Sunday, September 15, 2019


...[W]ords are never merely words but are the means by which we make sense of things. If we have fewer words we have fewer tools with which to think and with which to reason. We are left not merely speechless in the presence of reality but thoughtless. This is why our Anglo-Saxon ancestors were wise when they spoke of each person’s “word-horde.” The more words we possess in our personal “horde” the wealthier and healthier we will be. The knowledge of each word is something which personally enriches the one who possesses it. Words empower us, whereas the absence of words impoverishes us and leaves us powerless to make sense of who we are and where we fit into reality. They are the means of exchange with which we express an understanding of ourselves and the cosmos to ourselves and to others. Without such a means of exchange we isolate ourselves from reality and alienate ourselves from others. We are left bemused and confused in the presence of things that we have no way of understanding because we have no way of expressing what they are to ourselves and others. ....

Saturday, September 14, 2019

"Humanely rather than instrumentally"

In the Wall Street Journal, for those who love Jane Austin, a good reason:
.... Lapses in civility happen in Jane Austen’s novels, but they then become an index to the perpetrator’s capacity for empathy. In Emma, the heroine’s rudeness to Miss Bates is represented as a form of cruelty that she comes to regret deeply. Mr. Elton, in the same novel, is rude to Harriet Smith, but without the ability to care that he has hurt her. The difference between these two reactions reflects the difference in these characters’ moral nature. ....

In Austen, good manners are also a conduit for learning about another person in a careful and deliberate way. Particularly for a single man and woman who are first becoming acquainted with one another, this keeps expectations in check until there is sufficient information to draw a conclusion. ....

The word “manners” sounds prissy and old-fashioned to contemporary ears. But Austen presents it as the need to treat others humanely rather than instrumentally. It is the outward, formal expression of respect for others—whether one knows them well, slightly, or not at all. ....

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Not an uncertain mercy

From Onsi Kamel in First Things, "Catholicism Made Me Protestant":
.... I will never forget the moment when, like Luther five hundred years earlier, I discovered justification by faith alone through union with Christ. I was sitting in my dorm room by myself. I had been assigned Luther’s Explanations of the Ninety-Five ­Theses, and I expected to find it facile. A year or two prior, I had decided that Trent was right about justification: It was entirely a gift of grace consisting of the gradual perfecting of the soul by faith and works—God instigating and me cooperating. For years, I had attempted to live out this model of justification. I had gone to Mass regularly, prayed the rosary with friends, fasted frequently, read the Scriptures daily, prayed earnestly, and sought advice from spiritual directors. I had begun this arduous cooperation with God’s grace full of hope; by the time I sat in that dorm room alone, I was distraught and demoralized. I had learned just how wretched a sinner I was: No good work was unsullied by pride, no repentance unaccompanied by expectations of future sin, no love free from selfishness.

In this state, I picked up my copy of that arch-heretic Luther and read his explanation of Thesis 37: “Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.” With these words, Luther transformed my understanding of justification: Every Christian possesses Christ, and to possess Christ is to possess all of Christ’s righteousness, life, and merits. Christ had joined me to himself.

I had “put on Christ” in baptism and, by faith through the work of the Spirit, all things were mine, and I was Christ’s, and Christ was God’s (Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 3:21–23). His was not an uncertain mercy; his was not a grace of parts, which one hoped would become a whole; his was not a salvation to be attained, as though it were not already also a present possession. At that moment, the joy of my salvation poured into my soul. I wept and showed forth God’s praise. I had finally discovered the true ground and power of Protestantism: “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song 2:16).

Monday, September 9, 2019


Re-posted from 2009. Things have only deteriorated further since then.

David Brooks goes "In Search of Dignity" and laments the loss of standards of behavior that were still common in my father's generation:
When George Washington was a young man, he copied out a list of 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Some of the rules in his list dealt with the niceties of going to a dinner party or meeting somebody on the street.

“Lean not upon anyone,” was one of the rules. “Read no letter, books or papers in company,” was another. “If any one come to speak to you while you are sitting, stand up,” was a third.

But, as the biographer Richard Brookhiser has noted, these rules, which Washington derived from a 16th-century guidebook, were not just etiquette tips. They were designed to improve inner morals by shaping the outward man. Washington took them very seriously. He worked hard to follow them. Throughout his life, he remained acutely conscious of his own rectitude.

In so doing, he turned himself into a new kind of hero. He wasn’t primarily a military hero or a political hero. As the historian Gordon Wood has written, “Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of temptation. It was his moral character that set him off from other men.”

Washington absorbed, and later came to personify what you might call the dignity code. The code was based on the same premise as the nation’s Constitution — that human beings are flawed creatures who live in constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions. Artificial systems have to be created to balance and restrain their desires.

The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested — to endeavor to put national interests above personal interests. It commanded its followers to be reticent — to never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public. It also commanded its followers to be dispassionate — to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm. ....

The old dignity code has not survived modern life. The costs of its demise are there for all to see. Every week there are new scandals featuring people who simply do not know how to act. ....

Americans still admire dignity. But the word has become unmoored from any larger set of rules or ethical system. ....
Manners are of more importance than laws.
The law can touch us here and there, now and then.
Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase,
barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform,
insensible operation like that of the air we breathe in.


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Waiting in hope

Yesterday our pastor's sermon was about the hope we have and the patience required as we wait. That reminded me of Ben Patterson's Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, and so I re-post this from "The Epilog" of that book:
Does it strike you as odd that a book on waiting has scarcely mentioned the word patience? Or perseverance? Aren't those the virtues that we are to exercise when we are forced to wait? They are, but they are secondary to what really is needed to wait with grace. More basic than patience or perseverance are humility and hope. These two are the attitudes, the visions of life, that make patience possible. Patience is a rare and lovely flower that grows only in the soil of humility and hope.

Humility makes patience possible because it shows us our proper place in the universe. God is God, we are his creatures; he is the King, we are his subjects; he is master, we are his servants. We have no demands to make, no rights to assert. I can be impatient only if I think that whatever it is I want is being withheld or delayed unfairly. As Chuck Swindoll put it, "God is not in your appointment book; you're in his." His superiority is not only in power and authority, it is in love and wisdom as well. He has the right to do whatever he wants to do, whenever he wants to do it, but he also has the love to desire what is best for all his creatures and the wisdom to know what is best. He is superior to us in every conceivable way—in power and love and wisdom. To know that is to be patient.

