Tuesday, November 26, 2013


The Christian season of Advent begins this next weekend. Advent is about waiting — waiting with anticipation. The waiting that anticipated the coming of Messiah and the waiting that anticipates His coming again. From "Why Celebrate Advent?" by Timothy Paul Jones:
.... “The whole creation,” the apostle Paul declared, “has been groaning together for redemption.”

In Advent, Christians embrace the groaning and recognize it not as hopeless whimpering over the paucity of the present moment but as expectant yearning for a divine banquet that Jesus is preparing for us even now. In Advent, the church admits, as poet R.S. Thomas has put it, that “the meaning is in the waiting.” And what we await is a final Advent that is yet to come. Just as the ancient Israelites waited for the coming of the Messiah in flesh, we await the consummation of the good news through the Messiah’s return in glory. In Advent, believers confess that the infant who drew his first ragged breath between a virgin’s knees has yet to speak his final word. ....

Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once suggested that “all happenings, great and small, are parables by which God speaks. The art of life is to get the message.” Advent reminds us to listen for the message that God is speaking, even in the waiting. {more]

Monday, November 25, 2013

The moral power of story

In "It Takes a Pirate to Raise a Child" Daniel Coupland shows how story is more important than argument in creating moral imagination:
.... These tales of fantasy and adventure are an inheritance that provides concrete images of goodness and evil — often in vivid blacks and whites — to the still receptive minds of the young. Over time, these images become patterns, and the patterns become habits, and the habits become our way of looking at reality. Children need these sharp distinctions to navigate in a morally confusing world. ....

The best way to begin the cultivation of moral character is to immerse children in great stories where virtues are rendered attractive — not in a sticky-sweet or preachy sort of way, but in a way that captures and feeds their imagination.

Because this cultivation takes both time and patience, we rarely get to see this played out in obvious ways. But sometimes we do. My son likes to tease his two younger sisters. Often this teasing is quite harmless, but sometimes it goes too far. After one such incident, I had to deal with my son and his lack of kindness toward his sisters. Trying to be a good parent, I talked with him about the importance of being kind. After presenting my airtight argument on the Christian virtue of charity, I looked into my son’s eyes and recognized that — although he had heard every word — he wasn’t buying it. I sat there for a moment reviewing my closing remarks in my mind, looking for a misplaced modifier or something else that could have weakened the logic of my case. And then, in a rare moment of inspiration, I looked at him and said, “Son, you’re being an Edmund.”

Almost immediately, his shoulders slouched, and he let out a long breath. He had recognized the name of the youngest Pevensie boy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. My son didn’t like being told that he was acting like the pesky and traitorous Edmund. ....

The reference to Edmund hit my son in a very deep place in his heart, which only stories can reach. The foundation for that moment — and many others that are still to come — was laid over countless hours and countless pages, a foundation that is still being laid today. ....

.... Do not forget to cultivate and guard your children’s moral imagination. Read them great stories of princesses and pirates, of dragons and dwarfs, of monsters and mermaids. Give them the experiences they need to navigate the moral pitfalls of their lives. Or as Lewis says, “Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” [more]

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Songs of the Civil War

I've been listening to Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War, a thirty-two track CD set of songs popular during the American Civil War sung by contemporary artists who, although preserving the original tunes, often give distinctively modern renditions. This is not an effort to re-create the sound of that time. Many of the singers are well-known country performers like Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs and Ralph Stanley, but also people like Taj Mahal, T-Bone Burnett, Chris Hillman, Steve Earle, and Jack Clement, along with groups I don't know like the Old Crow Medicine Show, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. It's all good.

With its lilting melodic hook and melancholy story line, "Listen to the Mockingbird," an 1855 lament sung by a grieving widower for his lost love, sounded "as sincere as the laughter of a little girl at play," said Abraham Lincoln.

Abe knew a hit when he heard one. One of the best-selling songs of his era—its sheet music would eventually sell more than 20 million copies—"Listen to the Mockingbird" served as a salve to listeners during the Civil War, its sorrowful image of a songbird singing over a loved one's grave resonated in a divided and grieving nation. ....

The album mixes new takes on old tunes like "Dixie" (by Karen Elson and the Secret Sisters) and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" (Angel Snow) with a raucous partisan Yankee stomp like Shovels & Rope's "The Fall of Charleston" and the rebel reel "Secesh" (The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band)—songs that have been in mothballs since Appomattox.

