Friday, December 31, 2010

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot..."

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

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne. 

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

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

The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn't be. We'll remember those times and those people, we'll toast them now and always, we'll keep them close. "We'll take a cup of kindness yet." ....
Noonan: Days of Auld Lang What? -

Evangelicals and the gospel

"Among the Evangelicals" by Timothy Beal in The Chronicle Review describes the findings of a variety of academic studies. A couple of paragraphs in the middle summarize well why "post-evangelical" has become an increasingly popular label among those disillusioned by the sense that technology and activity have become more important than gospel and discipleship.
A hallmark of American evangelicalism, at least since the 1940s, has been its ready willingness to adapt its theological content to new media technologies and popular trends in the entertainment industry. Implicit in that openness is an evangelical counterdeclaration to Marshall McLuhan's: The medium is not the message; the message, or the Word, transcends whatever media are used to convey it. But in the long run, is the constant evangelical adaptation of the Word unwittingly proving McLuhan right? I think so. That is partly why we find so little coherence within and among the various groups and movements and productions that pass as evangelical.

Indeed, it's impossible to imagine the likes of Osteen or Warren or Jakes without the teams of creators, editors, and marketers who publish them beyond their home churches, in books and on the radio, television, and Internet. It is not too much to say that their media producers actually create and sustain them as pop-culture icons. Their relationships with their publishers in the production of both medium and message are not unlike those of pop-music stars with their labels. Lady Gaga has Universal Music and Max Lucado has Thomas Nelson.
Later, Beal defines  describes the evangelicalism he grew up with:
Evangelism is at root about telling a good story. The Greek word behind it, euangelion, means "good news" or, more literally, "happy message" (eu, "happy" plus angelion, "message"). Whence comes our word "gospel" via the Old English godspel, "good spell" or "story." In that light, it can be argued, as it often is, that all forms of Christianity, including those way on the left, are essentially evangelical, insofar as they are about proclaiming the Christian gospel, the good story. Disagreements quickly emerge, of course, in the often radically different interpretations of what that gospel is and means.

Growing up conservative evangelical in the 1960s and 70s, I learned to see it primarily in terms of personal sin and salvation. The most popular version of that gospel message was the Four Spiritual Laws, created as an evangelism tool in 1952 by the late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. They are: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life; sin separates you from God; Jesus on the cross paid the price for your sin; you need to accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior. (My mom occasionally pulls out an old reel-to-reel tape of me, age 5, singing, "What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! Oh, precious is the flow, that can make me white as snow.") Most nonevangelicals assume that is the one and only gospel among all evangelical Christians. But that's far from true. ....
Among the Evangelicals - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace"

In "Narrative and the Grace of God" Stanley Fish argues that the Coen brothers new True Grit is profoundly religious, as was the book, and in contrast to the 1969 Henry Hathaway film with John Wayne.
.... In the novel and in the Coens’ film it is always like that: things happen, usually bad things (people are hanged, robbed, cheated, shot, knifed, bashed over the head and bitten by snakes), but they don’t have any meaning, except the meaning that you had better not expect much in this life because the brute irrationality of it all is always waiting to smack you in the face. This is what happens to Mattie at the very instant of her apparent triumph as she shoots Tom Chaney, her father’s killer, in the head. The recoil of the gun propels her backwards and she falls into a snake-infested pit. Years later, as the narrator of the novel, she recalls the moment and says: “I had forgotten about the pit behind me.” There is always a pit behind you and in front of you and to the side of you. That’s just the way it is.

.... I watched True Grit twice in a single evening, not exactly happily (it’s hardly a barrel of fun), but not in revulsion, either.

The reason is that while the Coens deprive us of the heroism Gagliasso and others look for, they give us a better heroism in the person of Mattie, who maintains the confidence of her convictions even when the world continues to provide no support for them. In the end, when she is a spinster with one arm who arrives too late to see Rooster once more, she remains as judgmental, single-minded and resolute as ever. She goes forward not because she has faith in a better worldly future — her last words to us are “Time just gets away from us” — but because she has faith in the righteousness of her path, a path that is sure (because it is not hers) despite the absence of external guideposts. That is the message Iris Dement proclaims at the movie’s close when she sings “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”:
Oh how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way
Leaning on the everlasting arms
Oh how bright the path goes from day to day
Leaning on the everlasting arms
What have I to dread what have I to fear
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
The new True Grit is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. .... [more]
Thanks to James M. Kushiner at Mere Comments for the reference.

Narrative and the Grace of God: The New 'True Grit' -

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A destructive lifestyle choice

In "Atheism Kills" Walter Russell Mead notes that it is apparently not just atheist regimes that result in great loss of life. Atheism isn't all that good for atheists themselves — or for society:
If atheism were a commercial product like Happy Meals or cigarettes, there would be calls to ban it or at least tax it to the gills in the hopes both of discouraging it and offsetting its costs. We would see calls to ensure that films and books aimed at young audiences didn’t glorify and glamorize this destructive lifestyle choice. And surely if we are going to ban candy and soda pop from elementary schools across America we should make certain that the noxious poison of atheism doesn’t pollute vulnerable young minds.
The survey that inspired these observations:
This is simply a study that shows that the more religious you are, the more likely it is that you will have good habits that prolong life and promote health. Very religious people (as defined by Gallup) smoke less, eat more vegetables and exercise more than non-religious people do. Gallup makes no attempt to correlate these findings with life expectancy, productivity on the job or lifetime earnings, but it seems likely if the poll is correct that atheism costs the United States hundreds of billions of dollars every year in health care costs, absenteeism on the job and other costs. (On the other hand, like smoking, it saves us tens of billions of dollars when people die early instead of collecting social security for decades — but this is not the way most of us hope to solve the country’s pension funding problems.)

