Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Don't look back

"I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

Monday, May 16, 2022

Sacrifice to Cronus

Child sacrifice:
A large bronze image of the god Cronus stood in the Tophet of Carthage. His hands extended with palms facing up and arms sloped gently toward the ground so that children placed in his arms could be rolled down into a pit of fire.

During the sacrifice, loud drums pounded to drown out the sound of the children’s screams as the fire melted their flesh. Children were sacrificed whenever desperation struck the Carthaginians. In the year 310 BC, Agathocles, the tyrant of Greece, invaded Africa. The people alleged that Cronus had turned against them. So, “in their zeal to make amends for their omission, they selected two hundred of the noblest children and sacrificed them publicly” (Library of History, 20.14).

Throughout history, children have been the victims of sacrifice. But does this relate to the modern debate over abortion? Yes! Children may no longer be sacrificed to bronze statues, but they’re sacrificed in staggering numbers to the living god of self. Convenience has replaced superstition, but the crime is the same. ....
The post continues with "'the church fathers’ convincing arguments that unborn life is worth protecting."

B. Arnold, "The Early Christians and Abortion," Intentional Faith, May 10,2022.

Participation


 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The American project

I like this statement (the signers can be found at the link):
.... The American project, as such, is under assault. Our history is the subject of a revisionist critique that is all-encompassing, unsparing, and very often flatly inaccurate. Our traditional heroes are under threat of being run out of the national pantheon. Our institutions, from elections to the job market to law enforcement, stand accused of perpetuating a systemic racism that is impossible to eradicate. Our educational system, from kindergarten through graduate school, is increasingly a forum for crude propagandizing. Our system of government is attacked as archaic, unfair, and racially biased. Our traditional values of fair play, free speech, and religious liberty are trampled by inflamed ideologues determined to impose their will by force and fear.

The national mood resembles those of the 1930s and 1970s, when radical critiques of America got considerable traction and our national self-confidence often seemed to hang by a thread.

It is in this context that we reclaim what once was a consensus view of America that has now become bitterly contested.

No matter the fashion of the moment, we believe that America is a fundamentally fair society with bountiful opportunity; that its Founding was a world-historical event of the utmost importance and established governing institutions of enduring value; that its original sins have been honorably, if belatedly, repudiated; that it came to be wealthy and powerful primarily through its own internal strengths, not via expropriation and conquest; that its model of ordered liberty is a boon to human flourishing; that its people are a marvel and its greatest resource; that its best days needn’t be behind it, and that it remains a beacon to mankind.

To the extent that these notions are falling out of favor, it is the responsibility of those who love America to revivify them. .... (more)
"America’s Crisis of Self-Doubt," National Review, May 30, 2022, pp. 11-12.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Riddled with factual errors

When your work is reviewed by someone who is a scholar on the subject. From Churchill biographer, Andrew Roberts, "What the Marxist Tariq Ali gets wrong about Winston Churchill":
Tariq Ali, the Marxist writer and activist, believes that a ‘Churchill cult’ is ‘drowning all serious debate’ about the wartime leader, and that ‘an alternative was badly needed’. He has therefore written a book that parrots every earlier revisionist slur about Churchill – war criminal, evil imperialist, mass murderer, pro-fascist....

There’s a general rule in biography, as in journalism, that knocking copy ought to be better researched than ordinary writing, but it is not one that Ali observes. He makes so many basic factual errors that Churchill’s reputation emerges unscathed from this onslaught.

The book claims that Churchill ‘had been little more than a clever politician engaged in career building’ before he became prime minister in 1940. Not so. He had already helped create the welfare state, readied the Royal Navy for the Great War and warned the world about the rise of the Nazis, among many other significant achievements. Explaining Churchill’s supposed unpopularity during the second world war, Ali claims it was because ‘the men fleeing Dunkirk knew how unprepared and badly armed they were’. Yet Churchill had been demanding higher defence spending throughout his wilderness years.