Some tunes sound like after-action reports telegraphed from the front. Among them are T Bone Burnett's dirge, "The Battle of Antietam," and Ricky Skaggs' "Two Soldiers," about Union soldiers caught in the deadly fire from the heights at Fredericksburg in 1862.

"I was hoping not to dust off antiques, but to capture the complex vitality of the era in song," says the album's producer, Randall Poster, a Hollywood music supervisor ("Moonrise Kingdom;" "Boardwalk Empire") and sometime record producer ("Rave On Buddy Holly"), who spent two years compiling original sheet music and old recordings, and enlisting musicians. "There is such a wealth of musical material from that time. And it all springs from such a tumultuous variety of emotions. You have families torn apart, mothers losing their children, brother versus brother conflicts, people rallying behind one side or the other. All that is expressed in the music. .... [more]

Friday, November 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis in the Poets' Corner

BBC News reports on the ceremony and placement of a memorial to C.S. Lewis in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The stone is inscribed with his name, the dates of his life, and this quotation:
"I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else."

BBC News - CS Lewis honoured with Poets' Corner memorial

Ordinary people

Today, on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, his influence is evident from the many who have chosen to write about him. I've been reading posts and articles all morning, about his critical work, his poetry, the fiction, and the apologetics. Just now, Brett McCracken on "Things I've Learned From C.S. Lewis" with particular attention to Lewis's 1941 sermon, "The Weight of Glory," from which this:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners – no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dedicated to unoriginality

I have begun reading Thomas Oden's Classic Christianity. From his introduction:
.... I do not pretend to have found a comfortable way of making Christianity tolerable to vanishing forms of modernity. I present no revolutionary new ideas, no new way to salvation. The road is still narrow (Matt. 7:14).

I do not have the gift of softening the sting of the Christian message, of making it seem light or easily borne or quickly assimilated into prevailing modern ideas. I do not wish to make a peace of bad conscience with dubious "achievements of modernity" or pretend to find a comfortable way of making Christianity expediently acceptable to modern assumptions. If Paul found that "the Athenians in general and foreigners there had no time for anything but talking or hearing about the latest novelty," so have I found too much talk of religion today obsessed with novelty.

I am dedicated to unoriginality. My aim is to present classical Christian teaching of God on its own terms, undiluted by modern posturing. I take to heart Paul's admonition: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we had already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted [par parelabete, other than what you received from the apostles], let him be eternally condemned [anathema esto]!" (Gal. 1:8,9, italics added). ....

My mission is to deliver as clearly as I can that core of consensual belief that has been shared for almost two mellennia of Christian teaching. Vincent of Lerins described this core as that which has always, everywhere, and by all Christians been believed about God's self-disclosure. ....
One of seven reasons Oden considers Classic Christianity to be distinctive:
This compendium is the first in many years to view systematic theology as a classic treasury of scriptural and widely received patristic texts that point toward this distinctive work of the Spirit: These texts all share a common classical premise that it is the same Spirit who inspired the canonical text who is actively creating the unity and cohesion of the whole doctrinal effort amid changing historical circumstances. This cohesion is not the product of the work of modern scholars, but of the work of the Spirit throughout twenty centuries of intensive, critical scriptural exegesis. ....
Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity

"That unnameable something..."

.... C.S. Lewis names this longing with the German word sehnsucht. He calls it “the inconsolable longing in the heart for we know not what.” At the end of Pilgrim’s Regress he said it was, “That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”

This longing remains dormant in daily life until it is sparked by a profound aesthetic experience. Suddenly the soul awakes, and the longing is fleetingly fulfilled. C.S. Lewis called this surge in the heart, this uplift “Joy”. This painfully exquisite joy comes unbidden and echoes in his heart like the sounding of the distant horn of a long lost hero. ....

This same sense of longing linked with memory echoes through T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Each of the quartets summons up the memories of the past through a particular place that surges with meaning for Eliot. Burnt Norton was the site of a ruined country house and garden in Gloucestershire that Eliot visited with an old school friend....