Hope makes patience possible because it gives us the confidence that our wait is not in vain. Hope believes that this God of love, power and wisdom is on our side. It exults in the knowledge that, in the delays of life, he knows exactly what he is doing. If he moves quickly, it is for our good; if he moves slowly, it is for our good. No matter how things look to us, God is the complete master of the situation. There is an old theological word for this—providence. The venerable Heidelberg Catechism defines God's providence as:
The Almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were, by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.
There are no accidents, no glitches with God. He does all things well. Everything that comes to us comes by his hand and through his heart. He provides for our needs and fulfills our deepest desires in the fullness of time, not a moment too late, nor a second too soon. Hope assures us that in all things, even in the delays of life, God is working for our good. To know that is to be patient.

One of the surprise "goods" that God is working for us as we wait is the forging of our character. What we become as we wait is at least as important as the thing we wait for. To wait in hope is not just to pass the time until the wait is over. It is to see the time passing as part of the process God is using to make us into the people he created us to be. Job emerges from his wait dazzled and transformed. Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah.

Hope invites us to look at our waitings from the grand perspective of God's eternal purposes. In fact to be a believer is, by definition, to be one who waits. When Jesus won his victory over sin and death, he ascended into heaven, promising one day to return. We Christians wait for that return, poised between the times, in the "already, but not yet." We look back to his victory and strain forward to see its consummation.

The apostle Paul says the pain of our waiting is like the waiting of childbirth. It is the tension and groaning of labor (Rom 8:22-25). I attended my wife in the births of each of our four children. One thing struck me as odd about each event: that the time when she was required to exert her greatest effort and push the baby out was the time when she was least able. She was exhausted from hours of labor and now she was to summon all her strength and push. How could she? Hope made it possible: the hope of giving birth to the child. When human strength was gone, something beyond the purely human took over and gave her the strength she needed.

The Bible said it would be this way for those who hope in God. "Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Is 40:31). Likewise for our Lord Jesus and his cross, "who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb 12:2-3).

My wish is that we might gain the humility and hope to not grow weary and lose heart. I hope that you and I might be able to say, with full hearts, what Henrietta Mears said near the end of her life. This wonderfully eccentric and indefatigable saint accomplished great things for God in her life. When asked if there was anything she would have done differently, had she her life to live over, she said without hesitation, "I would trust God more."
Ben Patterson, Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, 1989, pp. 167-170.
Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation. 
(Hab 3:17–18)

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Salt is salt"

I'm pretty limited as a cook. There are a few things I do well but since I'm almost always cooking for myself I like to keep things easy and quick. For some years now I've been buying my spices online, first from Penzey's and then, after learning some of the backstory, from The Spice House. Their offerings are similar and their family origins are too. I recently acquired on spice: advice, wisdom, and history with a grain of saltiness by Caitlin Penzey Moog. As a member of that family she was immersed in the subject from a very early age. The book is very informative. I've learned a lot. I won't use most of that knowledge but then that's true of much I know. Something I did learn and do use from the first chapter: 
My grandfather had a mantra: "salt is salt." What he meant was that salt can be broken down into many groupings, but such distinctions hardly matter. The broad categories are rock salt, kosher salt, and the color salts: gray sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Hawaiian red salt, etc. These are different, but when it comes to salting your food, well, they're all just salt. It's an adage that's served me well when it comes to the seduction of the small batch, the rare, the expensive. Luckily with salt, it doesn't matter if you buy the processed stuff off the grocery store shelf or are able to procure a pinch of brown salt from Japan, where only 600 pounds are mined every year. The expensive salts will not make your food taste any better than the cheap salts. Salt is salt.

My favorite salt is among the cheapest: kosher salt. Growing up, my family used little else. Though it is traditionally used for preparing kosher foods, the salt itself is not necessarily kosher. Rather, nearly all salt is kosher and may be religiously certified as such (check the box), but not all "kosher salt," of the distinctive size and shape, has been certified. It's not the color or origin or religious affiliation that makes salt culinarily different, but the surface area.

The differences can be understood through the example of ice, snow, and rain. A grain of rock salt is like a chunk of ice: it falls on a surface and dissolves very slowly. Kosher salt, on the other hand, is like a snowflake: it lands on the surface and immediately dissipates, spreading out to cover more ground. Table salt is like smaller pieces of ice, or a hard rain. It falls in tiny bits, bouncing around the food and into cracks and crevices like rain in a gutter. That's why kosher salt is preferred for salting foods at the table: it covers more surface and melts more evenly. My dad, a chef, also likes it for the thick texture, which makes it easy to pinch and disperse. ....
I've been buying kosher salt since I read this.

on spice: advice, wisdom, and history with a grain of saltiness

Thursday, September 5, 2019

"Smarter than we thought we were"

Joseph Pearce on why C.S. Lewis is so convincing to many of us:
Some time ago, during an interview, I was asked to encapsulate, in a solitary word, the genius of C.S. Lewis. After a moment’s thought, I gave my answer. “Clarity,” I said. “The one word that encapsulates Lewis is ‘clarity.’”

Today, considering the reply I had given, I still think that this one word captures the genius of Lewis. He had an uncanny ability to explain the most abstract points of philosophy and theology with a succinct brilliance. He could make the most difficult of philosophical or theological questions utterly comprehensible to the average reader, regardless of his reader’s lack of formal training in philosophy or theology. It’s not that he makes us smarter than we are, though he does, it’s that he makes us see that we were smarter than we thought we were. There is no reason, for example, for anyone, after reading Lewis, to feel that metaphysics is beyond his grasp. The easy didacticism with which Lewis unlocks and unpacks the central doctrines of the Christian faith in a book such as Mere Christianity is a case in point.

Lewis teaches us with such a natural and unassuming skill that we almost don’t realize that we are being taught at all. He makes the truth seem so obvious and so inescapable that we feel that we must already have known what he shows us, and that we must always have known it, at least subconsciously. We feel that Lewis is simply reminding us of what we already knew, even though, when we think about it honestly, we know that we had been too blind in the past to see the obvious truth which is now staring us in the face. .... (more)

Monday, September 2, 2019

Labor Day

On this Labor Day, I re-post part of a 1942 address by Dorothy L. Sayers: "Why Work?" (pdf):
I HAVE already, on a previous occasion, spoken at some length on the subject of Work and Vocation. What I urged then was a thorough-going revolution in our whole attitude to work. I asked that it should be looked upon—not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God. That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God's image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing. ....

It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred. Christian people, and particularly perhaps the Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work. .... It is not right for her to acquiesce in the notion that a man's life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation. ....

