Monday, September 30, 2013

Augustine of Hippo

Not long ago a friend recommended Peter Brown's biography of Augustine of Hippo. Rather perversely, I tend to resist the recommendations of friends [I stupidly put off reading Lord of the Rings for several years just because it was recommended so enthusiastically]. I have succumbed to this recommendation.

Justin Taylor has been publishing the "5 Recommended Biographies" of a number of well-known history professors. A couple have included the Augustine biography:
George Marsden:
"A classic work and a great exposition of the man and of his era."
Allen Guelzo:
"A stupendously erudite re-creation, not only of Augustine, but of the entire world of late antiquity."
Mark Noll made it a runner-up to his top five.
And then, today:
Fred Sanders:
"Exquisitely well written, Brown’s book rises above merely reporting the stages along the way of Augustine’s life—though it narrates them well, so readers who need the basic facts can use this as an introduction—and somehow lets the reader empathize with Augustine at each of his different ages. They’re all here: the wild youth who wanted “chastity...but not yet,” the ladder-climbing young professor of rhetoric, the idealistic convert, the pastor who had to adapt his theology to the needs of the masses, the celebrity bishop pushed into more and more responsibility, and the consolidator of Christian orthodoxy as the lights of Rome were winking out."
Douglas Sweeney:
"Brown has spent his career recreating the world of late antiquity. This biography places our most fecund doctor of the church in that context beautifully."
The book is available at Amazon: Augustine of Hippo: A Biography and is apparently going to be re-published in November. I found it, for less expense, at Alibris.

Friday, September 27, 2013

"Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal."

From Allen Guelzo's Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, in the evening, after the fighting had ended on the second terrible day of battle:
...George Hillyer of the 9th Georgia heard someone in McLaws' division begin singing, and loudly enough to be heard over both exhausted lines:
Come, ye disconsolate, where e'er ye languish
Come to the mercy seat fervently kneel
Here bring your wounded hearts, Here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.
Hillyer wrote years later that he had "heard...much that the world applauds in the way of high grade music, but...I have never heard music like that." The voice quavered through hymns and songs, and finally finished its impromptu serenade with "When This Cruel War Is Over." Across the now silent battlefield, "thousands of soldiers on both sides clapped and cheered."
Gettysburg: The Last Invasion

"Light such a never be put out"

At the wonderfully named blog, The Anxious Bench, Philip Jenkins has been posting a fascinating series about the evolving content of the Biblical canon. Today [in a post that also relates to my recent reading about the origins of the Book of Common Prayer] he writes about a famous moment in the English Reformation that references a book that has disappeared from Protestant Bibles:
Martyrs' Cross, outside Balliol College, Oxford
In October, 1555, the regime of Mary Tudor burned two former English bishops for their stubborn Protestant convictions. As they went to the flames, one of the martyrs, Hugh Latimer, addressed his comrade, Nicholas Ridley, in stirring terms that have inspired successive Protestant generations. He urged him, “Be of good cheer, master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.” (Note: Cranmer was also burned at the stake in Oxford about five months later.)

The words are celebrated, their source less so. As virtually nobody remembers today, Latimer was quoting the Biblical text which in the King James version would become “I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out, till the things be performed which thou shalt begin to write.” 2 Esdras/Fourth Ezra, 14.25, a book that is no longer included in Protestant Bibles. The disappearance of that text offers a surprising commentary on changing concepts of the Biblical canon. ....

From the sixteenth century, 2 Esdras was generally demoted to apocryphal status, but that did not mean that it disappeared from Christian usage, or from Bibles. It was for instance included in the Zurich Bible of 1529. In Protestant England, although it was printed in the section clearly labeled as “Apocrypha,” it was still clearly read as a Biblical text, with the same font, the same format of chapter and verse style. That was true both of the Geneva Bible and the later King James. Placing this section between Old and New Testament had the unforeseen consequence of suggesting that they represented a bridge between the two portions of the Bible. ....

Like other apocryphal books, 2 Esdras continued to appear in English Protestant Bibles into the nineteenth century. At that point though, publishers began excluding the apocrypha. The key date was 1826, when the British and Foreign Bible Society declared that it would not fund future printings of the Bible that included the Apocrypha. Subsequently, these books largely dropped out of the Protestant consciousness. Modern Protestant Bibles make not the slightest nod to the apocrypha that would have been so familiar to (say) Shakespeare and Milton. .... [more]

"I can sing the Creed, but I can't say it"