Given other studies showing that very religious people report greater life satisfaction, are less liable to depression, and seem generally more at home with themselves and the people around them, it’s becoming more and more clear that atheism doesn’t just make many atheists more likely to be unhappy, lonely and poor. It also costs the rest of us money. ....
Mead's not really serious blog entry elicited outraged comments from some who prefer to believe religion is the source of all evil.

Atheism Kills: Gallup Poll Reveals | Via Meadia

"No man is an island..."

With respect to economics and many aspects of government regulation of human behavior my inclinations — like those of most conservatives — tend toward the libertarian end of the spectrum. And yet I am emphatically not a "Libertarian." Part of the reason is well summarized in this paragraph from Christopher Beam's "The Trouble With Liberty":
.... It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. “Man’s first duty is to himself,” says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. “His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.” Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise. If you don’t get your way, blow things up. And there’s the problem. If everyone refused to compromise his vision, there would be no cooperation. There would be no collective responsibility. The result wouldn’t be a city on a hill. It would be a port town in Somalia. In a world of scarce resources, everyone pursuing their own self-interest would yield not Atlas Shrugged but Lord of the Flies. And even if you did somehow achieve Libertopia, you’d be surrounded by assholes. .... [more]

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"Let no tongue on earth be silent"

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

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

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

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

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

[Prudentius, 5th Century]

Friday, December 24, 2010

This single Truth

No love that in a family dwells,
No caroling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare —
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
John Betjeman

reposted from 2008

Christmas Day

ALMIGHTY GOD, which hast given us Thy only begotten Son to take our nature upon Him, and this day to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made Thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by Thy Holy Spirit, through the same Our Lord Jesus Christ who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost now and ever. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
IN THE BEGINNING was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto his own, and his own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1]
O GOD, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of Thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our Judge, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
Come all you faithful Christians
That dwell here on earth,
Come celebrate the morning
Of our dear Saviour's birth.
This is the happy morning,
This is the blessed morn:
To save our souls from ruin,
The Son of God was born.

Now to Him that is ascended
Let all our praises be;
May we His steps then follow,
And He our pattern be;
So when our lives are ended,
We all may hear Him call —
"Come souls, receive the kingdom,
Prepared for you all."

[Hereford Carol]

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In the bleak midwinter

Andrew McGowan, at Biblical Archaeology Review explains "How December 25 Became Christmas" and it probably had nothing to do with pagan traditions:
.... There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. 130–200) or Tertullian (c. 160–225). Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time. As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point. ....

.... By the fourth century, however, we find references to two dates that were widely recognized—and now also celebrated—as Jesus’ birthday: December 25 in the western Roman Empire and January 6 in the East (especially in Egypt and Asia Minor). The modern Armenian church continues to celebrate Christmas on January 6; for most Christians, however, December 25 would prevail, while January 6 eventually came to be known as the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem. The period between became the holiday season later known as the 12 days of Christmas. ....

So, almost 300 years after Jesus was born, we finally find people observing his birth in midwinter. But how had they settled on the dates December 25 and January 6? ....

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

Despite its popularity today, this theory of Christmas’s origins has its problems. ....

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

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

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

.... Connecting Jesus’ conception and death in this way will certainly seem odd to modern readers, but it reflects ancient and medieval understandings of the whole of salvation being bound up together. .... (more)
How December 25 Became Christmas - Biblical Archaeology Review

God in man

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"For to do us sinners good"

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn. Chorus
Oh, the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer.
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the quire.
The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all. Chorus
The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Savior. Chorus
The holly and the ivy,
Now are both well grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown. Chorus
The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to do us sinners good. Chorus

The Holly And The Ivy

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"An occasion for merry-making"

Via The Inklings, C.S. Lewis on Christmas:
Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn't go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a 'view' on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone's business.

I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. (C.S. Lewis, "What Christmas Means to Me," God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1970.)
"The commercial racket" has become even more dominant since Lewis wrote this in 1957.

The Inklings: Christmas, according to Lewis

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb..."

Lars Walker liked the film version of Voyage of the Dawn Treader very much:
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the novel) begins with perhaps Lewis’ greatest opening line; possibly one of the best opening lines in all literature: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” (A line full of resonance for an author who’d himself been christened Clive Staples Lewis.) This film offers an extremely satisfactory Eustace in the person of actor Will Poulter. His maturation is the primary character arc in the story, just as in the original. It pleased me in particular, as an amateur swordsman, that he enjoys his first fleeting taste of the pleasures of manliness after a fencing match with the incomparable talking mouse, Reepicheep (played by a very talented bunch of pixels and voiced by Simon Pegg). ....

It would be misleading to call this adaptation “faithful” to the book. This movie is more like the fruit of the book. Some elements of the story are minimized or skipped over; other elements, minor in the original, are magnified and dramatized for cinematic effect. The result is bigger, more spectacular, faster moving, and more unified in narrative. It’s stirring, thrilling, and suitable for all but the youngest viewers. My own manly eyes teared up a bit in places.

I don’t think The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has been doing the business it deserves. I urge you not to wait for the DVD.
I haven't seen it yet and his last comment makes me worry since production of The Silver Chair depends on its success.

Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Film Review: "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Ay, tear her tattered ensign down! "

The Fighting Temeraire
Bernard Cornwell, one of my favorite historical novelists, reviews a book about a distinguished warship junked long after its days of glory and pleads for the preservation of others:
At Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, the battle-cruiser USS Olympia lies glorious and doomed. The oldest steel warship in the world today, she has a poignant history. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, she was Adm. Dewey's flagship at the battle of Manila Bay, and in 1921 she carried the body of the first officially designated Unknown Soldier, felled in World War I, back from France to the U.S. The Olympia is magnificent. If nothing is done to save her, she will be towed offshore and sunk as an artificial reef. ....

The Temeraire[....]was to have a long and distinguished history, but by 1839 she was obsolete; and so she was towed to a breaker's yard and dismembered. We might have forgotten her except that J.M.W. Turner painted an iconic canvas—"The Fighting Temeraire"—that today hangs in London's National Gallery. The picture shows the vast dusk-gilded hull of the great battleship being towed up the Thames by a squat, steam-powered paddle-wheel tug. All the glory of the past is being dragged to oblivion beneath the cloud-haunted light of a setting sun. It is a picture that tells a story, and it is consistently voted Britain's favorite painting. ....

She deserved her fame. The three-decker was one of the most powerful ships in the Royal Navy. Her greatest day came on Oct. 21, 1805, when she followed Nelson's Victory into the melee at Trafalgar, where her 98 guns saved the British flagship, even if they could not save Nelson's life.

The Victory had been engaged by the Redoutable, undoubtedly the best-trained ship in France's navy. Redoutable was locked to the Victory when the Temeraire sailed slowly past her stern and raked a broadside lengthwise down the Frenchman's hull, killing almost a third of her crew with that opening blow. The Temeraire then went alongside the wounded Redoutable, only to be sandwiched there by a second Frenchman, the Fougueux. Yet the Temeraire outfought both and forced each to surrender. The Temeraire had 47 of her 755 crew killed, but the Redoutable lost an extraordinary 487 dead out of 643 men, a fearsome tribute to the skilled gunnery of Britain's sailors. ....

USS Olympia
We are lucky that we still possess HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar and a near-twin of the Temeraire. She lies in dry dock now, her great masts rearing above Portsmouth dockyard. HMS Warrior, Britain's first ironclad battleship, built in 1860, is moored nearby, while in Boston, of course, the USS Constitution still floats and is wonderfully preserved.

Those ships are, for the moment, safe. But Turner's painting and Mr. Willis's book remind us that fame and glory are not sufficient protection against an empty budget, and it will be tragic if we allow the Olympia to follow the Implacable to a watery grave. It is not too late. At Penn's Landing, in the impecunious care of the Independence Seaport Museum, we possess a precious fragment of America's naval history, and we can only hope that, 170 years from now, no one who writes the Olympia's biography will have to end it with the tale of her destruction. .... [more]
Book Review: The Fighting Temeraire -

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Thou who wast rich..."

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.

Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent IV: Run the race

Lord raise up (we pray Thee) Thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we be sore let and hindered in running the race set before us, Thy bountiful grace and mercy, through the satisfaction of Thy Son Our Lord, may speedily deliver us; to whom with Thee and the Holy Ghost be honor and glory, world without end. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
KNOW YE NOT that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. [I Corinthians 9]
I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.'

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, What is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.
[Winston S. Churchill 1940]

Friday, December 17, 2010


I spent just about every evening for the last ten days or so watching the DVDs of the The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries and thoroughly enjoying the experience. I remember watching them in the early '70s when they first appeared on American TV.  I had by then already read the Dorothy L. Sayers novels on which they were based. A Google search for that series starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter turned up this NPR review. The reasons they appealed to John Powers are very like the reasons they appeal to me.
.... Back in the early 1970s, the BBC turned Sayers' crime novels into a series of TV shows starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter. When they were shown here on Masterpiece Theatre, they became such a huge hit that they led PBS to create the series Mystery! which has run for the past 30 years. ....

The first installment, Clouds of Witness, is typical. It begins at the Wimsey family's shooting lodge in Yorkshire. The fiance of Lord Peter's sister, Mary, has been found shot dead in the night, and the police accuse Lord Peter's grumpy brother, Gerald, who refuses to say what he was up to at the time of the crime. Things look bad until Lord Peter comes back from the Continent with his trusty manservant, Bunter, slyly played by Glyn Houston. He begins examining the case and questioning potential suspects, all of whom seem to have secrets galore. ....

When I first popped Clouds of Witness into my DVD player, I wondered if it was still enjoyable. After all, the Beeb's production values weren't the greatest back then. But the series sucks you into its 1920s setting with a brand of leisurely storytelling you no longer see on TV, and it's carried by Carmichael's Lord Peter. Although a bit too old and fleshy for the part, this canny actor knows exactly how to play Wimsey, a man who can seem as silly as Bertie Wooster but is actually as shrewd as Jeeves.

Of course such a character is the purest confection, which is why such cozy English detective stories are mocked by literary critics and fans of the hard-boiled crime novel. ....

The fact is, lack of realism isn't the failing of old-fashioned crime stories; it's their point. The true pleasure of the Lord Peter mysteries isn't simply that they let us sink into a romanticized '20s England. It's that they take us outside the chaotic swirl of modern society, where murder is a symptom of intractable disorder. They carry us to a fantasyland so intrinsically sedate and orderly, so conservative, that murder is an aberration. .... [T]he Lord Peter stories satisfy something in the human psyche that neither bullying nor education can erase. They offer us a fantasy of perfect closure, a world where even bloody murder is little more than a brainteaser that can, and will, be solved.
There was a later Mystery series of three more of Sayers's Lord Peter books starring Edward Petherbridge in the role: Dorothy L. Sayers Mysteries (The Lord Peter Wimsey-Harriet Vane Collection - Strong Poison/Have His Carcass/Gaudy Night). They were produced in the late '80s; the production values are much higher and they are very good, but I still prefer the Carmichael series.