Where we have become confused is in mixing up the ends to which our work is put with the way in which the work is done. The end of the work will be decided by our religious outlook: as we are so we make. It is the business of religion to make us Christian people, and then our work will naturally be turned to Christian ends, because our work is the expression of ourselves. But the way in which the work is done is governed by no sanction except the good of the work itself; and religion has no direct connexion with that, except to insist that the workman should be free to do his work well according to its own integrity. ....
Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos?" Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949, pp. 46-62.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Four Loves

Some time ago I posted a video of a "CSLewisDoodle" about "Bulverism." I've discovered that there are many such videos at the CSLewisDoodle - YouTube site. Each consists of a reading of an essay or chapter by Lewis illustrated by "doodling" on a blackboard. They are very well done. Each must have taken a great deal of time to do. Below are the ones for The Four Loves. In this case we hear CSL's own voice from the radio broadcasts. Not many of those survived as they usually were recorded over.

CSLewisDoodle - YouTube

Saturday, August 31, 2019

A recommendation

A very good review of C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction, a book I've mentioned here before. Read it all if you have time. The review is a good introduction to the Introduction.
‘The lecturer, a short, thickset man with a ruddy face and a big voice, was coming to the end of his talk.” That was the opening sentence of the Time magazine cover story for September 8, 1947. The subject of the story, who swiftly exited the classroom for the nearest pub, was the Oxford University don and best-selling author Clive Staples Lewis. How did a scholar of medieval literature, with no formal theological training — a strident atheist in his youth — become, in the words of Time, “one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world”?

This is one of the questions taken up by James Como in C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction, a recent title in the Oxford University Press series of compact introductions to wide-ranging topics. Como’s unlikely achievement is to deliver a brief (under 200 pages) yet compelling literary survey of Lewis’s works, which include over 40 books, 200 essays, 150 poems, short stories, a diary, and three volumes of letters. I can think of only a handful of authors qualified to take on such a project, and Como is among them. A professor emeritus of rhetoric at York College (CUNY), a founding member of the New York C.S. Lewis Society, and the author of Branches to Heaven: The Geniuses of C.S. Lewis (1998), he is a leading Lewis scholar.

Nevertheless, the task is daunting. Lewis’s writings — his fantasy, science fiction, apologetics, and theological essays — were as diverse as his public personae. He excelled in his roles as a university lecturer, literary historian, broadcaster, debater, preacher, and public intellectual. His series of children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, has sold over 100 million copies in over 40 languages. Though he was a lifelong Protestant (Anglican), his works could be found at the bedside of Pope John Paul II. .... (the rest)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A liberal education?

I attended a small liberal arts college. The curriculum was designed around a major and a minor, with additional requirements to take integrated classes in the fine arts, music, natural sciences, literature, and social sciences. None of those additional classes went into great depth but I was forced to gain some familiarity with disciplines like English literature or classical music I would otherwise have slighted. In "Why the humanities can't be saved" John Gray argues not only that the battle is lost but that the humanities aren't worth saving in the current academic environment. In the longer essay he also discusses how we came to this sad state.
It is hard to see why any sensible person would enroll in a humanities degree at the present time. A common argument used to be that the humanities taught students how to think. A science degree transmitted knowledge in a particular discipline, while history, philosophy or English inculcated capacities of critical thinking that could be applied in many areas of life. The humanities embodied a freedom of mind that would be useful whatever students did after they left university.

This is not an argument that can be made today. “Critical thinking” has become a cluster of progressive dogmas, which are handed down as if they were self-evident truths. Students learn an intra-academic argot – intersectionality, hetero-normativity and the like — that has zero utility in the world in which they will go on to live.

They also learn that disagreement in ethics and politics is illegitimate. Anyone who departs from the prevailing progressive consensus is not just mistaken but malevolent. When enforced in universities, this is a prescription for censorship and conformism. What is being inculcated is not freedom of mind, but freedom from thought. Losing the ability to think while attending a university may be considered a misfortune. Incurring fifty or sixty thousand pounds of debt in order to do so looks like carelessness. ....

.... From being a philosophy of tolerance aiming at peaceful coexistence among divergent world-views, [liberalism] has become a persecutory orthodoxy that tolerates no view of the world other than its own. If the contemporary academy is hostile to liberal values as they used to be understood, one reason is the rise of a new liberalism that dismisses these values as phoney and repressive. ....

It would be better to admit that the battle there has been lost, and advise young people to get to know the canon by themselves. It will not cost them tens of thousands of pounds to buy a copy of Montaigne’s essays, Emily Dickinson’s poems, Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim or Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, for example. If they want to move beyond western traditions, they can read Dostoevsky’s apocalyptic and hilariously funny Demons, the delightful Chuang-Tzu and dozens of other world classics. .... (more)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

"Once history becomes a club..."

Wilfred McClay on "The Weaponization of History":
.... The weaponizing of history corresponds invariably with a remarkable hostility to history. Its practitioners are content to slice a single fact out of a web of details, then repeat that fact with the stubbornness of protesters who have memorized a chant.

This aggressive historical simplification is at the core of the cult of intersectionality, which now rules American college campuses. The language of unchallengeable collective grievance relies on history for its authority. Notice how concepts such as “historically underrepresented” and “historically marginalized” are used to certify groups that deserve to be favored automatically in the present.

The condition of any particular person doesn’t have a reliable relationship to that aggregate group victimization. But the key move is to draw on the authority of history to construct unanswerable arguments in every dispute, and always refer individual cases to the invincible aggregate norm.

Why study the past? Today, the point is too often to gain ever better weapons to use in present battles, ever more unanswerable supports for our grievances. This argument from history is potent precisely because it relies on conclusions drawn from data that are no longer ready at hand. It all comes out of a black box called History.

But that cannot last forever. Once history becomes a club, it quickly loses its credibility as history. .... (more)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Warriors for justice

From a long and very good essay, "How the great truth dawned," about Russian literature, the nature of good and evil, and the gulf between Christian ethics and those of the 20th century toltalitarians:
...Solzhenitsyn explains: “To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.... it is in the nature of a human being to seek a justification for his actions.”

.... Ideology makes the killer and torturer an agent of good, “so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors.” Ideology never achieved such power and scale before the twentieth century.

Anyone can succumb to ideology. All it takes is a sense of one’s own moral superiority for being on the right side; a theory that purports to explain everything; and—this is crucial—a principled refusal to see things from the point of view of one’s opponents or victims, lest one be tainted by their evil viewpoint.

If we remember that totalitarians and terrorists think of themselves as warriors for justice, we can appreciate how good people can join them. .... The contrary view, held by ideologues and justice warriors generally, is that our group is good, and theirs is evil. “Evil people committing evil deeds”: this is the sort of thinking behind notions like class conflict or the international Zionist conspiracy. It is the opposite of the idea that makes tolerance and democracy possible: the idea that there is legitimate difference of opinion and we must not act as if God or History had blessed our side as always right. If you think that way, there is no reason not to have a one-party state. The man who taught me Russian history, the late Firuz Kazemzadeh, used to say: remember, there are always as many swine on your side as on the other. ....