I am reading Alan Jacobs' The "Book of Common Prayer": A Biography and have reached the point where Jacobs describes an unanticipated result of the Anglo-Catholic effort to revive earlier forms of worship. Cranmer hoped that use of the Book of Common Prayer would turn the worshipers attention to the meaning of the words in the language they understood. This 19th century liturgical reform may have had the opposite effect:
...[T]heir efforts did indeed lead to a renewal of interest in and commitment to the prayer book. But with their relentless focus on bodies and objects as symbolic conveyors of spiritual truth—their insistence on what Neale called the Sacramentalist principle that by "the outward and visible form, is signified something inward and spiritual: that the material fabrick symbolizes, embodies, figures, represents, expresses, answers to, some abstract meaning"—they limited the words of the prayer book to an ancillary role. This limitation was reinforced by the AngloCatholic preference for sung services whenever they were possible—sung Eucharists and Evensongs especially, which allow the specific language of the prayers to disappear into a sensuous impressionism constructed primarily through architecture, incense, vestments, and melody. ('Thus the line attributed to various rebellious Anglicans, most commonly to the twentieth-century American bishop James Pike: "I can sing the Creed, but I can't say it")

All this...can feel quite distant from Cranmer's belief in the power of words to convey theological truth, and his consequent insistence that priests should enunciate their prayers clearly and "in a loud voice." The auditory churches of the Restoration era did much to capture this impulse, even as they neglected much of the ceremonial power of the pre-Reformation church, but in justifiably seeking to restore those ceremonies, the Ritualists may have erred in the opposite direction. They transformed Cranmer's powerful words into a kind of ambient music, often heard without acknowledgment, received aesthetically but not necessarily with the ear of understanding. (emphasis added)
Alan Jacobs, The "Book of Common Prayer": A Biography, pp. 146-147

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"A distant echo of Paradise"

Reviewing Sir John Eliot Gardiner's Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, Daniel Johnson asks "Is Bach the Voice of God in Music?":
.... Christianity is central to Bach's music, not just because his was a deeply religious time and place, but because only a composer who saw music-making literally as worship could have produced works of such a kind and on such a scale. Bach annotated his copy of the Calov Bible, now preserved in Leipzig, with 348 marginalia, including the following, which might serve as his credo: "NB. Wherever there is devotional music, God with his grace is always present." ....

Bach's God, however benign, does not believe in letting humanity take it easy. ....Bach never believed that his was the best of all possible worlds: on the contrary, its suffering was made tolerable only by redemption at the hands of Jesus, "the man of sorrows." .... Gardiner contends that the two Bach Passions, especially the later St Matthew Passion, belong squarely in the grand tradition of classical tragedy that extends from the Greeks to Shakespeare, Racine and beyond. .... "Bach set in motion a new burgeoning of the genre, leading his listeners to confront their mortality and compelling them to witness things from which they would normally avert their eyes." ....

.... For Bach, invention was not the same as creation — only God could create ex nihilo — but was rather "an uncovering of possibilities already there." Asked for his secret, the old cantor is reported by his first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel (who was writing within living memory), to have replied that it was just bloody hard work: "I was obliged to be industrious; whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well." ....

.... Bach's humanity is inseparable from his faith in God's mercy. Blind, crippled by a stroke and dying, he dictated his "deathbed" chorale BWV 668a, Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein ("When we are in desperate straits"), which directly addresses God: "Turn not Thy gracious countenance / From me, a poor sinner." Nothing, it is safe to say, could be less congenial to the "Olympian" mentality of modern man. "It is Bach," Gardiner defiantly declares, "making music in the Castle of Heaven, who gives us the voice of God — in human form." For that reason Bach must remain a closed book to those for whom the category of divinity is meaningless, and hence deny that it is possible "to make divine things human and human things divine". Music — even Bach's music — cannot be "divine" unless God is a presence, unseen and perhaps unconscious, in our lives. We instinctively reach for theological metaphors when we experience the numinous quality of sacred art and music. But for these words to mean anything, we must have at least some confidence that the universe itself has meaning. Bach puts us back in touch with that numinous, on occasion even visceral, presence of the divine. And this involuntary response tells us that there is something transcendental within us, at the very core of our being, that recognises itself in this music. We are made in the image of God, the Bible tells us; in the same way, our music is a distant echo of Paradise.

Bach's achievement is so colossal, so immortal, that it can obscure the fact of mortality, the finitude of humanity, which music exists to make bearable. We who doubt, as Bach himself doubted, the promise of eternal life can take comfort from music that gives us a foretaste of God's love. .... A musical legacy that encompasses all human life but also transcends it was bequeathed to us by Bach. Under Gardiner's expert guidance, the gates are thrown open to Bach's castle in heaven — a place that, like the isle in Shakespeare's Tempest, "is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not". By hearkening to a music that is not quite of this world, we are granted an intimation of the next. [more]

The true spirit of conservatism

Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot was my introduction to Burkean conservatism and to political philosophy generally. I read it in a lawn-chair outside my parents house one summer, probably after my first year in college. It led to reading Burke himself and then many others. From a Washington Free Beacon article, "Preaching Prudence":
Russell Kirk’s seminal work The Conservative Mind is still relevant 60 years after it first was published and offers a useful critique of parts of today’s Republican party....

Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs, Matthew Spalding, director of Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center, and Peter Wehner, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, reflected on Kirk’s argument and the application of his ideas to today’s policy challenges....

“Kirk was a great proponent of prudence,” Wehner said. “Hasty innovations may be a devouring conflagration rather than a torch of progress,” he said, quoting Kirk.

Kirk's book actually named the nascent conservative movement of the early 1950s....

“Conservatives need to reacquaint themselves with the true spirit of conservatism, which is reform-minded, empirical, anti-utopian, and somewhat modest in its expectations,” Wehner said. “It doesn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. It doesn’t treat political opponents as enemies, and it isn’t in a state of constant agitation.”

“The perfect must not be allowed to become the enemy of the good…but the perfect should be the guide of the good, the lodestar,” Levin argued. .... (more)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A life of C.S. Lewis

This morning Trevin Wax recommends Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, available as a Kindle edition for only $2.99. I've owned this biography, written by George Sayer, a personal friend and former student of Lewis, ever since it was first published in 1988 as Jack: C.S. Lewis and His Times. It is quite good, although more recent biographies like Alan Jacobs' or Alister McGrath's are too, and may be more objective. But if you want to know more about Lewis' life this is a good [and inexpensive] place to begin.

From the book:
He was a heavily built man who looked about forty, with a fleshy oval face and a ruddy complexion. His black hair had retreated from his forehead, which made him especially imposing. I knew nothing about him, except that he was the college English tutor. I did not know that he was the best lecturer in the department, nor had I read the only book that he had published under his own name (hardly anyone had). Even after I had been taught by him for three years, it never entered my mind that he could one day become an author whose books would sell at the rate of about two million copies a year. Since he never spoke of religion while I was his pupil, or until we had become friends fifteen years later, it would have seemed incredible that he would become the means of bringing many back to the Christian faith. Astonishing, too, that this almost unknown academic should become a popular broadcaster whose talks would play a valuable part in sustaining British morale during the darkest hours of the war.

Although I became a friend of Lewis, I never got to the bottom of him. My object in this book is to present the factual background to the motivation and character of a remarkable man who has had, and is having, a profound effect on the modern world.
Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How did Jesus become a God?

From an an interesting review of How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? by Larry Hurtado. Did an understanding of Jesus' divinity evolve over time in the early Church or was it there from the beginning?
Anyone who explores the high Christology in John is forced to ask how it would have (or could have) emerged within a monotheistic context.  How could early Jews have believed in the one true God of Israel, and also have believed that Jesus was also divine? ....

Early Christians drew a sharp line between their worship of Jesus and all the other pagan gods of the Greco-Roman world. Jesus was not simply a new addition to a pantheon of gods they already believed in, but was considered to be the only God rightly deserving of worship. ....

The exclusive nature of such worship is monotheistic at the core and suggests a Jewish origin, not a pagan-Gentile one. It is such remarkable devotion to Jesus, within a monotheistic context, that demands some sort of serious historical explanation. Hurtado declares, “But it was a major and unprecedented move for people influenced by the exclusive monotheistic stance of Second-Temple Judaism to include another figure singularly alongside God as the recipient of cultic devotion in their worship gatherings” ....

Hurtado concludes, therefore, that the earliest devotion to Jesus was in some sense “binitarian.” Christians worshiped Jesus not as a second god, but worshiped him alongside the one true God of the Jews. Such a radical and astounding “mutation” within early monotheistic Judaism cannot be accounted for, argues Hurtado, by the evolutionary model (or, for that matter, most other current models). ....

Overall, this volume by Hurtado continues to expand his already compelling argument that worship of Jesus was a remarkably early innovation that demands rigorous historical investigation. ....

...[H]e has succeeded in shifting the terms of the debate over the origins of Christianity and the nature of the historical Jesus. Instead of getting drawn into endless discussions about historical sources, redaction criticism, and the like, Hurtado has refreshingly streamlined the discussion by asking simple questions about the origins of the beliefs and practices of early Christians. Such beliefs and practices cannot simply be observed by the modern scholar but they demand historical explanations for their existence. It is at this point that the biblical explanation (early Christians experienced the resurrection of Jesus) shows itself to be the most compelling. [more]

Monday, September 23, 2013

Childlike, not childish

Aaron Earle believes that good children's books never lose their value:
The books that you read as a child – those that touch you and shape your perspective on life – are often the best you will ever read. And not simply for the sake of nostalgia.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” The reverse is obviously true. A book worth reading as a child is one whose worth stretches into adulthood.

So how do we write in such a way that captures the essence of what makes great children's literature great no matter the age of our audience? The answer is not in writing childish – those are the books that aren't worth reading as a child.

