Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Until then..."

Via Trevin Wax: "A Prayer of Anselm":
I pray, O God, that I may know you and love you,
so that I may rejoice in you.

And if I cannot do so fully in this life
may I progress gradually until it comes to fullness.

Let the knowledge of you grow in me here,
and there be made complete;
Let your love grow in me here
and there be made complete,
so that here my joy may be great in hope,
and there be complete in reality.

Lord, by your Son, you command,
or rather, counsel us to ask
and you promise that we shall receive so that our “joy may be complete.”
I ask, Lord, as you counsel through our admirable Counselor.
May I receive what you promise through your truth so that my “joy may be complete.”

Until then let my mind meditate on it,
let my tongue speak of it,
let my heart love it,
let my mouth preach it.
Let my soul hunger for it,
let my flesh thirst for it,
my whole being desire it,
until I enter into the “joy of the Lord,”
who is God, Three in One, “blessed forever. Amen.”

Anselm, Proslogion
I Want Joy – A Prayer of Anselm – Trevin Wax

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"This above all: to thine own self be true"

In "The Death of Empathy" James Tonkowich argues that the reason for the appalling behavior of participants and bystanders in the Steubenville rapes can be explained by the disappearance of any sense of moral obligation:
.... Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith discussing the religious and moral lives of teens and emerging adults relates that researchers [asked] the young people they interviewed the same question: Is what you believe about God and morality true for everyone everywhere or is it just is it just a private belief that’s only true for you? That is, is spiritual and moral truth objective or subjective? The vast majority…didn’t understand the question. They were incapable of conceiving what objective truth and morality could possibly mean. ....

As this relates to empathy, Smith and his team found that emerging adults believe that no one is under any obligation to help others. It’s nice if you help if you feel like it, but no one should feel guilty for ignoring the needy. Thus in the Steubenville case teens saw the victim drunk, naked and unconscious and did nothing. They were, from their point of view, under no obligation to inconvenience themselves.

Add to that, the breakdown in the family, which also kills empathy. In her 2003 essay “Parents or Prisons,” economist Jennifer Roback Morse writes:
The basic self-control and reciprocity that a free society takes for granted do not develop automatically. Conscience development takes place in childhood. Children need to develop empathy so they will care whether they hurt someone or whether they treat others fairly. They need to develop self-control so they can follow through on these impulses and do the right thing even if it might benefit them to do otherwise.
All this development takes place inside the family. Children attach to the rest of the human race through their first relationships with their parents. They learn reciprocity, trust, and empathy from these primal relationships. Disrupting those foundational relations has a major negative impact on children as well as on the people around them. In particular, children of single parents — or completely absent parents — are more likely to commit crimes.

Such children develop attachment disorders and, as Morse writes, “An attachment-disordered child is the truly dangerous sociopath, the child who doesn’t care what anyone thinks, who does whatever he can get away with.”

The combination of single parents, absent parents, dual-income professional parents, daycare, after-care and easy, no-fault divorce have strained sometimes to the breaking point the relationship between parent and child, resulting in varying degrees of attachment disorder and thus children with insufficient discipline, compassion and empathy. .... [more]

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Friendship's fatal disease

Samuel Johnson in Idler 23:
Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship. It is painful to consider that this sublime enjoyment may be impaired or destroyed by innumerable causes, and that there is no human possession of which the duration is less certain. Many have talked in very exalted language of the perpetuity of friendship, of invincible constancy, and unalienable kindness; and some examples have been seen of men who have continued faithful to their earliest choice, and whose affection has predominated over changes of fortune and contrariety of opinion. But these instances are memorable because they are rare.  ....

.... A dispute begun in jest, upon a subject which a moment before was on both parts regarded with careless indifference is continued by the desire of conquest till vanity kindles into rage, and opposition rankles into enmity. Against this hasty mischief I know not what security can be obtained; men will be sometimes surprised into quarrels, and though they might both hasten to reconciliation, as soon as their tumult has subsided, yet two minds will seldom be found together which can at once subdue their discontent or immediately enjoy the sweets of peace without remembering the wounds of the conflict. ....

The most fatal disease of friendship is gradual decay, or dislike hourly increased by causes too slender for complaint and too numerous for removal. Those who are angry may be reconciled; those who have been injured may receive a recompense; but when the desire of pleasing and willingness to be pleased are silently diminished, the renovation of friendship is hopeless, as when the vital powers sink into languor there is no longer any use of the physician.
Thanks to Alan Jacobs for referring to this essay.


.... By actually becoming actually holy.
Holiness and holier-than-thou-ness aren’t parallel phenomena. They run on different tracks. If someone is growing in arrogance, pride, and self-righteousness, by definition they are not growing in holiness.
The problem arises in equating holiness with religious behavior. Holy people do obey God, of course. But the character of holiness, in which the Spirit does his progressive sanctifying work in our hearts (and therefore in our thoughts, speech, and actions), produces qualities of humility, gentleness, kindness, and self-control. Any arrogant fool can abstain from certain sins.... [more]

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Vincit Veritas

I've been doing some random "Skaggs" internet searches. A coat of arms resembling this one was apparently awarded to an English Skaggs [or Skeggs or some other variant]. I can't claim any ownership but I certainly do like the motto which translates as "Truth Conquers."

A Skaggs coat of arms

What does it want me to want?

