Saturday, June 28, 2014

A gift, not an obligation

Continuing with the series of posts at Christianity Today, Michelle Van Loon contributes "The Jewish Roots of Christian Sabbath,":
Where I come from, Shabbat begins at dusk on Friday nights, and ends when the first three stars become visible on Saturday evening. The twenty-five or so hours from Friday evening through Saturday evening are meant to be a time of restorative rest and reconnection with God, family and faith community, I grew up in a fairly secular Jewish home in a predominately Jewish neighborhood, and understood that the Sabbath was a core part of our Jewish identity, even if few in our neighborhood observed it with any consistency. ....

When my family moved from the predominately Jewish enclave to a majority-Gentile community before I entered 8th grade, I discovered that Christians called Sunday the Sabbath, which was extremely confusing to me. How could there be two Sabbaths in a single week? I came to faith in Jesus during my high school years through the patient witness of a born-again friend. My parents forbade me from attending church as long as I lived under their roof, but as I began attending church after I left home, I heard a variety of explanations for Sabbath-on-Sunday: "It's the day our Lord was resurrected", "That whole Friday-Saturday thing is so Old Testament", "The Jewish Sabbath is a 7th-Day thing, and we Christians are 8th Day, resurrection people.", or, with a shrug, "In Christ, we're free from the Law, so we don't need to worry about keeping the Sabbath."

Preachers pointed to the way Jesus challenged those who were too tightly bound to legalistic ways of observing Shabbat (like this and this). Any conversation about the day of rest somehow turned into a Sabbath-versus-Jesus throwdown that Jesus always won. ....

.... When I read the New Testament, I saw Jesus and his Jewish followers participated in the Jewish feasts and joined their kin in synagogue on Shabbat. Jesus wasn't abolishing the Sabbath – he was asking his followers to engage more deeply in the meaning of the Sabbath as a time to celebrate our Creator, and connect him with the hope the Jewish people had carried for a Messiah who would come to usher in the new creation. He told his followers that he'd come to fulfill the Law, that he was Lord of the Sabbath.

But did this mean he intended us to swap out one day for the other? Or view Sabbath-keeping as an unplugged relic of a bygone era? ....

After my first trip to Israel six years ago, I caught a glimpse – a small one – of the delight Sabbath was meant to be for us. .... While there is legalism aplenty in the Orthodox Jewish community about the way in which Sabbath should be observed, there was also a sense of expectancy among the entire community that there would be space each week to reconnect with God and others. It was the first time I'd ever had the sense that Shabbat was indeed a gift instead of an obligation – a gift God wanted to give me each week.

To be honest, it's a gift I'm not entirely sure how to unwrap. I do know this much. I can no longer return it to the Giver unopened as I have for so many years. .... [more]

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Who is the Sabbath for?"

"Who is the Sabbath for? by Amy Julia Becker introduces a series of essays at Christianity Today. Yesterday's post, "A Day Meant for Our Great Good, excerpted portions from one of them. From Becker's "Who is the Sabbath for?":
...[I]n seminary, I had to write a paper comparing the two different places in Scripture where Moses receives the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), and I was struck by the differences between the reasoning for observing the Sabbath. In both lists, keeping the Sabbath shows up as the fourth commandment, and scholars usually include the Sabbath as the last of the four commandments about our relationship with God: Don't worship other gods, Don't have idols, Don't misuse God's name and keep the Sabbath day holy. The next six commandments have to do with our relationships with other people and our community: Honor your parents, don't steal, don't commit adultery, don't lie, don't covet.

What struck me though, was how the lists were more or less identical in Exodus and Deuteronomy except when it came to the Sabbath. In Exodus, the Israelites are commanded to rest on the seventh day as an act of adoration, as a way to remember God as their creator. The Sabbath is linked to the other three commands about God. In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are commanded to rest on the seventh day as an act of both rememberance and of service to others. Here, the emphasis lies not upon God as creator but God as redeemer, as the one who brought the Israelites out of slavery. The Israelites must rest in order to allow their laborers to rest, in order to recognize the humanity—the God-given creatureliness—of their fellow human beings, whether or not those people share their faith.

So I began to wonder if this fourth commandment was a hinge command, a command that both linked to the first three commandments in our relationship to God and a command that linked to the following six commandments in our relationship with others. It made me wonder whether the Sabbath was somehow integral to loving God and loving neighbor, somehow integral to my life as a Christian. ....

In the midst of my own reflections, our pastor preached about the discipline of rest. She had recently been diagnosed with a serious concussion that left her in bed in a dark room for weeks on end. She talked about a whole new understanding of rest. And she made the point that on the Sabbath we aren't simply invited to rest from all our labor. We are invited to rest with Jesus. "Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.," Jesus said (Matthew 11:28). The Sabbath is an invitation, yes, but an invitation not to solitude or self-indulgence. It's an invitation to rest with God. .... [more]

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"They sang a new song..."

Via Challies Dot Com, J.I. Packer:

"A day meant for our great good"

She believes Sunday is the Sabbath but everything else she writes is right. It would be nice to be able to debate the correct day rather than continuing to ignore the blessing altogether:
.... Sabbath...could be seen like this—all restriction and rules. It could be counted as just one more obliging way to pay the cantankerous piper. And maybe that was my fear: that in the practice of rest (and the dutiful effort to please God), I'd only find more anxiety in the piles of the undone.