.... They wander through the garden in silence. The afternoon light is still and unmoving. Birds call and the longing for “what might have been” is palpable. The entire poem can be read as an extended explication and meditation on Lewis’ sehnsucht. For Eliot this intense longing leads to the heart of contemplation at “the still point of the turning world.” This contemplative moment is, “By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving, Erhebung without motion, concentration without elimination, both a new world, And the old made explicit.”

Erhebung” is a German word which means “lift” or “upsurge” and Eliot uses it here to imply the emotional lift which Lewis terms “Joy.” .... [more]

Tempted and tried

Before The Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence played the central character in the film Winter's Bone. It is a very good film although, as the name implies, rather bleak. One of the songs in the soundtrack was this hymn:

Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all the day long;
While there are others living about us,
Never molested, though in the wrong.

Farther along we’ll know all about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why;
Cheer up, my sister, live in the sunshine,
We’ll understand it all by and by.

Sometimes I wonder why must I suffer,
Out in the rain, the cold, and the snow,
When there are many living in comfort,
Giving no heed to all that I know.

Tempted and tried, how often we question
Why we must suffer year after year,
Being accused by those of our loved ones,
E’en though we’ve walked in God’s holy fear.

Often when death has taken our loved ones,
Leaving our home so lone and so drear,
Then do we wonder why others prosper,
Living so wicked year after year.

“Faithful till death,” saith our loving Master;
Short is our time to labor and wait;
Then will our toiling seem to be nothing,
When we shall pass the heavenly gate.

Soon we will see our dear, loving Savior,
Hear the last trumpet sound through the sky;
Then we will meet those gone on before us,
Then we shall know and understand why.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


There have, of course, been conspiracies in history but the more complications involved, the more implausible they become, and the more conspirators needed, the more likely that it couldn't have been kept secret. Those two factors are the strongest arguments against most of the JFK assassination conspiracy theories quite apart from the forensic evidence. AEI's new study "Public opinion on conspiracy theories," isn't concerned with the truth or falsehood of various alleged conspiracies, but rather with those who seem most susceptible to believing them.
This AEI Public Opinion Study looks closely at public attitudes about a variety of conspiracy theories. This collection includes subjects such as whether aliens landed at Roswell, whether 9/11 was the work of the US government, whether Princess Diana’s death was an accident, and whether Elvis and Osama bin Laden are still alive. We also look at the persistence of the belief among a segment of the population that President Obama was not born in the United States. We begin with the assassination of Kennedy.
  • Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the belief that more than one person was involved in his assassination remains the most widely held conspiracy theory in America. In an April 2013 poll, 59 percent said others were involved.
  • In the few polls we have, a sizable minority of the population believes President Roosevelt knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor in advance and used the attack as an excuse to go to war.
  • Around 20 percent embrace the view that UFOs have landed in the United States at Roswell, New Mexico, and that the government is engaged in a systematic cover-up of this event.
  • In a 1976 Harris poll, 60 percent believed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was the work of a conspiracy. In a 2008 CNN poll, 55 percent endorsed the notion of a conspiracy.
  • In an August 2007 Fox News poll, 31 percent agreed that foul play was involved in Princess Diana's death.
  • In a July 2006 Scripps Howard and Ohio University poll, 16 percent said it was likely that the “people in the federal government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted to United States to go to war in the Middle East.”
  • Around 6 percent believe the moon landing was a hoax.
  • Fifteen percent told Fox News that there was a chance that Osama bin Laden is still alive, while 24 percent told CBS News that they had doubts about whether he was killed.
This collection indicates that a small number, somewhere in the range of 10 percent (with the exception noted above involving the Kennedy assassination) generally believe in most conspiracies. Far more are likely to believe that the government is hiding information from the public.

We don’t find compelling evidence from the data in this document that particular demographic groups are susceptible to a belief in conspiracy theories. It depends on the theory. Middle-aged Americans are more likely to believe in the JFK assassination conspiracy than older or younger ones. Young people and Democrats are most likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories about 9/11. Women are more likely to believe foul play was involved in Princess Diana’s death. While the demographic data presented here are by no means exhaustive, we’re hesitant to endorse what much of the literature concludes — that the young and less educated are more prone to conspiratorial instincts.


In "The Lecture Works, and It Always Has," Collin Garbarino, a history professor, expresses his annoyance with critics of a time-tested educational tool:
It’s not the lecture; it’s the lecturers. .... Why don’t students develop a passion for the material? Probably their teachers don’t demonstrate a passion. Curiosity and excitement are contagious, even in a lecture.