Two links about desires:
  • In "Schools for Desire," Alan Jacobs considers "realism" in children's literature. What kind of books are best for children?
  • In "The Sinister Nature of Dove's New Advertising Campaign," recognizing that the whole point of advertising is to create desire, it is pointed out that "...[Y]ou don't overcome a world where physical beauty is overemphasized by...emphasizing beauty. And self-esteem is never properly built from the outside in."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Leroy Fouse Skaggs, 1845-1930

My brother and I intend to visit northern Arkansas and southern Missouri soon where we will seek out some of the sites associated with our Skaggs and Whitney ancestors. One of them was my Great Grandfather Leroy Fouse Skaggs who with Rosanna Pearce Skaggs, his wife, were the first Seventh Day Baptists on the Skaggs side of the family. I recently came across this:

From The Sabbath Recorder, Vol 109, No 12, p 356, Sep. 22, 1930.
Leroy Fouse Skaggs was a son of James Alexander and Maria Sterling Skaggs. He was born near Knoxville, Tenn., March 1, 1845. When he was yet a child the family moved to the vicinity of Bentonville, Ark. Before the Civil War the family moved again and settled in Green County, Mo., a few miles from the site of the city of Springfield.

At the age of sixteen years, as the Civil War had begun, he entered the service of the United States Government as a teamster and served for three years, helping to transport food and other necessities for the soldiers.

His educational opportunities were very limited, so far as formal schooling was concerned. However, he made sufficient progress in subjects usually taught in rural schools to be able to teach, and was engaged as a teacher for several years. He had a keen mind, good memory, a thirst for knowledge, and he spent much time in reading and careful study throughout the years of his active life. He often expressed regret that he had not been able to secure college and university training.

He was married December 5, 1872, to Miss Rosanna Pearce. They established a farm home southwest of Springfield, in Christian County, and near the James River. There came five children to this home. The first break in the family came in February, 1917, when the wife and mother died.
All the children are still living and were at the bedside of their father as he passed away, August 14, 1930. The sons and daughters are in the order of ages: Mrs. Emma Conley, Dearing, Kan.; Hannibal M. and Mrs. Mary Caughron, Clever, Mo.; James L. and Mrs. Harriet Grant, Milton, Wis. He is also survived by twenty-one grandchildren, twenty-two great-grandchildren, one brother, James. G., Clever, Mo., and one sister, Mrs. Ida Forrester, Marionville, Mo.
Rev. Leroy Fouse Skaggs and Rosanna Pearce Skaggs

In youth he became a member of the Baptist church. In 1872 he was by that church licensed to preach, and in 1876 he was called to ordination to the gospel ministry. The original certificates are in the possession of the family.

In 1882 he became convinced that Christians should observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, and he added the observance of the Sabbath to his otherwise standard Baptist principles. Several other families in the community became interested, and a little later the Delaware Seventh Day Baptist Church was organized. The church had an active existence of twenty years or more and attained considerable influence in the community. Much of the time worship was conducted on both Sabbath and Sunday and many people attended who were not particularly interested in the Sabbath.

Nearly all the meetings of this church were under the direction of either Elder Skaggs or Elder W.K. Johnson. In 1889 the Seventh Day Baptist Missionary Society engaged the subject of this sketch as general missionary in southwestern Missouri, and his labors were continued in this field for about ten years.

Since the death of Mrs. Skaggs in 1917, he has lived most of the time in the homes of his son Hannibal and his daughters Emma, Mary, and Harriet. He passed away on August 14, 1930, at the home of his daughter Mary, near Clever, Mo. His body was laid to rest beside that of his wife in the local cemetery. The funeral service was conducted by Rev. Earl French, a Baptist pastor of Springfield, Mo.

The history of the Book of Common Prayer

Alan Jacobs, who is soon to move from Wheaton College to Baylor University, has resumed blogging and tells us:
I have edited the first proofs of my forthcoming biography of the Book of Common Prayer — and have I mentioned that I created a tumblelog where I can display notes and images related to the book?
From that link, one of the images:

I have enjoyed and profited from every book I've read by Jacobs. This will be one I'll buy in physical form. Jacobs writes that it will be published in November.

The Return of the Blogger | The American Conservative, The Book of Common Prayer

The perils of prediction

I was attending William & Mary on the first Earth Day and well remember the apocalyptic predictions. The environmental movement has done a lot of good since then but most of it could have happened without this sort of thing, which almost automatically ought to elicit skepticism. Via Walter Russell Mead, "Wild Green Alarmism Then and Now":
Earth Day 2008, compiled by the Washington Policy Center
  • “...civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind,” biologist George Wald, Harvard University, April 19, 1970.
  • By 1995, “...somewhere between 75 and 85 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.” Sen. Gaylord Nelson, quoting Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, Look magazine, April 1970.
  • Because of increased dust, cloud cover and water vapor “...the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born,” Newsweek magazine, January 26, 1970.
  • The world will be “...eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age,” Kenneth Watt, speaking at Swarthmore University, April 19, 1970.
  • “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” biologist Barry Commoner, University of Washington, writing in the journal Environment, April 1970.
  • “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from the intolerable deteriorations and possible extinction,” The New York Times editorial, April 20, 1970.
  • “By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...” Life magazine, January 1970.
  • “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich, interview in Mademoiselle magazine, April 1970.
  • “...air certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone,” Paul Ehrlich, interview in Mademoiselle magazine, April 1970.
  • Ehrlich also predicted that in 1973, 200,000 Americans would die from air pollution, and that by 1980 the life expectancy of Americans would be 42 years.
  • “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.
  • “By the year 2000...the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America and Australia, will be in famine,” Peter Gunter, North Texas State University, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"He rules over the nations"