Instead, we should write childlike. ....
And he proceeds to suggest three ways, the first of which is "Speak to, not down." More.

The perhaps controversial book on the right was my choice as an illustration, primarily for "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Safety isn't a virtue

Mollie Hemingway was dismayed when some of her neighbors objected to kids starting a lawn-mowing business because it would be unsafe. Her reaction: "What Your Neighborhood List-Serv Tells You About The Demise of America," from which:
.... Many parents just can’t accept the reality that we’re not in as much control of our children as we wish. Last week my nephew went to an outdoor camp in Colorado with the rest of his 5th-grade class. They were supposed to stay just one night. Floods hit the region, the roads washed out and filled with boulders. There was nothing anyone could do. After being stranded for three days, the parents heard about plans to airlift the kids out via Chinook helicopter. That plan was halted when some parents complained it was too dangerous. Who knew that helicopter parents would be threatened by actual helicopters?

Never mind that riding on a Chinook would be the adventure of a lifetime for a 10-year-old. Perhaps because there were no other reasonable options, the airlift commenced the next day. Every child survived and my nephew reported that “No one ever had so much fun in a natural disaster.”

Look, I’m a mother. I care deeply about my children’s safety. But safety is just one important thing to teach our children. And it’s not even anywhere near the most important thing. Keeping your kids from dying or getting hurt is of secondary importance to teaching them how to live. Safety isn’t even a virtue. If you’re teaching your kids more about safety than you are about honesty, kindness, respect for others, responsibility, gratitude, integrity, cooperation, determination, social skills, enthusiasm, compassion and manners, you’re doing it wrong. ....[more]
What Your Neighborhood List-Serv Tells You About The Demise of America | The Federalist, Helicopter Parents Fear Helicopters

Where the good way is

Thus says the LORD:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Jeremiah 6:16
.... Resisting rest is nothing new. For centuries, God has been calling out to His people and inviting them to live the good life, to trust in Him, and to find rest for their souls. Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 11:28. Life with God—the good life, the ancient paths on which we were meant to live—leads to life that gives rest to our souls.

It’s a life without anxiety and a life of true soul rest because we’re embraced and approved by the One whose opinion matters most—the Father who made us. .... [more]

A new book about The Book of Common Prayer

I have not only profited by reading the work of Alan Jacobs, — from various essays to his biography of C.S. Lewis, The Narnian, and his history of Original Sin — I have also thoroughly enjoyed reading him. I just ordered his newest book, one that I have been anticipating, The "Book of Common Prayer": A Biography. From the description at Amazon:
While many of us are familiar with such famous words as, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here..." or "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," we may not know that they originated with The Book of Common Prayer, which first appeared in 1549. Like the words of the King James Bible and Shakespeare, the language of this prayer book has saturated English culture and letters. Here Alan Jacobs tells its story. Jacobs shows how The Book of Common Prayer—from its beginnings as a means of social and political control in the England of Henry VIII to its worldwide presence today—became a venerable work whose cadences express the heart of religious life for many. ....
From Jacobs' first chapter, in which he describes how The Book of Common Prayer came to be — the rather dangerous political context, Cranmer's theological goals, and how he intended to transform worship in English:
.... After centuries of liturgical prayers being muttered in low tones, and in a language unknown to the people, the new model demands audible English. After this prayer comes a beautiful exchange taken from Psalm 51: the priest says, "O Lord, open thou my lips," and the people reply, "And my mouth shall skew forth thy praise." Then "O God, make speed to save me" calls forth the answer, "O Lord, make hastc to help me." Such echoes and alternations are intrinsic to the structure of liturgical prayer: praise and petition, gratitude and need. The whole of the Matins service repeatedly enacts this oscillation.

After further prayers and readings from Scripture, the service comes to a close with a series of "collects" (pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable): these brief but highly condensed prayers were a specialty of Cranmer's. He did not invent them—Latin liturgies are full of them—but he gave them a distinctive English style that would be much imitated in the coming centuries. Here is the final collect of Matins:
O LORD our heavenly father, almighty and ever-living God, which hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day: defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance, to do always that is righteous in thy sight: through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen.
Here we see the rhetorical structure common to most collects: a salutation to God; an acknowledgment of some core truth, in this case that the people come to prayer only because God has "safely brought us to the beginning of this day"; a petition ('grant us this day we fall into no sin"); an aspiration, or hope and purpose for the prayer, often introduced by the word "that" ("that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance"); and a concluding appeal to Jesus Christ as the mediator and advocate for God's people. Anglican liturgies are studded with these collects, many of them either composed fresh by Cranmcr or adapted by him from Latin sources. They are among the most characteristic and recognizable features of prayer-book worship. ....
The "Book of Common Prayer": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Splendor in the ordinary

From Trevin Wax's interview of Michael Kelly, author of Boring:
Trevin: Why do we need to be okay with a boring life? And why is it we shouldn’t think of life as boring?