Of course most bad lecturers aren’t lazy or disengaged. They just haven’t been taught what a good lecture looks like. They do not understand fundamental principles of rhetoric and public speaking. Some teachers know what a good lecture looks like, but they do not have the time or energy to actually create a good lecture. .... Excellent lectures take time. Sometimes there’s just no time.

Can we please stop blaming the lecture? I’m the first to admit that not all lectures are good. But that’s true of all media. Not all books are good. Not all blog posts are good. Probably most books published last year were not worth reading. Certainly most blog posts written last year were not worth reading. Even though most lectures might be bad, it doesn’t mean that the lecture itself is to blame. For most content areas, the lecture remains the best medium for educating a large group. .... [more]
And the best method for small groups, Garbarino agrees, is the seminar/discussion group, assuming the students know enough to question and discuss — they have done the reading.

It seems to me that the observations above apply equally to sermons. Sermons are essentially lectures. If they are boring, the problem is probably the preacher.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lost Creek, WV, and slavery

From last year:

Several years ago I posted a series about the history of Seventh Day Baptists one of which was “A Nation cannot long endure…” about Seventh Day Baptists and abolitionism. That post was later reprinted in the Sabbath Recorder (September, 2011). The post (and the article) included this passage, referring to the only known Seventh Day Baptist church that had a slave owner as a member:
Unlike many other denominations, Seventh Day Baptists had few churches in slave states, and so there was little division on the question. A member of the Lost Creek Church, in Virginia [soon to be West Virginia], owned slaves he had inherited and that elicited general condemnation from other Seventh Day Baptists.
That was a very brief reference to a very interesting controversy. I received a communication yesterday from a descendant of a member of that church. Lynn Arden FitzRandolph writes:
I am not of that particular Lost Creek family, but please allow me to present some information.... The “slaves” in question were a mother and son who were both physically incapacitated. In today’s terminology we could say that they were in an “assisted living” arrangement in a Lost Creek, Virginia (now West Virginia) home. Under the laws of the State of Virginia they certainly were not free to walk away; had they been found “at large” in Virginia, they would have been arrested and sold at auction. All blacks were, under existing Virginia law, either owned or possessed by someone or were fugitives. They also had nowhere else to go, and no one else to care for them. ....
Mr. FitzRandolph referred me to Corliss Fitz Randolph's A History of the Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia, a book that includes a chapter about the controversy. It summarizes the circumstance that gave rise to the anguish:
Deacon Abel Bond of the Lost Creek Church married, in Maryland, a wife, whose uncle made her a present of a slave girl. This slave girl, on reaching womanhood, married against the wishes of Deacon Bond, but nevertheless with his permission. She raised a family of children, who, according to the laws of slave-holding states, were born into bondage. Deacon Bond offered to set the family free and to pay their expences to a free state, but they preferred to remain with him, as he was a kind master exercising only such authority over them as the laws of the state and of humanity demanded at his hands. Deacon Bond provided in his will that they should be freed as soon as circumstances should warrant, but soon after his death all the coloured family died but the mother and one son, who was not physically strong. Deacon Bond's son, into whose care they were committed at the death of his father, again offered them freedom, but they still chose to remain where they were. ....
My own understanding is that the mother was elderly and that the surviving son was considered "simple" and that it was thought neither could survive on their own.

When the Lost Creek church applied to join the Eastern Association and it became known that one of its members was, at least formally, a slaveholder, controversy ensued, including considerable strongly stated correspondence in the Sabbath Recorder. Objections were particularly strong from the North-Western Association (Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, etc.). A "special committee" was appointed by the Eastern Association to investigate Lost Creek's attitude toward the institution and that committee questioned the delegate of the Lost Creek church, Elder S.D. Davis, eliciting these responses:
...[T]he committee propounded to Bro. Davis, the delegate from that church, four questions, which were answered as follows:-

1st. Does your church have or hold any sympathy, in any sense, with American Slavery? Ans. It does not.

2nd. Does the church hold that American Slavery ought to be abolished, as a sin against God and man? Ans. It does.

3rd. In what sense, if not as slaves, are those persons, understood by some as such, held by a member or members of your church? Ans. If held at all, it is to shield them from the action of the laws of the state that would otherwise enslave them.