Via Justin Taylor in a post he titles "10 Scriptural Principles on the Nature of Human Government":
From J. Budziszewski, Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action (Baker Academic, 2006):
  1. God is the true sovereign; he ordained all human government for the good of man, whom he made in his image (Ps. 22:28; Rom. 13:1,3-4; Gen. 1:27).
  2. Although God originally chose only one nation, he desires ultimately to draw all nations into the light of his Word (Isa. 49:6; Rom. 10:12; Rev. 21:23-24).
  3. He disciplines the nations according to their deeds (Jer. 18:7-10; Jer. 5:28-29).
  4. He also disciplines their rulers (Dan. 2:20-21; Jer. 25:12; Dan. 4:27).
  5. In general, disobedience to human government is disobedience to God; indeed, government deserves not only obedience but honor (Rom. 13:1-2,7).
  6. But there are exceptions: Any governmental edict that contradicts the commands of God must be disobeyed (Acts 5:29; Dan. 3:18; Ex. 1:17,20-21).
  7. The just purposes of human government include the commendation of good, the punishment of evil, the maintenance of peace, and the protection of the oppressed (1 Pet. 2:13-14; 1 Tim. 2:1-2; Isa. 10:1-2).
  8. In pursuance of these purposes, God authorizes human government to use force on his behalf and in grave cases even to take life, though never deliberately to take the life of the innocent (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:3-4).
  9. Yet human government cannot fully or permanently redress wrong, because it cannot uproot sin from the human heart; this can be done only by the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ (Jer. 17:9; Isa. 64:6; Rom. 3:22-25).
  10. Moreover, the community of redemption is not the state but the church. No matter how much respect is due to the state, the church is never to be identified with it (John 18:33-36; Acts 20:28).

The pen and the keyboard

Charlotte Allen doesn't much care for the book she is reviewing about the disappearance of cursive handwriting, but she does use the opportunity to provide interesting information. For instance I had no idea (although I probably should have) that "italic" script originated in Italy.
.... During the 15th century, the Italian humanists developed a graceful script that slanted obliquely to the right and featured the joining of letters. This “italic” penmanship, one of whose virtues was that it allowed the writer to lift his pen from the page less frequently, and thus write even more speedily than the Gothic scribes, became the basis of modern cursive.
One of its offshoots was “copperplate,” so named because it was modeled after a hand used on copper engravings, whose clarity and delicate flourishes made it the dominant script of the 18th and 19th centuries in England and America (the signed fair copy of the Declaration of Independence was executed in copperplate), and it lives on among calligraphers. 
During the 1840s, an American, Platt Rogers Spencer, developed a simplified form of copperplate and also set up a school for teaching his new style of penmanship. Thanks to the energy of Spencer and his disciples, who traversed the American heartland promoting their invention, Spencerian script—most famously preserved in the Coca-Cola and Ford Motor Company logos—became the American standard until the 1920s, when the typewriter rendered it otiose for business correspondence and the Palmer method supplanted it in schools. Now, even the Palmer method—along with every other handwriting method—is on life support....
I’m now one of the few human beings I know who still corresponds with a pen on stationery. (Whether anyone can read what I write is a different story.) .... [more]
She writes that increasing numbers of school districts no longer teach cursive — concentrating instead on keyboarding.

It has been years since I wrote a letter in cursive and my handwriting is increasingly terrible. Even my signature is becoming less legible. Almost everything I write is through the keyboard even though I never learned touch typing. I don't miss writing in cursive but I would miss not being able to read it. It will be another sad disconnect with the past when we can't read our grandparents' letters and journals.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Horatio Hornblower

Historical fiction was what first interested me in history.  Authors like Kenneth Roberts and Bruce Lancaster and, more recently, Bernard Cornwell and George MacDonald Fraser, make learning history fun. Of course it is fiction and needs to be leavened by the work of historians, but the best authors of such fictions are careful to present a credible account. One of the first I encountered, probably in the Saturday Evening Post to which my parents subscribed, was C.S. Forester. I still enjoy re-reading his books about Horatio Hornblower and war at sea during the time of the French Revolution and Napoleon.

From the Library of Congress description of Forester's Hornblower series:
In 1927, C.S. Forester purchased three volumes of The Naval Chronicle from 1790 to 1820. For the Chronicle, officers of the Royal Navy wrote articles on strategy, seamanship, gunnery, and other professional topics of interest to their colleagues. The Chronicle for those years covered the wars with Napoleon. Reading these volumes and traveling by freighter from California to Central America allowed the germination of the character Horatio Hornblower as a member of the Royal Navy in the late eighteenth century. By the time Forester's journey brought him home to England, the former medical student-turned-writer had plotted Beat to Quarters, and it was published in 1937. A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours were published soon after, and in 1939 all three appeared as Captain Horatio Hornblower.

Forester's interest in the Romantic period and the political and military maneuvers of the early 1800s continued, and the Hornblower saga was produced. Subsequent volumes in the series were sequels to the original trilogy or filled in its gaps. The episodic quality of the novels is due partly to their having appeared serially in magazines, primarily the Saturday Evening Post.

