Monday, December 31, 2012

Remembering those we have known and loved

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? -

Friday, December 28, 2012

Historical ignorance

Every test of the historical knowledge of Americans reveals appalling ignorance. It is apparently the same in Britain. A British history teacher explains what has gone wrong with the teaching of history there — and the idiocy struck here some time ago too.
.... The main tenet of a child-centred view of history teaching is the idea that pupils should not be "passive" recipients of a teacher's knowledge, but "active" individuals empowered to find things out for themselves. As a result, "chalk and talk" teaching from the front is heavily discouraged. After a senior member of staff observed one of my lessons, I was told that my role was to be the "guide on the side" rather than the "sage on the stage".

Instead of learning through listening to teachers or reading books, pupils are expected to do so through projects. It did not take me long to work out why pupils are so ignorant of British history, despite spending over a year studying it (as laid down by the national curriculum). To study the Norman Conquest, pupils would re-enact the Battle of Hastings in the playground, conduct a classroom survey to create their own Domesday Book, and make motte-and-bailey castles out of cereal boxes. Medieval England would be studied through acting out the death of Thomas Becket, and creating a boardgame to cover life as a medieval peasant. ....

Such tasks allow pupils to learn about history in an enjoyable and engaging way—or so the theory goes. In reality, all content and understanding of the past is sucked out, and the classroom begins to resemble the playground. An unfortunate side-effect is that pupils are frequently confused by the inevitable anachronisms involved in making history "relevant." ....

Proponents of child-centred education are impervious to such criticism because progressive teachers have long denied the importance of knowledge in the first place. Instead, skills are seen as paramount. When I first visited my current school, the assistant head asked me how I intended to prepare for my new career. I responded that I was going to spend a few weeks boning up on my general historical knowledge. "I wouldn't worry about that," she said. "History is a skills-based curriculum. You should really be able to teach it without knowing anything at all." ....

Progressive educators tend to cast skills and knowledge as a dichotomy, when in reality they are a sequence, and knowledge must come first. Trying to exercise historical skills such as source analysis or understanding causation without a solid grounding in a historical topic is impossible. ....

.... Great history teachers draw upon a passion for and knowledge of the subject to tell stories, explain ideas and bring the past alive. They do not have to rely on nonsense "learning activities" to make the subject engaging, for discussing the story of humankind is interesting in its own right. In short, they teach from the front. .... It is the anti-teaching, anti-narrative and anti-knowledge dogmas within state education that make history boring. ....
Enormous amounts of time are wasted doing "projects" which actually aren't interesting to students and which send the brightest students up the wall. Story makes history interesting and makes large dollops of fact tolerable to almost every student. The biggest problem is the ignorant teacher who doesn't know enough to make the subject interesting — and time-consuming "student-centered" projects are also attractive to the lazy teacher.

History Lessons for the 21st-Century Classroom | Standpoint

Dawkins is embarrassing

Peter Higgs [of Higgs-Boson fame] is inclined to think that Richard Dawkins goes rather too far in his claims about the incompatibility of science and religious faith:
.... On one side is Richard Dawkins, the celebrated biologist who has made a second career demonstrating his epic disdain for religion. On the other is the theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, who this year became a shoo-in for a future Nobel prize after scientists at Cern in Geneva showed that his theory about how fundamental particles get their mass was correct.

Their argument is over nothing less than the coexistence of religion and science.

Higgs has chosen to cap his remarkable 2012 with another bang by criticising the "fundamentalist" approach taken by Dawkins in dealing with religious believers. ....

...Higgs argued that although he was not a believer, he thought science and religion were not incompatible. "The growth of our understanding of the world through science weakens some of the motivation which makes people believers. But that's not the same thing as saying they're incompatible. It's just that I think some of the traditional reasons for belief, going back thousands of years, are rather undermined.

"But that doesn't end the whole thing. Anybody who is a convinced but not a dogmatic believer can continue to hold his belief. It means I think you have to be rather more careful about the whole debate between science and religion than some people have been in the past."

