Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Hallows’ Eve

As another Halloween approaches I once again post this:

As Halloween approaches it is useful for the more excitable among us to be reminded that the Evil One has already been defeated. From "Concerning Halloween" by James B. Jordan:
.... "Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.) ....

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. ....

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR! .... (more)
Biblical Horizons » Concerning Halloween

Friday, October 30, 2015

National Review at 60

current issue
The current special issue of National Review celebrates the 60th year in publication of the magazine. I've subscribed since I was in high school although now the subscription is digital. I discovered that the college library had back issues all the way to issue one. For some years I sent each year's collection of my magazines off to be bound and I once had a bookshelf full of the bound issues. I very much identify with the current editor's experience.

Rich Lowry:
As was the case for so many of our readers (some of them share their stories of their first copy of the magazine in this issue), NR was an education. An earnestly active reader, I underlined what seemed the most important bits. Whenever I didn’t understand something, I took it as a challenge, not an affront. I used NR as a bibliography for a conservative education, finding my way to Henry Hazlitt, C.S. Lewis, Whittaker Chambers, and others through its pages. ....
the masthead for issue 1
The editors on the current challenges:
.... Playboy magazine, two years our senior, announced that it will no longer run pictures of naked women. That is because doing so is now superfluous, the sexual revolution having become an empire, omnipresent and unshakeable. Neither culture nor law any longer respects the ideal that children deserve a father and a mother, and the Supreme Court has read the new dispensation into the Constitution. Fifty-six million human beings have been consumed by the abortion Moloch. After a generation of legalized abortion, polls show sentiment turning against it, even among the young. Will it take another generation before we stop bleeding lives, and humanity?

Although the world is free of an international Communist movement, China (still Communist) and Russia (now Putinist) behave like amoral great powers. More dangerous, because unconstrained by ordinary calculations of survival, is Islamist terror. The Soviet Union never killed 3,000 Americans in one morning. A nuclear-armed Iran or a nuclear-armed ISIS may do it again, or worse. To meet both challenges, the United States needs a large, resilient military and a foreign-policy establishment that knows who our enemies are. ....
It is a big issue with many contributors. The book section asks for "books that shaped [their] minds" from its contributors. I think I may particularly enjoy that. Hours of good reading ahead.

Sinning saints

Tomorrow, October 31st, is Reformation Day. Kevin DeYoung reminds us of one of the most important reasons we are Protestants:
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered the launching point for the Protestant Reformation.

The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. ....

There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.

First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).

Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. .... I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. .... We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).

Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.

Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. ...[E]vangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.

Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. .... It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved. [more]
From Nathan Finn: "Baptists and the Reformation":
...[O]n this Reformation Day, I’m thankful for the Protestant heritage we Baptists enjoy. We stand with Luther and Calvin on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We stand with the Anabaptists on a believer’s church committed to radical discipleship and confessor’s baptism. We stand with all three of these groups in their commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture. And as good Protestants, we ultimately stand where we stand, not because others stand there as well, but because we believe the Spirit still speaks through His Word to guide Christ’s people on the narrow way.
Five Key Concepts in the Reformation Understanding of Justification – Kevin DeYoung, Baptists and the Reformation

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Unanswered prayer?

.... I wrote two chapters on unanswered prayer, but frankly, all words seem impotent against the mystery of why such prayers go unanswered. When prayer seems more like struggle than relationship, when I find myself repeating the same requests over and over and wonder, "Is anyone really listening?" I take some comfort in remembering that Jesus, too, had unanswered prayers. ....

How many times have I prayed for one thing only to receive another? I long for the sense of detachment, of trust, that I see in Gethsemane. God and God alone is qualified to answer my prayers, even if it means transmuting them from my own self-protective will into God's perfect will. When Jesus prayed to the one who could save him from death, he did not get that salvation; he got instead the salvation of the world. ....

My understanding of prayer has changed. I now see it less as trying to convince God to do what I want done and more as a way of discerning what God wants done in the world, and how I can be a part of it. Mystery endures, but a different kind of mystery: What tiny role can I play in answering Jesus' prayer for unity, and in doing God's will on earth as it is in heaven? .... [more]

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

“Come, Watson, come!" he cried. "The game is afoot.”

In Commentary Terry Teachout reviews "a new collection of Holmes stories—homages, pastiches, parodies, [and] spoofs...": The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories and considers what accounts for the enduring popularity of Holmes and Watson.
Is there a character in 19th-century prose fiction who remains more familiar to the general public than Sherlock Holmes? While Captain Ahab, Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Count Dracula, Huckleberry Finn, Jekyll and Hyde, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Uncle Tom are still widely known by name, most of them are well on the way to becoming symbolic figures who are better known as concepts (and as TV and movie characters) than as creations of literary art. Yet the world’s first private consulting detective lives on, not only as embodied by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller on television but on paper as well. When last I looked, the paperback edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes ranked No. 5,650 in sales on Amazon, a more than respectable figure for two fat volumes of novels and short stories originally published between 1887 and 1921 by an author whose other books are forgotten. ....