Most of the books were written around the time of World War II, which influenced Forester to concentrate on strong military leaders and heroic deeds in the earlier world war he described. Hornblower's complexity has endeared him to readers. He is cynical but compassionate, courageous but not without fear. Self-conscious and socially unconfident, his marriage is a mismatch, and he finds himself in love with the Duke of Wellington's sister. Above all he is a consummate seaman, deserving of the loyalty of his men.

The achievement of Forester, who led a quiet, contemplative life and suffered from serious illness, was that in conjuring up person, period, and place—rousing sea battles, eventual shore life, England, France, Central America—he made it easy for readers to believe they were there. ....
The books, arranged not in the order written but chronologically according to Hornblower's experience — the order in which I would read them:

Book Title:

Date Published

Period Covered

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower


June, 1794-March, 1798

Lieutenant Hornblower


May, 1800-March, 1803

Hornblower and the Hotspur


April, 1803-July, 1805

Hornblower and the Atropos


October, 1805-January, 1808

Beat to Quarters


June-October, 1808

Ship of the Line


May-October, 1810

Flying Colors


November, 1810-June, 1811

Commodore Hornblower


May-October, 1812

Lord Hornblower


October, 1813-May, 1814

Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies


May, 1821-October, 1823
adapted from C.S. Forester, The Hornblower Companion: An Atlas and Personal Commentary on the Writing of the Hornblower Saga, 1964.

Here is a link to Amazon's The Horatio Hornblower Series. The page also has links to the Companion, the Gregory Peck film, and the A&E television series.

Worshiping worship rather than God

From the first chapter of Worship by the Book, by D.A. Carson:
.... Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it's a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.

This point is acknowledged in a praise chorus like "Let's forget about ourselves, and magnify the Lord, and worship him." The trouble is that after you have sung this repetitious chorus three or four times, you are no farther ahead. The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God—not by singing about doing it, but by doing it. There are far too few choruses and services and sermons that expand our vision of God—his attributes, his works, his character, his words. Some think that corporate worship is good because it is lively where it had been dull. But it may also be shallow where it is lively, leaving people dissatisfied and restless in a few months' time. Sheep lie down when they are well fed (cf. Ps 23:2); they are more likely to be restless when they are hungry. "Feed my sheep," Jesus commanded Peter (John 21); and many sheep are unfed. If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works. .... [D.A. Carson, Chapter 1: "Worship Under the Word," Worship by the Book.


All the thinkers who really think, and all the theorists whose theories seriously count, are growing more and more skeptical about the very existence of progress, and certainly about the desirability of this sort of self-swallowing and suicidal kind of progress. The notion that every generation proves worthless the last generation, and is in its turn proved worthless by the next generation, is an everlasting vista and vision of worthlessness which is fortunately itself worthless.”
G.K. Chesterton: “Are the Artists Going Mad?”

Monday, April 15, 2013

Worship under the Word

I was once responsible for planning worship and preaching for one of my denomination's annual conferences. One of my goals, only imperfectly realized, was to demonstrate by example that good worship — worship focused on God rather than self — could take place in any of a variety of worship styles. That seems to be the thesis of Worship by the Book, edited by D.A. Carson, with chapters by Mark Ashton, R. Kent Hughes and Timothy Keller. In the Preface, Carson writes:
This is not a comprehensive theology of worship. Still less is it a sociological analysis of current trends or a minister's manual chock full of "how to" instructions. We have not attempted detailed historical analyses of our respective traditions, nor have we devoted much space to interaction with other discussions. Rather, after a preliminary chapter on the biblical theology of worship, the remaining three chapters move from theological reflection to practical implementation of patterns of corporate worship in the local churches we represent. Complete service outlines are included, for many ministers will find the arguments more helpful and fruitful if they are fleshed out in detailed outlines. ....
.... What unites us is our strong commitment to the ministry of the Word; our respect for historical rootedness; and our deep commitment, nevertheless, to contemporaneity and solid engagement with unconverted, unchurched people. We are as suspicious of mere traditionalism as we are of cutesy relevance. What we provide is the theological reasoning that shapes our judgments in matters of corporate worship, along with examples that have emerged from our ministries. In each case we have tried to interact with our respective traditions without being padlocked to them. ....
In addition to the chapters there are extensive appendices. This looks like something that would be useful to any pastor or worship leader interested in, as the title of chapter 1 puts it, "Worship Under the Word."

"Unconditional" love?

Justin Taylor summarizes David Powlison in "Why We Shouldn’t Settle for God’s “Unconditional Love." From that post:
...David Powlison suggests that people who use the term often have good intentions, wanting to affirm four interrelated truths:
  1. “Conditional love” is bad—unconditional is shorthand for the opposite of manipulation, demand, judgmentalism.
  2. God’s love is patient—unconditional is shorthand for hanging on for the long haul, rather than bailing out when the going gets rough.
  3. True love is God’s gift—unconditional is shorthand for unearned blessings, rather than legalism.
  4. God receives you just as you are: sinful, suffering, confused—unconditional is shorthand for God’s invitation to rough, dirty, broken people.
These are true—and precious. But...
.... God’s love is more than unconditional, for it is intended to change those who receive it. “Unconditional” often connotes “you’re okay.” But there is something wrong with you. The word “unconditional” may well express the welcome of God, but it does not well express the point of his welcome. ....
Powlison says, “We can do better”:
Saying “God’s love is unconditional love” is a bit like saying “The sun’s light at high noon is a flashlight in a blackout.”
Come again?
A dim bulb sustains certain analogies to the sun.
Unconditional love does sustain certain analogies to God’s love.
But why not start with the blazing sun rather than the flashlight? ....
God does not accept me just as I am;
He loves me despite how I am ....