He said a lot of scientists in his field were religious believers. "I don't happen to be one myself, but maybe that's just more a matter of my family background than that there's any fundamental difficulty about reconciling the two." ....
Peter Higgs criticises Richard Dawkins over anti-religious 'fundamentalism' | Science | The Guardian

Monday, December 24, 2012

"In the Bleak Midwinter"

At the center of history


As if to shame the mightiest human efforts and achievements,
a child is placed at the center of history.
A child, born of humans: a son, given by God.
That is the mystery of the world’s redemption.
Everything past and everything future is encompassed here.
The infinite mercy of almighty God comes to us,
condescends to us in the form of a child, his son.
That this child has been born for us,
that this son has been given,
that this human child, this son of God, belongs to me;
that I know him, have him, love him,
that I am his and he is mine –
my very life now depends entirely on all these things.
A child has our life in his hands.

The Mystery of Holy Night
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"He came from His blest throne..."

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But Oh! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Samuel Crossman, 1664

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"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

Friday, December 21, 2012

"To lay aside His crown..."

Filippo Lippi, Medici Nativity, 1455-59
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
[Luke 2:6-7]

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"To save us all..."

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

C.S. Lewis's science fiction trilogy

Via Brandywine Books:
If you have an e-book reader, you can get C. S. Lewis' classic space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, for $1.99 each for a limited time.

The links are to Amazon for Kindle versions, because we get a cut of our linked Amazon sales. But if you've got a Nook or Kobo, you can buy the books through the Harper & Row site here. ....
Purchasing through the links should benefit the original post by Brandywine Books.

Brandywine Books


The Museum of Biblical Art in New York currently features "Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion.":
Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion considers the array of church decorations and memorials that Louis C. Tiffany (1848-1933) produced beginning in the early 1880s. For 50 years, working under a variety of company names, Tiffany oversaw production and marketing of a vast assortment of decorative elements for many of America’s leading congregations—Protestant, Catholic and Jewish. Tiffany employed designers, draftsmen, and craftspeople who produced decorative wall treatments, mosaic floors, lighting, furniture, altarpieces, pulpits, candlesticks, and liturgical vestments. ....
I have friends who collect pictures of stained-glass church windows. Tiffany windows are probably the best American examples of this art. Stained glass windows with secular themes were also common in homes of the era. If I were anywhere near NYC I would be sorely tempted to go see this exhibition.

Note: The illustrations I've chosen are representative of Tiffany but not taken from the MoBiA exhibit site.

Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion | MOBiA | Museum of Biblical Art

"Of the Father's love begotten"

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]

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Even little people are capable of large deeds"

Ashley Crouch has seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and it has inspired reflection on the nature of heroism:
.... As Gandalf says, heroism is found not through a grand deed but in “the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love.” Suddenly, we are offered an achievable standard. We are invited to shift out of our narrow prism to conceive the possibility that heroism is found in small deeds, to reexamine our own seemingly miniscule decisions and, in them, find significance and heroism. In our support of him, we implicitly agree that even little people are capable of large deeds.

Through Bilbo’s journey, we stare in the face our own perceptions of inadequacy and are encouraged to rethink them. Like Bilbo, we fear our capacity to provide anything of value. “I know you doubt me. I would have doubted me, too. I am not a hero or a warrior,” says he. Yet, we long for the opportunity to prove ourselves, caught between a tense pendulum of fear and paralysis on the one hand and valor and greatness on the other; Bilbo typifies this internal struggle. ....

As the credits rolled, I found that my answer to the question “what is heroism?” echoed those of Thorin’s: “When I called upon them, they answered. Loyalty, honor, a willing heart. I can ask no more than that.” Tolkien’s answer to the gentle question—what is heroism?—puts us in the uncomfortable position of asking ourselves what role we are going to play in the saga—in what ways are we going to be the hero. Suddenly, heroism for the average person is achievable. ....
I've read the book - I'll see the first of the films tomorrow.

What Does Bilbo Teach Us about Heroism? « Acculturated

Friday, December 14, 2012


A little of what Kevin DeYoung writes about how we got Santa Claus:
.... Luther rejected the saints’ days, believing they were built upon legends and superstitions (and a virulent strain of moralism we might add). In Germany, Luther replaced Saint Nicholas’ Day with a different holiday, Christ Child, or Christkindl. Ironically, Kriss Kringle which derived from Luther’s Christ Child holiday, has become just another name for St. Nicholas.

