Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Sloth

An essay I read this afternoon quoted from Dorothy L. Sayers and set me looking for the source. I found it in Creed or Chaos (1949). From "The Other Six Deadly Sins":
The sixth Deadly Sin is named by the Church Acedia or Sloth. In the world it calls itself Tolerance; but in hell it is called Despair. It is the accomplice of the other sins and their worst punishment. It is the sin which believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for. We have known it far too well for many years. The only thing perhaps that we have not known about it is that it is mortal sin. ....

...[I]t is one of the favourite tricks of this Sin to dissemble itself under cover of a whiffling activity of body. We think that if we are busily rushing about and doing things, we cannot be suffering from Sloth. And besides, violent activity seems to offer an escape from the horrors of Sloth. So the other sins hasten to provide a cloak for Sloth: Gluttony offers a whirl of dancing, dining, sports, and dashing very fast from place to place to gape at beauty spots; which when we get to them, we defile with vulgarity and waste. Covetousness rakes us out of bed at an early hour, in order that we may put pep and hustle into our business: Envy sets us to gossip and scandal, to writing cantankerous letters to the papers, and to the unearthing of secrets and scavenging of dustbins; Wrath provides (very ingeniously) the argument that the only fitting activity in a world so full of evil-doers and evil demons is to curse loudly and incessantly: "Whatever brute and blackguard made the world"; while Lust provides that round of dreary promiscuity that passes for bodily vigour. But these are all disguises for the empty heart and the empty brain and the empty soul of Acedia.

Let us take particular notice of the empty brain. .... Sloth persuades us that stupidity is not our sin, but our misfortune....

Confront your dragons

From a lengthy and very interesting interview with Jordan Peterson:
COWEN: J.R.R. Tolkien — do his works interest you?

PETERSON: Yes, and so does his thinking. I just read his translation of Beowulf. I’m about two-thirds of the way through it. And I know that he was very influenced by that document when he wrote The Lord of the Rings. And The Lord of the Rings is obviously a quasi-religious document. Now Tolkien knew that perfectly well.

COWEN: Sure.

PETERSON: But it’s one of those quasi-religious documents that’s so interesting. It’s like the Harry Potter series. It’s like, “Well, people aren’t religious.” It’s like, “Yeah, well, that’s why how many tens of millions of copies of the Harry Potter series sold?” That woman could pack stadiums of young people to listen to a read, and it was an absolute... She went from welfare mother to richer than the Queen. You can’t ignore those sorts of things. And she has an unbelievably accurate mythological imagination.

COWEN: What should we learn from Tolkien?

PETERSON: Go out and confront your dragons.

COWEN: What should we learn from Harry Potter?

PETERSON: Voluntary death and rebirth redeems.

Monday, February 25, 2019

"Let my senses and my understanding be preserved intire till the last of my dayes"

From The Golden Grove, or, A Manuall of Daily Prayers and Letanies (1655) by Jeremy Taylor, "A Prayer for a holy and happy Death":
O eternal and holy Jesus, who by death hast overcome death, and by Thy Passion hast taken out its sting, and made it to become one of the gates of heaven, and an entrance to felicity; have mercy upon me now and at the hour of my death; let Thy grace accompany me all the dayes of my life, that I may by a holy conversation, and an habitual performance of my duty, wait for the coming of our Lord, and be ready to enter with Thee at whatsoever hour Thou shalt come. Lord let not my death be in any sense unprovided, nor untimely, nor hasty, but after the manner of men, having in it nothing extraordinary, but an extraordinary piety, and the manifestation of a great and miraculous mercy. Let my senses and my understanding be preserved intire till the last of my dayes, and grant that I may die the death of the righteous, free from debt and deadly sin, having first discharged all my obligations of Justice, leaving none miserable and unprovided in my departure; but be Thou the portion of all my friends and relatives, and let Thy blessing descend upon their heads, and abide there till they shall meet me in the bosome of our Lord. Preserve me ever in the communion and peace of the Church; and bless my Death-bed with the opportunity of a holy and a spiritual Guide, with the assistance and guard of Angels, with the reception of the holy Sacrament, with patience and dereliction of my own desires, with a strong faith, and a firm and humbled hope, with just measures of repentance, and great treasures of charity to Thee my God, and to all the world, that my soul in the arms of the holy Jesus, may be deposited with safety and joy, there to expect the revelation of Thy day, and then to partake the glories of Thy Kingdome, O eternal and holy Jesus. Amen.