DVD Review - 'Lord Peter' Returns, And It's No Mystery Why : NPR

Thursday, December 16, 2010

White shores and a far green country

Tim Keller in "The Lord of the Rings and Redemptive Art" argues that the book is profoundly Christian even though "religion" is almost entirely absent.
...LOTR is a great demonstration of the difference between Christian art and propaganda. Many believe “art that does not evangelize, praise, or exhort has no place in the kingdom of God or, at best, has an inferior status to confessional works....Also, for many Christians, [overtly] confessional intent overrides artistic concerns.…evangelical popular art had a difficult time finding an interested and appreciative audience outside the evangelical market.” Tolkien, however, wrote to a friend in 1953 that “I have not put in, or have cut out practically all references to anything like ‘religion’ in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” ....

...LOTR gives us a very Christian, non-sentimental kind of hope. It is typical for people to think of LOTR as escapist fantasy, but that is simply not the case. Popular escapist fantasy normally ends with everyone living happily ever after. It is deeply sentimental. After the villains are dispatched, now all is right with the world. By contrast, LOTR is non-sentimental about the inexorable sadness of life. The good people have “fought the long defeat.” No victory over evil ever lasts, since evil always takes a new shape and rises again. Even a victory over evil will result in the loss and fading away of good and beautiful things. Frodo’s wounds will never really heal. Certainly, the elves can go to a beautiful home in the West, but “if there are mallorn-trees beyond the Great Sea, none have reported it.”

Why is the book so sad?

As a Christian, Tolkien knew that sin had marred the world more deeply than we wish to admit. We must not be naive or pin utopian hopes to our own ability to create a safe, successful life for ourselves. As one character observes, “The wide world is all about you; you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.”

Even so, LOTR holds out a distant but profound hope of complete renewal and joy. .... (more)
The Lord of the Rings and Redemptive Art

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"He is the King of glory"

Handel's Messiah is perhaps the most perfect combination of music and Scripture ever created. From prophesy, to incarnation, to death and resurrection, it magnificently recounts the story of Our Lord. It is traditionally associated with Christmas but is relevant to any point in the Christian year. At this moment I'm listening to Handel's Messiah with The English Concert & Choir directed by Trevor Pinnock. I was inspired to listen again today when I read Justin Taylor's interview with Calvin Stappert, the author of Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People.

The librettist for the oratorio was Charles Jennens. Stappert gives a theological context to his choice of texts for Messiah:
Deism was very strong at the time, a serious threat to orthodox Christian faith. Charles Jennens, a devout Anglican, compiled the collection of Scripture texts that make up Messiah in order to combat Deism.

Deism’s “natural theology” had room for a creator-god, but denied miracles and any divine intervention into human affairs. Therefore it denied the fundamental Christian beliefs in the Incarnation and the Resurrection. It also denied their necessity. Humans, they believed, had the resources to solve their own problems; there was no need for a Messiah.

Jennens’s choice of texts had both a polemical purpose—to persuade unbelievers—and a pastoral purpose—to nourish and strengthen the faith of believers. He enlisted Handel (whose music he loved and who undoubtedly shared his convictions) to convey his message through the rhetorical and dramatic power of music.
I am inclined to pay much more attention to music than to words (which is why I am often oblivious to objectionable sentiments in songs I like). I can listen to Messiah as background music but how much better in this case to follow the text.

The Pinnock performance has been my favorite for some time, but at the end of the interview Stappert recommends several others.

Handel’s Messiah: An Interview with Calvin Stappert – Justin Taylor

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Andy Hardy all day

Among the advantages of being retired, especially if you live in the upper Midwest and it's a frigid winter's day, is the freedom to stay inside, burrow into a comfortable chair, and enjoy something like TCM's "Andy Hardy Festival" this Thursday, December 16. Totally undemanding entertainment from an era when Hollywood was content simply to entertain.

Wikipedia, describes the films that made Mickey Rooney famous:
The early movies focused on the Hardy family as a whole, but the character Andy soon became the center of the series, and his name was featured in most of the titles. They were a big factor in Rooney's rise to stardom. The first two Hardy films dealt moralistically but fairly frankly with the danger of adultery among the younger generation, but the later ones avoided such controversial themes. While teenager Andy's romantic misadventures were pivotal in most of the films, they were always "wholesome" affairs.

The central relationship in the movies was between Andy and his father. Judge Hardy, played by the grandfatherly-looking Stone, was a man of absolute morality and integrity, but behind his stern demeanor was a gentle humanitarian with a droll sense of humor. A typical plot involved Andy getting into minor trouble with money or girls, usually because of youthful selfishness and a slight willingness to fudge the truth. But after a "man-to-man" talk with his father, Andy would listen to his own better nature and do the right thing, assuring a happy ending.

In three films, Rooney was paired with Judy Garland, beginning with Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), and continuing with Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940) and Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941). ....
TCM Andy Hardy Festival | The American Culture, Andy Hardy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"The dogma is the drama"

Via Justin Taylor, from Dorothy L. Sayers, the first paragraph and another quotation further in from an essay: "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged":
Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as “a bad press.” We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—”dull dogma,” as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama....

Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all.
Taylor provides a link to the essay online.

Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged is the Official Creed of Christendom," Creed or Chaos?, Harcourt Brace & Co., New York, 1949, pp. 3-7.

"Naïve people lacking certified professional instruction"

I remember being told once that unless I was a musician I couldn't properly enjoy music. A writer at the New Republic is worried that, without scholarly guidance "Oprah’s readers [will] have been left in the dark" as they attempt to puzzle out two books by Dickens: Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities. Alan Jacobs responds:
.... Kelly’s core concern is summed up here: “the sad truth is that, with no real guidance, readers cannot grow into lovers of the canon.” Cannot? Actually, that isn't a sad truth — it’s not a truth at all — though it is quite sad that someone thinks the world’s greatest works of art are so powerless to reach an audience without academic assistance. As a corrective to such dark thoughts she should read another Dickens novel, David Copperfield, especially this passage:
My father had left a small collection of books in a little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time, — they, and the Arabian Nights, and the Tales of the Genii, — and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it. . . . It is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating my favourite characters in them — as I did — and by putting Mr. and Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones — which I did too. I have been Tom Jones (a child's Tom Jones, a harmless creature) for a week together. I have sustained my own idea of Roderick Random for a month at a stretch, I verily believe.
“This was my only and my constant comfort,” David concludes. “When I think of it, the picture always rises in my mind, of a summer evening, the boys at play in the churchyard, and I sitting on my bed, reading as if for life.”

Reading as if for life. And with no teachers in sight. A miracle indeed; but one repeated every day. Oprah is giving many, many people an incentive to have experiences like David Copperfield’s, and by my lights that’s not a bad thing.
Text Patterns: Oprah's Dickens

Monday, December 13, 2010


J. Mark Bertrand, writer, novelist, and connoisseur of the printed and bound Bible, points us toward someone who has Wordled all of the books of the Bible:
Brad Thomas plugged the text of the NIV into to study word frequency in the various books of the Bible. The more common the word, the larger it appears in the resulting word cloud. And in addition to being informative, these clouds have an aesthetic quality to them, so he decided to make them available in both book and poster form. There's also a video showing each of the 66 word clouds making up the Bible:
For more info about the project, including how to order books and posters, check out Sixty-Six Clouds: Visualizing Word Frequency in the Bible.
Now, if he'd only do it using the ESV...

Bible Design and Binding

Christianity and Constantine

Matthew Lee Anderson recommends Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, a book about the first Roman emperor who was sympathetic to Christianity:
Defending Constantine cuts through the historical and theological haze with a clarity that is devastating to the popular caricature of the man. Leithart’s historical treatment is extensive–he sets up the context for Constantine’s reign by detailing the brutality of the Roman persecutions, such that Eusebius’s over-the-top affirmation of Constantine begin to make sense. He shifts as the book progresses toward the theology of Constantine, carefully critiquing John Howard Yoder’s anti-Constantinianism theology.

Unlike his critics, Leithart takes seriously Constantine’s Christianity arguing that while an imperfect ruler, Constantine’s writings and policies reveal “a seriously Christian ruler.” Leithart suggests that Constantine’s own writings indicate that his central conviction was that “the Christian God was the heavenly Judge who, in history, opposes those who oppose him.”

In one of Leithart’s most compelling sections, he points out that Constantine not only stopped the slaughter of Christians–he stopped the slaughter of animals, ending the sacrifical system that was at the heart of the Roman political theology. As Leithart writes, “When Constantine began to end sacrifice, he began to end Rome as he knew it, for he initiated the end of Rome’s sacrificial lifeblood and established that Rome’s life now depended on its adherence to another civic center, the church.” .... [more]
Defending Constantine: A(nother) Giveaway | Mere Orthodoxy

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A writer of kids' books

Responding to some embarrassingly clueless reactions to Sarah Palin's comment that she turns to C.S. Lewis for spiritual inspiration, Scott Johnson reminds those who need reminding that Lewis was rather more than a children's author:
Almost everyone knows that C.S. Lewis, known to his friends and family as Jack, was a remarkable man of letters. For a serious writer of quality, he was incredibly prolific and incredibly popular. Almost everything he wrote is still in print, and almost everything he wrote is worth reading. Amazon lists 157 or 160 titles under his name. I mention here only a few items of interest.

Every high school senior should read The Abolition of Man [Note: available online]. In it Lewis makes a powerful case for a version of natural law that belies the relativism in which students are inculcated in one way or another in school, especially in college. The problem is not strictly American or of recent vintage. Lewis was prompted to write the lectures that make up the book by a British high school English textbook. The Abolition of Man was published in 1943. ....

It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that every educated person is familiar in one way or another with Lewis's Christian apologetics. He told the story of his own journey back to Christianity from atheism in Surprised By Joy. Lewis's defense and elucidation of Christian faith took form in books too numerous to mention here. Among the most prominent are Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles. Closely related are The Four Loves and A Grief Observed, the book Lewis wrote following his wife's death from cancer.

Lewis's faith also found expression in fictional form. Who doesn't know The Screwtape Letters? It has become a modern classic. Educated readers should also be familiar with The Great Divorce. .... (more, including a pretty good list of recommended CSL books)
Power Line - He doesn't know Jack

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent III: Found faithful

O LORD Jesus Christ, who at Thy first coming didst send Thy messenger to prepare Thy way before Thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of Thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready Thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at Thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in Thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen. [BOCP]
LET a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. [I Corinthians 4]

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd?,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.