The cult of St. Nicholas virtually disappeared in Protestant Europe, with the exception of one country: the Netherlands. If you love Christmas with all the trappings of Santa Claus and stockings and presents, thank the Dutch. If you despise all that, try to ignore my last name for the time being. The Puritans had done away with St. Nicholas and banned Christmas altogether. But the Dutch held on to their tradition and brought it with them to the New World. In the Netherlands Sint Nicolaas was contracted to Sinterklaas. ....

At any rate, it is easy to see how Sinterklaas evolved in America to Santa Claus. Santa Claus became the Santa we know in the United States only after the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was written in 1823. Possibly the best known verses ever written by an American, the poem has greatly influenced the tradition of Santa in the English speaking world and beyond.

How should Christians relate to the traditions of Santa Claus? C.S. Lewis embraced them and so included Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Other Christians, fearing syncretism, stay clear of Santa, reindeer, and a tree full of presents. I’ll leave it to you and your family to form you opinions on observing the Christmas holiday (see Rom. 14:1, 5-6). ....

But if you have a lot of Santa Claus around, why not use him to your benefit and talk about the real St. Nicholas. We don’t know a lot about him, but we know he lived and was revered. According to legend—one of those stories that probably isn’t true, but should be—when Nicholas was little boy he would get up early in the morning to go to church and pray. One morning, the aging priest had a vision that the first one to enter the church in the morning should be the new bishop of Myra. When Nicholas was the first to enter, the old priest, obeying the vision, made the young boy bishop right on the spot. But before he consecrated Nicholas a bishop, the priest asked him a question. “Who are you, my son?” According to tradition, the child whose legend would one day become Santa Claus replied, “Nicholas the sinner.” Not bad for a little boy. .... [more]
Who Was St. Nicholas? – Kevin DeYoung

"Teach my dullness, guide my blindness..."

Via David Koyzis, "Gustav Holst: Psalm 86"

Send, O send relieving gladness
To my soul opprest with sadness...
Never failing help to those
Who on Thy sure help repose....
Teach my dullness, guide my blindness,
That my steps Thy paths may tread
Which to endless bliss do lead.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Another very good post from Kevin DeYoung:
.... Many Christians fear that doing the right thing without the right feelings makes them hypocrites.

But is this really hypocrisy? Another word to describe this behavior might be “maturity.” Children only do what they feel like doing. Adults learn to do things they are supposed to do though they may not always be excited about it. Of course, as Christians we want to grow so that we feel good about what is good. But the Christian life is full of instances where the doing and the feeling do not exactly match—sometimes with feelings ahead of obedience and sometimes with obedience ahead of our feelings.

Hypocrisy is not the gap between doing and feeling; it’s the gap between public persona and private character. Hypocrisy is the failure to practice what you preach (Matt. 23:3). Appearing outwardly righteous to others, while actually being full of uncleanness and self-indulgence—that’s the definition of hypocrisy (Matt. 23:25-28).

The hypocrite is not the Christian who struggles against sin, fights against temptation, and keeps doing what is right even on his worst feeling days. That’s a hero. The hypocrite is the Christian who uses the veneer of public virtue to cover the rot of private vice. He’s the man living a double life, the woman fooling her friends because she has church clothes, the student who proudly answers the questions in Sunday school and just as proudly romps through immorality the rest of the week.

The sin of hypocrisy is not that we are more messed up than we seem. That’s true for all of us. The sin is in using the appearance of goodness to cloak the deeds of evil.
What Is Hypocrisy? – Kevin DeYoung


I rarely write anything anymore. Apart from the occasional need to write my signature [most recently, when I vote], cursive has just about disappeared from my life. And writing my signature is becoming increasingly awkward. I recall—probably at about age twelve—attempting to create a distinctive way to sign my name, and, once I had, practicing and refining it. And now, through lack of practice, I'm losing facility. This is from a review of a book about the end of handwriting:
The Missing Ink is [a] casually elegant look at a “modest, pleasurable, private skill” that “is about to vanish from our lives altogether”: the art of handwriting. Philip steeped in his subject. He once wrote a 300,000-word novel by hand. As a boy, he saw the signature of Elizabeth I, with all those zigzags descending beneath. It was “love at first sight”. He recalls first seeing his own father’s signature, which resembled “a knife in a wound”.