But the Scripture never portrays the Sabbath as a dreary obligation. The Pharisees, of course, had wrung the joy out of it with their legalistic impulse. They were the first to criticize Jesus' disciples when they plucked heads of grain on the Sabbath to eat. "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" (Mark 2:24) Jesus rebukes them, reminding them that by their accounting, King David would have been a law-breaker. He was a man who entered the house of God and, because he was hungry, ate the holy bread of the Presence. "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," instructed Jesus (v. 27). Jesus insists that the Sabbath command hasn't been given for God's good—but for ours.

Ten years ago, I took a risk on this: that God meant something for my great good in his invitation to mute, if only temporarily, the noise of my to-dos. So now I don't fold laundry on Sabbath. I don't plow through email on Sabbath. I don't tackle long overdue household or work projects. These restrictions aren't rules to which I oblige myself. Rather, they are invitations.

Sabbath is a day meant for our great good, "the day in which we pause our striving and start abiding," write John Pattison and C. Christopher Smith in their fine book, Slow Church. Sunday is the day we risk on the strange notion (the gospel) that we can be loved and cherished by God for doing absolutely nothing.

As Pattison and Smith write, "Sabbath is an exercise in radical grace: in the midst of our sin and brokenness, God loves us. Our creator God looks down at us with absolute love; we set aside the Sabbath to meet that gaze." .... [more]

Monday, June 23, 2014


One of the most interesting series I remember ever watching was Civilisation, developed and narrated by Kenneth Clark. I knew a lot about the history of Western civilization but wasn't particularly well-tutored about its art. The series, developed for the BBC, was an instance of what they did best, but, as the writer of "Kenneth Clark - Looking for Civilisation" argues, probably couldn't be done today. Amazon has the DVDs (I don't) and also the book that accompanied the series, Civilisation: A Personal View,  which is magnificently illustrated (I do have that). The book appears to be available only second-hand. From the New Criterion essay about a current exhibition in London at the Tate:
Clark is perhaps best known for his television series Civilisation, a Personal View (1969), a democratic exercise that introduced more people in Britain to the arts than any previous broadcast or, indeed, publication. The programs traced European culture from the end of the Roman Empire to contemporary times. They were serious, scholarly, and immensely popular programs and made Clark famous not just in Britain but in the sixty other countries in which they were shown. ....

Kenneth Clark saw John Constable as Britain’s greatest painter—indeed, as the only one who could be said to match the best of the Continental European artists. He shared Constable’s love of nature and respected his attempts to capture the ever-changing patterns of sky, clouds, and light, which Clark saw as a distinctly English speciality, one brought about by the turmoil of the local weather, in which the sky changes even as it is being looked at. It was Clark who purchased Constable’s great romantic painting Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames—Morning after a Stormy Night (1829) for the National Gallery. ....
It is fitting that there should be an exhibition celebrating Clark’s life and major achievements, for since his death he has had his detractors, many of them enemies of civilization, and of Western civilization in particular. A majority of them are equality-mongers, offended by Clark’s explicit view that the arts are “incurably aristocratic” and that aesthetic decisions cannot be made by a committee but require the connoiseur. If there were a remake of his celebrated television series, the politically correct mandarins of broadcasting in today’s United Kingdom would not employ an urbane presenter with a posh accent and expensive bespoke suits. .... [more]

Not a cause, a pretext

As the 100th anniversary of the Great War approaches much is being written about lessons that should be drawn from the events leading to that war. From the very beginning of my teaching career at least one of my course responsibilities each year would include the First World War and so, in preparation, I would read more and more about it. After the war the victors decided to attribute most of the "war guilt" to Germany — guilt for starting the war. A consequence was the requirement that Germany pay reparations to the Allies, and that, and many other grievances arising from the Treaty of Versailles,  contributed to the rise of Hitler. Was Germany in fact guilty? Later many historians argued that responsibility was far more widespread and even that the war was inevitable. For what it is worth I think David Adesnik, in "War and Responsibility," has it right:
On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip gunned down Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, as they rode through the streets of Sarajevo. Journalists and pundits have relied on a few select metaphors to describe the consequences of the assassination. It “triggered” the First World War. It was the “spark” that “ignited” or “set off” the “kindling” or “powder keg” of latent European antagonisms.

These descriptions are deeply misleading, however. They fail to convey that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife were not a cause of war, but a pretext. The Germans and Austro-Hungarians deliberately chose to prevent a diplomatic resolution of the assassination crisis because they wanted to crush Balkan nationalism with violence. After decades of ferocious debate over responsibility for the First World War, an increasing number of historians now accept that one side undermined potential diplomatic solutions despite the obvious risks of a broader conflict. ....

...[T]he true lesson of Sarajevo is that great wars happen because dangerous men want them to. Those men do not have to be monsters like Hitler or Stalin. They may be narrow-minded, reckless, or aggressive like Vladimir Putin, Ayatollah Khamenei, Kim Jong-Un, or certain leaders in Beijing. Looking back at the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Franz Ferdinand one hundred years ago, it is clear that the preservation of peace ultimately depends on maintaining the strength and determination necessary to deter or defeat such adversaries. ....

...[A]ssassinations were a “familiar technique” for radicals in turn of the century Europe. Why, then, did the assassination of Franz Ferdinand lead to war, whereas “no previous assassination within living memory had provoked a major international crisis?”