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Lead us, heavenly Father...

Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
O'er the world's tempestuous sea;
Guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us,
For we have no help but Thee;
Yet possessing every blessing
If our God our Father be.
Saviour, breathe forgiveness o'er us,
All our weakness Thou dost know;
Thou didst tread this earth before us,
Thou didst feel its keenest woe;
Self denying, death defying,
Thou to Calvary didst go.
Spirit of our God, descending,
Fill our hearts with heavenly joy;
Love with every passion blending,
Pleasure that can never cloy;
Thus provided, pardoned, guided,
Nothing can our peace destroy. Amen.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

C.S. Lewis

Accidentally discovered this evening, a very good BBC documentary hosted by A.N. Wilson. It is almost an hour long:

Friday, August 16, 2019

True Grit

Arrived in the mail: Charles Portis, True Grit, 4th printing in 1968, the year of publication. I believe I first read it serialized in The Saturday Evening Post. I once had a paperback copy but it disappeared somewhere along the way. This is a secondhand hardback and whoever owned it took very good care. I found it at Alibris ( which serves booksellers all over the country. The original cost in 1968 was $4.95. This one cost me $24.95. There has been a bit of inflation over the last fifty years so this is probably fair for a book that old in this condition. The book was very popular. The John Wayne movie came out almost immediately in 1969. I still enjoy that one although the Coen brothers film (2011) is truer to the spirit of the book.

From Kirkus Reviews in 1968:
When Tom Chaney got drunk and shot Frank Ross, fourteen-year-old Mattie Rose Moss was convinced that Chaney represented an eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth case. She lit out from Dardanelle, Arkansas, determined to be Tom's fitting executioner and negotiated for the help of Rooster Cogburn, a U.S. Marshal of wide repute, mean disposition, and deadly fast draw. Despite his initial reluctance and the unwelcome presence of a pesky bounty hunter who wanted to take Chaney alive, Mattie Rose crossed into the Indian Territory, where (in the 1880's) scalping was more common than barbering, and she brought down her quarry after a series of Pearl White climaxes. Annoyed by the loose allusions to her great adventure made by an Arkansas housewife-historian, middle-aged Mattie Rose sets all the record straight in a positive Presbyterian no-nonsense first person that is marvelously funny. ....

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The nanny state and helicopter parents

I found this interesting:
...Penning the forward to the new book, Let the Children Play, [Sir Ken] Robinson explains how play helps children develop physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially.

Play, Robinson says, helps children learn to interact with others, to “practice teamwork, communication, and problem-solving.” Children also learn to express their emotions properly and think outside the box when confronting various situations through play.

But will these growth opportunities go by the wayside as society becomes more cautious and bubble-wrapped? How can we ensure that children have the opportunity for “real play,” not just structured physical activity?

Robinson provides four criteria that parents can use to measure “real play”:
Real play is not a particular activity: it is a state of mind, in which all sorts of activities are done, such as playing with sand and water, painting, skipping, climbing, chasing, role play, juggling, and hiding games. It involves all the senses and being physically active. These are some of the common characteristics of real play:
  • It is self-initiated and self-motivated: Real play is freely chosen. If children are forced to play, they may not feel in a state of play at all.
  • It is creative: Children engage in make-believe that bends reality to accommodate their interests and imagination.
  • It is active: Real play engages children physically as well as mentally.
  • It has negotiated rules: The rules of play come from the child, including entry to and from the game and what counts as acceptable behavior within it.

Sir Ken Robinson Explains How Parents Can Know the Four Signs of ‘Real Play’ | Intellectual Takeout

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Ordinary providence

Yesterday Kevin DeYoung posted this on Facebook:
I'm often reminded when talking to people in crisis, what a gift boring-routine-normal is. If your week, month, summer, school year feel like more of the same predictable pattern, there is reason to give thanks.
That reminded me of this:
Clarence Macartney told the story about Dr. John Witherspoon...a signer of the Declaration of Independence and president of the (then) College of New Jersey. He lived a couple of miles away from the college at Rocky Hill and drove horse and rig each day to his office at the college.

One day one of his neighbors burst into his office, exclaiming, "Dr. Witherspoon, you must join me in giving thanks to God for his extraordinary providence in saving my life, for as I was driving from Rocky Hill the horse ran away and the buggy was smashed to pieces on the rocks, but I escaped unharmed!"

Witherspoon replied, "Why, I can tell you a far more remarkable providence than that. I have driven over that road hundreds of times. My horse never ran away, my buggy never was smashed, I was never hurt."

So we must beware of thinking that God is only in the earthquake, wind, and fire; of thinking that manna but not grain is God’s food. Most of God’s gifts to his people are not dazzling and gaudy but wrapped in simple brown paper. Quiet provisions of safety on the highway, health of children, picking up a paycheck, supper with the family—all in an ordinary day’s work for our God.

—Dale Ralph Davis, Joshua: No Fallen Words (reprint: Christian Focus, 2000), pp. 48-49

Friday, August 9, 2019

Never alone with God

In "The Sound of Silence" Joel Pavelski describes what happened when he decided on a month with "No music. No podcasts. No excuses." From the article:
.... As the first few days of my sound fast went on, I showered in silence. I worked out without any motivational music, and every movement felt more considered, as though I was touching base with each part of my body while it was moving. I was friendlier to the other people walking dogs in my neighborhood. After a year and a half of running into them, I finally learned their names. I remembered to bring books on the subway.

Inside, my mind felt like it was sloughing off some kind of dullness, a hibernating animal waking from a long winter slumber. After a week, I felt more alert. More present. Peaceful. ....

Neuroscientists and psychologists estimate that we spend 15 to 20 percent of our waking hours daydreaming, drifting away from the task at hand and allowing the mind to refocus on our innermost feelings and fantasies. When your brain is relaxed, it doesn’t stop working. In fact, it never really goes offline. In the 1990s, Washington University neurologist Marcus Raichle discovered that a scattered collection of the brain’s pieces begin to fire in sync when your mind wanders. This neural network comes to life when you’re not focused on a specific task; it reviews the things that you already know and connects them in new ways. ....

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote, describing the function of this neural network in the New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

I started looking for moments in my day to open up the space Kreider talks about. I forced myself to stand outside on my patio for twenty minutes every morning, coffee cup in hand, watching the world light up. I went on long walks just for the hell of it. I took breaks in the middle of the day to go to the Hudson River waterfront, to sit on a bench for a few minutes, admiring the view.