"The waters are gone over me"

From The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living (1650) by Jeremy Taylor:
A Prayer to be said in any affliction, in a sad and disconsolate spirit, and in temptations to despair
O eternal God, Father of mercies, and God of all comfort, with much mercy look upon the sadness and sorrows of Thy servant. The waters are gone over me, and my miseries are without comfort. Lord, pity me! Let Thy grace refresh my spirit! Let Thy comforts support me, Thy mercy pardon me, and never let my portion be amongst hopeless spirits. I can need no relief so great as Thy mercy is; for Thou art infinitely more merciful than I can be miserable; and Thy mercy far above my misery. Dearest Jesus, let me trust in Thee for ever, and let me never be counfounded. Amen
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; Neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.  
Isaiah 43:2 (KJV)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Science and the faith

Philip Jenkins v. a myth:
If you shine powerful flashlights into the more benighted corners of university humanities departments, you can probably find people who still believe that Christianity historically opposed scientific inquiry, and actually held back human progress. ....

We think for instance of the popular vision of Columbus insisting that the world was round, to the derision of ignoramus monks who warned that he would fall off the edge. In reality, Christian scholars had known for a thousand years that the world was round. Their quarrel with Columbus was that the upstart navigator thought it was much smaller than they believed, and the Church consensus was dead right. Nobody could sail three thousand miles west of Spain and hit Japan. Still, the myth of Christian backwardness and superstition is too useful to be discarded because it just happens to be bogus.

I quote a valuable article by Philip Ball from the British Guardian, a left-oriented paper that is not noted for its religious sympathies. But as the author says,
Historians of science oscillate between exasperation and resignation at the fact that nothing they say seems able to dislodge these convictions. They can point out that Copernicus’ book, published in 1543, elicited little more than mild disapproval from the Church for almost a century before Galileo’s trial. They can explain that [Giordano] Bruno’s cosmological ideas constituted a rather minor part of the heretical charges made against him. They can show that it was Galileo’s provocative style and personality – his readiness to lampoon the Pope, say – that landed him in trouble, and that he was wrong anyway in some of his astronomical theories and disputes with clerics (on tides and comets, for example). They can reveal that the conventional narrative of science versus the Church was largely the polemical invention of John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White in the late nineteenth century. It makes no difference. In the “battle for reason”, science must have its heroic martyrs.
In response, we can easily point to all those great scientists who were Christian—if not always orthodox—and who worked to glorify God. It was Sir Isaac Newton whose Principia proclaimed that
This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being...and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God. ....
....For Christians, then, science is not the enemy but something closer to a form of worship. For centuries, the world’s greatest Christian church was Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, which commemorated not an obscure “Saint Sophia,” but the creative Holy Wisdom through which the world was made. .... (more)

Saturday, February 23, 2019

This world is not my home

...“[N]ostalgia” emerged into English from an ancient Greek word for “homesickness,” which is telling, and this is where Esolen fires his opening shots. We are not comfortable in our own skin. Nostalgia may be the stuff of harmless rumination for some people, but, depending on the state of the soul in which it lingers, it should also be taken as a fixed reminder that none of us, no matter our station in life, are really home. We are all wanderers looking for a cheering hearth, sailors searching for a last port. Yet there’s a decisive difference between those who know they’re wanderers and those who don’t, between those who frankly accept and then embrace life as a pilgrimage, as a purposeful journey marked by prudence, luck, and grace, and those who feverishly adopt any New Thing to bestow meaning on thin, rudderless lives. Esolen hopes to awaken us to the work of espying our true home, and he gives us a few GPS coordinates to punch in. But we also learn that finding a true home, an ultima Thule, is no easy matter, nor is it for the faint of heart. It’s a task that begins in this life but is consummated in the next.