The answer is that Austria-Hungary, with the full support of its German ally, chose to exploit the crisis. .... [more]
Adesnik goes on to give a good summary of the decisions leading from the assassinations in June, 1914, to the outbreak of war that August.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mr. Slope's doctine

A recent GetReligion item quotes from Anthony Trollope's description of a sermon delivered by Obadiah Slope, chaplain to Bishop Proudie of Barchester:
Having thus, according to his own opinion, explained how a clergyman should show himself approved unto God, as a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, [Obadiah Slope] went on to explain how the word of truth should be divided; and here he took a rather narrow view of the question; and fetched arguments from afar. His object was to express his abomination of all ceremonious modes of utterance, to cry down any religious feeling which might be excited, not by the sense, but by the sound of words, and in fact to insult the cathedral practices. Had St Paul spoken of rightly pronouncing instead of rightly dividing the word of truth, this part of his sermon would have been more to the purpose; but the preacher’s immediate object was to preach Mr Slope’s doctrine, and not St Paul’s, and he contrived to give the necessary twist to the text with some skill.
The BBC adapted two of Trollope's Barchester books, The Warden and Barchester Towers, into a seven part, thoroughly enjoyable, series with a remarkable cast. That is how I came to the story although all of Trollope is in the public domain and available as free e-books. Amazon sells the DVDs as The Barchester Chronicles. The Amazon description, which also notes the remarkable cast:
The first two episodes of this BBC miniseries only hint at the delights to come. A lawsuit aimed at church reform in the town of Barchester forces a decent middle-aged clergyman (the august Donald Pleasence, best known in the U.S. for the Halloween movies) into a moral crisis and a conflict with his son-in-law, a pompous archdeacon (Nigel Hawthorne, The Madness of King George). The gracefully written and acted narrative shows glimpses of dry wit—but in episode 3, the arrival of a new bishop (Clive Swift, Keeping Up Appearances), his imperious wife (Geraldine McEwan, The Magdalene Sisters), and his devious chaplain (Alan Rickman, Truly Madly Deeply, the Harry Potter movies) launches The Barchester Chronicles into a satirical power struggle all the more mesmerizing because of the smallness of the territory. The scheming of the citizens and clergy of this British town is both Byzantine and wonderfully comic as the tempestuous personalities claw and dig at each other.

Rickman, in one of his first film or television roles, turns in a tour de force of oily ambition. McEwan's ferocious machinations are downright terrifying, while the sputtering Hawthorne (The Madness of King George) seems constantly in danger of bursting a vein. At the center of it all is Pleasence. Making goodness compelling has always been difficult, since wickedness is always more dramatic; but Pleasence brings a deep and stirring passion to his role that proves as engaging as all the back-biting that surrounds him. And these are just the more familiar faces; a host of lesser-known actors give equally superb performances. The final episode (of seven) will have you on pins and needles. The Barchester Chronicles, adapted from two novels by Anthony Trollope, is one of those marvels of British television, a skillful production that proves intelligent fare can be hugely entertaining.
It is very good entertainment.

Paul Manuel

Something else I found while looking at old posts. There is a lot more material at Paul W. Manuel now than there was when this was originally posted going on two years ago and Paul has sent me much more that will appear as I have time to format it.

Paul Manuel is a good friend and someone from whom I have learned much. For about ten years he, and wife Linda, attended the Madison Seventh Day Baptist Church while Paul was in graduate school [Hebrew and Semitic Studies] at the University of Wisconsin. During much of that time he taught our adult Sabbath School class. He made me think. He persuaded me on many subjects, and when he didn't, he forced me to re-think my reasons. In other words, he is a very good teacher. And he teaches with authority on biblical subjects because he is a careful bible scholar with the academic tools appropriate to the task.

Over the years Paul has developed many studies and lessons and he has agreed to let me create a blog which, I hope, will eventually contain a lot of his work. Nothing of mine will appear on the site. It can be found here, at Several posts are already up and there will be more.

Paul W Manuel

"Studying about that good old way..."

Doing a search on this blog I came across something I had posted here last January. Alison Krauss singing about baptism:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Politicized indignation

From Adam Bellow's "Let Your Right Brain Run Free" in the current National Review, the primary thesis of which is the importance of a conservative presence in popular culture. On the way there, accurately I think, he describes something of the nature of current political discourse:
.... The Left has always demonized conservatives, and many of my authors have been subject to that kind of ugly treatment. Those who cannot win an argument often fall back on ad hominem attacks. In the past we could ignore such attacks — indeed, they often worked in our favor. But lately they have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Those who dissent from the prevailing liberal dogma are quickly branded as extremists and declared to be bad people. Do you support the traditional view of marriage? You’re a homophobe who wants to deny equal rights to gay Americans. Do you question the economic benefits of raising the minimum wage? You are a selfish Scrooge who hates the working class. Do you want America to establish control over its borders? You hate hard-working immigrants who just want to enjoy the American dream. Do you believe a human fetus has legal and natural rights? You are a misogynist who wants to control women’s bodies. Do you support the death penalty in certain cases? You’re a heartless savage no better than the killers themselves, according to Charles Blow of the New York Times. Do you oppose any aspect whatsoever of Barack Obama’s transformative agenda for America? You’re a racist. Racist, racist, racist!