Michael: Part of the reason is expectation. The fact is that all of us are going to spend the bulk of our time on this planet doing things that might be considered boring – paying bills, living in a routine, going to work, parenting kids. But because we live in a culture that’s constantly feeding an obsession with excitement and grandeur, we look at these seemingly mundane areas of our lives as things to be escaped from.

But time and time again in the Bible, we not only find instruction about how to live in these ordinary areas, but also the great meaning behind them. Because we want to escape from the ordinary, regardless of our reasoning behind it, one of the things that desire betrays is our subtle belief that true life with Jesus is found outside of those areas. So if we truly believe in the presence and purpose of God, we must look for that presence and purpose inside the ordinary rather than beyond it.

When we do, we can recover the meaning that God has infused in the everyday. It’s that new perspective brought on by our belief in an ever-present God that takes what might be considered ordinary and makes it extraordinary.

Trevin: You talk about how we need to recapture the boring, disciplined aspects of Christianity, because “feelings follow faith.” What do you mean by that?

Michael: More times than not, we are obedient to our feelings. We choose what feels right in any given circumstance. But part of growing in Christ is understanding that like all other parts of our lives, our feelings have been broken by sin and are in need of the redemptive power of God. Growing in Christ, then, involves imposing what we believe onto what we feel.

The psalmist did this all the time when he spoke to his soul: “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” and so forth. In passages like this, the psalmist recognizes that his feelings don’t line up with what he knows to be true about God. He is, in essence, preaching to himself – reminding his feelings of the truth.

When we choose to live according to the truth of God rather than what we feel, we often must contradict our feelings. We must instead choose the road of faith, and when we do, we most of the time find that our feelings follow along. But rarely is it the other way around. ....

Trevin: The main point of this book is that God is the one who makes ordinary things extraordinary. How has this realization invested your life with more significance?

Michael: More than anything else, it has helped me to see the validity of the so-called “normal” follower of Jesus – that man or woman who works hard at their job, raises their family in a godly way, and volunteers in their local church. Rarely do we think of these kinds of folks as heroes, but they are the bedrocks. They are the mighty. They are the solid people who live out their faith in the everyday. [more]
The heading of this post is lifted from the title of a book by Thomas Howard.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

One-hundred fifty years ago

Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of the defeat of United Sates forces under Rosecrans at Chickamauga. A statue that stands on Madison's Capitol Square memorializes one of the many who fell on that day. From Historic Madison
On October 17, 1926, before a crowd of more than one thousand, a statue of Hans Christian Heg was unveiled at the King Street corner of the Capitol Square. Commemorating the most noted Norwegian-American to serve in the Civil War, the statue bears the following inscription:
Hans Christian Heg
Colonel 15th Wisconsin Volunteers
Born in Norway
December 21, 1829
Fell at Chickamauga
September 19, 1863
Norwegian-Americans gave this memorial
To the state of Wisconsin
Heg’s parents immigrated to Wisconsin in 1840, settling in Racine County. In 1849 Heg went to California for two years, seeking gold. After his return, he spent the next decade farming. In 1859 he was elected state prison commissioner, and was reelected two years later. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, he raised the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, which was nicknamed the Scandinavian Regiment.

The 15th trained at Camp Randall in the winter of 1861, then departed for St. Louis on March 8, 1862. The 15th fought at Island No. 10 and Perryville, then Stone’s River, where the regiment lost 15 killed, 70 wounded, and 53 missing. Heg, whose men saved part of the army by holding their ground during the battle, was commended by his commanding officer as the “bravest of the brave.”

By 1863 Colonel Heg was in charge the Third Brigade in the army of William S. Rosecrans, commanding the 15th Wisconsin, 25th and 35th Illinois, and 8th Kansas regiments. (Rosecrans’ chief of staff, who relayed orders to Heg, was future president James A. Garfield). In the summer of 1863 Heg participated in the Middle Tennessee campaign, and settled in with the Union army at Chattanooga.

In mid-September Rosecrans moved south against the army of Braxton Bragg, encountering the Confederates a few miles south of Chattanooga drawn up along the banks of Chickamauga Creek. Heg and his men arrived on the right of the Union line around noon on September 19, 1863. After advancing a short way they were met with a volley from Rebels concealed in heavy woods. They held their ground, “cheered on by the gallant Colonel Heg, who was everywhere present, careless of danger.” Several times they were forced to fall back, then reformed and advanced. Then between 4 and 5 p.m. Hood’s Texans attacked, and his six Confederate bridades overwhelmed the Union three. Heg was mortally wounded in the attack; 696 of the 1,218 of his men who had gone into battle were killed, wounded or missing, a casualty rate of more than 50%. The following day the Confederates completed the route of the Union army, driving Rosecrans all the way back to Chattanooga. Almost 35,000 men were lost between the two armies in one of the fiercest battles of the war.