Sunday, April 14, 2013

For Spring

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolv’d and spreading wide,
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
A press of hurried notes that run
So fleet they scarce are more than one,
Yet changingly the trills repeat
And linger ringing while they fleet,
Sweet to the quick o’ the ear, and dear
To her beyond the handmaid ear,
Who sits beside our inner springs,
Too often dry for this he brings,
Which seems the very jet of earth
At sight of sun, her music’s mirth,
As up he wings the spiral stair,
A song of light, and pierces air
With fountain ardor, fountain play,
To reach the shining tops of day .... 
[The Lark Ascending]

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Not my will but Thine

Via The Wittenberg Door, some good thoughts about prayer from the In Christ Jesus site:
  1. Prayer, at its most basic level, is an expression of our dependence upon God.
  2. Our purpose in prayer is to glorify God by seeing him actively accomplish his will here on earth. God, not us, must be the center focus of all our prayers and it is his will and not our own that we must pursue.
  3. Submission and solitude are essential ingredients in Jesus’ prayer life and should be in ours.
  4. Our intention in prayer should be that we recognize how God is working in and through circumstances, rather than merely change them.
  5. Thankfulness for God’s movement in the lives of our brothers and sisters allows us the opportunity to see God’s work in others and helps us avoid self-absorption.
  6. Prayer for knowing God better, gaining special insight into our eternal hope, and for power to live for God’s glory should govern all other requests.
  7. When we pray, we should emphasize a growing love for one another, pure and blameless living, and all that accommodates our maturity in Christ.
  8. A depth of insight into the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love for us can only be gained by prayer.
  9. God is more interested in us than in what we want and he occasionally denies our requests so that his glory and our good will be optimal.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Complicating the usual narrative

Paul Rahe notes an anniversary. One hundred years ago today segregation came to the federal government — advocated by the "reality-based" progressives of that day. Rahe:
President Woodrow Wilson
One hundred years ago today, Woodrow Wilson brought Jim Crow to the North. He had been inaugurated on March 4, 1913. At a cabinet meeting on April 11, his postmaster general, Albert S. Burleson, suggested that the new administration segregate the railway mail service; and treasury secretary William G. McAdoo, who would soon become Wilson’s son-in-law, chimed in to signal his support. Wilson followed their lead. ....

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, ordinary Americans may generally have been in the grips of ethnic prejudice of one sort or another. The Progressives of that time were not, however, ordinary men, and they knew it. Like their successors today, they dominated America’s universities. With some justification, they thought of themselves as an intellectual elite; and, with rare exceptions, they enthusiastically embraced eugenics and racial theory. That the inchoate racial prejudices of their contemporaries were grounded in fact they took to be a truth taught by science; and, being devotees of rational administration to the exclusion of all other concerns, they insisted that public policy conform to the dictates of the new racial science.

Wilson, our first professorial president, was a case in point. He was the very model of a modern Progressive, and he was recognized as such. He prided himself on having pioneered the new science of rational administration, and he shared the conviction, dominant among his brethren, that African-Americans were racially inferior to whites. With the dictates of Social Darwinism and the eugenics movement in mind, in 1907, he campaigned in Indiana for the compulsory sterilization of criminals and the mentally retarded; and in 1911, while governor of New Jersey, he proudly signed into law just such a bill.

Prior to the segregation of the civil service in 1913, appointments had been made solely on merit as indicated by the candidate’s performance on the civil-service examination. Thereafter, racial discrimination became the norm. Photographs came to be required at the time of application, and African-Americans knew they would not be hired. The existing work force was segregated. Many African-Americans were dismissed. In the postal service, others were transferred to the dead-letter office, where they had no contact with the general public. Those who continued to work in municipal post offices labored behind screens — out of sight and out of mind. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Independent Political League objected to the new policy, Wilson — a Presbyterian elder who was nothing if not high-minded — vigorously defended it, arguing that segregation was in the interest of African-Americans. For 35 years, segregation in the civil service would be public policy. It was only after Adolf Hitler gave eugenics and “scientific racism” a bad name that segregation came to seem objectionable. .... [more]

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Letters to Malcolm

Kindle Deal of the Day: Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis. $2.99.
In this collection of letters from C.S. Lewis to a close friend, Malcolm, we see an intimate side of Lewis as he considers all aspects of prayer and how this singular ritual impacts the lives and souls of the faithful. With depth, wit, and intelligence, as well as his sincere sense of a continued spiritual journey, Lewis brings us closer to understanding the role of prayer in our lives and the ways in which we might better imagine our relationship with God.
Actually, I think, Malcolm was an invention and the "letters" a device to say what Lewis wanted to say about prayer. Good book.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Chronological snobbery

From the G.K. Chesterton Facebook page:
This is the only period in all human history when people are proud of being modern. For though today is always today and the moment is always modern, we are the only men in all history who fall back upon bragging about the mere fact that today is not yesterday. I fear that some one in the future will explain that we had precious little else to brag about.

~G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, 3/12/32.

For readers and researchers

The Digital Public Library of America launches on April 18.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher, RIP

“Being democratic is not enough, a majority cannot turn what is wrong into right. In order to be considered truly free, countries must also have a deep love of liberty and an abiding respect for the rule of law.”

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)

Probably no conclusion should be drawn...