He notes that the teaching of handwriting has been sliding down the agenda since the 1980s. Hensher was taught it in the 1970s – the amiable, rounded, child-friendly style developed by Marion Richardson in the 1930s – but he “found faint disappointment in the no-nonsense f’s”. He gives a lively account of the handwriting movements allied to the development of paper commerce in the mid-19th century, namely Copperplate (which was built for speed, resembling handwriting in a wind tunnel) and its more upright successors.

Hensher finds it telling that Sherlock Holmes was a student of graphology, it being “a fantasy from an urban world, where almost everyone is a stranger, and almost anyone could be dangerous”. In the 1970s various mental health associations decreed graphology to be of “zero validity”. .... But he concedes that handwriting can reveal character, even if not according to fixed rules. (Why else do we write letters of condolence by hand?) Hensher finds virtue in the slowness of handwriting, and he cites evidence that if you improve a child’s handwriting, you improve his literary skills.

As a boy, Hensher drew meaningless wavy lines in anticipation of learning cursive handwriting. I myself did the same. Perhaps it is a characteristic of budding authors, in which case any parent uncovering pages so scrawled in 2012 should be worried. Their child ought not to have too much of a stake in the future of reading and writing in this frightening, fraught “late age of print”.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dumbing down

In "Abolish Social Studies," Michael Knox Beran argues that not only is elementary social studies [and "language arts"] boring and pointless, it also underestimates the capacities of young students. The textbooks of the 19th century were both more demanding and far more interesting which, of course, is the trick: kids will attempt the difficult if they find it interesting. Beran:
...[I]n his Third Eclectic Reader, William Holmes McGuffey, a nineteenth-century educator, had eight-year-olds reading Wordsworth and Whittier. His nine-year-olds read the prose of Addison, Dr. Johnson, and Hawthorne and the poetry of Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Southey, and Bryant. His ten-year-olds studied the prose of Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, Sterne, Hazlitt, and Macaulay and the poetry of Pope, Longfellow, Shakespeare, and Milton.

McGuffey adapted to American conditions some of the educational techniques that were first developed by the Greeks. In fifth-century BC Athens, the language of Homer and a handful of other poets formed the core of primary education. With the emergence of Rome, Latin became the principal language of Western culture and for centuries lay at the heart of primary- and grammar-school education. McGuffey had himself received a classical education, but conscious that nineteenth-century America was a post-Latin culture, he revised the content of the old learning even as he preserved its underlying technique of using language as an instrument of cultural initiation and individual self-development. He incorporated, in his Readers, not canonical Latin texts but classic specimens of English prose and poetry.

Because the words of the Readers bit deep—deeper than the words in today’s social studies textbooks do—they awakened individual potential. The writer Hamlin Garland acknowledged his “deep obligation” to McGuffey “for the dignity and literary grace of his selections. From the pages of his readers I learned to know and love the poems of Scott, Byron, Southey, and Wordsworth and a long line of the English masters. I got my first taste of Shakespeare from the selected scenes which I read in these books.” Not all, but some children will come away from a course in the old learning stirred to the depths by the language of Blake or Emerson. But no student can feel, after making his way through the groupthink wastelands of a social studies textbook, that he has traveled with Keats in the realms of gold.

It might be objected that primers like the McGuffey Readers were primarily intended to instruct children in reading and writing, something that social studies doesn’t pretend to do. In fact, the Readers, like other primers of the time, were only incidentally language manuals. Their foremost function was cultural: they used language both to introduce children to their cultural heritage and to stimulate their individual self-culture. ....
Betsy Newmark:
He's totally correct about the sterile and boring Social Studies textbooks out there today compared to McGuffey's readers of the 19th century. I have a bunch of reprints of McGuffey's readers to show my students and they're simply amazed at what was considered standard fare back then for Americans half their age.
Abolish Social Studies by Michael Knox Beran, City Journal Autumn 2012, Betsy's Page: Getting rid of Social Studies