This is a bare-knuckled attempt to enforce an ideological orthodoxy by policing the boundaries of acceptable speech. The methods used — anonymous accusers, public shaming, forced apologies, reeducation programs — come straight out of the Stalinist playbook, and they are not only shockingly illiberal. They are shockingly effective.

By harnessing the passions of offended minorities to the power of social media, the Left has created a hurricane of politicized indignation that can be directed wherever it likes and levels everything it touches. Meanwhile the general response is...embarrassed silence and the fear of being targeted yourself. This is a key point, for just as bad as outright censorship (which cannot be imposed to the extent the Left would like) is the censorship people impose on themselves in order to avoid being punished with the loss of their reputation and livelihood. .... [more]
There are plenty of examples of this approach on the Right, too, the difference being that conservatives have less access to creating entertainment, most forms of media and, especially, to academia.

Joy springs from sorrow provides a collection of quotations: "Wisdom From J.R.R. Tolkien's Works." "Proverbs and guiding words are scattered throughout The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and much of his academic writings — drawing on his faith and the vast mythology of the world of Middle-earth."
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” (The Hobbit)

"It's the job that's never started as takes longest to finish." (The Fellowship of the Ring)

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” (The Hobbit)

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” (The Fellowship of the Ring)

"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." (The Fellowship of the Ring)

“Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.” (The Hobbit)

“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” (The Fellowship of the Ring)

“For if joyful is the fountain that rises in the sun, its springs are in the wells of sorrow unfathomable at the foundations of the Earth.” (The Silmarillion) [more]

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Indian Summer

Not the right time of year, but all the discussion about "Redskins" made me think of this. Beginning in 1907 and continuing at least into my youth, at some point in the Fall the Sunday Chicago Tribune would publish these on the front page. The cartoonist was a nationally famous Tribune cartoonist, John T. McCutcheon.

The story, from 1907 — if this is difficult to read (it will enlarge if clicked upon), it is also here

Unilateral disarmament

I probably won't read Terry Eagleton's Culture and the Death of God but I probably should. Jonathan Sacks' review, "Nostalgia for the Numinous," is in itself worth reading:
.... We are meaning-seeking animals. And if we can no longer believe in God we will find other things to worship. Eagleton’s book is a brisk, intelligent, and provocative tour of Western intellectual history since the Enlightenment, understood as a series of chapters in the search for a God-substitute. The Enlightenment found it in reason, the Idealists in the human spirit, the Romantics in nature and culture, the Marxists in revolution, and Nietzsche in the Übermensch. Others chose the nation, the state, art, the sublime, humanity, society, science, the life force, and personal relationships. None of these had entirely happy outcomes, and none was self-sustaining.

The end result was postmodernism, a systematic subversion of meaning altogether. Postmodernism is Nietzsche without the anguish, tragedy, or will to power—all the things that made Nietzsche worth reading. Now, in place of the revaluation of values, we have their devaluation. We are surrounded by choices with no reason to choose this rather than that. Postmodern consciousness, in Perry Anderson’s phrase, is “subjectivism without a subject.” Eagleton calls it “depthless, anti-tragic, non-linear, anti-numinous, non-foundational and anti-universalist, suspicious of absolutes and averse to interiority.”

The result is that we are witnesses to the advent of the first genuinely atheist culture in history. The apparent secularism of the 18th to 20th centuries was nothing of the kind. God—absent, hiding, yet underwriting the search for meaning—was in the background all along. In postmodernism, that sense of an absence, or what Eagleton calls “nostalgia for the numinous,” is no longer there. Not only is there no redemption, there is nothing to be redeemed. ....

The real trouble—and here Eagleton is surely right—is that the West no longer has a set of beliefs that would justify its commitments to freedom and democracy. All it has left is “a mixture of pragmatism, culturalism, hedonism, relativism and anti-foundationalism,” inadequate defenses against an adversary that believes in “absolute truths, coherent identities and solid foundations.” The West has, intellectually speaking, “unilaterally disarmed at just the point where it has proved most perilous for it to do so.” Eagleton regards this as an irony, but it is not. It is precisely the West’s loss of faith that made it seem vulnerable to its opponents. It is mostly the failure of postmodernism to speak to the most fundamental aspects of the human condition that has driven those in search of meaning and consolation into the hands of the anti-modernists for whom freedom and democracy are not values at all. ....

Can the West recover its faith? Livy said about 1st-century Rome that it had reached the stage where “we can endure neither our vices nor their cure.” Such is the degree of secularization among the West’s elites now that religious liberty itself is felt by many believers to be at risk. Having tried and failed to provide substitutes for religion, today’s public intellectuals have no new candidate to offer beyond the present mix of relativism, individualism, hedonism, and consumerism, which is neither elevating nor redemptive. .... [more]

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Matilda, who told lies..."

A blog post at "The Imaginative Conservative" reminds me that G.K. Chesterton's friend, Hilaire Belloc, wrote several books for children.
.... In 1896, his first two books were published, Verses and Sonnets and The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts. The latter became an instant popular success prompting more of the same, including More Beasts (for Worse Children) in 1897 and Cautionary Tales for Children ten years later, in which the author’s indefatigable mirth is kindled by the kindergarten army of Matilda, who told such dreadful lies; Jim, who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion; and Algernon who played with a loaded gun, and, on missing his sister, was reprimanded by his father. .... [more]
I went looking for them online and found Cautionary Tales for Children downloadable for e-readers at both Gutenberg and The tales are genuinely cautionary as this example illustrates:

MATILDA, Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death.
Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and Stretch one's Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,

Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.