Instead of quieting down during these moments, my brain felt blissful and busy, lighting up with challenges to solve, reframing and reorganizing possibilities. When I returned from a walk or a break, I came back with a new idea or a problem that I’d solved: a thoughtful birthday gift for an old friend, a perfect response to the text I was avoiding. I planned my days in these moments, reordered my priorities and took stock of my performance honestly. ....

Novelist and short-story writer Sara Maitland, in her thoughtful and serene A Book of Silence, writes about expansive periods of tranquility spent in the Sinai desert, the Scottish hills, and a remote hovel on the Isle of Skye. ....

“In the Middle Ages, Christian scholastics argued that the devil’s basic strategy was to bring human beings to a point where they are never alone with God, and never attentively face to face with another human being,” she writes. “The mobile phone therefore represents a powerful breakthrough for the forces of hell.” ....

During my month of silence, I learned to stop drowning myself in stimulation. And when I quit layering on background audio as a convenient distraction, I found what I was looking for: permission and time to meet my unconscious self, rising up from the silence. It taught me that it’s okay to take a walk. That I’m not going to miss out if I’m not plugged in to something every minute of the day. That my brain works best with a little free time.

The truth is, it’s a little terrifying to be truly alone with yourself in stillness. But you can only know who you are, what you think, and what you have to say when you stop avoiding yourself. .... (more)

Thursday, August 8, 2019

A useful argument

A friend's Facebook post about the Ontological Argument for the existence of God sent me looking for the description of that argument in Kreeft & Tacelli's Handbook of Christian Apologetics (a very useful reference). It's there, number 13 of twenty such arguments. I've always liked the next one in that chapter, "14. The Moral Argument." In a week when everyone seems very sure that some things are clearly morally wrong an argument like this one may have even more power:

  1. Real moral obligation is a fact. We are really, truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil.
  2. Either the atheistic view of reality is correct or the “religious” one.
  3. But the atheistic one is incompatible with there being moral obligation.
  4. Therefore the “religious” view of reality is correct.
We need to be clear about what the first premise is claiming. It does not mean merely that we can find people around who claim to have certain duties. Nor does it mean that there have been many people who thought they were obliged to do certain things (like clothing the naked) and to avoid doing others (like committing adultery). The first premise is claiming something more: namely, that we human beings really are obligated; that our duties arise from the way things really are, and not simply from our desires or subjective dispositions. It is claiming, in other words, that moral values or obligations themselves—and not merely the belief in moral values—are objective facts.
Now given the fact of moral obligation, a question naturally arises. Does the picture of the world presented by atheism accord with this fact? The answer is no. Atheists never tire of telling us that we are the chance products of the motion of matter: a motion which is purposeless and blind to every human striving. We should take them at their word and ask: Given this picture, in what exactly is the moral good rooted? Moral obligation can hardly be rooted in a material motion blind to purpose.
Suppose we say it is rooted in nothing deeper than human willing and desire. In that case, we have no moral standard against which human desires can be judged. For every desire will spring from the same ultimate source—purposeless, pitiless matter. And what becomes of obligation? According to this view, if I say there is an obligation to feed the hungry, I would be stating a fact about my wants and desires and nothing else. I would be saying that I want the hungry to be fed, and that I choose to act on that desire. But this amounts to an admission that neither I nor anyone else is really obliged to feed the hungry—that, in fact, no one has any real obligations at all. Therefore the atheistic view of reality is not compatible with there being genuine moral obligation.
What view is compatible? One that sees real moral obligation as grounded in its Creator, that sees moral obligation as rooted in the fact that we have been created with a purpose and for an end. We may call this view, with deliberate generality, “the religious view.” But however general the view, reflection on the fact of moral obligation does seem to confirm it.

Question 1:
The argument has not shown that ethical subjectivism is false. What if there are no objective values?
Reply: True enough. The argument assumes that there are objective values; it aims to show that believing in them is incompatible with one picture of the world, and quite compatible with another. Those two pictures are the atheistic-materialistic one, and the (broadly speaking) religious one. Granted, if ethical subjectivism is true, then the argument does not work. However, almost no one is a consistent subjectivist. (Many think they are, and say they are—until they suffer violence or injustice. In that case they invariably stand with the rest of us in recognizing that certain things ought never to be done.) And for the many who are not—and never will be—subjectivists, the argument can be most helpful. It can show them that to believe as they do in objective values is inconsistent with what they may also believe about the origin and destiny of the universe. If they move to correct the inconsistency, it will be a move toward the religious view and away from the atheistic one.

Question 2:
This proof does not conclude to God, but to some vague “religious” view. Isn’t this “religious” view compatible with very much more than traditional theism?
Reply: Yes indeed. It is compatible, for example, with Platonic idealism, and many other beliefs that orthodox Christians find terribly deficient. But this general religious view is incompatible with materialism, and with any view that banishes value from the ultimate objective nature of things. That is the important point. It seems most reasonable that moral conscience is the voice of God within the soul, because moral value exists only on the level of persons, minds and wills. And it is hard, if not impossible, to conceive of objective moral principles somehow floating around on their own, apart from any persons.
But we grant that there are many steps to travel from objective moral values to the Creator of the universe or the triune God of love. There is a vast intellectual distance between them. But these things are compatible in a way that materialism and belief in objective values are not. To reach a personal Creator you need other arguments (cf. arguments 1–6), and to reach the God of love you need revelation. By itself, the argument leaves many options open, and eliminates only some. But we are surely well rid of those it does eliminate.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Fifty years ago

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

In the summer of 1969, a friend and I went to a three-day concert held on a farm in upstate New York near a place called Woodstock. Some of the biggest names in rock music would be playing there. The advertising campaign was very successful, selling 186,000 tickets in advance. Organizers expected that 50,000 might actually show up. When the weekend of the concert arrived, not 50,000 but 400,000 (est.) converged on Woodstock, completely overwhelming the fences and the facilities. The vast majority who came assumed they would be able to get tickets at the gate. They were wrong. The gates were (torn) down when we arrived, but it did not matter—everyone who came got in.

Many people have a similar assumption about entry to heaven, that they will get tickets at the gate or will get in if they just show up. They, too, will be wrong, but in that case, it will matter, because that event will last much longer than three days. As the apostle Paul says, “we will be with the Lord forever” (2 Thess 4:17). Moreover, only those who have made advance arrangements will get in, who have been washed “by the blood of the lamb” (Rev 12:11), because “many are invited but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14).