The New Testament Canon

A common argument against the truth of the gospel is that the documents upon which Christianity bases its claims are not reliable. How did the collection of documents in the New Testament come to be? Via Justin Taylor, Michael Kruger's responses to the top ten misconceptions about the New Testament Canon:
  1. The term “canon” can only refer to a fixed, closed list of books
  2. Nothing in early Christianity dictated that there would be a canon
  3. The New Testament authors did not think they were writing Scripture
  4. New Testament books were not regarded as scriptural until around 200 A.D.
  5. Early Christians disagreed widely over the books which made it into the canon
  6. In the early stages, apocryphal books were as popular as the canonical books
  7. Christians had no basis to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy until the fourth century
  8. Early Christianity was an oral religion and therefore would have resisted writing things down
  9. The canonical gospels were certainly not written by the individuals named in their titles
  10. Athanasius’ Festal Letter (367 A.D.) is the first complete list of New Testament books
10 Misconceptions about the New Testament Canon – Justin Taylor

"Made in the image and likeness of a Maker"

Of particular interest as the date of the movie Hobbit approaches, Louis Markos, in "Tolkien on Fairy Stories," provides us with some of Tolkien's own arguments [see "On Fairy-stories"] for the value of fantasy. Markos concludes:
.... Works like The Hobbit are based "on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it." The author of an epic fantasy must know the world as God created it before he can proceed to sub-create his own fantasy world. And when he does so, he acts, not in opposition to his creator, but in sympathy with him. "Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker."

Okay, the specifically Christian critic admits, perhaps fantasy violates neither reason nor the laws of God. But does it constitute a worthwhile pursuit? Do fairy stories offer anything that will edify believers or increase their understanding of God and the Bible?

As it turns out, fairy tales may draw us closer to the scriptures than any other genre.

Medieval theologians spoke of the Fall of man as a felix culpa (Latin for "happy guilt"), for they believed that the evil unleashed by our disobedience in the Garden led directly to the Incarnation. Though God demonstrated his love for us by creating us as separate creatures with our own mind and will, our misuse of that will prompted God to demonstrate an even greater love, by sending his Son into the world to die for our sins.

The most memorable fantasy stories center around what Tolkien dubs a eucatastrophe (Greek for "good down turn"), a sudden shift in the story that pulls victory out of the jaws of defeat, utter joy out of utter despair. The eucatastrophe "is not essentially 'escapist' nor 'fugitive' . . . it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure . . . it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat." According to Tolkien, the "Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's History," while the "Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the . . . Incarnation."

The Hobbit is filled with small eucatastrophes, with Bilbo's successes rising up out of his errors and indiscretions. But they all pale in comparison to the great eucatastrophe that comes near the end of The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo's refusal to throw the ring into the cracks of Doom is followed by Gollum biting the ring off Frodo's finger and then falling into the fire. This breathtaking moment, re-experienced with all its power every time the epic is re-read, is neither artificial nor "escapist," but emerges organically out of Tolkien's carefully crafted epic tale.

It is a story we recognize and accept, for it is the story of our salvation and that of our Primary World. [more]
Tolkien's essay: On Fairy-Stories

Tolkien on Fairy Stories – The Gospel Coalition Blog, “On Fairy-Stories” by J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The power of pessimism

This is a pleasant surprise, Archie. I would not have believed it.
That of course is the advantage of being a pessimist;
a pessimist gets nothing but pleasant surprises,
an optimist nothing but unpleasant.

Nero Wolfe, in Fer-de-Lance (1934) by Rex Stout

.... Just thinking in sober detail about worst-case scenarios—a technique the Stoics called "the premeditation of evils"—can help to sap the future of its anxiety-producing power. The psychologist Julie Norem estimates that about one-third of Americans instinctively use this strategy, which she terms "defensive pessimism." Positive thinking, by contrast, is the effort to convince yourself that things will turn out fine, which can reinforce the belief that it would be absolutely terrible if they didn't. ....

The ultimate value of the "negative path" may not be its role in facilitating upbeat emotions or even success. It is simply realism. The future really is uncertain, after all, and things really do go wrong as well as right. We are too often motivated by a craving to put an end to the inevitable surprises in our lives.