This book is, in other words, for adults, not children, however many decades old. It’s for those willing to ask ultimate questions and armed with the courage to listen to a few answers and follow up. ....

Our homeless state, whether arising from a home we’ve lost or a home we long to find, offers a sign of hope that we will rouse ourselves and claim enough spiritual strength to hit the road in glad earnest. The future-addicted tend to lack the grounding to move securely into it — not knowing where they’ve been, they’ve little sense of where to go — and are fueled more by hatred of the present than by a steady dedication to a Better Day. Nostalgia, on the other hand, may render us discontented, but it calls us, albeit quietly. It offers a better launch and promises a truer trajectory. .... (more)
Esolen's "nostalgia" reminds me of C.S. Lewis's "sehnsucht."

Friday, February 22, 2019

Washington

On the anniversary of his birth a passage from Washington's Farewell Address in 1796:
It is important...that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Time

A poem by Sir Walter Raleigh, his last, composed the night before he was beheaded:
Even such is Time, that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wander’d all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days;
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust.
Old Poem Revue #2: Raleigh’s Last Poem | The Drunken Odyssey

Thursday, February 21, 2019

"I went on loving myself"

Every one of us cares deeply for someone—a friend, a relative (or, as Lewis points out, yourself)—who behaves in a way or believes something of which you disapprove. In other words we are fully capable of hating the sin without hating the sinner. We all do it. CSL in Mere Christianity:
.... Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why l hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again. ....
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

The Church is not a therapist

Carl Trueman at First Things on the incompatibility of Christianity with the spirit of our age:
.... The abiding—perhaps dominant—myth of this present age is that personal authenticity requires that I be able to perform for the world that which I feel I am inside. From Rousseau to Reich and beyond, this nonsense grips the popular imagination. If I am to be recognized as me, no thought can go unarticulated, no desire unrealized, no personal idiosyncrasy unexpressed. This is transforming the meaning and purpose of those institutions that have traditionally conducted and transmitted culture. No longer do institutions train us to belong to something bigger than ourselves. Rather they are there to support me in my acts of self-expression.

If I feel I am a woman, albeit trapped in a body of cells coded with XY chromosomes, then I must be allowed to perform in public as such. Medical professionals must aid me in this ambition. Scientists who demur from applauding my performance must be marginalized or expelled from the (formal or informal) guilds that give them status and authority. Schoolteachers who hinder my self-expression must be excoriated as abusive, bigoted, or incompetent. Medicine, education—you name it, it must now facilitate my performances.

This is where the modern mindset crashes into Christianity and the church. Christianity is not a religion of self-creation and the church is not an institution intended to provide a stage upon which I can perform in a safe and affirming environment. On the contrary—it is the conduit of God’s grace. It is not there to tell me that I am OK or to make me happy. It is there to assure me that in myself I am very much not OK, and to make me utterly miserable by confronting me with my dramatic shortcomings and need of a Savior. Only then can I find happiness—in God’s grace, not in the applause of an audience. .... (more)

"Human nature being what it is"

Thucydides was one of the books assigned for my international relations theory class in graduate school. This essay, "A Possession for All Time," is a good introduction and explains why this ancient history is still important:
On August 11, 1777, John Adams, then a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in session in Philadelphia, wrote a letter to his ten-year-old son, John Quincy. In light of the ongoing War of Independence and with a mind to other wars and “Councils and Negotiations” that the future might hold for the boy, Adams urged him “to turn your Thoughts early to such Studies, as will afford you the most solid Instruction and Improvement for the Part which may be allotted you to act on the Stage of Life.” He gave one recommendation in particular: “There is no History, perhaps, better adapted to this usefull Purpose than that of Thucidides.” For Adams, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War contained within it insight of every possible “usefull” sort: “You will find it full of Instruction to the Orator, the Statesman, the General, as well as to the Historian and the Philosopher.”