Ali further claims that in 1943, a Gallup Poll ‘revealed that only one third of the population expressed satisfaction with the war cabinet, i.e. Churchill’. Yet Churchill was not the war cabinet, and Gallup actually recorded Churchill’s personal popularity remaining above 80 per cent throughout his wartime premiership – dipping briefly for a single month to 78 per cent – and on three occasions reaching 93 per cent. The statement that the Conservatives lost the 1945 election due to ‘anti-Churchill feeling’ is similarly wrong. The Tories would have done much worse if he had not been their leader. They lost because the electorate, while admiring Churchill personally, wanted the welfare state, nationalisation and the ‘New Jerusalem’ offered by Clement Attlee (whose name is consistently misspelt in this book). .... (and much more)
Andrew Roberts, "What the Marxist Tariq Ali gets wrong about Winston Churchill," The Spectator, May 14, 2022.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

An independent judiciary

Quoted in The Dispatch, President, and future Chief Justice, William Howard Taft provided a civics lesson about the role of courts in our Constitutional system:
The executive and legislative branches are representative of the majority of the people which elected them in guiding the course of the Government within the limits of the Constitution. They must act for the whole people, of course; but they may properly follow, and usually ought to follow, the views of the majority which elected them in respect to the governmental policy best adapted to secure the welfare of the whole people. But the judicial branch of the government is not representative of a majority of the people in any such sense, even if the mode of selecting judges is by popular election ...[J]udges are servants of the people; that is, they are doing work which must be done for the Government and in the interest of all the people, but it is not work in the doing of which they are to follow the will of the majority except as that is embodied in statutes lawfully enacted according to constitutional limitations. They are not popular representatives. On the contrary, to fill their office properly, they must be independent. They must decide every question which comes before them according to law and justice. ....

[J]udges to fulfill their functions properly in our popular Government must be more independent than in any other form of government.... We cannot be blind to the fact that often an intelligent and respectable electorate may be so roused upon an issue that it will visit with condemnation the decision of a just judge, though exactly in accord with the law governing the case, merely because it affects unfavorably their [interests]. ....
Quoted in Jacob Becker, "History Shows Why We Need an Independent Judiciary," The Dispatch, May 12, 2022.

Tyrant

Does Putin qualify as a tyrant? According to Aristotle:
  • First, ...the tyrant stamped on anyone exhibiting the slightest independence of mind, since “the man who rivals the tyrant’s pride and spirit of freedom robs the tyrant of his position of mastery, undermining his authority.”
  • Second, because tyrannies were ended “when people come to trust each other, command confidence among themselves and others, and do not inform against one another,” he must “make war on decent, upright citizens” and “set them against each other,” creating a culture of fear, suspicion and mistrust.
  • Third, he must ensure the destruction of any power bases that might challenge his authority: so “clubs and societies must be closed down together with all places where men pursue learning together,” for they are the “breeding-grounds of independence and courage.” As for the people, “their attention must be diverted from plotting”: so they must be kept “poor and fully occupied in making a living or else in fighting wars, to be successful in which requires them to look to their leader.”
  • Finally, the tyrant had “no public interest except what is conducive to his private ends” and that was acquiring the riches that would enable him to stay in power. As a result, the tyrant was wary of honest, candid friends “on the grounds that they more than anyone have the power to do what his enemies merely wish.” So only “toadies and flatterers” had access to him. ....
Peter Jones, "Does Putin pass Aristotle’s tyrant test?" The Spectator, May 2022.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Discernment

Worth reading: Tim Alberta, "How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church." Some excerpts:
.... I’ve spent my life watching evangelicalism morph from a spiritual disposition into a political identity. It’s heartbreaking. So many people who love the Lord, who give their time and money to the poor and the mourning and the persecuted, have been reduced to a caricature. But I understand why. Evangelicals—including my own father—became compulsively political, allowing specific ethical arguments to snowball into full-blown partisan advocacy, often in ways that distracted from their mission of evangelizing for Christ. To his credit, even when my dad would lean hard into a political debate, he was careful to remind his church of the appropriate Christian perspective. “God doesn’t bite his fingernails over any of this,” he would say around election time. “Neither should you.” ....

The first piece of scripture I memorized as a child—the verse that continues to guide my own imperfect walk—is from Paul’s second letter to the early Church in Corinth, Greece. As with most of his letters, the apostle was addressing dysfunction and breakage in the community of believers. “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” Paul wrote. “Since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Paul’s admonishment of the early Church contains no real ambiguity. Followers of Jesus are to orient themselves toward his enduring promise of salvation, and away from the fleeting troubles of humanity. ....