For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the Telephone

And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London's Noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band
Were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs and Bow,
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow
They galloped, roaring through the Town,

"Matilda's House is Burning Down!"
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,

Until Matilda's Aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed
And even then she had to pay
To get the Men to go away!

                    * * *

It happened that a few Weeks later
Her Aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.

She had refused to take her Niece
To hear this Entertaining Piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
To Punish her for Telling Lies.

That Night a Fire did break out—
You should have heard Matilda Shout!
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call

To People passing in the Street—
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidence)—but all in vain!
For every time She shouted "Fire!"

They only answered "Little Liar!"
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.
Amazon has an edition of Cautionary Tales for Children with illustrations by Edward Gorey, who is perfect for this book. The second illustration is his.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"If I should die..."

In August we will reach the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I. "The Age of the Warrior Poet" is Paul Johnson's review of Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew, a collection of poems by British soldiers composed during and just after that war. Among the 95 poems collected are selections from Rupert Brooke, Julian Grenfell, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried Sassoon including some that Johnson considers "among the best short poems in our language."
I would rate Brooke the best of the war poets, and "The Soldier" the finest of his productions. This is probably what most people would have said in 1918, and marks the point at which the wheel comes full circle. His reputation dominated the war years and remained high some time after. Brooke died from an insect bite on the way to the Dardanelles, and his end, like Byron's, was somehow rendered more poignant by his failure to find the scene of battle, and perish heroically. Brooke died on April 23, 1915, in time for Dean Inge of St Paul's to preach an Easter Sermon, in which he read "The Soldier" to an immense and hushed congregation. This was interrupted by a man standing up and protesting against the war, an incident which gave the occasion a heightened mood of drama and helped, as it were, to canonise the poet. Brooke had been buried, on Skyros, the night he died. An obituary appeared in The Times, which applauded his "incomparable war sonnets", his courage, and the nobility of his sacrifice. ....Within a month of Brookes's death, his battalion had lost 11 of its 15 officers, and of the five men who had piled stones on his grave at Skyros, only two were alive when the war ended. .... [more]
"The Soldier" by Rupert Brooke, Christmas, 1914

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust conceal'd;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air.
Wash'd by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
The Age of the Warrior Poet | Standpoint

Monday, June 16, 2014

“Some people's affability is more deadly than the violence of coarser souls.”

Shortlist Magazine collects "18 Pieces Of Wisdom From Sherlock Holmes," from which:
  • “Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for the last.” (His Last Bow)
  • “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius.” (The Valley of Fear)
  • “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” (The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes)
  • “Any truth is better than indefinite doubt.” (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
  • “Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson.” (The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
  • “Of all ghosts the ghosts of our old loves are the worst.” (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes)
  • “It is a capital mistake to theorise before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.” (A Study in Scarlet)
  • “Some people's affability is more deadly than the violence of coarser souls.” (The Adventure of the Illustrious Client) [more]
And while on subjects Sherlockian, I came across this in a collection of "stylish book covers":

 18 Pieces Of Wisdom From Sherlock Holmes Novels - Books - ShortList Magazine

Saturday, June 14, 2014

"Blessed are ye, when men...persecute you...for my sake."

The current Weekly Standard article, "The War on Christians," by Paul Marshall describes circumstances that need to be given much more attention:
For at least three reasons, the contemporary persecution of Christians demands attention: It is occurring on a massive scale, it is underreported, and in many parts of the world it is rapidly growing.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that Christians are suffering persecution in more places today than any other religious group; between 2006 and 2012, Pew says, they were targeted for harassment in 151 countries—three-quarters of the world’s states. Similar findings are reported by the Vatican, Newsweek, the Economist, and the 60-year-old Christian support group Open Doors. Most people in the West are unaware of these facts, though that may be changing.

A few cases do get press coverage—the desperate plight of Meriam Ibrahim, for instance, who gave birth in a Sudanese prison just the other day. She was raised a Christian, but after officials learned that her long-absent father was a Muslim, she was sentenced to death for apostasy—for leaving Islam. And since in Sudan a Muslim woman may not be married to a Christian, her marriage to her American husband was declared void, and she was convicted of adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes to be administered before her execution. These punishments will be dropped if she renounces her Christian faith, which she steadfastly refuses to do.

Another case receiving attention is North Korea’s sentencing of a South Korean missionary, Kim Jong-uk, to life with hard labor. On May 30, he was convicted of espionage and trying to start a church. North Korea also still holds Kenneth Bae, an American sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor on charges of trying to use religion to overthrow the political system. ....

These events get media attention because they are particularly poignant, or dramatic, or involve foreigners, but our media miss countless other stories. Since the kidnappings, Boko Haram has killed—not kidnapped, killed—hundreds of people, many in the predominantly Christian Gwoza area of Borno State, destroyed 36 churches, and kidnapped at least 8 more girls. On June 1, it attacked a Christian area in neighboring Adamawa state, killing 48 people. In Sudan, a second woman, Faiza Abdalla, has been arrested on suspicion of converting to Christianity, and on April 8 a court terminated her marriage to a Catholic. Iran is imprisoning and torturing pastors from the rapidly growing house church movement, including an American citizen, Pastor Saeed Abedini. Vietnam has imprisoned over 60 Christian leaders. Eritrea holds more than 1,000 Christians in conditions so inhumane that prisoners die or are permanently crippled. In Somalia, in an ignored religious genocide, Al-Shabaab systematically hunts Christians and kills those it finds. .... [more, probably behind a subscription wall].