For centuries, Thucydides has been made to wear each of those very hats. Politicians and military personnel, historians, political scientists, and classicists have all laid claim, often in radically different ways, to his work and wisdom. Today, the History enjoys a status—in university curricula, among political theorists, and in military and policy communities—as a foundational source for theorizations of democracy, international relations, war, and human and state behavior. Thucydides himself might not be disappointed to know this, for toward the beginning of his History he announces that he has composed his work with future ages in mind:
Perhaps the lack of fantastical material here will seem charmless to my audiences. Nevertheless, I will be content if anyone who desires to gain a clear understanding of past events, and of future events that will one day resemble the past more or less closely—human nature being what it is—finds my work useful. This work was composed to be a possession for all time and not as a showpiece to be heard for a fleeting moment. .... (more, from a very good essay)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead..."

I recall reading The Life and Diary of David Brainerd at some point years ago and being rather intimidated by his example of commitment. The author of "The Bewildering Mr. Brainerd" writes "I am sure that none of us have met anyone so wholly given to seeking to live his or her life for the glory of God and the good of the souls of men like David Brainerd." But...
.... At his own admittance, Brainerd was given over to what he calls "melancholy" (what we call "clinical depression"). This is evident from reading any number of passages in the Diary. When you wed this to his own perception of his depravity, internal vileness (as he calls it) and a sense of his sinful disposition, you have a recipe for morbid introspection. From the beginning of his Diary to the end, Brainerd reveals his sense of his own "vileness" (which he refers to 86 times) as the predominant thought in his heart. On Thursday, April 16, 1747—just six months prior to his death—Brainerd wrote,
Was in bitter anguish of soul in the morning, such as I have scarce ever felt, with a sense of sin and guilt. I continued in distress the whole day, attempting to pray wherever I went; and indeed could not help so doing: but looked upon myself so vile, I dared not look any body in the face; and was even grieved that any body should show me any respect, or at least that they should be so deceived as to think I deserved it.
If anyone rightly falls under the just criticism of being morbidly introspective, it is Brainerd.

Second, Brainerd's Lack of Gospel Clarity. Connected to the first, is Brainerd's struggle to see clearly the all sufficent sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness [of] sin. A search of the Diary yields the conclusion that Brainerd rarely talked about Christ crucified for the forgiveness of his sins. ....
Joe Rigney, author of Lewis on the Christian Life, writes in "You’re Not Just a Sinner":
When it comes to introspection and self-examination, C.S. Lewis is very mindful of the danger that he associates (and not wrongly) with certain strands of Puritanism. This is a view of the Christian life that says the holier you get, the more self-contempt you’ll have, because you’ll be more aware of the sliminess in your heart. As you grow in holiness, you’ll become more aware of your sinfulness, and that awareness leads you to a low view of self, saying I am a cesspool of sin, there are slimy bogs down deep in my heart. That’s just what I am.

Lewis recognizes that feature of certain strands of Christianity, and says That’s not healthy. Yet he’s very careful because, while he thinks it’s unhealthy, it’s not unhealthy because it’s false. It’s true. You are that bad. In fact, you’re worse than you think. But the fact that you have a cesspool of sin down in your heart doesn’t mean you should camp down there. Indeed, that’s precisely what God is trying to lead you out of.

Lewis commended what he called an “imaginative glimpse.” So, don’t stare at your sinfulness. See it, acknowledge it, be honest about it, and then bring it to God. That sin is what Jesus forgives. That sinfulness is what you have to be transformed out of. ....
The Bewildering Mr. Brainerd | The Christward Collective, You’re Not Just a Sinner | Crossway Articles

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The brave new world

The final verses of Kipling's "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" (1919):

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Poems - 'The Gods of the Copybook Headings'