We drove as close as we could to the site but had to park the car on the side of the road behind the many who had arrived before us. We walked with others for several miles, passing countless numbers who were giving up and going home, until we finally reached the place. Because the promoters were not prepared for that many people, there were not enough food stands, first aid stations, and, more importantly, not enough Port-o-potties. To make matters worse, it rained, a lot, turning the entire area to ankle-deep mud.

The concert was already in progress when we arrived, and the sound system was quite good, so we had no trouble finding the stage. It was in a valley, a third to a half mile below the ridge on which we eventually stood. I thought we had encountered a lot of people on our way in, but I was not prepared for what I saw from that ridge. The entire hillside was covered, from one end to the other and from top to bottom, with a seemingly endless mass of humanity. Apparently, the poor accommodations deterred only a relatively few of those who came. The vast majority chose to remain and were seated on the ground—in the mud!—with barely enough space to squeeze between. I had never seen so many people in one place at one time, certainly more than I could count.

When the apostle John sees in his vision of heaven “a great multitude that no one could count” (Rev 7:9), his description may not be an exaggeration. (The advertising for that event will also be quite good.) It will certainly be bigger than Woodstock, and it will have much better accommodations.

We worked our way down the hill looking for a place to sit, but the bodies were packed together so closely that there was barely enough room to walk without stepping on someone. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, we were at the base of the stage, facing a tall wall and looking straight up. We could hear everything just fine but could see nothing, only the wall. At that point, we decided to give up and go home, which meant another trek up the hill and a long walk back to the car. Sitting in the mud was unappealing no matter how good the music.

The next year, Linda and I went to see the documentary film entitled Woodstock. It showed much of what my friend and I did not get to see. The movie theatre experience was quite different, of course, having shelter from the rain, a dry and carpeted floor, food options, comfortable seating, and (perhaps most importantly) bathrooms.

Heaven will have even better accommodations (no mud), including better food options, like “the wedding supper of the lamb” (Rev 19:9), enabling us to sit “at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Matt 8:11).

At the time, I did not realize how important Woodstock would become in American culture. There is even a US postage stamp commemorating the event (02/18/99 Scott #3188b). Some of the performers were very good (if you like rock music), and the entire gathering was amazingly peaceful, perhaps due in part to the prevalence of illegal drugs. Still, there were some not-so-good things as well (e.g., an overdose death). Heaven, though, will be far, far better, with great reason to celebrate and without any not-so-good things. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order…has passed away” (Rev 21:4). Best of all, we will see the greatest headliner of all: God Himself (Rev 22:4). There will also be great music (Heb 12:22; Rev 5:12).

Too smart?

A Wall Street Journal review of a new book summarizes its findings that intelligence isn't enough:
.... People with high SAT scores, for example, are less likely to either take advice or learn from their blunders. Folks with multiple degrees and professional expertise are often blind to their own biases. The consequences of these gaffes are often merely personal and embarrassing, but sometimes they are catastrophic. In American hospitals, one in 10 patient deaths appear to be the result of diagnostic mistakes. ....

College graduates are more likely than those with less education to believe in extrasensory perception and “psychic healing.” High-IQ types are just as likely to have financial problems, even though they often have better jobs with higher salaries. Because many “brainiacs” expect to outsmart others, they are often more heedless of risks and less aware of their own flaws in thinking. As the 19th-century psychologist William James once said, “a great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” ....

The good news is that wisdom, unlike intelligence, can be taught, and these lessons bear real fruit. People with superior reasoning skills are more content and generally happier with their relationships. Yet in industrialized Western countries, where bravado is often mistaken for strength, a slower, humbler, more deliberative approach to decision-making tends to garner little respect. Our schools still prize innate abilities over other skills, and most students are encouraged to believe that speed (in answering questions and processing information) is an essential and even fateful sign of superiority. ....

What is fascinating is that IQ scores in industrialized countries have never been so high, rising the equivalent of 30 points in 80 years. Access to factual information has also never been so widespread. Yet we are no less susceptible to the allure of fake news and pseudoscience. We are as likely as ever to opportunistically prop up our own positions and take down those of our rivals. ....

Monday, August 5, 2019

"A perfect beginning to the beginning"

Kevin DeYoung explains what he did on his summer vacation. One of the things was writing for a "400-500 page book with over 100 Bible stories" that will be illustrated and is scheduled to be published in late 2020 or early 2021. This blog post contains two of the Old Testament stories. From one of them:
In the beginning, there was God.

Actually, that’s not quite right. Even before there was a beginning, there was God. He never started. He always has been, always is, and always will be. God is God. And there is nothing else and no one else who compares with him.

God doesn’t get lonely, or bored, or scared. He doesn’t need anything from anyone. He just IS. The great I AM. Whether people know it or not.

But don’t think that makes God a meanie. There is nothing mean about him. God is all love and all glory all the time.

Which is why in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. ....

Of all the special things God made, the most important thing was not a thing at all. It was a person. God may have been fond of fish, and he probably liked camels and kangaroos too (maybe even spiders!). But he created man in his own image. That’s us! ....

Things were off to a pretty good start. God was so pleased with his creation, he looked around, saw that everything was tremendously terrific, and rested on the seventh day. A perfect beginning to the beginning. (more)

Sunday, August 4, 2019

"Dives and Lazarus"

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Five Variants of "Dives and Lazarus"

"One short sleep past..."

John Donne (1571-1631)
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Friday, August 2, 2019

"God hates visionary dreaming”

Via CT Pastors, Bonhoeffer in Life Together:
It makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
Quoted in "Bonhoeffer Convinced Me to Abandon My Dream."