4th. What would the church do with a member who should buy or sell or hold a person as property? Ans. It would exclude him.

The committee also found, that the Lost Creek Church, by its delegates, adopted the following resolution, at an association held in Ritchie County, Va., Sept. 1854:
"That we regard American Slavery as a sin of great magnitude in the sight of God, and a flagrant violation of the rights of our fellow men, and that it is our duty to use all of our influence against it."
From these and other facts before them, the committee came to the following conclusions:
1st. That the relation of master and slave does not exist in the Lost Creek Church, in the proper sense of the phrase, and only technically, and that the church is not justly chargeable with sustaining slavery.

2nd. That we deeply regret the acrimonious spirit, and the personal reflections and accusations, made against brethren, in the discussion had upon the subject in the denominational paper.

3rd. With regard to the resolution of the North-Western Association, we think the language used is stronger than the facts warrant, and that the regret expressed by that association results from the manner in which the subject has been discussed, more than from the existence of slavery itself.

The Lost Creek church, however, felt that the ongoing investigation was inquisitorial and withdrew its application. It wasn't until 1881 that all was resolved.

Corliss Fitz Randolph notes that of all the Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia, only two fought for the Confederacy while every church contributed volunteers to the Federal forces [one of my Bond great great uncles among them].

Lynn FitzRandolph, in his most recent communication:
The wisdom that I glean from reading the accounts of this controversy is the realization that it is possible to become so emotionally invested in a moral issue that one becomes blinded to goodness, presented in this case in the form of the Good Samaritan “slave owner” and his local church — acting morally and openly in violation of local (Virginia) customs. This realization, I believe, is an appropriate and constructive epitaph to the controversy.

CSL in Westminster Abbey

November 22 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. This Friday Dr Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, will unveil the memorial to him in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey:
...[D]ates and names have been cut on to most inches of Westminster Abbey. But the epitaphs are nowhere more crowded than in the Abbey’s South Transept – a place long since renamed Poets’ Corner. Here are buried, or commemorated, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden and Dickens – and quite a few others who have stood time’s test less well. CS Lewis, on the 50th anniversary of his death, will become the latest to join this literary “croud” this month. ....

...[T]he spendthrift playwright Ben Jonson couldn’t afford a full grave, and so was buried standing up (to save space) in a less desirable bit of the nave. His thigh bones twice came to light by accident in the 19th century: so much for eternal repose.

This faint touch of the absurd would have appealed to CS Lewis. He was, among other things, a gifted humorist with little time for pomp – christened Clive Staples, but “Jack” to his friends. ....

...[H]is works on medieval literature and Milton have become touchstones in their fields. His place in Poets’ Corner, however, was won on neither of these fronts, but by his imaginative prose.

The most widely read are his Chronicles of Narnia. Now children’s classics, these limpidly written adventure novels wrangle with the most complex theological ideas. Christianity is reimagined in a parallel world: God in manifest form is a lion called Aslan, neither safe nor tame.

By rinsing out the familiarities of liturgy and organised religion, CS Lewis throws into relief what he considers essential – sacrifice and belief, among other things. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the lion allows himself to be killed for the good of all, and is then reborn. In The Silver Chair, when Aslan’s existence falls most under doubt, a stubbornly loyal Narnian makes this case for belief without proof: “Suppose there isn’t an Aslan. All I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.” .... [more]

Friday, November 15, 2013

Classic Christianity

Via Trevin Wax, a link to a Kindle edition of Thomas Oden's Classic Christianity. This Kindle edition combines the three books from Oden's Systematic Theology classic series (individually titled The Living God, The Word of Life, and Life in the Spirit) for $2.99. One of the reviews at Amazon suggests that his only real criticism of the book is "that one might gain the impression that there is a greater degree of consensus regarding certain issues than there is in reality."