Monday, February 18, 2019

Hambledon again

Alias Uncle Hugo (1952) is one of the lesser Tommy Hambledon stories by "Manning Coles," nevertheless thoroughly enjoyable. It is set early in the Cold War. As an espionage tale it does require a willing suspension of disbelief but it is funny and at the expense of Soviet Communism. From the end-paper:
With gusto and good humor Tommy Hambledon, that intrepid sleuth and foreign agent, is off again on another round of frantic adventure. His assignment from British Intelligence is to rescue one small boy, the future king of a mid-European country, from the Russian school in Poltava. Tommy punches a hole in the Iron Curtain, rushes boldly through a series of tricks and traps while acquiring and shedding a variety of disguises on the way, and eventually makes his contact, only to find himself cornered—surrounded and challenged as he never has been before. Always the master of the sizzling pace, Manning Coles has written an exciting yarn of chase and adventure which has the added feature of being wildly funny. From the first of his impersonations as Comrade Commissar Peskoff to Alias Uncle Hugo, Mr. Coles' Tommy is a reader's tingling delight.

Friday, February 15, 2019

"Yet I will rejoice"

William Cowper, who often suffered depression, wrote Sometimes a Light Surprises in 1779:
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed;
And He Who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.
And from a reflection on that great hymn, I've excerpted this portion about the final verse:
Cowper chose the text from Habakkuk 3 for the fourth and final verse of "Sometimes a Light Surprises." It is an interesting choice for a number of reasons. First of all, it is likely that Habakkuk was a musician. Scholars believe that Habakkuk was a Levite and associated with the temple singers. The last chapter of Habakkuk is in the form of a liturgy with a prophetic prayer meant to be sung.

Secondly, Habakkuk 3 includes the language of lament and, according to one commentator, "provides one of the most moving statements of faith and trust found in Scripture (vv. 16-19)." There is something about honest lament that bridges our limited, finite humanity with our infinite, covenant Lord.

Often when we look around at our circumstances we want to cry out, "Lord, what are you doing? What is going on?" There is something telling in this kind of stark and honest dialogue with God. It may seem obvious, but lament, rather than revealing a distance from God, reveals that an actual relationship is intact. When we feel close enough to God to talk to him honestly about our circumstances, intimacy is revealed. Moreover, it is often through intimate, honest lament that clarity is received. Though it begins with a description of tough circumstances, Cowper's lyric ends with the assurance of God's faithfulness: "yet God the same abideth, his praise shall tune my voice, for while in him confiding, I cannot but rejoice." ....
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (KJV)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Dreaming of systems so perfect..."

Originally posted some years ago but increasingly relevant:
Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be.

T.S. Eliot, Choruses from "The Rock"

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"Groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong"

On the anniversary of Lincoln's birth, from "Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union Address" (February, 1860). Lincoln is responding to those who threaten to destroy the Union over the question of slavery. His argument, it seems to me, has relevance to certain current issues:
.... But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me — my money — was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle. ....

[W]hat will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly — done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated — we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas' new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

I am quite aware they do not state their case precisely in this way. Most of them would probably say to us, "Let us alone, do nothing to us, and say what you please about slavery." But we do let them alone — have never disturbed them — so that, after all, it is what we say, which dissatisfies them. They will continue to accuse us of doing, until we cease saying.

I am also aware they have not, as yet, in terms, demanded the overthrow of our Free-State Constitutions. Yet those Constitutions declare the wrong of slavery, with more solemn emphasis, than do all other sayings against it; and when all these other sayings shall have been silenced, the overthrow of these Constitutions will be demanded, and nothing be left to resist the demand. It is nothing to the contrary, that they do not demand the whole of this just now. Demanding what they do, and for the reason they do, they can voluntarily stop nowhere short of this consummation. Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing. ....

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.
 Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union Address

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The scandal of sexual abuse in Baptist churches

In "Southern Baptists and the Scandal of Church Sexual Abuse" Russell Moore responds to an investigation revealing such abuse and the often inadequate response of churches in his denomination. My denomination should take note. Moore:
...[C]hurch autonomy is no excuse for a lack of accountability. Yes, in a Baptist ecclesiology each congregation governs its own affairs, and is not accountable to anyone “higher up” in a church system. And yet, the decisions a church makes autonomously determine whether that church is in good fellowship with others. A church that excuses, say, sexual immorality or that opposes missions is deemed out of fellowship with other churches. The same must be true of churches that cover up rape or sexual abuse. ....