Friday, June 13, 2014

170 years

August 23, 1909
Kevin Butler, the editor of The Sabbath Recorder, calls our attention to the 170th anniversary of that magazine's first publication:
.... On June 13, 1844 the first Sabbath Recorder was printed and mailed from New York City. It remains as one of the oldest continuous religious publications in the country.

The Recorder began as a weekly newspaper, went to a pamphlet-sized weekly, and became the monthly magazine we know it as today. ....
An earlier recognition of first publication included a description of the contents of the first issue:
The five-column weekly newspaper carried articles on religion, happenings among Seventh Day Baptist mission fields, and national news, including an article from the Baltimore American about Morse’s magnetic telegraph that had just been perfected. The writer was thrilled to be able to convey the news from the Democratic convention in Baltimore to Washington, as soon as it was announced.
George B. Utter
The editors over the life of the publication so far:
George B. Utter 1844-1857; 1860-1872
Nathan V. Hull 1872-1881
Lewis A. Platts 1882-1893
Leander E. Livermore       1893-1898
Abram Herbert Lewis 1898-1907
Theodore L. Gardiner 1907-1931
Herbert C. Van Horn 1931-1945
K. Duane Hurley 1945-1947
Hurley S. Warren 1947-1952
Leon M. Maltby 1953-1973
John D. Bevis 1973-1982
D. Scott Smith 1982-1989
Kevin J. Butler 1989-2014
Happy 170th, SR!! | Seventh Day Baptist | General Conference of the United States and Canada

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Language and social change

N.T. Wright is disinclined to think that facts can be changed simply by re-naming them:
.... When anybody—pressure groups, governments, civilizations—suddenly change the meaning of key words, you really should watch out. If you go to a German dictionary and just open at random, you may well see several German words which have a little square bracket saying “N.S.,” meaning National Socialist or Nazi. The Nazis gave those words a certain meaning. In post-1917 Russia, there were whole categories of people who were called “former persons,” because by the Communist diktat they had ceased to be relevant for the state, and once you call them former persons it was extremely easy to ship them off somewhere and have them killed.

In the same way, there was a letter in the Times Literary Supplement just a few weeks ago saying that when we’re talking about assisted suicide, we shouldn’t actually use words like “suicide,” “killing,” and those sort of words because those imply that you shouldn’t do it. Whereas now our civilization is saying that maybe there are reasons for that. I find that sort of stuff chilling, the attempt to change an ideology within a culture by changing the language.

Now, the word “marriage,” for thousands of years and cross-culturally has meant man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man. There is polyandry as well as polygamy in some societies in some parts of history, but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness. I would say that without any particular Christian presuppositions at all, just cross-culturally, that’s so. ....

It’s like a government voting that black should be white. Sorry, you can vote that if you like, you can pass it by a total majority, but it isn’t actually going to change the reality. .... [more]
Reminds me of this:
“There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
And this:
"Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." Orwell

Monday, June 9, 2014


The "Religion Guy" (Richard Ostling) at GetReligion responds to the question "Do all religions teach separation between church and state? If not, which ones and why?" His answer explains briefly and well the relationship of religion and state both historically and comparatively. Responding to the typically panicked reaction of some Americans to recent Supreme Court decisions, i.e. that they are “putting the country on the path to church-state union,” he responds:
Well, no. There’s a vast gap between brief civic invocations and any “union,” and America to a remarkable degree has avoided situations common elsewhere, for instance:

Many European states, whether in Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant countries, subsidize churches or Christian education. Clergy are tax-supported civil servants in such religiously diverse lands as Egypt (Muslim), Germany (Protestant and Catholic), Greece (Orthodox) and Israel (Jewish). Britain’s prime minister chooses all bishops for pro forma appointment by the monarch who heads the Church of England, and 26 bishops sit in parliament’s upper house. India’s national government is officially non-sectarian but at the state level Hindus use anti-conversion laws to hobble competing faiths. Clergy are sometimes heads of state, including two who were revered as divinities not long ago, Tibetan Buddhism’s Dalai Lama and Japan’s Shinto emperor.

With Islam, the founding Prophet Muhammad was a political and military ruler and his faith has been closely intertwined with civil affairs ever since. Although the Quran says “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256), some Muslim nations force religious law (Sharia) upon non-Muslims and in extreme cases threaten converts to other faiths with the death penalty. Iran is a dramatic example of “church-state union” that is oppressively theocratic.

In Jewish tradition, God deemed rule by autocrats to be problematic (see 1 Samuel: 8) but biblical kings arose and combined religious with civil functions. Jews had no nation-state of their own through much of their history. Modern Israel’s successful democracy practices religious freedom with certain privileges for Orthodox Judaism. Christianity starts from Jesus’s clever and cryptic saying “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (included in three of the four Gospels). Scholars say that rather than spelling out which “things” are which, Jesus left it to individuals to apply the principle. But he did imply a certain distinction, if not “separation,” between the two realms. That concept was later developed in St. Augustine’s masterwork The City of God and Martin Luther’s idea of the “two kingdoms.” ....