.... When we finally met, in the spring of 2021, Brown told me his alarm had only grown. “The crisis for the Church is a crisis of discernment,” he said over lunch. “Discernment”—one’s basic ability to separate truth from untruth—“is a core biblical discipline. And many Christians are not practicing it.” A stocky man with steely blue eyes and a subdued, matter-of-fact tone, Brown struck me as thoroughly disheartened. The pastor said his concern was not simply for his congregation of 300, but for the millions of American evangelicals who had come to value power over integrity, the ephemeral over the eternal, moral relativism over bright lines of right and wrong. .... (more)
Tim Alberta, "How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church," The Atlantic, May 10, 2022.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Nazgul were the good guys?

About a Ukrainian translation of Lord of the Rings:
.... Feschowetz, once a professor at Ivan Franko National University, is on a “mission to return Ukraine to the Western civilization.” In the wake of Russia’s designs on Ukraine, culminating in its recent invasion, Feschowetz’s effort has taken on a wartime urgency. Tolkien is not the only author Astrolabe has published in Ukrainian: There’s also Dante, Chaucer, Catallus, and more.

But Tolkien’s work has a special resonance in Ukraine’s present predicament, as an underdog nation resists a malevolent would-be conqueror. Ukrainians have apparently begun caricaturing invading Russian soldiers as “orcs.” And in an unsettling development, there is some evidence that aspects of Russian culture have embraced this caricature:
Feschowetz pointed to alternative Tolkien fan-fiction from Russian sources, such as Kirill Eskov’s The Last Ringbearer and Maxim Kalashnikov’s The Wrath of the Orc, to argue that Russian forces have embraced the term in defiance of what they regard as a pro-Western story.
(The Last Ringbearer is an unauthorized abomination that rewrites The Lord of the Rings as though the story we know is fake, and actually Sauron and the Nazgul were the good guys, fighting to bring technology and civilization to a Middle-earth still dominated by a mysticism-ridden tyranny enforced by elves and wizards.....)
Jack Butler, "Ukrainian Publisher Deals in Military Manuals, Lord of the Rings Translations," National Review, May 10, 2022.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

An ecumenical statement

Reviewing posts related to Tim Keller I came across this (November 20, 2009), still solid:

"The Manhattan Declaration" is a statement published today with remarkably broad ecumenical support identifying three of the crucial points where faith and public policy intersect in America right now. First Things has published the entire statement here. From the "Declaration" website:
Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family. We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:
  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty
Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Once again the entire statement with the list of original signatories is here. Touchstone provided a summary of those who signed.

Manhattan Declaration

Too accommodating

Reflecting on Tim Keller's ministry, James R. Wood writes "Keller was the right man for a moment. To many, like me, it appears that moment has passed." And why?:
.... There was a “neutral world” roughly between 1994–2014 in which traditional Christianity was neither broadly supported nor opposed by the surrounding culture, but rather was viewed as an eccentric lifestyle option among many. However, that time is over. Now we live in the “negative world,” in which, according to Renn, Christian morality is expressly repudiated and traditional Christian views are perceived as undermining the social good. As I observed the attitude of our surrounding culture change, I was no longer so confident that the evangelistic framework I had gleaned from Keller would provide sufficient guidance for the cultural and political moment. ....

If we assume that winsomeness will gain a favorable hearing, when Christians consistently receive heated pushback, we will be tempted to think our convictions are the problem. If winsomeness is met with hostility, it is easy to wonder, “Are we in the wrong?” Thus the slide toward secular culture’s reasoning is greased. A “secular-friendly” politics has problems similar to “seeker-friendly” worship. An excessive concern to appeal to the unchurched is plagued by the accommodationist temptation. This is all the more a problem in the “negative world.”

Keller's “third way” philosophy has serious limitations as a framework for moral reasoning as well. Too often it encourages in its adherents a pietistic impulse to keep one’s hands clean, stay above the fray, and at a distance from imperfect options for addressing complex social and political issues. It can also produce conflict-aversion, and thus it is instinctively accommodating. ....