In February 1920 Norwegian-Americans began a drive to raise $25,000 for a statue honoring Heg, and in 1924 the contract was let. Originally planned for a cemetery in Racine, permission was instead granted for it to be placed on the Square. ....

Only 320 of the 960 men in the Scandinavian Regiment survived the war. [more]
Hans Christian Heg Statue

Monday, September 16, 2013

Depression and sin

From a sermon by Bromleigh McCleneghan, reminding us why and by Whom we are valued:
.... The Psalmist speaks to many of our hearts when he prays, remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions, but remember me according to your steadfast love.

These are among my favorite lines of the Psalms. My youth was not so remarkably sinful; I’ve invested a lot in being a good girl over the years. But I want to be known by God, remembered, as the person I long to be, as the person I sometimes am, and not for my myriad and mundane failings. ....

It’s not sinful to be lonely, nor to be depressed, but to me this is the heart of what sin and faithlessness do – they isolate me and make me feel as if I will never really be a part, known or loved, again. I wish I could say I avoid sin because I am so good, but it’s not true. I avoid sin because I hate this feeling with all that is in me. I want to avoid it. The memories of when I have felt that way are terrible enough, and somehow remain ever fresh. I can conjure that isolation with little effort.

This is also how many describe the feeling of clinical depression, of a major depressive episode. To be constantly standing outside one’s own life, without agency, will or power to connect, or to hope that things might change. To bear the weight of hopelessness and loneliness. ....

Depression and sin – not one and the same, but in this alike – tell us that we are replaceable. That those who love us do not really know us, that our failings and our brokenness are the only memorable things about us. That they are all we will be remembered for.

But those are lies. Depression, sin, self-loathing: they lie to us. For we are all, each of us, beloved by God. The Lord God remembers, not the mistakes and fears on which we ruminate and base our self-loathing, but the steadfast love from which we are created and which is ever extended toward us. ....

.... I often feel like one of the 99 sheep who has never wandered off, wondering why God is leaving to get the one. But, well, that’s just the nature of God. God comes to get the one. Even me, even you, even when the bubble separates us from everyone, even when we are lonely and afraid. Even when we think there is no hope. God remembers us, notices that we have wandered off alone and are endangered. God remembers us, each of us, and knows that even though there are 99 still safe, that one, even that one, can never be replaced. You cannot be replaced.

You are remembered according to the steadfast love of God. And you cannot be replaced. .... [more]

Sunday, September 15, 2013


When she was twelve Kathy Keller wrote several letters to C.S. Lewis and he answered them (he answered all correspondence!). This site quotes several excerpts from the letters Keller received. For instance:
Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1) Things we ought to do (2) Things we’ve got to do (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don’t like because other people read them.
Recently Darryl Dash interviewed her about Lewis's influence:
You corresponded with C.S. Lewis as a child. How did those letters shape you as a young woman?

As a young child I thought it nice, but not particularly unusual that this author should answer my letters. After all, his books could hardly be found in the U.S., so I thought he was lonely and not well known! Later, when I came to understand the volume of mail he received, and that he answered every letter, in spite of rheumatoid pain in his wrist, I was amazed and humbled. ....

The New York Times just called Lewis an "evangelical rock star." What accounts for his popularity among evangelicals today?

Lewis is not part of the culture wars, and so can be enjoyed by all groups. He fits into no category, theologically or culturally, and yet he punctures all manner of pompous cultural assumptions of our day. ....

Do you have a favorite C.S. Lewis book?
Perelandra. Peter Kreeft, I believe, said that when he lies dying, he hopes that his mind will fly to the coronation scene at the end of Perelandra. Me, too. (more)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Courage and humanity

From Allen Guelzo's Gettysburg: The Last Invasion:
...[T]hese were men who could forget almost at once that they were soldiers and revert to being horrified and sympathetic Samaritans. Young Henry Eyster Jacobs looked out on the morning of July 2nd at the Georgians who had camped in front of the Jacobs house on Middle Street and was amazed to see men who had "breathed fire and fury at their foes" the day before, and "were full of what they were going to do to the hated north," quietly "reading from their pocket testaments" after breakfast. Amos Judson never lost his surprise at how the men of his 83rd Pennsylvania "never had any compunction of conscience in their treatment of an attacking foe"—which was, of course, to kill them—"yet the moment the foe were prostrate and helpless at their feet, they would throw away their guns and everything else to render them assistance." A private in the 20th Georgia went down near Devil's Den; a captured sergeant from the 4th Maine was being prodded rearward, and the Georgian "called out to him for help." The Yankee told him to "put your arm around my neck ... Don't be afraid of me. Hurry up, this is a dangerous place." And as they hobbled off, the incongruity of mercy in the middle of battle struck the Yankee, and he said, "If you and I had this matter to settle, we would soon settle it, wouldn't we?" (A half-century later, the Georgian would publish an account of Gettysburg that included a plaintive inquiry about the sergeant: "If he is living, I would be glad to hear from him.")