A final factual note: When atheists seized governments in the 20th Century they fused their belief in unbelief with state power and enforced it with a cruel vengeance unmatched by the worst cross-and-crown tyrannies during Christendom’s bygone centuries. [more]

Sunday, June 8, 2014

John Wayne

I just started reading John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman. It has been very favorably reviewed and I'm anticipating learning a lot about the man who said of himself:
That guy you see on the screen isn't really me. I'm Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne. I know him well. I'm one of his closest students. I have to be. I make a living out of him. — Duke Morrison, AKA John Wayne, 1957 (from the book)

O Holy Spirit, Come

Veni, creator Spiritus
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratia,
quae tu creasti pectora.

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav'nly aid,
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

Qui diceris Paraclitus,
altissimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, caritas   
et spiritalis unctio.

O Comforter, to Thee we cry,
Thou heav'nly gift of God most high,
Thou Fount of life, and Fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.

Tu septiformis munere,
digitus paternae dexterae
tu rite promissum Patris
sermone ditans guttura.

O Finger of the hand divine,
the sevenfold gifts of grace are thine;
true promise of the Father thou,
who dost the tongue with power endow.

Accende lumen sensibus,
infunde amorem cordibus,
infirma nostri corporis,
virtute firmans perpeti.

Thy light to every sense impart,
and shed Thy love in every heart;
thine own unfailing might supply
to strengthen our infirmity.

Hostem repellas longius
pacemque dones protinus;   
ductore sic te praevio
vitemus omne noxium.

Drive far away our ghostly foe,
and thine abiding peace bestow;
if thou be our preventing Guide,
no evil can our steps betide.

Per te sciamus da Patrem
noscamus atque Filium,
te utriusque Spiritum
credamus omni tempore. 

Praise we the Father and the Son
and Holy Spirit with them One;
and may the Son on us bestow
the gifts that from the Spirit flow.

Deo Patri sit gloria,
et Filio qui a mortuis
Surrexit, ac Paraclito,
in saeculorum saecula.

I found the text above at Wikipedia. It differs somewhat from what is sung and also informs us that the English version "is a poem and not a precise literal translation of the Latin."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

"We win, they lose"

Ten years ago on June 5th Ronald Reagan died. This review of a new book (Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War) about Reagan and Gorbachev at Reykjavik in 1986 is a reminder of a time when we had a President capable of dealing with the world as it is:
.... Gorbachev knew that the Soviet system had to change. And he believed that, to have the time and space to reform that system, he needed to curtail the Cold War competition. The Soviets were devoting obscene resources to that global contest — far more, relatively speaking, than the United States — while falling ever farther behind economically and technologically. Adelman usefully includes meeting notes taken by Gorbachev’s closest aides as the Soviet side prepared for Reykjavik. Gorbachev told his colleagues that should he fail to secure an agreement at Reykjavik, “we will be pulled into an arms race beyond our power, and we will lose,” because the USSR was “presently at the limit of our capabilities.” “The arms race overburdens our economy,” he said. “That is why we need a breakthrough.”

Long before he became president, and throughout his years in office, Reagan believed that the Soviet Union was vulnerable — economically, technologically, ideologically — to a sustained, reinvigorated competition from the West, including a military buildup. We know this because he said so, over and over. He also believed that if faced with that all-out competition, Soviet leaders could be forced to change, to moderate their foreign policy and also the internal Soviet system. The Reagan administration drew up classified strategy directives in his first term that combined a thoughtful analysis of the Soviet regime with a policy approach aimed at shaping the environment in which Soviet leaders made decisions, so as to encourage the mellowing of Soviet behavior and even changes in the nature of the regime. And, through its actions, notably its military buildup, it pressed hard.

.... Adelman does not actually argue that Reykjavik ended the Cold War. But he observes, quite properly, that after Reykjavik, Gorbachev saw much less hope of restraining the U.S.–Soviet competition through near-term agreements, and more urgency for making more thorough changes in Soviet foreign and domestic policy. Adelman also observes that while Reagan was relentless in pushing the Soviets and seeking advantage over them, he was nimble in working with Gorbachev when he perceived, much earlier than most, that Gorbachev could be the critical source of change he had sought for so long. ....

Here is something we forget, or overlook: Reagan was a strategist. He understood what our adversaries were up to, why, and what it meant for us, and how we could shape the environment in which they made decisions through peaceful competition. He was keenly attuned to the relative strengths and weaknesses of the United States and our adversaries, exploiting the Soviet Union’s comparative vulnerabilities while relentlessly pressing U.S. comparative advantages. .... [more, probably behind a subscriber wall ]
I think it was probably an advantage to have a President who had himself engaged in high-stakes negotiation — who had, in fact, been a successful labor negotiator.

Jay Winik's On the Brink: The Dramatic Behind the Scenes Saga of the Reagan Era and the Men and Women Who Won the Cold War is an exceptional narrative about the end of the Cold War.

Friday, June 6, 2014

"To liberate, not to conquer"

Seventy years ago, on June 6, 1944, American, Canadian, and British forces under the command of Dwight D. Eisenhower landed in Normandy to begin the final campaign to defeat the Nazis. Everyone knows the story of that day. The cost was very high. About 2,500 Americans were killed. The landing was successful and by the end of the day the Allies had moved beyond the beaches — but the war was far from over.