Our approach is seeking to encourage policies and practices that protect children and the vulnerable from sexual abuse in autonomous but cooperating churches, all the while promoting compliance with laws and providing compassionate care for those who have survived trauma. True, we have no bishops. But we have a priesthood of believers. And a key task of that priesthood is maintaining the witness of Christ in the holiness and safety of his church. ....

We should see this scandal in terms of the church as a flock, not as a corporation. Many, whether in Hollywood or the finance industry or elsewhere, see such horrors as public relations problems to be managed. The church often thinks the same way. Nothing could be further from the way of Christ. Jesus does not cover up sin within the temple of his presence. He brings everything hidden to light. We should too. When we downplay or cover over what has happened in the name of Jesus to those he loves we are not “protecting” Jesus’ reputation. We are instead fighting Jesus himself. ....

Friday, February 8, 2019

The school-days are numbered

C.S. Lewis on the irksomeness of prayer:
Now the disquieting thing is not simply that we skimp and begrudge the duty of prayer. The really disquieting thing is it should have to be numbered among duties at all. For we believe that we were created "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." And if the few, the very few, minutes we now spend on intercourse with God are a burden to us rather than a delight, what then? ....

If we were perfected, prayer would not be a duty, it would be delight. Some day, please God, it will be. The same is true of many other behaviours which now appear as duties. If I loved my neighbour as myself, most of the actions which are now my moral duty would flow out of me as spontaneously as song from a lark or fragrance from a flower. Why is this not so yet? Well, we know, don't we? Aristotle has taught us that delight is the "bloom" on an unimpeded activity. But the very activities for which we were created are, while we live on earth, variously impeded: by evil in ourselves or in others. Not to practise them is to abandon our humanity. To practise them spontaneously and delightfully is not yet possible. This situation creates the category of duty, the whole specifically moral realm.

It exists to be transcended. Here is the paradox of Christianity. As practical imperatives for here and now the two great commandments have to be translated "Behave as if you loved God and man." For no man can love because he is told to. Yet obedience on this practical level is not really obedience at all. And if a man really loved God and man, once again this would hardly be obedience; for if he did, he would be unable to help it. Thus the command really says to us, "Ye must be born again." Till then, we have duty, morality, the Law. A schoolmaster, as St. Paul says, to bring us to Christ. We must expect no more of it than of a schoolmaster; we must allow it no less. I must say my prayers to-day whether I feel devout or not; but that is only as I must learn my grammar if I am ever to read the poets.

But the school-days, please God, are numbered. ....

I am therefore not really deeply worried by the fact that prayer is at present a duty, and even an irksome one. This is humiliating. It is frustrating. It is terribly time-wasting—the worse one is praying, the longer one's prayers take. But we are still only at school. ....

.... I have a notion that what seem our worst prayers may really be, in God's eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling and contend with the greatest disinclination. For these, perhaps, being nearly all will, come from a deeper level than feeling. In feeling there is so much that is really not ours—so much that comes from weather and health or from the last book read. One thing seems certain. It is no good angling for the rich moments. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when He catches us, as it were, off our guard. ....
C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, 1964.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Worshiping, or watching?

C.S. Lewis on worship:
EVERY SERVICE IS a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like it, it "works" best—when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be the one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping. ....

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question "What on earth is he up to now?" will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even Teach my performing dogs new tricks."

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. ....
C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964).

Monday, February 4, 2019

Predator and prey

Cat-and-mouse is probably the original thriller plot, in fact. It’s certainly the most useful, lending itself to all kinds of variations and permutations as predator tracks prey. ....

John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, published in 1915, might be the first example of the cat-and-mouse thriller: Richard Hannay, returning to Great Britain after a stay in Rhodesia, becomes the target of an international manhunt by German spies who plan to—well, never mind. The underlying motive of the bad guys isn’t the point of The Thirty-Nine Steps. The point is the chase, and Hannay’s uncanny ability to turn situations against his pursuers, ultimately defeating them. Buchan’s novel, originally serialized in two parts, was the first of five novels to feature Richard Hannay, and has inspired three films, a TV show, a Broadway play, and countless imitators.