What keeps Sherlock Holmes alive? As is customarily the case with serial literature, the most important element of the appeal of the Holmes stories is the personality of their principal character, closely followed by his relationship with his amanuensis. Saturnine, sardonic, and inexplicably indifferent to women, rational to a fault yet afflicted by an ennui so profound that he must resort to cocaine in order to dispel it, Holmes is the very model of an English eccentric, exotic everywhere but in his native land.

To have created him was a considerable feat of the romantic imagination. To have paired him with Dr. Watson, the retired army surgeon who narrates all but a handful of the stories, was a stroke of something not unlike genius. It is Watson’s phlegmatic good humor that roots the fantastic adventures of Holmes and his clients in the quotidian world of Victorian London....

...[A]nother source of Holmes’s perennial appeal, which is that he is, in common with most other fictional detectives of the 19th and early-20th centuries, a fundamentally reassuring presence, one whose phenomenal crime-solving abilities remind us that the encroaching disorder of the world around us need not be irresistible. .... [more]
Teachout's final judgement is that the original stories by Conan Doyle are not "classic—merely memorable."

Monday, October 26, 2015

A book with an offensive title

A blogger finds a book review in an unlikely magazine in his doctor's waiting room and thinks Thomas Aquinas might like the authors' conclusions (but perhaps not their choice of title):
.... Patients come with all sorts of problems, often wanting change where change wasn’t possible. In the process they ramble on about their feelings until Dr. Bennett stops them. Feelings, he insists, are simply facts. We need to accept them, get over them and get on with what we’re going to do about our problems.

Life, he argues, is not about improving self-esteem or making ourselves feel better or figuring out a way to be happier or solving “life’s impossible problems.” It’s about managing what are often stinking, no good, rotten and unfair circumstances and problems. “If you want to make good decisions or get good advice about them,” the Bennetts write in their “Manifesto,” “don’t pay too much attention to your feelings.”

The Bennetts recommend treating feelings as mere a data point while living instead with a reliance on reason and will. “In our world,” they write, “feelings don’t rule, many things can’t be changed and acceptance of limits, not limitless self-improvement, is the key to moving forward and dealing effectively with any and all crap that life can throw your way.”

It’s about time that people in the psychology/psychiatry world began assaulting the therapeutic culture that holds Western culture and far too much of the Church captive. We’ve become obsessed with our feelings and those feelings have become self-validating: I feel what I feel and can’t help it. If I feel it and can’t help it, my feelings must be good. If my feelings are good, I have right to act as they lead me. And if I have a right to act as my feelings lead me, I am owed validation and success. ....

Or take higher education where protecting everyone’s feelings has become a major purpose. Students today are apparently so emotionally fragile that they require trigger warnings on books that might offend, “safe” spaces in which to share their feelings, protection from speakers they might find unsettling and only the most carefully chosen and innocuous words.

Even the Supreme Court runs on feelings these days. The majority opinion extending marriage to same-sex couples begins, “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity” where “identity,” of course, has to do almost exclusively with feelings and desires.

“When I was a child,” wrote St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

It’s children who moan, “You hurt my feelings” and “That’s not fair” — or at least it used to be. Now it’s everyone and it needs to stop. .... [more]
Our Feelings are a Blind Guide | The Stream

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Not all pieties are equal"

Reacting to the news that American soldiers in Afghanistan have been ordered to ignore the sex crimes of their Afghan allies, Jonah Goldberg recounts perhaps my favorite story from the period of British imperialism in India.
.... General Charles Napier was the British commander-in-chief of colonial India. His most notable military accomplishment was conquering the province of Sindh — now in modern Pakistan — despite not having been instructed to do so. After securing victory, he reportedly sent a one-word message back to the Home Office: “Peccavi.” In Latin, “Peccavi” means “I have sinned.”

But that’s not the story I have in mind. On one occasion a delegation of Hindu priests came to Napier to repeat their objection to the British prohibition of sati, the practice of widows’ throwing themselves onto their husbands’ funeral pyres, sometimes under compulsion. You Brits, they explained, do not appreciate what a venerable custom this is in India.

Napier replied:
Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.

Friday, October 23, 2015

"One must also believe it"

I remember a long-ago conversation with a teaching colleague about Christian belief. He was an active member of a Lutheran church and sang in its choir every Sunday. As we talked it became clear that his beliefs were far from orthodox. I said something like "How do you reconcile reciting the Creed every week but not believing it?"  Carl Trueman at First Things:
Some years ago I wrote a small book on the importance of creeds and confessions of faith. In it, I described the recitation of a creed as one of the greatest acts of counter-cultural rebellion in which one could engage. It is such because it involves an assertion of the importance of the past, a relativizing of individual identity in relation to the wider church body (past, present and future), and a clear declaration of submission to external authority.