[John Milton, 1673]

Friday, December 10, 2010

Faithful to Lewis?

John Nolte at Big Hollywood interviews Walden Media President Michael Flaherty about, among other things, whether the integrity of Christian themes in Voyage of the Dawn Treader remain in the film. It is obvious that Flaherty, at least, is familiar with C.S. Lewis's work far beyond Narnia. His answers are encouraging and, starting this weekend, we can judge for ourselves. Flaherty:
.... While Lewis would argue that Narnia is not an allegory, rather a “supposal”, there are strong Christian themes in the book that were influenced by Lewis’ worldview. Further, Lewis’ main focus in writing Dawn Treader was “the spiritual life.” While every book encounters some changes from the page to the screen, we wanted to make sure that the themes that were important to Lewis – redemption, temptation, grace, and our yearning for our true home – were not only preserved, but amplified through the changes that we made with the script. There were a number of lines from the book that were important to preserve verbatim as well. Most important are Aslan’s lines at the end when he tells Lucy “In your world I have a different name. You must learn to know me by it. That is the whole reason you came to Narnia. By knowing me better here you would know me better there.”

We felt a sacred trust with this scene not only to be faithful to the book, but to be faithful to all of Lewis’ writing. The topic of longing was a theme in so much of what Lewis wrote. My favorite passage in all of Lewis’ writing comes from Mere Christianity, where he delivers the famous insight that “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” In The Problem of Pain Lewis writes about desiring “something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside.”

Reepicheep is the very embodiment of this longing. At the beginning of the film, we hear Reep reciting his lullaby. He then talks to Lucy about his hope and desire to make it to Aslan’s country. When he finally arrives there at the end, the scenery is breathtaking. Reep delivers an incredibly moving speech to Aslan about his longing and desire for his country. I won’t ruin it for you, but it draws heavily upon the passage in The Problem of Pain where Lewis writes about something we “were born desiring,” and that even our greatest moments have been but “tantalizing glimpses” of it. When Reep abandons his sword and bravely sets sail in his little coracle, it will send shivers down the spines of all friends of Narnia.

Finally, there is the critical scene of Eustace’s undragoning. We had a nice workshop during the script development about grace being something that cannot be earned – it can only be given. So we wanted to make sure that this critical concept was conveyed with the undragoning, but we added a battle between Eustace the dragon and the sea serpent.

Here is the way it plays out: Reepicheep encourages a very reluctant Eustace to do battle with the Sea Serpent. Reep makes it clear in a way that only he can – that there must not be any retreat or any surrender. To do so would spell certain death for everybody aboard the Dawn Treader. Yet after some initial fighting, Eustace retreats to protect himself, despite Lucy pleading to him to come back to help them and despite his knowledge that he is most certainly leaving them to die.

He makes his way back to the safety of an Island, defeated and ashamed. He tries desperately to rip off his dragon skin, but he realizes that he cannot do it himself. That is when Aslan approaches Eustace to rip off his dragon skin for him. It is clear in the film that this in not being done in return for anything that Eustace has done – but in spite of it. At a time when Eustace feels more friendless than ever, he realizes that Aslan is the one person who will never abandon him. It is a great illustration of grace..... (more of a very informative interview)
Flaherty also says that whether Silver Chair will be filmed depends entirely on the success of Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Assuming it is made, the next would be The Magician's Nephew.

Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » Exclusive Interview: Walden Media President Michael Flaherty on ‘Dawn Treader,’ the Liam Neeson Controversy, and the Franchise’s Future

Essential reading for any parent

I am not a parent and will never be one. But I was once a child and I spent my career among young people. I think Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen may be a very good book for parents of young children and for those who will be.

From the Amazon description:
Play dates, “helicopter parenting,” No Child Left Behind, video games, political correctness: these and other insidious trends in child rearing and education are now the hallmarks of childhood. As author Anthony Esolen demonstrates in this elegantly written, often wickedly funny new book, almost everything we are doing to children now constricts their imaginations, usually to serve the ulterior motives of the constrictors. ....

Much like The Wonder of Boys and The Wonder of Girls, and The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child confronts contemporary trends in parenting and schooling by reclaiming lost traditions. This practical, insightful book is essential reading for any parent who cares about the paltry thing that childhood has become.
The National Review Book Service provides chapter titles:
  • Method 1: Keep Your Children Indoors as Much as Possible (or They Used to Call It "Air")
  • Method 2: Never Leave Children to Themselves (or If Only We Had a Committee)
  • Method 3: Keep Children Away from Machines and Machinists (or All Unauthorized Personnel Prohibited)
  • Method 4: Replace the Fairy Tale with Political Clichés and Fads (or Vote Early and Often)
  • Method 5: Cast Aspersions upon the Heroic and Patriotic (or We Are All Traitors Now)
  • Method 6: Cut All Heroes Down to Size (or Pottering with the Puny)
  • Method 7: Reduce All Talk of Love to Narcissism and Sex (or Insert Tab A into Slot B)
  • Method 8: Level Distinctions between Man and Woman (or Spay and Geld)
  • Method 9: Distract the Child with the Shallow and Unreal (or The Kingdom of Noise)
  • Method 10: Deny the Transcendent (or Fix Above the Heads of Men the Lowest Ceiling of All) TEN WAYS TO DESTROY THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR CHILD (9781935191889): Anthony Esolen: Books, National Review Book Service: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Faith for a Lenten age

This original sin, infecting the paradox in which man asserts his freedom against his finiteness, and complicating with a fatality of evil a destiny which man senses to be divine, is the tissue of history. It explains why man's history, even at its highest moments, is not a success story. It yawns, like a bottomless crater, across the broad and easy avenue of optimism. It would be intolerable without faith, without hope, without love. [Whittaker Chambers on Reinhold Niebuhr, 1948]
The post a couple of days ago that quoted from Whittaker Chambers's Witness inspired me to look for other Chambers material online. "Big Sister Is Watching You," his famous [infamous?] review of Atlas Shrugged for National Review has been published at NRO. It successfully inoculated me against Rand even though I had read and enjoyed Anthem.