Fom the Amazon book description:
Written for clergy, Christian educators, religious scholars, and lay readers alike, Classic Christianity provides the best synthesis of the whole history of Christian thought. Part one explores the most intriguing questions of the study of God—Does God exist? Does Jesus reveal God? Is God personal, compassionate, free?—and presents answers that reflect the broad consensus culled from the breadth of the church's teachers. It is rooted deeply and deliberately in scripture but confronts the contemporary mind with the vitality of the Christian tradition. Part two addresses the perplexing Christological issues of whether God became flesh, whether God became Christ, and whether Christ is the source of salvation. Oden details the core beliefs concerning Jesus Christ that have been handed down for the last two hundred decades, namely, who he was, what he did, and what that means for us today. Part three examines how the work of God in creation and redemption is being brought to consummation by the Holy Spirit in persons, through communities, and in the fullness of human destiny. Oden's magisterial study not only treats the traditional elements of systematical theology but also highlights the foundational exegetes throughout history. Covering the ecumenical councils and early synods; the great teachers of the Eastern church tradition, including Athanasius and John Chrysostom; and the prominent Western figures such as Augustine, Ambrose, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, this book offers the reader the fullest understanding of the Christian faith available.

Trevin’s Seven – Trevin Wax, Classic Christianity (Systematic Theology)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A free Bible

Crossway, the publisher of the English Standard Version of the Bible, is celebrating its 75th anniversary by giving away a rather nice biblical resource:
.... To celebrate this historic milestone, we’re giving away the ESV Study Bible Web App for FREE through the end of November. This award-winning resource features the study notes, maps, charts, illustrations, and theological articles found in the print edition—all integrated into ESVBible.org’s easy-to-use web interface.

To receive FREE access to ESV Study Bible Web App, please visit Crossway.org/75th. Finally, be sure to share this limited-time offer with your friends, families, and neighbors so they too can go deeper in their study of God’s Word.
I downloaded the Kindle edition. You also gain access on your bookshelf at the Crossway site.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Knowing God

From a yet to be posted entry in Paul Manuel's "What is Foremost?" sermon series:
...[V]ery little of what God does actually pertains to you. That is why David asks...
Ps 8:4a what is man that you are mindful of him...?
Nevertheless, if God is interested in you—and He is—then you should certainly be interested in Him, because the greater is your acquaintance with God, the greater will be your appreciation of God.

Sometimes, perhaps often, Christians have a small-minded approach to Bible study, treating it like a multi-vitamin. After all, Paul said...
2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture...is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
These are all various ways of applying scripture, and some people act as if the primary reason to study the Bible is to find application, something relevant to daily life.... It is not. The primary reason to study the word of God is to know the author, the person of God. Application, while important, is secondary. .... Applying scripture is relevant only for the present life; knowing God is relevant "for both the present life and the life to come" (1 Tim 4:8c). ....
This particular entry, titled "The Foremost Constellation"—about the Magi—should appear on November 19.

"Bowing down in blind credulity...."

Trevin Wax read G.K. Chesterton's autobiography recently and enjoyed it. I did too when I read it some decades ago and Trevin Wax's experience encourages me to read it again:
Like Chesterton’s essays, his autobiography is all over the place. The narrative of Chesterton’s life is not what drives the book, but the ideas and insights he discovered during his sojourn on earth. Chesterton makes a sideways case for the truth of Christianity by appealing to the explanatory power of Christianity as seen in everyday experience.

Even the beginning of the book demonstrates the nature of truth and our trust in human testimony, which then sets the stage for believing in the church’s testimony to Christ:
“Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington.”
The one-liners in this book come like butterflies, to the point you’re likely to swat them away in your attempt to keep on track with Chesterton’s overall point, or you’re content to finally sit down and watch the beauty of their fluttering. Some examples:
  • Nobody can correct anybody’s bias, if all mind is all bias.
  • With all possible apologies to the freethinkers, I still propose to hold myself free to think.
  • The principal objection to a quarrel is that it interrupts an argument.
  • There are some who complain of a man for doing nothing; there are some, still more mysterious and amazing, who complain of having nothing to do.
The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton was published in the year of his death, 1936, and is not yet in the public domain as are many of his books. Trevin Wax links to an inexpensive paperback edition at Amazon. The cover above is from the book in my library, printed in 1936, but not a first edition and rather worn.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"They also serve..."