In an era less concerned about a "wall of separation" between church and state, President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the nation in prayer. Much of what he prayed then we could pray today:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice. ....

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


Ronald Reagan, forty years later:
... The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you. ....
Ronald Reagan, Pointe Du Hoc, June 6, 1984

Sources: Historical Documents - Franklin D. Roosevelt's D-Day Prayer - June 6th 1944, RealClearPolitics: The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc

Hans Christian Heg

There is a statue on the Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin. The current issue of The Bugle, the quarterly magazine of the The Wisconsin Veterans Museum, contains an article about "The Statue on the Square" by Bob Drane. From that article:
Governor Alexander Randall appointed the popular Heg, Colonel of the 15th Wisconsin Volunteers as of September 30, 1861. His first duty was recruiting, which brought this appeal: "Scandinavians! Let us understand the situation, our duty and our responsibility. Shall the future ask, where were the Scandinavians when the Fatherland was saved?"

After winter training at Camp Randall, Heg led his 960-man contingent into the field. Indeed they were Norsemen — Olsen, Hanson, Peterson, Johnson, Tompson, Erickson, and no fewer than 115 who answered to the name of Ole. They marched off in companies: The St. Olaf Rifles, Scandinavian Mountaineers, Heg's Rifles, Rock River Rangers, Clausen's Guards.

What followed is what always follows in war. ....

The following September (1863), the blue army snaked further south, eager to attack Bragg again, below Chattanooga. Heg now commanded the entire Third Brigade, and he wrote a final letter home on September 18, 1863:
The rebels are in our front and we may have to fight a big battle. Do not feel uneasy for me. I am well and in good spirits and trusting to my usual good luck. I shall use all the caution and courage I am capable of. Goodbye my darling
Toward sundown the next day Heg's luck ran out. He was leading a Union counter attack near the Viniard House when he felt the lead ball slice through his lower bowel. It was a grievous wound, and he suffered all night before succumbing mid-morning on the 20th. ....

When the war ended 18 months later, the Scandinavian Regiment numbered 320 survivors out of the 960 who marched out with Heg. ....
The Bugle, Summer 2014, pp. 8-9. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Growing up

Instapundit indicates that a book I have recommended several times, The Dangerous Book for Boys, may become a television series:
Bryan Cranston’s Moon Shot Entertainment is getting down to business in developing television projects....

The “Breaking Bad” star’s company has optioned the rights to Conn and Hal Iggulden’s The Dangerous Book for Boys with plans to develop it as a comedy series. ....

Series will follow three boys as they use their imaginations to navigate growing up without a father. ....

Dangerous Book for Boys is a collection of tongue-in-cheek stories and how-to passages designed to help boys of the digital age embrace the importance of maintaining a spirit of adventure and learn how to do everything from climbing trees to building go-karts to palming coins. ....

Satanic mendacity

Considering "The Philosophy Of Roger Scruton," Mervyn F. Bendle begins with the epiphany Scruton experienced on May Day in Paris, 1968, as anarchists seemed to threaten the survival of the Fifth Republic:
But what, Scruton asked his visitor, do you propose to put in its place? “What vision of France and its culture compels you?” To which, “she replied with a book: Foucault’s Les mots et les choses, the bible of the soixante-huitards [sixty-eighters] the text which seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is merely defeat”. Michel Foucault’s tome had appeared in 1966 (English translation, 1970, as The Order of Things), becoming de rigueur amongst intellectuals and students desperate to appear aligned with the avant-garde of social theory, despite the fact that Foucault’s structuralist determinism reduced people to the status of elements in a gigantic system and was the antithesis of the libertarian anarcho-communism that the soixante-huitards professed. More often invoked as a magic talisman than read as a coherent work of history, it was an impenetrable exercise in radical scholasticism that established Foucault’s reputation as a “master thinker” of the Left.

For Scruton, The Order of Things “is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the discourses of power” to be condemned as just further forms of oppression. A work not of philosophy but of rhetoric, “its goal is subversion, not truth”, and it perpetrates “the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies—that ‘truth’ requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the episteme, imposed by the class which profits from its propagation”. This is a core conception of the cultural relativism that is now a taken-for-granted premise of academic discourse, while Foucault’s “vision of European culture as the institutionalized form of oppressive power is taught everywhere as gospel”, as Scruton laments. ....

Burke persuaded him that “societies are not and cannot be organized according to a plan or a goal, that there is no direction to history, and no such thing as moral or spiritual progress”, while all attempts to pretend otherwise must decline into “militant irrationality” as the proponents of such visions struggle to impose their abstract template onto an intractable world. Faced with such resistance, the would-be revolutionaries seek to mobilise the masses around a shared hatred of a real or imagined foe: “Hence the strident and militant language of the socialist literature—the hate-filled, purpose-filled, bourgeois-baiting prose, one example of which had been offered to me in 1968”. ....

Scruton insists that religion plays a vital social role.... At the very least, conservatives recognise “the indispensability, in sound political judgement, of religious ideas—in particular, ideas of original sin, corporate guilt and suffering—and of the ever-present fear of death and retribution”. Such recognition highlights the extent to which conservatives “place politics, culture and morality before economic order and the distribution of power”, as Marxists and other radicals would have it:
[Conservatives] see politics not as the pursuit of some ultimate goal—whether national supremacy, social justice or economic growth—but as the attempt to reconcile conflicting interests, and to establish law, order and peace throughout society.