During the 1940s and '50s, up until the Hiss case, Chambers was a senior editor at Time magazine where he authored a number articles that are available online. One of them, "The Dictatorship of the Animals," is a 1946 review of Orwell's Animal Farm. Another, "Don v. Devil", is the cover article about C.S. Lewis that I have posted about before. One of his last efforts for Time, published in March, 1948, was also a cover article, this one about Reinhold Niebuhr, "Faith for a Lenten Age."
.... To the mass of untheological Christians, God has become, at best, a rather unfairly furtive presence, a lurking luminosity, a cozy thought. At worst, He is conversationally embarrassing. There is scarcely any danger that a member of the neighborhood church will, like Job, hear God speak out of the whirlwind (whirlwinds are dangerous), or that he will be moved to dash down the center aisle, crying, like Isaiah: "Howl, ye ships of Tarshish!"

Under the bland influence of the idea of progress, man, supposing himself more & more to be the measure of all things, achieved a singularly easy conscience and an almost hermetically smug optimism. The idea that man is sinful and needs redemption was subtly changed into the idea that man is by nature good and hence capable of indefinite perfectibility. This perfectibility is being achieved through technology, science, politics, social reform, education. Man is essentially good, says 20th Century liberalism, because he is rational, and his rationality is (if the speaker happens to be a liberal Protestant) divine, or (if he happens to be religiously unattached) at least benign. Thus the reason-defying paradoxes of Christian faith are happily bypassed.

Catastrophic Paradoxes. And yet, as 20th Century civilization reaches a climax, its own paradoxes grow catastrophic. The incomparable technological achievement is more & more dedicated to the task of destruction. Man's marvelous conquest of space has made total war a household experience and, over vast reaches of the world, the commonest of childhood memories. The more abundance increases, the more resentment becomes the characteristic new look on 20th Century faces. The more production multiplies, the more scarcities become endemic. The faster science gains on disease (which, ultimately, seems always to elude it), the more the human race dies at the hands of living men. Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world. ....

At the open end of that impasse stood a forbidding and impressive figure. To Protestantism's easy conscience and easy optimism that figure was saying, with every muscle of its being: No.

His name was Reinhold Niebuhr. He was an Evangelical-pastor, a professor of applied Christianity at Manhattan's Union Theological Seminary, an editor of Christianity and Crisis, Christianity and Society, contributing editor of the Nation, and an ex-Socialist who was still unflaggingly active in non-Communist leftist movements. He was also the author of countless magazine articles and eleven books on theology. His magnum opus, the two-volume Nature and Destiny of Man, was the most complete statement of his position.

Against the easy conscience, Dr. Niebuhr asserted: man is by the nature of his creation sinful; at the height of man's perfection there is always the possibility of evil. Against easy optimism, he asserted that life is inevitably tragic. Says Niebuhr: "Mankind is living in a Lenten age." .... (more)
Religion: Faith for a Lenten Age - TIME

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

When the universe created itself

Joe Carter notices that "there is one unfortunate group—the children of atheistic materialists—that has no creation myth to call its own" and sets forth to fill the gap:
In the beginning was Nothing, and Nothing created Everything. When Nothing decided to create Everything, she filled a tiny dot with Time, Chance, and Everything and had it expand. The expansion spread Everything into Everywhere carrying Time and Chance with it to keep it company. The three stretched out together leaving bits of themselves wherever they went. One of those places was the planet Earth.

For no particular Reason—for Reason is rarely particular—Time and Chance took a liking to this little, wet, blue rock and decided to stick around to see what adventures they might have. .... [much more
When Nothing Created Everything | First Things

Clueless in Hollywood

From The Hollywood Reporter:
Liam Neeson...told the Telegraph in London that his character doesn't necessarily represent Christ. That might be news to Lewis, though, who wrote the opposite before he died in 1963.

"Aslan symbolizes a Christlike figure, but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries," Neeson said. ....

"The whole Narnian story is about Christ," Lewis once wrote. He said he "pictured him becoming a lion" because it's the king of beasts and because Christ is called "The Lion of Judah" in the Bible.

Aslan, wrote Lewis, "is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question: 'What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia?' "

But Dawn Treader producer Mark Johnson agrees with the, shall we say, more inclusive analysis from Neeson, telling The Hollywood Reporter that "resurrection exists in so many different religions in one form or another, so it's hardly exclusively Christian."

"We don't want to favor one group over another ... whether these books are Christian, I don't know," Johnson added. ....
The Christian imagery in Dawn Treader must have been too subtle:

John 1:29
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
John 21:9-14
As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. .... Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.
'Dawn Treader' Studios Reach Out to Influential Christians With 'NarniaFaith' Website, Screenings - The Hollywood Reporter

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"I think relevance is a crock"

A post at led me to this good interview with Eugene Peterson from 2005. The answers below that I selected deal primarily with worship:
What if we were to frame this not in terms of needs but relevance? Many Christians hope to speak to generation X or Y or postmoderns, or some subgroup, like cowboys or bikers—people for whom the typical church seems irrelevant.
When you start tailoring the gospel to the culture, whether it's a youth culture, a generation culture or any other kind of culture, you have taken the guts out of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not the kingdom of this world. It's a different kingdom.