While I still believe that, today I consider it necessary to be more explicit about one thing. It is not enough simply to recite historic creeds and catechisms or to use historic liturgies. One must believe them too, otherwise the act of recitation is not really rebellion but little more than nostalgia, a weak and anodyne postmodern pretense of protest. ....

.... Just because one recites the Nicene Creed on a Sunday does not make one a Christian. It might simply make you a postmodern spiritual tourist or a religious aesthete. And the fact that a creed is old and has stood the test of liturgical time does not make it true. To recite a creed properly one must also believe it. And believe it because it is true. [more]

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Smoke

One of the nicknames for London was "The Smoke" because of the dense fog that often enveloped the city. The fog was created by a combination of weather and the coal smoke from fires heating just about every home. From a review of London Fog: The Biography:
.... Coal fires were common and necessary. High in sulfur, they created a yellow fog that became increasingly thick and persistent as London became an economic hub in the 19th century. Responding to a crescendo of public concern, Parliament began to pass bills aimed at reducing smoke in the 1820s, but as Corton writes, “it was difficult to interfere with the right of the householder to use coal for heating and cooking, and there were no satisfactory alternative sources of energy.”

Because it was omnipresent and unavoidable, fog was continually written about—providing a descriptive record that evocatively delineated London fog’s “biography.” In 1853, one Londoner described it as “grey-yellow, of a deep orange.” .... By the mid-19th century its uglier character had emerged under the guise of a “pea-souper,” since that’s what its color resembled. Visiting London in 1849, Herman Melville wrote in his journal of “the old fashioned pea soup London fog—of a gamboge [orange-yellow] color.” Newspaper accounts also described how the city’s population was “periodically submerged in a fog of the consistency of pea-soup.” ....

.... Fog instills the air with a sense of secrecy through its “swirling” presence and weighty gloom. It was a terrifying world where women walked the streets and abandoned children huddled in doorways. It was a place, in the late 1880s, where Jack the Ripper roamed and slaughtered with impunity.

In his fictional world, Arthur Conan Doyle certainly embraced fog’s possibilities to enhance the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. At one point, Holmes reflects on the opportunities fog offers London criminals:
Look out this window, Watson. See how the figures loom up, are dimly seen, and then blend once more into the cloud-bank. The thief or the murderer could roam London on such a day as the tiger does the jungle, unseen until he pounces and then evident only to his victim.
Fog appears early in The Sign of Four: “It was a September evening and not yet seven o’clock. ...The lamps were but misty splotches of diffused light which threw a feeble circular glimmer upon the slimy pavement.” .... [more]
These thick and dangerous fogs lasted right up to the middle of the last century. One of the worst and deadliest occurred in December, 1952.
....For five days, the Great Smog paralyzed London and crippled all transportation, except for its Underground. Boat traffic on the Thames came to a halt. Flights were grounded and trains cancelled. Even during the middle of the day, drivers turned on their headlights and hanged their heads out the windows in an attempt to inch ahead through the yellow gloom. Many found the exercise futile and abandoned their cars. Conductors grasping flashlights and torches walked in front of the iconic double-decker buses to guide drivers nosing down the city streets. Wheezing pedestrians groped their ways around the city’s neighborhoods and tried not to slip on the greasy black ooze that coated sidewalks. By the time they returned home, with their faces and noses blackened by the air, Londoners resembled coal miners. .... [more]
One of Margery Allingham's best Albert Campion mysteries is The Tiger in the Smoke published in 1952 and set in London. The title is probably based on the Holmes quotation above: "The thief or the murderer could roam London on such a day as the tiger does the jungle, unseen until he pounces and then evident only to his victim." Allingham was a member of the Detection Club and would have been very familiar with the Holmes canon. From the first page of the first chapter:
.... The fog was like a saffron blanket soaked in ice-water. It had hung over London all day and at last was beginning to descend. The sky was yellow as a duster and the rest was a granular black, over-printed in grey and lightened by occasional slivers of bright fish colour as a policeman turned in his wet cape.

Already the traffic was at an irritable crawl. By dusk it would be stationary. To the west the Park dripped wretchedly and to the north the great railway terminus slammed and banged and exploded hollowly about its affairs. Between lay winding miles of butter-coloured stucco in every conceivable state of repair.

The fog had crept into the taxi where it crouched panting in a traffic jam. It oozed in ungenially, to smear sooty fingers over the two elegant young people who sat inside. ....
Shroud of London | The Weekly Standard, The Killer Fog That Blanketed London, 60 Years Ago - History in the Headlines

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"Now stir the fire, and close the shutters..."