Hitler, who was a teetotaler, had very low opinion of Winston Churchill: in an opinion he repeated often he said Sir Winston was an "undisciplined swine who is drunk eight hours out of every twenty-four."

Today, in response to Margaret Thatcher's death, an Argentine newspaper opined that one of the reasons for her ill health was that the victor of the Falklands War "had suffered the ravages of too many gin and tonics,"

During the American Civil War, when someone complained to him that Grant was a drunk, Lincoln responded "Find out what Grant drinks and send a barrel of it to each of my other generals!"

On a 300th anniversary

Dr. Ron Davis has provided more information about Joseph Stennett, the first Baptist hymnwriter — and a seventh-day Sabbatarian — in a Facebook entry:
Joseph Stennett (1663-1713), the first significant Baptist hymnwriter, died 300 year ago. Dr. Isaac Watt's Hymns and Scriptural Songs in Three Books (1707) contained Joseph Stennett hymns. Dr. John Rippon's A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors (1787) contained both Joseph Stennett and Samuel Stennett hymns. Samuel Stennett (1728-1795), Joseph Stennett's grandson, was a contemporary of Rippon in London, and sometimes they served as pulpit supply at one another's churches. The Rippon hymnal went through numerous editions and was the hymnal most used by Baptists in early America. The Stennett hymns were frequently sung into the late 19th century....

Edward Stennett (Joseph Stennett's father), Joseph Stennett, and Samuel Stennett, all served as Seventh Day Baptist pastors, and all were also writers. ....

.... My oldest psalter book is from 1763, my oldest Stennett book from 1732. The latter is volume one of four volumes of his written works published posthumously as The Works of the late Reverend and Learned Mr. Joseph Stennett. I would love to own volume four which contains fifty of his hymns for Communion. Thirty-seven of these Communion hymns were originally published in the 17th century (in 1697).
Dr. Davis provides some examples of Joseph Stennett's hymns including these verses:
Glory to God on high be giv'n,
Who shews this grace to sinful men:
Let saints on earth, and hosts of heav'n,
In concert join their loud amen.
Whenever One Sinner Turns To God, stanza 7

Awake my mind: awake my song;
Awake my heart; awake my tongue;
Join with the grateful praising throng;
In offerings to our common Lord.

Wherever fleeting winds can blow,
Wherever swelling waves can flow,
Where beast can rove, or plants can grow,
All creatures praise his name with one accord.
An Hymn
Joseph Stennett at Wikipedia

Sunday, April 7, 2013


A Lutheran friend writes
"...[W]e now have our second service every week with a praise band singing what I think are actually fairly dreary songs. I won’t go into all of my complaints, but I now am going to the first service.

.... I find the contemporary services boring, and just Christian-lite. The texts are sometimes called 7/11 — seven words heard eleven times. It also ignores the church eternal by just using contemporary songs and texts, ignoring the vast history of church music and texts that go back millennia. Our benediction used to be the Aaronic Blessing (“The Lord bless you and keep you, …”) but I haven’t heard that for a long time. ...."
There is a fascinating trend in evangelical circles — a rediscovery of liturgy. ....
A leader in this is Aaron Niequist, a worship leader at Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Ill., one of the best-known evangelical megachurches. While serving as worship pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., he became restless and bored with the typical four rock songs and a sermon pattern that had come to dominate evangelical/contemporary worship.
Niequist began to explore adding other elements to worship: multiple Scripture readings; reworkings of classic hymns; call and response songs. He said they were making it up as they went but soon discovered that Christians have been doing these “new” things in worship for centuries. So he began a journey to understand and present liturgy for 21st century worshipers.
A result is “A New Liturgy”, four worship settings that draw on his musical skills and instrumentation of the 21st century and are rooted in his continued study of Christian liturgical traditions.... [more]
I haven't listened to the four linked liturgies yet but I admire the intention.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

How large should a congregation be?

An early Baptist on the most important criterion for the size of a church:
“A church ought not to consist of such a multitude as cannot have particular knowledge one of another,” Thomas Helwys, founder of the first Baptist church in England — a congregation that some scholars estimate numbered about 10 members — wrote in the 1600s.
“The members of every church or congregation ought to know one another, so that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another, both to soul and body,” Helwys wrote. “And especially the elders ought to know the whole flock, whereof the Holy Ghost hath made them overseers.” .... [more]

Friday, April 5, 2013

"April is the cruellest month..."

Micah Mattix on the first line of Eliot's The Waste Land:
...Eliot’s “April is the cruellest month” is not so much about his conflicted response to spring (rooted in some forgotten childhood trauma) or about creating a linguistic puzzle to help us develop our skills of attention but about hope.
What makes April cruel in the poem (among other things) is that the hope of new life that spring evokes is, at least for Eliot at the time, always temporal. Unfulfilled hope is the worst sort of pain, and the speaker of the poem initially claims that it is preferable to live in winter, covered in “forgetful snow.” Yet the rest of the poem is largely an act of remembering, as lines, characters, and scenes from the Bible, The Divine Comedy, Metamorphoses, Les Fleurs du mal, Augustine, Spenser, and Shakespeare are trotted out in an effort to temporarily recapture something of what Eliot considered the West’s vibrant (Christian) past.
So we discover, if hope is always temporal, it is also inescapable. As sure as April returns every year, we cannot cease to hope. There is something in us that pushes us to hope in some final consummation, some final life in which there is no winter, no death. Thus, hope in an eternal spring is a fact of the human mind, and this fact either points to nothing, which makes us the most miserable of all the animals; or, as Eliot would later believe, it is a fact that corresponds to a spiritual reality, no less real for having no exact material equivalent. .... [more]

The Reverend Ames

Friends keep telling me I should read this book and for some perverse reason I keep procrastinating [I did buy it]. Philip Ryken on Marilynne Robinson's Gilead:
.... The Reverend Ames is honest about the challenges of ministry, familiar to any pastor. He complains about church meetings ("just a few people came, and absolutely nothing was accomplished"). He confesses how hard it is to love his sheep ("After a while I did begin to wonder if I liked the church better with no people in it"). ....