This is especially true of the biggest "negative" of all. Might we benefit from contemplating mortality more regularly than we do? As Steve Jobs famously declared, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way that I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose." .... [more]
Christians, of course, are only pessimistic in the short term.

“End? No, the journey doesn't end here. 
Death is just another path, one that we all must take. 
The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, 
and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”
Gandolf in The Two Towers film, a paraphrase of Frodo in LOTR.


From a review of a new book, Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner:
.... Critics of Israel always focus on Palestinians displaced by Israel. But almost nobody, including most Israelis, commonly discuss the 850,000 Jews driven from majority Muslim countries after Israel was founded. Nobody lobbies for their “right of return” or at least a restoration of lost property, much less an apology. Lela notes they are the “forgotten refugees.” .... [more]
A Christian in Israel « Juicy Ecumenism


James Taranto comments on a strange court ruling:
"A federal judge has ruled a North Carolina plan to offer license plates supporting the pro-life movement unconstitutional, saying the state cannot issue the plates without offering a similar product for the opposing viewpoint," reports:
[Judge James] Fox said in his judgement that the state's plan violates the First Amendment. The proposed license plate featured two children with the words "Choose Life" printed above them.

"The State's offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment," he said according to MyFox8.
Wait, how is it "pro-choice" to object to the slogan "choose life"? The first word is "choose"! It must be that they aren't really pro-choice but pro-a-particular-choice, whatever choice is the opposite of death. So why doesn't North Carolina just offer a "Choose Death" license plate? Or if that's too morbid, "Don't Choose Life"?
'There Will Be Blood' -

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

This morning Althouse is reminded of a collection of Victorian children's poems, many of which I remember too. She quotes "The Duel" ["The gingham dog and the calico cat..."] and links to a site containing some of the Maxfield Parrish illustrations from the book. The book was Poems of Childhood by Eugene Field [1904] and the poem I remember best from it is "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod." by Eugene Field:

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe—
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
"Where are you going, and what do you wish?"
The old moon asked the three.
"We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!"
Said Wynken,
And Nod.
All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam—
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home;
'Twas all so pretty a sail it seemed
As if it could not be,
And some folks thought 't was a dream they 'd dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea—
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
And Nod.
The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew.
The little stars were the herring fish
That lived in that beautiful sea—
"Now cast your nets wherever you wish—
Never afeard are we";
So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
And Nod.
Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one's trundle-bed.
So shut your eyes while mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea,
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:
And Nod.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The "nones" again

One of the findings of the survey released in October by the Pew Forum on Religion was a significant growth in the number of people "unaffiliated" with any church or denomination — the "nones." In "The End of Nominal Protestantism" at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer provides some charts that show an interesting correlation: the "nones" increased as the mainline churches decreased, which may just mean that there is no longer much reason to belong to a church unless you believe something, i.e. the mainline churches may get stronger congregations as a result of this trend. One of the charts:

The End of Nominal Protestantism | Christianity Today

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"You don't just go out there and do anything you want"

Dave Brubeck died yesterday one day short of his 92nd birthday. The many obituaries celebrate his contributions to music, and not just jazz. After writing a commissioned mass in 1980 Dave Brubeck became a Catholic and continued to write music intended for sacred purposes. In 2006, he was interviewed for Commonweal and responded to a question about music in worship:
Ian Marcus Corbin: Does the modern Christian worshiper lose anything of value as more intricate, studied compositions are displaced by less complex pop- or folk-style songs in many Christian churches?