Via Justin Taylor:

When I Consider How My Light Is Spent

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
The Greatest Sonnet in the English Language – Justin Taylor

Monday, November 11, 2013

Psalm 19

Kathryn Lindskoog notes that:
C.S. Lewis’ favourite psalm was Psalm 19. In Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis said of Psalm 19, "I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world."
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
And the firmament proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
Yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
In them He has set a tent for the sun,
Which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
And like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them;
And there is nothing hid from its heat.
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever;
The ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is Thy servant warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern his errors?
Clear Thou me from hidden faults.
Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
The Inklings: Lewis' favourites

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day

Sunday, November 10, 2013


John Hawk, World War II veteran, Medal of Honor recipient, died last week. From the New York Times obituary:
“I am a common man who did the best I could in the time and place I found myself,” he told The Chicago Tribune at a gathering of Medal of Honor recipients in Chicago in 1990.

“I was home on R and R and had been wounded four different times when I got a phone call saying they were considering me for the Medal of Honor. I said, ‘Medal of Honor? For when? For what day? What place? What time? Are you sure you mean me?’ You see, none of us consider ourselves heroes.”

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sometimes the truth is more interesting

The author of Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination anticipates a renewal of conspiracy idiocy as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK murder in Dallas. Thomas A. Bogar:
Brace yourself: JFK assassination conspiracy theories are coming. As 50th anniversary observances of the Kennedy assassination approach, many people — perhaps most — will focus on the conspiracy theories...

Think you see a portentous “something” in a blurred Zapruder frame? Hear an ominous sound on the scratchy recording of a police radio? Well then, just jam it in or stretch it to fit your theory.

Be it the grassy knoll, the alleged involvement of Sam Giancana, or the perceived echo of yet another shot, each fragment will inexorably take its place in the tenuous constructions of a hundred different conspiracy theories.

The irony is, sometimes the truth is more interesting....

.... Being interested in the true history is one thing; spending endless hours on fanciful conjecture is another. Conspiracy theorists: stand down.
Very good accounts assessing each of the elements of the various conspiracy theories are the ABC documentary hosted by Peter Jennings, The Kennedy Assassination: Beyond Conspiracy, (also available as an Amazon Instant Video) and Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK by Gerald Posner.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Using the prayers of others

Trevin Wax discovered the Book of Common Prayer and found that using it benefited his prayer life. Yesterday he recommended a book about that book:
Our Common Prayer
Winfield Bevins

A few years ago, I experienced a dryness in my prayer life. I had a list of requests, but no overall structure in which to present them. A good friend gave me The Book of Common Prayer as a help. Written prayers were new to me. I approached the written prayers of past saints much as a child trying on the shoes of his dad. Would my feet ever fit into the spiritual shoes of the giants who have gone before me? I decided to pray those prayers, to pray Scripture, to pray the psalms, and to let my prayer life be shaped by the beauty of the written word. Over time, I found even my spontaneous prayers were reinvigorated.

In Our Common Prayer, Winfield Bevins wants to introduce the beauty and majesty of Cranmer’s work to a new generation. I recommend this book if you desire to find your soul enriched by the biblical truth expressed in these prayers, and to find, through the Spirit your heart further reflecting the Savior.
Book Notes: One Way Love / Our Common Prayer / Walking with God through Pain and Suffering / The Power of God

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Being in tune with the right crowd"

I was assigned Isaac Deutscher's biography of Stalin in graduate school. Deutscher was one of those Western intellectuals who managed to ignore Stalin's crimes and be unfailingly optimistic about the progression of the Soviet Union toward democratic socialism. [He was similarly indulgent toward Mao.] Reviewing a new book, one of whose subjects is Deutscher, Walter Laqueur wonders how it is that intellectuals who get everything so spectacularly wrong manage to retain academic respectability:
...[I]f a youthful infatuation with Communism is easily explained, how to explain the fact that 30 and 40 years after the Bolshevik Revolution, after so many brutal setbacks and disappointments—preeminently the murderous rise and consolidation of Stalinist rule—Deutscher-style optimism should have continued to paralyze the critical judgment of so many? And more fascinating yet: how to explain that, even today, despite everything that another half-century of scholarship has disclosed, Deutscher and his friend and alter ego E.H. Carr still have their defenders? Deutscher, after all, only misinterpreted Stalin; Carr managed to get both Stalin and Hitler wrong—no mean achievement—and yet he is still regarded as a towering figure in the so-called realist school of international affairs.

The special indulgence granted to intellectuals who have been consistently wrong emerges from things big and small. ....

