness of God; reaching out from their mortality to His immortality, from their imperfection to His perfection. It is written in the Old Testament that no man may see God and live; at the same time, as Kierkegaard points out, God cannot make Man His equal without transforming him into something more than Man. The only solution was for God to become Man, which He did through the Incarnation in the person of Jesus. Thereby, He set a window in the tiny dark dungeon of the ego in which we all languish, letting in a light, providing a vista, and offering a way of release from the servitude of the flesh and the fury of the will into what St Paul called the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus: The Man Who Lives, Harper & Row, 1975.