Dave Brubeck: The use of rock, folk, or pop music serves a purpose. It gets people into the church. But an inexperienced guitar player who doesn’t have much to say, for example, can make me wish to leave the church immediately, whereas one great jazz or classical guitarist can confirm that I will have a spiritual experience in the church. There are a lot of people on the lowest rung of Jacob’s Ladder, and we must somehow reach down, give them a hand, and make them want to climb. A little really good music never hurt anyone. And when people are given good music they can grow spiritually and even discover they like it. For example, why is Handel’s Messiah performed year after year, reaching millions of people? Every year it gathers more listeners, some new, some who make it part of their Christmas experience. With many repetitions it has become a tradition shared by people on all levels of music appreciation. I think the church should strive to give parishioners good music. Music is as necessary for worship as a building with a beautiful altar, artwork, and stained-glass windows. Together they create an environment conducive to worship and contemplation. We are not in church for entertainment, but to worship.
From To Hope: A Celebration:

Mollie Hemingway writes about "The soul in Dave Brubeck’s jazz," from which:
PBS’ inestimable Religion & Ethics Newsweekly reviewed Brubeck’s sacred works a couple of years ago in a deeply moving interview. Talking about a mass he wrote, interviewer Bob Faw asks him about his approach:
FAW: Sometimes, says Brubeck, the music shapes the text. Sometimes, he says, it’s just the opposite.

FAW: I heard you at one point say “my basic approach is to sing the text until something seems right.”

BRUBECK: Yeah, that’s it: “All my hope, all my hope is in you, oh Lord, you are my rock and my strength.”

FAW: As for those lyrics, it turns out that’s the realm of Dave Brubeck’s wife.

BRUBECK: My wife was driving, and I said, “I’ve finished this.” And she said, “No, you haven’t finished it.” And I said, “Well, what did I leave out?” And she said, “God’s love made visible. He is invincible.”

“God’s love made visible.” So that’s the way it finished. [more]
Brubeck thought that jazz and democracy are similar in a very significant way:
Brubeck believed that jazz presented the best face of America to the world.

"Jazz is about freedom within discipline," he said in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press. "Usually a dictatorship like in Russia and Germany will prevent jazz from being played because it just seemed to represent freedom, democracy and the United States.

"Many people don't understand how disciplined you have to be to play jazz. ... And that is really the idea of democracy — freedom within the Constitution or discipline. You don't just get out there and do anything you want."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Important but not essential

Jonathan Leeman reviews Baptism: Three Views [2009] at 9Marks. Before engaging with the arguments in the book he makes a point important to acknowledge by any of us inclined to engage in doctrinal controversy:
There are two opposite errors that evangelical Christians easily stumble into on the topic of baptism: we treat it with too little or too much importance.

The former error, I assume, is more common these days. The thinking here is, the West is secularizing; we live in post-Christendom now; let’s not divide over non-essentials. Instead we must affirm the main thing we all share—the gospel.

The latter error, more common perhaps in former times, is still found wherever provincial mindsets cannot see that the work of Christ’s kingdom is afoot in denominations beyond their own. ....

The solution to the first error is to recognize that baptism may not be essential, but it is important. The solution to the second is to realize that baptism is important, but not essential. In short, Christians need at least three categories for setting theological priorities: essential, important, and unimportant. We often miss that middle category, and act as if everything is either essential or completely unimportant.

Baptism is not essential because it does not save. The word of the gospel alone saves. Yet baptism is important because (i) it proclaims the gospel visibly; (ii) it helps to protect the gospel from generation to generation; (iii) and it serves to publicly identify the people of heaven on earth, both for their sake and for the sake of the nations.

To help us sort through several prominent views on baptism comes the helpful book Baptism: Three Views, edited by the late professor of patristics and Reformation Christianity, David F. Wright. Presbyterian minister Sinclair Ferguson presents the case for infant or paedobaptism (“paedo” for child). Baptist theologian Bruce Ware agues for believers’ baptism or credobaptism (“credo” for creed). And professor of historical theology Anthony Lane offers a dual-practice position. ....
After summarizing the arguments of the three contributors, Leeman writes
Admittedly, I am not an objective reader. I was convinced of...believers’ baptism [before] picking up the book, and I remain convinced of it setting it down, maybe even more so.

What the book did do, however, is enrich my original position by the things I learned from the other two perspectives. .... (more)
Book review: Baptism--Three Views | 9Marks

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Monday, December 3, 2012


Walter Russell Mead reflects on the meaning of Advent in "The Coming":
.... If there is no Christmas, there is no Cross, no answer to the problems of sin, separation, failure and pain. Advent is a time to think about what life would be like if we didn’t have faith in a Redeemer, a Savior who was ready, willing and able to complete the broken arc of our lives, forgive what is past and walk with us step by step to help us build something better in the time that is left.