Keller was extremely effective as a minister and public theologian in the neutral world. .... (more)
I just reviewed the many posts related to Tim Keller on this blog, invariably favorable.

James R. Wood, "How I Evolved on Tim Keller," First Things, May 6, 2022.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

"God bless you all, both great and small/And send you a joyful May"

It's a dreary and chilly May Day here this year. Spring seems late. But it is May.

We've been a-rambling all this night,
And sometime of this day;
And now returning back again
We bring a branch of May.

A branch of May we bring you here,
And at your door it stands;
It is a sprout well budded out,
The work of the Lord's hands.

The hedges and trees they are so green,
As green as any leek;
Our Heavenly Father, He watered them
With His heavenly dew so sweet.

The heavenly gates are open wide,
Our paths are beaten plain;
And if a man be not too far gone,
He may return again.

So dear, so dear as Christ loved us,
And for our sins was slain,
Christ bids us turn from wickedness
Back to the Lord again.

The moon shines bright, the stars give a light,
A little before it is day,
So God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a joyful May.

The Mayers' Song
Once upon a time May Day had nothing to do with any political cause, much less Communism, but with things like May Poles and May Baskets and the celebration of the coming of Spring.

Happy May Day!

The verse and the illustration are from The Children's Book of Rhymes, by Cicely Mary Barker

Saturday, April 30, 2022

A return to darkness?

An interesting, and somewhat disturbing essay at The Spectator explains "Why the Vikings are winning the culture war." For instance, how Alfred the Great is portrayed in some contemporary historical fiction.
.... Alfred is portrayed rather unsympathetically in [Bernard Cornwell's] The Last Kingdom, as is Saxon Christianity generally, the protagonist Uhtred more drawn to the Vikings who adopted him. Alfred is cold and somewhat devious, even a bit odd; life with the Vikings, in contrast, might be violent, but it’s also fun....

Alfred’s house is portrayed even less sympathetically in Vikings, his father and grandfather shown as double-crossing and hypocritical, interested only in their own gain, their religion empty and self-serving. This feels not so much a 21st century view of the 9th century as it is of the 19th, part of today’s culture war between two different visions of the world. ....

I suppose it would be pointless to pretend to be a neutral observer in this fight, because in all honesty Alfred the Great is more than just a historical figure to me. I have an almost Victorian reverence for his memory, as the father of our nation and people....

It was not just that he overcame great hardship, troubled by poor health and constant pain and facing an invasion of his country that at one point looked very bleak indeed. He rescued Wessex and England from foreign conquest and possible oblivion, raising men from across the shires to defeat the invaders. But he did more than that; he built cities, refounded London, and in commissioning the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle helped create the idea of England, as well as rescuing the country’s Latin Christian inheritance.

But he was also merciful to his enemies, returning hostages when in his place the Vikings would and did murder them — and that was precisely because he had a deep moral vision, stemming from his Christian faith. They were fighting a religious war and Alfred believed that when St Augustine and his Italian companions had arrived to convert his ancestors three centuries earlier, his people had been brought out of the darkness. ....

The new religion threatened to turn the Viking world upside down, Christianity offering what Chantal Delsol called a ‘normative inversion’, a moral revolution in attitudes to life, human dignity but most of all sex. For sex was the at the heart of this early medieval cultural war, as it is with ours. ....

The new faith prohibited polygamy and much else, part of a ‘revolution that Christianity had brought to the erotic’, in Tom Holland’s words: ‘The insistence of scripture that a man and a woman, whenever they took the marital bed, were joined as Christ and his Church were joined, becoming one flesh, gave to both a rare dignity. If the wife was instructed to submit to her husband, then so equally was the husband instructed to be faithful to his wife. Here, by the standards of the age into which Christianity had been born, was an obligation that demanded an almost heroic degree of self-denial.’

No longer, as in pagan Rome, would infidelity by men be accepted; instead for Christians ‘the double standards that for so long had been a feature of marital ethics had come to be sternly patrolled.’ The sexual use of female slaves, another reality of life shown in The Northman and the universal norm in pre-Christian Europe, was now a sin. .... (more)
Ed West, "Why the Vikings are winning the culture war," The Spectator, April 30, 2022.