Robert Carter of the 22nd Massachusetts found a fatally wounded captain of the 5th Texas who had been left behind after the fight for Devil's Den and the Round Tops, and Carter gave him "water in which we had soaked coffee and sugar ... He expressed his gratitude and gave us a partial history of this attack," as though they had all been gathered around a convivial saloon table. What galled Carter was not the Texan's easy assumption that Carter meant him no harm; it was the persistence of rebel skirmishers in firing on "a sergeant and others" who were attempting to rescue other downed men, despite Carter's efforts to hail the skirmishers, "explaining our object." A man in Amos Judson's 83rd Pennsylvania made repeated trips under fire to bring in wounded Confederates. He was finally "shot dead by the comrades of the men he was attempting to succor." But Judson proclaimed it the "most sublime instance of courage and humanity" he had ever seen "upon the battlefield." (Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, Chapter Sixteen: "I have never been in a hotter place.")

Friday, September 13, 2013

"Twelve men, good and true"

G.K. Chesterton, reflecting on his experience as a juror:
.... The trend of our epoch up to this time has been consistently towards specialism and professionalism. We tend to have trained soldiers because they fight better, trained singers because they sing better, trained dancers because they dance better, specially instructed laughers because they laugh better, and so on and so on. The principle has been applied to law and politics by innumerable modern writers. Many Fabians have insisted that a greater part of our political work should be performed by experts. ....

Our civilisation has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.

"Mine ears hast Thou opened"

Peter Leithart, in "A Hermeneutics of the Open Ear," on how earlier Christians...
...were as saturated in Scripture as we are in entertainment and advertisements. They read the Bible, of course, but because they studied Scripture in the liturgical setting of a church or monastery, they also heard the Bible, over and over. Monks sang through the Psalter each week. Spend a lifetime doing that, and you’d have the Bible on the tip of your tongue, too. ....

.... The seventeenth-century Westminster Confession of Faith captures this brilliantly when it says that “a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein,” and immediately adds that a believer responds differently to the Bible’s different ways of communicating: He or she obeys God’s commands, trembles at God’s threats, rejoices in God’s promises, believes God’s assertions. His ears are open so he can sing along when God plays a tune.

Above all, premodern interpreters knew that both good reading and good living are gifts from God. ....

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"I cannot love Thee the way I want to."

A journal kept by a twenty-one-year-old Flannery O'Connor will be published in November as A Prayer Journal. Betsy Childs at First Things refers to excerpts from the book published in The New Yorker:
.... The young O’Connor, transplanted from Milledgeville, Georgia, to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, fears that her faith may falter. She prays, “I dread, Oh Lord, losing my faith. My mind is not strong. It is a prey to all sorts of intellectual quackery.” She demonstrates ardor even as she confesses her lack of feeling. Her deepest desire is that she will glorify God with her writing. After writing a story, she prays “Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story—just like the typewriter was mine.” ....
The only quotation from the book that The New Yorker makes available without subscription:
Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing....

A near-sighted sense of entitlement

Clint Roberts asks "Why Do Good Things Happen?" Why are we inclined to blame God for evil but take the good for granted?
...[T]he question of why so many bad things happen remains something we cannot get off of our minds. But I wonder why it does not occur to us to ask the inverse question of why people get to experience so many good things in life. If God is watching, we instinctively perceive that he is to blame for all of the bad things that go on; but what about the good things? The 19th Century Victorian poet Christina Rossetti wrote, “Were there no God, we would be in this glorious world with grateful hearts and no one to thank.” Have you ever seriously contemplated the “Problem of Good”? People who do not believe in any sort of ultimate goodness should be particularly confounded by this question. Think of it: if no person like God exists, if from the start no purpose lay behind the origin and structure of this universe, and if the only game being played out is the strictly biological one, why should there be such varied experiences of joy in the lives of people? “Nature is a wicked old witch,” wrote the late evolutionary biologist George Williams.  She is “red in tooth and claw” as Tennyson famously put it.  Why, then, are there creatures like ourselves with so much capacity for so much rich enjoyment of life?

.... The kind of love and longing that C.S. Lewis...talked about as a key to his spiritual awakening is part of the true and intense beauty of living, even in a place where disease, crime and ultimately death cause us so much grief and angst.  If we are going to ask why the latter, shouldn’t we also ask why the former?