My son Eric organized a new church six years ago. The Presbyterians have kind of a boot camp for new church pastors where you learn what you're supposed to do. So Eric went. One of the teachers there said he shouldn't put on a robe and a stole: "You get out there and you meet this generation where they are."

So Eric, being a good student and wanting to please his peers, didn't wear a robe. His church started meeting in a high-school auditorium. He started out by wearing a business suit every Sunday. But when the first Sunday of Advent rolled around, and they were going to have Communion, he told me, "Dad, I just couldn't do it. So I put my robe on."

Their neighbors, Joel and his wife, attended his church. Joel was the stereotype of the person the new church development was designed for—suburban, middle management, never been to church, totally secular. Eric figured he was coming because they were neighbors, or because he liked him. After that Advent service, he asked Joel what he thought of his wearing a robe.

He said, "It made an impression. My wife and I talked about it. I think what we're really looking for is sacred space. We both think we found it."

I think relevance is a crock. I don't think people care a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they're taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or their consumer needs.

Why did we get captured by this advertising, publicity mindset? I think it's destroying our church.
But someone else might walk into Eric's church, see him with his robe, and walk out, thinking the whole place was too religious, too churchy.
So why are they going if it's not going to be religious? What do they go to church for?

Of course, there's another aspect to this. If you're going to a church where everybody's playing a religious role, that's going to be off putting. But that performance mentality, role mentality can be seen in the cowboy church or whatever—everybody is performing a role there, too.

But we're involved with something that has a huge mystery to it. Are we going to wipe out all the mystery so we can be in control of it? Isn't reverence at the very heart of the worship of God?

And if we present a rendition of the faith in which all the mystery is removed, and there's no reverence, how are people ever going to know there's something more than just their own emotions, their own needs? There's something a lot bigger than my needs that's going on. How do I ever get to that if the church service and worship program is all centered on my needs? .... [more] [emphasis added]
Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

E pluribus unum

Roger Scruton believes that "multiculturism" in Europe is in retreat: The American Spectator: "Multiculturalism, RIP." From the essay:
....[C]ulture and race have nothing to do with each other. There is no contradiction in the idea that Felix Mendelssohn was Jewish by race and German by culture — or indeed that he was the most public-spirited representative of German culture in his day. Nor is there any contradiction in saying that a single person belongs to two cultures. Felix's grandfather Moses was a great Rabbi, upstanding representative of the Jewish cultural inheritance, and also founding father of the German Enlightenment. ....

Once we distinguish race and culture, the way is open to acknowledge that not all cultures are equally admirable, and that not all cultures can exist comfortably side-by-side. To deny this is to forgo the very possibility of moral judgment, and therefore to deny the fundamental experience of community. It is precisely this that has caused the multiculturalists to hesitate. Rightly enjoying the polytheistic festivals of the Hindus, the Carnivals of Caribbean blacks, and the celebrations of the Chinese New Year, they have led us to believe that cultural difference is always an addition to social life, and never a threat to it. Anyone who discriminates between cultures, therefore, really must have something more dangerous at the back of his mind — a desire to exclude on grounds of strangeness, which is the first step towards the racist mindset.

But experience has finally prevailed over wishful thinking. It is culture, not nature, that tells a family that their daughter who has fallen in love outside the permitted circle must be killed, that girls must undergo genital mutilation if they are to be respectable, that the infidel must be destroyed when Allah commands it. You can read about those things and think that they belong to the pre-history of our world. But when suddenly they are happening in your midst, you are apt to wake up to the truth about the culture that advocates them. You are apt to say, that is not our culture, and it has no business here. That is what Europeans are now saying — not just a few crazies, but everyone. And the multiculturalists are reluctantly compelled to agree with them. ....

....We don't require everyone to have the same faith, to lead the same kind of family life, or to participate in the same festivals. But we have a shared moral and legal inheritance, a shared language, and a shared public sphere. Our societies are built upon the Judeo-Christian ideal of neighbor-love, according to which strangers and intimates deserve equal concern. They require each of us to respect the freedom and sovereignty of every other, and to acknowledge the threshold of privacy beyond which it is a trespass to go unless invited. Our societies depend upon a culture of law-abidingness and open contracts, and they reinforce these things through the educational traditions that have shaped our common curriculum. It is not an arbitrary cultural imperialism that leads us to value Greek philosophy and literature, the Hebrew Bible, Roman law, and the medieval epics and romances, and to teach these things in our schools. They are ours, in just the way that the legal order and the political institutions are ours: they form part of what made us, and convey the message that it is right to be what we are. ....

So what happens when people whose identity is fixed by creed or kinship immigrate into places settled by Western culture? The multiculturalists say that we must make room for them, and that we do this by relinquishing the space in which their culture can flourish. Our political class has at last recognized that this is a recipe for disaster, and that we can welcome immigrants only if we welcome them into our culture, and not beside and against it. But that means telling them to accept rules, customs, and procedures that may be alien to their old way of life. Is this an injustice? Surely not. If immigrants come it is because they gain by doing so. It is therefore reasonable to remind them that there is also a cost. .... [more]
The American Spectator : Multiculturalism, R.I.P.