.... The same people who suddenly change the subject when they see the minister coming, Ames says, will "come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things"—the dread, the guilt, and the loneliness that lie under the surface of life.

In each pastoral encounter, Ames has sought to discern what the Lord is asking of him "in this moment, in this situation." Even if he has to deal with someone who is difficult, that person is "an emissary sent from the Lord," who affords him "the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me."

Over the course of a lifetime in ministry, addressing a wide range of spiritual needs, the Reverend Ames has learned that trying to prove the existence of God is an ineffective strategy for dealing with spiritual doubt. "Nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense," he believes. In fact, "the attempt to defend belief can unsettle it" because "there is always an inadequacy in argument about ultimate things."

He has also learned how to answer the questions that people have thought about the torment of hell, which he believes the Bible characterizes primarily as separation from God: "If you want to inform yourselves as to the nature of hell, don't hold your hand in a candle flame, just ponder the meanest, most desolate place in your soul." .... [more]

Thursday, April 4, 2013


I long thought of myself as painfully shy and socially inept. Some of my most humiliating memories are about reacting inappropriately in unanticipated — and thus unplanned for — encounters and circumstances. If my self-diagnosis had included the possibility that I am an introvert I might have been more comfortable with myself — or not. In any event I understand my behavior a lot better since becoming more familiar with  the category. A friend posted this on Facebook and it's good:

Related: "I hate small talk" and "The world is run by extraverts"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"If the Son sets you free..."

A consideration of "Hunger Games and Dystopia" begins with two earlier dystopias — ones I read in high school [does that still happen?] — representing very different conceptions of "freedom." Is freedom, properly understood, simply the freedom to choose? Andrew Wilson:
George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, as has often been pointed out, imagined two very different dystopias. In 1984, written just after the Second World War, Orwell depicts the forces that held people captive as fundamentally external: coercion, espionage, laws, constraints, threats, lies, the state. By contrast, Huxley’s Brave New World, published just after the Wall Street crash had turned the excess of the twenties into the Great Depression of the thirties, portrays a future in which people are enslaved to forces within themselves: desire, inanity, hedonism, egotism, fatuity. For all the similarities between the two books, it is this difference that is the most striking.
In the modern West, people generally think of slavery, captivity, and the need for liberation in Orwell’s sense, rather than Huxley’s. Our vision of freedom is primarily socio-political, with the greatest threat to human flourishing being the other, whether the Nazi, the slave-owner, or the autocrat. Oppression comes through pain, not pleasure; the essence of liberty is to be without external constraint. Humans are free if they are able to choose, to will their own future, to decide for themselves what they will do with their lives. By this definition, modern Westerners are all free, with the exception of prisoners and the incapacitated.
Many of the ancients saw things more like Huxley. In what could be called a more religious or philosophical vision of liberty, the greatest threat to human flourishing is the lack of wisdom, phronesis, or virtue. Whereas moderns understand freedom in terms of unconstrained individual choices, many ancients regarded the forces underlying individual choices—passions and desires which might in turn be foolish, selfish, or carnal, much like those depicted in Brave New World—as something from which people needed to be freed.  ....
The essence of eleutheria, in the vision of writers from Aristotle to St. Paul, was being free to become what one was originally designed to be, rather than simply being free to make decisions (decisions which, of course, might stunt one’s progress towards ultimate fulfillment). Thus humans could be enslaved, not just to the other, but to the self. One needs redemption from the flesh as much as from the powers. Under such a vision of liberty, modern Westerners might not be as free as we would like to think.
.... The fact that the state is best equipped to promote political freedom, which I take for granted, does not mean that it is the only sort of freedom there is.
The Judeo-Christian tradition holds both types of liberation—from the other and from the self—together, with its repeated emphasis on the concept of redemption. Israel is set free from slavery in Egypt through the Exodus, but immediately requires rescuing from her carnality and idolatrous desires in the wilderness. The prophet Isaiah describes the political redemption from Babylon that Judah will experience (chapters 41-48), and then looks forward to the spiritual redemption from sin that will follow (chapters 49-55). Jesus himself articulates his mission in Isaianic terms, promising both freedom for captives and forgiveness for sinners. .... [more]

"A Christian who confidently denies the resurrection is an oxymoron"

Stephen Rankin, University Chaplain at SMU, on "Christian" resurrection deniers:
.... This time every year we get a slew of magazine articles, TV “documentaries” and (now) blog posts and Twitter comments about the believability of Jesus’ resurrection.

Lots of good possibilities for serious give-and-take between believers and non-believers.  I love talking to honest skeptics.

But there’s one group I admit I’ve grown weary of: Christian resurrection-deniers.  Not resurrection deniers in general, but those who claim to follow Jesus, who blithely assert that thinking people simply cannot believe the hocus pocus about Jesus rising bodily from the dead.  If resurrection means anything, so this line of thinking goes, it can only have metaphorical/symbolic significance.