One of his earliest imitators was Agatha Christie herself, who gave her characters Tuppence and Tommy a similar cat-and-mouse chase in their debut, The Secret Adversary (1922). Christie made extensive use of the cat-and-mouse structure, adapting it freely to suit her purposes. And Then there Were None (1939) put Dame Agatha’s own unique spin on the cat-and-mouse story, with multiple mice at the mercy of one ruthless cat. .... (more)
The Secret Adversary is in the public domain and can be downloaded free (as can The Thirty-Nine Steps).

Another instance: Watcher in the Shadows
 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Death on a train

My recent Facebook post about transcontinental train travel led me to consider mysteries set on passenger trains. (Lots of things lead me to thinking about mysteries.) There are quite a few.

Dick Francis was an author I thoroughly enjoyed. While he was writing I bought and devoured almost everything he wrote as soon as it was published. I have about half a bookshelf of his mysteries almost all of them in a setting connected with horse racing. The Edge (1989) is one that combines a racing theme with a transcontinental train journey across Canada. From the book's flyleaf:
It's greed and honor neck and neck in the home stretch! A racy new thriller by the internationally acclaimed artist of suspense.

The ad was irresistible—and prophetic: "A mystery that will grab you by the throat. A stunning experience. All around you the story will unfold. Clues will appear. .... BEWARE. MANY PEOPLE ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM."

When young Tor Kelsey, undercover security operative for the British Jockey Club, masquerades as a waiter on a horse-racing junket called The Great Transcontinental Mystery Race Train, he's told to expect trouble—in the villainous person of one Julius Apollo Filmer. But what awaits him surpasses even the teasers for the on-board entertainment, a full-fledged mystery drama, with actors impersonating passengers, and all manner of staged incidents, from lovers' quarrels to murder. Almost immediately, the promised diversion turns horrifyingly true, as the luxury train winds its way across Canada, strewing a trail of real-life violence in its wake.

First, unexpected happenings befall a private railroad car belonging to a rich and troubled racing family. Then, sabotage on the Mystery Train itself threatens the affluent owners and racing fans with a full-speed collision.... And then, someone dies.

Julius Apollo Filmer is a genius of blackmail and other forms of corruption. He is clearly the mastermind behind the chain of mishaps, but Tor is well aware that his nemesis is his equal in cleverness and guile. A man who murders without qualm and destroys reputations without guilt is hard to nail, but Tor vows to trap him with a particularly shocking sort of surprise.

Moving at a lightning pace, crowded with a cast of fascinating characters, The Edge is blue-chip action suspense as only the sure hand of Dick Francis can produce it.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

"That we may walk..."


Lord, for Thy tender mercy's sake
lay not our sins to our charge,
but forgive that is past,
and give us grace to amend our sinful lives:
to decline from sin and incline to virtue,
that we may walk in a perfect heart,
before Thee now and evermore.
Amen.

Friday, February 1, 2019

'The Feelings of One Age'

We are experiencing a revival of the time-honored practice of erasing history. Stalin had former comrades he no longer favored, and in some cases had already shot in the head, airbrushed from photographs. Lately, censors of the past have toppled statues, pried plaques from the wall and painted over offending murals. Their rationale for vandalism is the unenlightened waywardness of our ancestors, who simply refused to behave like us. ....
Related, Philip Jenkins, today, on "Slavery, History, and Relativism":
At this moment, you (and I) are almost certainly doing, saying, believing, or thinking something that, in the eyes of sensible and educated people in 2050, will appear morally reprehensible and utterly wrong, and especially for thoughtful religious believers. What exactly is that? I don’t know, as I don’t know where political opinion or moral debate will stand in twenty or thirty years time. By the same token, you and I are today failing to protest or condemn something that generally appears acceptable today, but which in another two or three decades will seem far beyond the moral pale. Again, what is that? Personally, I have no idea.