Kipling, again

The first selection in "Five Best: H.S. Cross on Novels About Boarding School" is a Kipling I haven't read:
Stalky & Co.
By Rudyard Kipling (1899)

Each chapter of “Stalky & Co.” narrates a discrete episode in the adventures of Stalky, McTurk and Beetle. The three friends attend “the ‘Coll,’ ” a fictionalized version of Rudyard Kipling’s own boarding school, and have no use for school spirit, prefects, athletics or any ideals the school story was designed to promote. Instead the trio values cleverness, humor, poetic justice and loyalty. No one understands irony quite like Kipling, and mixed with young Stalky’s meticulous revenge schemes, the tone is hard to resist. When a master kicks the three out of their study, Stalky engineers the destruction of the master’s study: He shoots rocks at a drunk school servant, who imagines he is being harassed by the master himself; the servant retaliates, hurling rocks into the study and causing the master to use “strange words, every one of which Beetle treasured.” The Victorian-school story never recovered from its savaging by Kipling’s pen, and no later work has approached it in humor, descriptive beauty and unsentimental characterizations.
Stalky & Co. at Gutenberg.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Immanentizing the Eschaton

This was quoted in a tweet that didn't indicate the precise source. Walter Lippman wrote it in 1937 but it seems just as relevant right now:
Their doctrine is that disorder and misery can be overcome only by more and more compulsory organization. Their promise is that through the power of the state men can be made happy. Throughout the world, in the name of progress, men who call themselves communists, socialists, fascists, nationalists, progressives, and even liberals, are unanimous in holding that government with its instruments of coercion must by commanding the people how they shall live, direct the course of civilization and fix the shape of things to come .... But the burden of proof is upon those who reject the oecumenical tradition of the western world. It is for them to show that their cult of the Providential State is in truth the new revelation they think it is, and that it is not, as a few still believe, the gigantic heresy of an apostate generation.
I Googled a phrase from the quotation above. The source is The Good Society by Lippman published in 1937.


A few weeks ago Alan Jacobs wrote an appreciation of historian C.V. Wedgwood, "...few historians today, even those rare birds who even make an effort to tell a good story, can hold a candle to Wedgwood." I once owned her A Coffin for King Charles and maybe still do but I can't find it. I enjoyed that but don't recall reading anything else of hers. Today Battlefields in Britain arrived. It was originally published in 1944 near the end of the war in Europe. This is a recent reprint. A description:
Written by the noted historian C.V. Wedgwood, Battlefields in Britain dives deep into the major battles within the British Isles from the Norman Conquest of the eleventh century up to the 1940s. Spanning centuries of tumultuous British history, the accounts of battles are accompanied by a map of each battle area, offering a full scope of the combat. Wedgwood provides wonderfully detailed accounts of conflicts such as the fierce Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, between the Norman-French and English armies who fought for the throne, and the fifteenth-century battle of Tewkesbury, which effectively wiped out the royal Lancaster family. In her edge-of-your-seat description of the Battle of Culloden, Wedgwood speaks of the palpable impending doom of the invasion, while in the Battle of Britain, fought mostly by plane in British skies, she describes the airmen who "left the quivering air signed with their honor." Wedgwood was famous for visiting the grounds of the original battle sites often during the season or month that the battles took place to pace out the paths of combat, making sure she had a clear vision of the battle scene, and her research is evident in her riveting accounts.

Battlefields in Britain includes battles of the Welsh Wars, Falkirk, Bannockburn, Barnet, Bosworth, Flodden, Edgehill, Marston Moor, Inverlochy, Naseby, Dunbar, Killiecrankie, and Culloden, among many others, making it an indispensable resource for both historians and war buffs.
From her introductory "General Survey":
...who knows what really takes place in battle. Certainly not the combatants: how then the historian? Something more and less than knowledge is needed, something without which knowledge is useless. The sense of the past, the imaginative mind which can think the scene again, call into being the fears and the 'hopes of the brief intensified hour, see that bend of the stream round the willow clump, this gentle dip, that bare hillock as the anxious soldier saw it, feel the sun or the mist of three centuries ago to be the sun and the mist of to-day, let the landscape teem suddenly with its long-buried dead, call up the blood of a hundred humble ancestors and send it racing through twentieth century veins.

See you our stilly woods of oak,
And the dread ditch beside?
O that was where the Saxons broke
On the day that Harold died.

See you the windy levels spread
About the gates of Eye?
  O that was where the Norseman fled,
When Alfred's ships came by.

Trite? Possibly: but how much they miss who lack this sense of place and heritage, who do not see in Maiden estuary the tall black prows of the Danes, or in the Highland glen the crouching clansmen of Montrose? ....
This is going to be good.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The locked-room mystery

From CrimeReads today, "Solving Impossible Crimes."
A murder is committed in a room that is locked from the inside, or sealed, or closely observed by witnesses. Nobody saw the killer escape. Yet that is exactly what has happened. The killer is gone, evidence is scarce and there are no eyewitnesses to the crime. Enter, a detective who is determined to solve this seemingly unsolvable crime. ....

Locked-room mysteries are stories about impossible crimes. They’re literary puzzles about ‘whodunit’ and ‘howdunit.’ ....
especially "howdunit."

The writer, himself the author of a locked-room mystery, describes some of the best including Agatha Christie's And Then There Where None and John Dickson Carr's Three Coffins. His description of the latter:
Written in 1935, this novel by John Dickson Carr, arguably the king of locked-room mysteries, is widely considered the greatest locked-room mystery ever written. A visitor goes into the study of another man. Shots are fired and the first man is discovered by people outside the room to be dying from a gunshot wound. The visitor has disappeared into thin air. The snow on the ground and on the roof by the room’s window is completely undisturbed. There’s not a single footprint.
I was pleased to also find a Sherlockian story from a book I bought in high school and still have. John Dickson Carr again:
"The Adventure of the Sealed Room,"
by Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr

This novel written by Arthur Conan Doyle’s son, Adrian, and John Dickson Carr was written in the 1950s. It’s about a couple who are found locked in a room in what was believed to be a murder-suicide attempt with the husband shooting his wife and then killing himself. But Sherlock Holmes has a quite different opinion of what happened once he gets involved.
I think I'll read that this afternoon.

Solving Impossible Crimes: Why Locked-Room Mysteries Still Captivate Crime Fiction Fans | CrimeReads

Monday, July 29, 2019


David French who was a youth pastor in a Kentucky church for a few months in 1998 writes about "Joshua Harris and Evangelical Purity Culture," from which:
.... This wasn’t wanton repression or cruelty. Many parents had entered adulthood wounded by past broken relationships. They regretted the mistakes of their youth and desperately wanted their kids to avoid similar heartbreak. Also — and this is crucial for understanding purity culture — they fervently believed in a specific earthly reward for their child’s youthful obedience. Courtship represented the best method of ensuring a healthy, sexually vibrant marriage to a faithful spouse.

This is what writer Katelyn Beaty called the “sexual prosperity gospel,” an “if/then” transactional relationship with God that manufactures a series of promises from scripture and then creates a form of Christian entitlement and expectation. “I did what you asked, Lord, now may I see my reward?”

Beaty’s critique is well taken, and it’s certainly true that purity culture built a series of (often wildly unrealistic) expectations about the marriage relationship that awaited kids who courted. But I think it did something even darker — in its effect (if not its intent), it reversed the gospel message, teaching Christian kids that they risked being defined by their sins, not by Christ. ....