"The God of the hills"

Re-posted:

I am a native of West Virginia and although I didn't live there for more than a few months after I was born I did return every summer while I was growing up and periodically since then. My mother's family were early settlers in that part of Virginia that became West Virginia. My identification with the place is primarily familial and nostalgic and I have many friends with a less tenuous claim to familiarity. Nevertheless, when I come across some piece of history or literature related to the state I usually pay attention. Some years ago I discovered that one of the great American mystery writers was Melville Davisson Post, a West Virginian. I just downloaded several of his books from the Many Books site: Free ebooks by Melville Davisson Post. I noted that one of the stories in Dwellers in the Hills (1901) refers to Lost Creek, a West Virginia location familiar to me and to many of my Seventh Day Baptist friends. Many of Post's stories are set in the state. Post's most famous collection of mystery stories is Uncle Abner (1918) – about which I've posted before.

Joseph Bottum wrote
There is a case to be made that the Uncle Abner stories—the twenty-two tales of the Virginia hills written by Melville Davisson Post between 1911 and 1928—are among the finest mysteries ever written. .... [H]igh as Post's tales rank in general mystery fiction, they stand at the very top of the sub-genre of religious mysteries. In the deliberate tone of the stories and the matching of the writing's pitch to its subject, in the uniting of the religious element with the detective's action and the sense of good's battle against evil in the solution of a crime, only G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown belongs beside Melville Davisson Post's Uncle Abner. ....
Uncle Abner is another of Post's books available, free, as an e-book for Kindle and other electronic formats: Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries by Melville Davisson Post.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

"Longing for a better country..."

Russell Moore, good, as usual:
The language of exile is...part of the Christian story for those of us who are born into or grafted onto the house of Jacob. And the Bible applies that experience to us in an ongoing way, in the time between Christ’s ascension and his return.

Peter addressed the church as "God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces" (1 Pet. 1:1) and told them to "live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear" (v. 17). This was a recognition of how different the first-century church were to be. They were not to find their pattern of life in the "empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors" (v. 18).

The exile of which Peter spoke did not mean that the believers lacked belonging but that they had a different belonging: to "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (2:9). Like Daniel in Babylon, such exile means that the objective is not to remove Nebuchadnezzar from his throne or to govern the Babylonian Empire. Quite the contrary, the goal was for the exiles to avoid becoming like the Babylonians.

In urging the church to be "foreigners and exiles," then, Peter wanted them to see that their real problem was not the emperor or the surrounding culture. They could still show honor to everyone, including the emperor. Rather, the issue was to "abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul" (2:11). ....

...[T]he point of exile language is exactly the opposite of the idea that Western Christians should lament or resent losing a "Christian culture." The point is that in every place and culture, from the first to the second comings of Jesus, every Christian community is to consider themselves "foreigners and exiles." ....

Exile language does away with both our sense of entitlement and a siege mentality. We don’t attempt to merge into whatever seems "normal" in the society around us—and we don’t rage whenever we’re not accommodated there. Instead, we see our normal situation as a pilgrimage of faith.

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth," the writer of Hebrews told us.

"People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one" (Heb. 11:13–16). ....

An exilic identity does not say, "Oh no, we’re being marginalized! How can we fix this?" Rather, it asks, "Why am I not more marginalized? Have I adapted to my own appetites such that I can’t feel a longing to dive deeper.... (more)
Russell Moore, "Biblical Exile," Christianity Today, April 28, 2022.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

"You’ll be a Man, my son!"

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you...

Kipling, "If"

David French:
.... Ever since I’ve been alive, our culture has been in a conversation about male emotions. My entire adult life there have been voices urging men to “open up,” to be more emotional—to avoid the “toxic” male trait of emotional restraint. ....

In moments of crisis or trouble, do you look to the people who are losing their minds? Or do you find yourself immediately gravitating to those who remain calm? ....

In the furious battle over masculinity, both sides have won in the worst way. The emotionalists have triumphed, but so have the aggressors. In other words, all too many modern men have indulged both their aggression and their emotion, and the result is our modern discourse, a discourse plagued by hysteria, threats, and malice.