And it’s not as if Lewis had too easy a life to comprehend tragedy and sorrow. The man who wrote a personal and probing book on the topic (The Problem of Pain) after the death of his wife had also seen the trenches of WWI, from which he was sent home wounded, and had years later lived through the Nazi bombing raids over London, during which his voice was heard weekly on BBC radio broadcasts reading words he had written to help bring calm and focus to the frazzled, frightened public. ....

The good things in the world present as much a riddle to us as the bad things. Both beckon us to ultimate questions. The only reason we would obsess exclusively about the issue of pain and evil, while never pausing to consider the other side of the coin, is the near-sighted sense of entitlement to which we’re all naturally prone. We take the good things for granted, as if they are the norm or the default, and the bad things shock our senses as the inexplicable exceptions. .... [more]

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Prosperity Gospel

From a a good review of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel that itself summarizes the history of that "gospel":
...Kate Bowler unravels the origins and development of the prosperity gospel into a multi-billion dollar industry. Although there are several varieties of prosperity gospels with subtly different animating convictions and practices, Bowler sensibly lumps them together as birds of a feather, a range of species in the same genus. “Word of Faith,” “Positive Confession,” “Health and Wealth,” and so forth, they all share a bedrock conviction that God chooses to bless his children with material prosperity in body, mind, and brokerage account, awaiting only our willingness to get on board.

Origins: Pentecostal Healing and New Thought Mind Power

Bowler locates the origins of the prosperity gospel in turn-of-the-century Pentecostal healing and New Thought mind power. Nurtured in the radical Holiness movement of the late nineteenth century, divine healers insisted that Christ’s atonement secured health for our bodies along with salvation for our souls. Just as prayer in faith would bring forgiveness of sins, prayer would release Christ’s healing power for aching backs, cancers, and tuberculosis, all of which arose from sin, personal or collective. The key was to believe. Pray and hold onto it, believe that it is yours, and act out the healing even if “lying symptoms” persist.

Meanwhile, the monistic New Thought movement viewed divinity as an impersonal power that people could access through right thinking. The key to a healthy body and a successful life was to eliminate harmful negative thoughts and use mantras and other techniques to reinforce positivity.

Both Pentecostal healing and New Thought mind power relied on a perfectionist anthropology. Human beings are troubled by sins and failings, but through our choice to apply the right knowledge and techniques we can be empowered and fulfilled, perhaps even releasing divine attributes within ourselves.

Early Twentieth Century Through the Bakkers

In the first half of the twentieth century, E.W. Kenyon united Holiness-Pentecostal and New Thought themes by combining divine healing and the power of the mind to shape reality into an incipient prosperity gospel. Along with Kenyon, Pentecostal healing revivalist John G. Lake added the notion that God intends us to be “god-men” through our faith, while F.F. Bosworth and others provided a bridge to the healing revivals of the late 1940s and 1950s, which rejuvenated the audacious supernaturalism of early Pentecostalism.

Mid-century positive thinkers like Norman Vincent Peale also united New Thought with at least a veneer of Christianity. His Power of Positive Thinking (1952) sold millions of copies to those eager for peace of mind and bountiful harvests. Thereafter, the Charismatic movement of the 1960s and following brought Pentecostal sensibilities to many mainline and evangelical churches, priming believers for the gifts of the Spirit and the tangible presence and power of God.

Planted in this fertile soil, the prosperity gospel took root in the 1950s and 1960s, then grew apace in the following two decades. Key figures included Kenneth Hagin, Oral Roberts, and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. .... [more]

Singing the Psalms

Why would anyone need to make a "case for the Psalms"?

Over my lifetime, I have watched churches that used to sing the Psalms in their weekly worship cease to do so and often substitute modern worship songs. There is nothing wrong with modern worship songs. But I have seen the Psalms get a little neglected, then ignored altogether. At the same time, many churches that retain the Psalms use them in a way that fails to do justice to their richness and depth.

Why is this fading significance so problematic?

The Psalter is the prayer book Jesus made his own. We can see in the Gospels and in the early church that Jesus and his first followers were soaked in the Psalms, using them to express how they understood what God was doing. For us to distance ourselves from the Psalms inevitably means distancing ourselves from Jesus.

The Psalms contain unique poetry expressing the biblical faith in God as Creator, Redeemer, judge, lover, friend, adversary—the whole lot. There is nothing like them. The Psalms go right to the depths of the human emotions—they don't just skate along the top. They explore what the great promises of God mean and what we do when those promises do not seem to be coming true.

What do you mean by the phrase "nonpsalmic worship"?

When people give up using the Psalms, they often invent poor substitutes—songs, prayers, or poems that have a bit of Christian emotion and a bit of doctrine, but nonetheless lack the Psalter's depth, passion, and rich variety of expression. If one tries to do without the Psalms, there is an identifiable blank at the heart of things. .... [more]