In point of fact, the gospel message rests first on bad news, then on indescribably good news. The bad news is simple: You were never “pure.” It’s not as if sex or drink or drugs represent the demarcation line between righteous and unrighteous. They are not and were never the “special” sins that created particularly acute separation from God. Yes, they could have profound earthly consequences, but they did not create unique spiritual separation.

The indescribably good news is that from the moment of the confession of faith, believers are not defined by their sin. They’re not defined even by their own meager virtues. They’re defined by Christ. Moreover, they find that “for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This does not by any stretch mean that past sin wasn’t sin — one of my best friends is an eleven-years-sober addict who did dreadful things during his worst days — but it does mean that his past now gives him a unique ability to reach suffering people. His terrible stories and his past pain have been redeemed, transformed into instruments of grace and mercy.

One of my first acts as youth pastor was to lift the ban on dating. Ending legalism is not the same thing as sanctioning sin, and I have no idea if there was more or less extramarital sex as a result of the dating ban or the purity rings. But it was incumbent upon me — in the limited time that I had in leadership — to tell the truth, and the truth was that legalism is its own kind of sin. To create burdens where Christ did not is an act of arrogance. It’s deeply harmful. And, sadly, it’s a way of life in all too many Christian churches. ....

Saturday, July 27, 2019

"Messianic schoolmasters"

In "What Were Robespierre’s Pronouns?" Peggy Noonan argues that there are parallels between the French revolutionaries and "the language and behavioral directives that have been coming at us from the social and sexual justice warriors who are renaming things and attempting to control the language in America." The essay's subtitle is "The French Revolution was led by sociopaths who politicized language, much like today’s Jacobins." The French:
It was more a nationwide psychotic break than a revolt—a great nation at its own throat, swept by a spirit not only of regicide but suicide. For 10 years they simply enjoyed killing each other. They could have done what England was doing—a long nonviolent revolution, a gradual diminution of the power of king and court, an establishment of the rights of the people and their legislators so that the regent ended up a lovely person on a stamp. Instead they chose blood. Scholars like to make a distinction between the Revolution and the Terror that followed, but “the Terror was merely 1789 with a higher body count.” From the Storming of the Bastille onward, “it was apparent that violence was not just an unfortunate side effect.... It was the Revolution’s source of collective energy. It was what made the Revolution revolutionary.”

That is from Simon Schama’s masterpiece Citizens....

It was a revolution largely run by sociopaths. One, Robespierre, the “messianic schoolmaster,” saw it as an opportunity for the moral instruction of the nation. Everything would be politicized, no part of the citizen’s life left untouched. As man was governed by an “empire of images,” in the words of a Jacobin intellectual, the new régime would provide new images to shape new thoughts. There would be pageants, and new names for things. They would change time itself! The first year of the new Republic was no longer 1792, it was Year One. To detach farmers from their superstitions, their Gregorian calendar and its saints’ days, they would rename the months. The first month would be in the fall, named for the harvest. There would be no more weeks, just three 10-day periods each month. ....
They also gave us Celsius, useful in the lab but not reflecting the lived experience of human beings:

 Back to Noonan:
So here is our parallel, our hiccup. I thought of all this this week because I’ve been thinking about the language and behavioral directives that have been coming at us from the social and sexual justice warriors who are renaming things and attempting to control the language in America. ....

There is a tone of, “I am your moral teacher. Because you are incapable of sensitivity, I will help you, dumb farmer. I will start with the language you speak.”

An odd thing is they always insist they’re doing this in the name of kindness and large-spiritedness. And yet, have you ever met them? They’re not individually kind or large-spirited. They’re more like messianic schoolmasters. ....

Friday, July 26, 2019

John Macnab

It's been a while since I read John Macnab but I remember it as a pleasure. I own it in an omnibus volume with Huntingtower and Three Hostages. Today, from a review of a new biography of Buchan by his grand-daughter:
John Buchan’s 1925 novel John Macnab opens with a prominent Londoner complaining to his doctor of ill health. Told there is nothing physically wrong with him, Ned Leithen insists that there is. In successful middle age, life has gotten too easy, and the good things have lost their savor. Pressed for a remedy, the doctor suggests that Leithen go “steal a horse in some part of the world where a horse-thief is usually hanged.” Scotland doesn’t hang horse thieves, but the poaching adventures that follow are an escapist delight, with something serious to say about politics, journalism, property rights and even archaeology.

Richard Hannay, the hero of The Thirty-Nine Steps and its four sequels, is Buchan’s most famous creation, but Leithen is his most autobiographical. Like his creator, Leithen is a successful lawyer and politician; a serious fly-fisherman and mountaineer; and a botanist with a taste for classical scholarship and English poetry. It’s Leithen who stars in The Power-House (serialized in 1913), the novel that kicked off Buchan’s run of “shockers”—as he called his thrillers and adventure stories. And it is Leithen who brings it to a close in Sick Heart River (1941). If Hannay is the man of empire, all blunt action and luck brought on by confidence, Leithen is the man of the capital, a power broker bent on doing good but also on escaping to the country at week’s end. ....

Buchan wrote 17 shockers, and all bear repeated reading. His historical novels have a fine feeling for olden days and for personages from Oliver Cromwell to Daniel Boone to Samuel Johnson. .... Ignore the papers and read these charming tales. Or John Macnab if you need the stronger medicine of illegally catching a salmon on a dry fly to banish ennui.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

“Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest”

Via Anxious Bench where Chris Gehrz wrote about the origin and meaning of these mealtime prayers:

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest
And let these gifts to us be blessed
Be present at our table, Lord
Be here and everywhere adored
These mercies bless and grant that we
May strengthened for thy service be.

G.K. Chesterton elsewhere:
 You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

Saturday, July 20, 2019


"Here Is Love, Vast as the Ocean," is identified many places as the "love song" of the great 1904 Welsh Revival. The music is good, the words are good, and they are good together.

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heav’n’s eternal days.
Let me all Thy love accepting,
Love Thee, ever all my days;
Let me seek Thy kingdom only
And my life be to Thy praise;
Thou alone shalt be my glory,
Nothing in the world I see.
Thou hast cleansed and sanctified me,
Thou Thyself hast set me free.
On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy  
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.
In Thy truth Thou dost direct me
By Thy Spirit through Thy Word;
And Thy grace my need is meeting,
As I trust in Thee, my Lord.
Of Thy fullness Thou art pouring
Thy great love and power on me,
Without measure, full and boundless,
Drawing out my heart to Thee.

From YouTube, a performance by Huw Priday of the first two verses first in Welsh, then English:

YouTube - Here is Love vast as the Ocean, CyberHymnal: Here Is Love, Hymns of Grace, #185