Let me narrow my charge a little more.  A Christian struggling intellectually with belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection, who honestly wants to know the truth and pursues it with transparent intensity and a willingness to learn; for this kind of Christian I have utmost respect.  After all, one of the major characteristics of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection is how Jesus’ own followers doubted!  But the easy, breezy, smooth-talking, read-the-latest-John Spong-Marcus Borg-Dominic Crossan-and-now-we-know-what-really-happened  Christian, tries my patience mightily. A Christian who confidently denies the resurrection is an oxymoron.

I repeat: it is not argumentation, doubt or critique of the resurrection that bothers me.  It is the facile dismissal – by Christians! – of a central belief of our faith. .... [more]

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How should the Narnia Chronicles be read?

Should the Narnia books be read in the order they were written or according to their place in the chronology of Narnia? Opinions differ and dubious claims have been made that Lewis himself preferred the latter. Alister McGrath, in my opinion, argues persuasively for the former:
.... The most significant difficulty concerns The Magician's Nephew, the last in the series to be written, which describes the early history of Narnia. To read this work first completely destroys the literary integrity of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which emphasises the mysteriousness of Aslan. It introduces him slowly and carefully, building up a sense of expectation that is clearly based on the assumption that the readers know nothing of the name, identity, or significance of this magnificent creature. In his role as narrator within The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis declares, "None of the children knew who Asian was any more than you do." But anyone who has read The Magician's Nephew already knows a lot about Asian. The gradual disclosure of the mysteries of Narnia—one of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's most impressive literary features—is spoiled and subverted by a prior reading of The Magician's Nephew.

Equally important, the complex symbolic structure of the Chronicles of Narnia is best appreciated through a later reading of The Magician' Nephew. This is most helpful when it is placed (following the order of publication) as the sixth of the seven volumes, with The Last Battle as the conclusion. .... (Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, 2013.)

Surprised By Joy

At you can buy the Kindle edition of C.S, Lewis's spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, for $2.99:
"A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere... God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous."
This book is not an autobiography. It is not a confession. It is, however, certainly one of the most beautiful and insightful accounts of a person coming to faith. Here, C.S. Lewis takes us from his childhood in Belfast through the loss of his mother, to boarding school and a youthful atheism in England, to the trenches of World War I, and then to Oxford, where he studied, read, and, ultimately, reasoned his way back to God. It is perhaps this aspect of Surprised by Joy that we—believers and nonbelievers—find most compelling and meaningful; Lewis was searching for joy, for an elusive and momentary sensation of glorious yearning, but he found it, and spiritual life, through the use of reason.
In this highly personal, thoughtful, intelligent memoir, Lewis guides us toward joy and toward the surprise that awaits anyone who seeks a life beyond the expected. .... Christianity Today [as quoted at Amazon]

Monday, April 1, 2013

"But not the same mistakes"

I am still less than halfway through Alister McGrath's C.S. Lewis - A Life partly because he keeps reminding me of, and sending me back to, something Lewis wrote. Today to an essay, "On the Reading of Old Books":
.... Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook — even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united — united with each other and against earlier and later ages — by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century — the blindness about which posterity will ask, 'But how could they have thought that?'— lies where we have never suspected it.... None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them. .... "On the Reading of Old Books"
C.S. Lewis, "On the Reading of Old Books," God in the Dock, 1970.



Kathryn Greene-McCreight, who suffers from depression, in Christianity Today, "Light When All is Dark":
Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick;
you are my strength when I need help;
you are life itself when I fear death;
you are the way when I long for heaven;
you are light when all is dark;
you are my food when I need nourishment.
—Ambrose of Milan (340-397)
....In his Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis says that suffering is uniquely difficult for the Christian, for the one who believes in a good God. If there were no good God to factor into the equation, suffering would still be painful, but ultimately meaningless, because random. For the Christian, who believes in the crucified and risen Messiah, suffering is always meaningful. It is meaningful because of the one in whose suffering we participate, Jesus. This is neither to say, of course, that suffering will be pleasant, nor that it should be sought. Rather, in the personal suffering of the Christian, one finds a correlate in Christ's suffering, which gathers up our tears and calms our sorrows and points us toward his resurrection.

In the midst of a major mental illness, we are often unable to sense the presence of God at all. Sometimes all we can feel is the complete absence of God, utter abandonment by God, the sheer ridiculousness of the very notion of a loving and merciful God. This cuts to the very heart of the Christian and challenges everything we believe about the world and ourselves. ....

Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being "down." .... When I am depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts. ....

And yet the Christian faith has a word of real hope, especially for those who suffer mentally. Hope is found in the risen Christ. Suffering is not eliminated by his resurrection, but transformed by it. Christ's resurrection kills even the power of death, and promises that God will wipe away every tear on that final day. But we still have tears in the present. We still die. In God's future, however, death itself will die. ....

The hope of the Resurrection is not just optimism, but keeps the Christian facing ever toward the future, not merely dwelling in the present. .... All Creation will be redeemed from pain and woe. In my bouts with mental illness, this understanding of Christian hope gives comfort and encouragement, even if no relief from symptoms. Sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Tears will be wiped away. Even fractious brains will be restored.
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of your glory and dominion, world without end. —John Donne (1572-1631)

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

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

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

Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.
Light When All Is Dark | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction, Sometimes a Light Surprises