This is the cardinal characteristic of much of the culture of the new right. It is considered a sign of strength to be constantly turning the volume to 11, constantly forecasting doom, and constantly chasing the latest fads to “fight back.” ....

But don’t for a moment think aggressive emotional hysteria is confined to the men of the new right. It’s a standard form of discourse in deep woke America. The only real distinction is that it’s not defended as distinctly masculine, but it’s present nonetheless. ....

And when we survey the American political and cultural landscape—a landscape that is awash with male emotion and male aggression—perhaps it’s time to rediscover a dash of male stoicism. Keep your head, strive for the proportionate response, and don’t let anyone blame you for refusing to lose your calm. .... (more)
David French, "Stoics Needed: Can’t we repress our emotions just a tiny bit?" The Dispatch, April 26, 2022.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Oxford and the Inklings

Every once in a while I check the "Popular Posts" section in the right hand column to see what visitors to the blog have been reading (I can't identify who), and am sometimes reminded of a favorite. This is one of them, slightly modified, dating from 2014:

In 1988 two of my closest friends, Norman and Faith Burdick, were living in England with their then young daughter, Flannery, and I took advantage of that circumstance to make my first visit to the United Kingdom. I was there for three weeks and for one of them they were my hosts — the kindest and most generous of hosts. They took me many places I might not otherwise have visited. One of those places was Oxford. Each of us had read Lewis and Tolkien and were admirers. I took no pictures but they did and after my return I received a packet of them. I just happened across them after thinking they were lost. These are most of the ones that were related to the Inklings.

Magdalen College - where C.S. Lewis taught while at Oxford
Magdalen College Tower
Cloisters - Magdalen College
New Building, Magdalen College - where Lewis's rooms were located
Norman and me in front of the New Building
The location of the rooms that C.S. Lewis had while at Magdalen are just to the right of the entry on what the English call the first floor (we, the second). These are the rooms where the Inklings would gather in the evening to hear Lewis, or Tolkien, or one of the others, read from a work in progress.

Magdalen College Deer Park - behind the New Building
Entry gate to Addison's Walk
Pond at the end of Addison's Walk (with Flannery)
Tolkien's house
The pond on the grounds of The Kilns - Lewis's home in Headington
Holy Trinity Church, Headington - where Lewis worshiped and is buried
The grave of C.S. Lewis and his brother W.H. Lewis
Norman and me at the grave

Calvin's wisdom

Originally posted in 2012:

Edd McCracken gives us "Sixteen Things Calvin and Hobbes Said Better Than Anyone Else" (I added the cartoon). For instance:
On expectations
Calvin: Everybody seeks happiness! Not me, though! That’s the difference between me and the rest of the world. Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!

On the tragedy of hipsters
Calvin: The world bores you when you’re cool.

On looking yourself in the mirror
Hobbes: So the secret to good self-esteem is to lower your expectations to the point where they’re already met?
James Q. Wilson in 1995 wrote "'Calvin and Hobbes' and the Moral Sense," from which:
Occasionally Calvin ponders what character may mean. As Christmas approaches, he knows he must be good for Santa Claus to deliver the countless presents (including a heat-seeking guided missile) that he covets. But, he wonders aloud, can he be thought truly good if he is good only to get the presents? "I mean, really, all I'm doing is saying that I can be bribed. Is that good enough, or do I have to be good in my heart and spirit?" But this brief insight quickly vanishes: "OK," he asks of Hobbes, "so exactly how good do you think I have to act?"
Sixteen Things Calvin and Hobbes Said Better Than Anyone Else, "Calvin and Hobbes and the Moral Sense," The Weekly Standard

Friday, April 22, 2022

Thoughts about Christian worship

Sometime in early adulthood I was introduced to Campus Crusade's "Four Spritual Laws" and remember being impressed with its conclusion, from which: 
".... The Christian lives by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word. This train diagram illustrates the relationship among fact (God and His Word), faith (our trust in God and His Word), and feeling (the result of our faith and obedience). (Read John 14:21.)
"The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be useless to attempt to pull the train by the caboose. In the same way, as Christians we do not depend on feelings or emotions, but we place our faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God and the promises of His Word."
That view affected my convictions about Christian worship and that was reinforced by Paul Manuel's teaching to our church. Worship, he taught, is distinct from teaching, i.e. the sermon, and is at least as important. Paul: "The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) states, 'Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.' Indeed, worship is the most important thing we do, individually and collectively. ...." and ".... Worship is not about you; it is about Him. Therefore, you should not limit it to when you are emotionally disposed. Worship is mainly a matter of will; it is what you decide to do even when it is not what you desire to do. ...."