False optimism, then, can explain the Deutscher-Carr syndrome only in part, and their enduring reputation in some circles not at all. Similarly unhelpful are explanations that appeal to the perfectly natural reluctance of authors to admit mistakes—another hardwired tendency. In the end, the most crucial factor may be just this: being in tune with the right crowd.

As the leftist French journalist Jean Daniel once put it: better to be wrong with Jean-Paul Sartre than right with Raymond Aron. Sartre might have been consistently wrong in his political judgment and his intellectual opponent Aron almost always right. But Sartre, like Deutscher, was pro-Soviet during the cold war while Aron, like Isaiah Berlin, was pro-American (and also, like Berlin, pro-Israel). And that settled the matter.

This is how reputations quite often develop in the world of ideas, and how they endure—an interesting issue itself, and certainly one in need of further investigation. [more]

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Our earthly rulers falter..."

Words and music! Words by one of my favorite authors and music by a favorite composer.
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not Thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.
Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to Thee.
From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honor, and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord!
Words: Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1906
Music: King's Lynn, Ralph Vaughn Williams, 1906

I was reminded of this today by the G.K. Chesterton page on facebook.

C.S. Lewis in the Poets' Corner

Toward the end of this month, fifty years after his death, C.S. Lewis will be honored:
In the south transept of London's Westminster Abbey—where for a thousand years the kings and queens of England have been enthroned—sits a crowded collection of statues, plaques, and engraved flagstones. Geoffrey Chaucer, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Charles Dickens are buried there; dozens more are commemorated there. On November 22, 2013, 50 years to the day after his death, C.S. Lewis will join them.

Poets' Corner may seem like an odd place for a writer whose poetry is largely overlooked .... But you needn't be a poet to join Poets' Corner. Musicians like George Frederic Handel and actors like Laurence Olivier mingle with Tennyson and Chaucer. The Corner is devoted to poets in the older, deeper sense of the word. They are "makers" who assemble words (or musical notes or dramatic performances) for artistic ends.

In this older, deeper sense, there is no place Lewis more rightly belongs. Indeed, perhaps we should think of the celebrated Oxford novelist, literary critic, and apologist above all as a poet. For Lewis believed that knowledge itself was fundamentally poetic—that is to say, shaped by the imagination. And his poetic approach to commending and defending the Christian faith still lights the way for us today.

Of course, everyone recognizes Lewis's great imaginative gifts. Often people will say that his great strength was his ability to present Christianity both rationally and imaginatively. .... [most of the rest of the article is behind a subscriber wall]

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"May the mind of Christ, my Savior..."

In our service this morning we sang May the Mind of Christ, My Savior. It is not, at least for me, a familiar hymn, but a very good one:
May the mind of Christ, my Savior,
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.
May the love of Jesus fill me
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.
May the Word of God dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.
May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.
May the peace of God my Father
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.
May His beauty rest upon me,
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

May the Mind of Christ, My Savior

Friday, November 1, 2013

A new Jeeves and Wooster

The Spectator reviews a book that made the reviewer laugh until he cried, at least twice he says — Jeeves and the Wedding Bells:
...Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is a masterpiece — albeit no self-respecting aficionado would wish marriage on Bertie, with its attendant risk of Jeeves moving on (Faulks nimbly negotiates that hazard).

Faulks’s plot is bang on-message. Not for the first time Bertie Wooster finds himself in a country house where his presence is definitely irksome to at least one member of the host family. Determined to help a friend in romantic hot water, Wooster is nothing daunted by vigorous intimations of froideur around him. Plans are made, scrapes ensue. As in Wodehouse’s novels, when those plans originate with Jeeves, the reader feels reassured that all will be well. Not so when Bertie takes the tiller. Mistaken identity, corridor-creeping and fabulously improbable coincidences all have their part to play. So, too, do hateful aunts, an Aberdeen terrier of noted ferocity and sheep’s eyes on the part of nice young people of both sexes. Throughout it all the Wooster good humour never fails, as Bertie seeks, page by page, to offer the reader an object lesson in civilised (if not over-intelligent) bonhomie and how to be an all-round good egg.

As in all sequels of this sort...the key is to read without pedantry and with a willing suspension of disbelief. For me, Faulks captures perfectly both the tone and the spirit of Wodehouse’s originals. What’s more, he does so in a manner that, in rekindling happy memories of those books, reinvigorates one’s retrospective enjoyment of the originals. .... [more]