Advent is a time to remember that we need something more than what we can summon with our own resources to make our lives work. It’s a time to remember how lost we would be if Someone hadn’t come to find us. .... The preparation for Christmas begins by reflecting on what kind of world this would be, and what kind of lives we would have, if Christmas had never come.

There are worse ways to start your preparation for Christmas than by using this prayer from the old Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer:
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Liturgical worship

When I was a teenager, probably influenced by something I had read in C.S. Lewis, I bought a copy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer [the linked version is from 1662]. It is a treasury of prayers with which every Christian should be familiar whether or not inclined toward liturgical forms of worship. My own tradition is "non-liturgical" although every church I've ever attended had pretty well-established traditions about worship — the services followed much the same patterns from week to week.

Yesterday I came across this explanation for Episcopalian liturgy. I like many of the reasons Philip Jenkins' gives:
In its origins, the Greek word leitourgia meant “people’s work,” better translated as something like “public service” or “public duty.”

Today, the word “liturgy” is used in two senses. Generally, it means following a set form of words, actions and rituals, as opposed to a free-form, open-ended kind of worship. This does not mean that non-liturgical churches are totally disorganized — they often plan their services according to familiar patterns and models. But they do not follow the precise sequence of texts, passages, actions, etc, which they regard as too formal and constricting. Often, a liturgy includes not just precise words but words that have become somewhat old-fashioned, and there is a temptation to modernize them to make them more understandable. ....
Liturgy takes us out and it puts us in
It takes us out of the regular world and tries to re-enact and return to a sacred moment or sacred time. It is a way of putting us in touch with a particular reality, of converging and conforming our world with the supernatural.

Paths cross here.
Liturgy explains why we are here but also places us somewhere else.

Liturgy uses particular forms of language.
Language speaks us. When we speak in certain ways, it puts us in certain frames of mind. Proper form and language are used to consecrate time. Formality is especially appropriate to solemn things.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

If We Survive

Andrew Klavan has recently added If We Survive to his books intended for younger readers. Amazon identifies it as part of the Homelanders series. It isn't. It is a stand-alone thriller like the earlier Crazy Dangerous — another that I found a very quick, and very good, read.

Here John J. Miller interviews the author about this book and a soon to be published thriller for adults. If you are the parent of an adolescent, you might consider Klavan's young adult books for Christmas. Miller interviewing Klavan:

Andrew Klavan: If We Survive - National Review Online

A me-centered approach

Reviewing Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Christopher Hall writes that the authors argue that Christians in the West are apt to read scripture in an ego-centric manner. I agree but think the failing is probably more human than Western. I suggest this part of the argument should be taken seriously by every believer everywhere:
.... How often have you sat in a Bible study, looked at a passage with other group members, and then had the leader of the group ask, "What does the passage mean to you?" A minute or two passes in silence; slowly individuals begin to respond: "To me this passage is saying" this, or "to me this passage means" that.

Of course, to ask what a passage means is praiseworthy. But to make the individual Christian the starting point for interpretation and the center of a text's problematic. Richards and O'Brien point to at least two immediate dangers.

First, if I make myself the center in my search for meaning in the Bible, I will naturally mine the Scripture for passages that I sense are immediately relevant to my life, and ignore swaths of texts where I don't discern immediate applicability. "This," the authors say, "leaves us basing our Christian life on less than the full counsel of God."

Second, and perhaps more seriously, a me-centered approach to the Bible confuses application with meaning. Simply put, I am not the focus of the Bible's meaning; Christ is. Yes, as God's image-bearers, we play an important role in the Bible's story. Christ has come to save us, and much of the Bible's story explains the wonder of how he has done just that. But if the first question I ask of a biblical text is how I can apply that text to my life, I leapfrog over meaning to applicability. I place myself at the center of the universe.... [more]
How to Remove Our Bible-Reading Blinders | Christianity Today


Tory Historian notes that December 2 is:
...[T]the 125th anniversary of [Sherlock Holmes'] first appearance in "A Study in Scarlet," published in Beeton's Christmas Annual of 1887.
"A Study in Scarlet" by Arthur Conan Doyle