C.S. Lewis:
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. (emphasis added)
Yesterday, from Ponder Anew:
I get comments like this all the time.
The article misses the main point. In the big picture, the question is where is our heart at when worshiping and much less about form.
Talking about the “heart” this way is a common trope in discussions about worship, particularly when questions of form and style arise. Usually, it’s intended to give carte blanche for anything anyone ever wants to do in corporate worship. After all, if someone is worshiping from the heart, with earnestness, pure motives, and full attention, that must be all that matters. ....

.... None of us have hearts that are right with God, save the intermediation of Jesus Christ. We cannot worship, on our own, at our own initiative, with thoroughly pure motives and hearts that are in the right position. That’s why liturgy is a big deal in the first place. By praying right and true things steeped in Holy Scripture, by receiving the Word rightly preached, and by consuming the gifts of bread and wine, we are formed more into Christ’s likeness.

What is required seems to be approaching worship as we do the gospel. We must be ready to admit that we are helpless, and that our hearts are in desperate need of redemption and renewal. We bring nothing to Christ. We have nothing of value to offer. Our works are utterly useless. This little bit of Romans 4 should both haunt us and overwhelm us with joy:
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Until [we] recognize this, there is not much hope for us. Approaching worship with the idea that our hearts are in good enough shape to do so worthily would seem more than a bit audacious....

When we tailor our forms in accordance with what we think will resonate with people instead of what frames the liturgy with beauty and dignity, we are crowning the people lords of their own hearts. That’s why the rule of prayer, not the rule of pop culture, should govern our worship.

This all turns the “It’s about the heart!” argument completely upside down. In reality, it IS about the heart, and ours is not able to love God as we ought.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

"Hope is not optimism"

Re-posted:
After she died, it was as if I had broken my arm. A part of me ached all the time, and something that had been functional was now useless, and everything about my daily routine needed to be navigated differently. It was difficult, for instance, to stand in line at the post office or buy groceries or make dinner. Nothing seemed to matter anymore.
Amy Julia Becker, writing about the death of her mother-in-law and the profound difference between optimism and hope.
When Penny first received her diagnosis—primary liver cancer—we were optimistic. Perhaps surgery would eradicate the disease. Perhaps she would live to know her grandchildren. Perhaps she would retire and travel to Italy again. We thought it might all work out. But then came the pathology report, the news that the cancer had gotten into her bloodstream. Those optimistic thoughts were no longer readily available. Optimism failed.

But hope is not optimism, and neither is it false piety. Once Penny died, it was tempting to ignore the sadness and focus upon the promise of eternal life. It was tempting to bypass grief. But I cringed when someone offered, “I guess God needed another angel in heaven.” In thinking only of the future, of heaven, that statement skips over the real loss in the present. It implies that God is needy, snatching people away to fill some cosmic void. It implies that it is acceptable for a fifty-five-year old woman to die a grueling death. Statements about God’s purpose in death can be used as a cudgel, a way to berate believers into pretending that the loss is not profound, devastating. “Pie in the sky by and by” is no consolation. False piety skips past grief altogether, and, like optimism, it ultimately fails. ....

Jesus did not ignore the reality of pain. Rather, he engaged it, even as he knew it would be overcome. He knew, for instance, that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet he mourned. He knew God would be faithful, and yet he shed tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus had hope in the midst of grief, without denying the reality of suffering and loss. His life permits us to forgo false piety and admit that suffering and separation are an offense to God.

And yet, that Easter morning also reminded me that God has triumphed over death. Christian hope hinges on the fact that God has the power to give life to the dead, starting with Jesus, and one day, extending to us all. Hope is a place of tension, tethered between the Cross and the Resurrection, engaging pain and suffering while simultaneously looking ahead to restoration. .... (read it all)
The Reality of Hope | First Things