Patrick Kurp who blogs at Anecdotal Evidence suggests, with John Betjeman, that some things are best read in a particular environment:
Here is Sir John Betjeman writing in First and Last Loves (John Murray, 1952):
“Every winter I read The Task by William Cowper, and twice or thrice those wonderful books in it where he describes a Winter Evening, a Winter Morning and a Winter Walk at Noon. The frost blades of north Buckinghamshire, the snowed-over woodlands, the dog that gamboled in the snow, the bells and post horns, the cups of tea, melted, dead, silenced, evaporated for nearly two hundred years, come to life again.”
Betjeman (1906-1984) is a poet and chronicler of English buildings and places who, I sense, has never successfully crossed the Atlantic, perhaps because he sounds so very English to American ears. He writes in a tone we might call enlightened nostalgia....

.... Consider this passage from, Book IV, “The Winter Evening”:
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful ev’ning in.
With Collins and Smart, Cowper was one of the mad English poets of the eighteenth century. At least three times he tried to take his own life, and he spent years in various asylums. His faith and the writing of hymns were his refuge, as was the cozy winter world he depicts in The Task. You can see why Betjeman habitually read the poem during the cold months. He continues:
“Winter is the time for reading poetry and often I discover for myself some minor English poet, a country parson who on just such a night must have sat in his study and blown sand off lines like these, written in ink made of oak-gall:
Soon as eve closes, the loud-hooting owl
That loves the turbulent and frosty night
Perches aloft upon the rocking elm
And hallooes to the moon.”
The author of those lines is a poet new to me, the Rev. James Hurdis (1763-1801), a vicar in West Sussex. The passage comes from “The Favourite Village,” published in 1800, the year of Cowper’s death. .... [more]
Anecdotal Evidence: `The Smell of the Old Book'

Milton Seventh Day Baptist on an anniversary

The Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church is preparing to celebrate the 175th anniversary of its founding on November 12th 1840. Yesterday I spent several hours looking through that church's vault hoping to find some materials about the church's history that could be displayed. I grew up in that church and for a time, as a teenager, served on its history committee. I knew at least a few things that I might find, among which were the minute books for the business meetings of the church dating back to the founding. They were there. Somehow they survived the fire that destroyed the first church building in 1932. During the Great Depression the current building was constructed.

I have always been interested in the controversy in the 1870s that resulted in a very acrimonious split in the church. It was occasioned by the dismissal of the pastor and involved Ezra Goodrich, the son of the founder of Milton on one side, and W.C. Whitford, a previous pastor and president of Milton College, on the other. The minutes for that period recount the dispute and although I don't possess copies yet I hope to at some point. I do have some other materials. The pastor who was dismissed was L.C. Rogers and one result of the split was the Milton Junction Seventh Day Baptist Church a short distance to the west.

This excerpt from a letter explains feelings of those who supported Pastor Rogers:
Here is a copy of my husband's letter to Charles in which he says in reply to your question what L.C. expects to do. I think it safe to say that he expects to remain in Milton until he gets what's due him for his services. "If it takes all summer." As I understand it the question stands thus: L.C. claims that he contracted in good faith with the Church & Society as known in their act of incorporation and has thus far (till Church, meeting of Feb. 7th) received his pay from the funds of the C&S, they thereby acknowledging their obligation. But a faction of the church came to the conclusion (as it seems to me) that the preaching was rather too religious for Milton. Another trial was the reading of the Commandments every Sabbath knowing as preacher must that more or less of the Sunday students from the College were in attendance and some other equally grievous acts of his were a sufficient reason for his removal in the estimation of said faction. But as the faction could not control the C&S they managed by packing a church meeting and deposing of L.C. from the chair which of right and by custom belonged to him and filling his place with one of their tools they succeeded in getting a majority vote in favor of a notice to L.C. to vacate the desk as pastor at the end of three months. .... (the entire letter in pdf)
Those left in control of the Milton church set forth their position in a "Letter Missive" to other churches in the denomination asking them to send delegates to arbitrate the dispute:

 The entire "Letter Missive" (pdf).

Nothing about this story is edifying but conflict always makes more interesting. Most of the Milton church's history is less dramatic but undoubtedly more appropriate.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Called to worship

When Robert Robinson penned the words, “Come Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace,” he wasn’t speculating. He knew the reality of the human condition. We come from a long line of people who are restlessly prone to wander. The heart is a fickle thing and needs to be tuned regularly. The call to worship serves as a tuning of our hearts.

Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 117)
There is a quiet reminder in the call to worship that worship is not our idea. We worship because it is God’s idea. Psalm 117 is God’s word, which means it is God who is speaking to his people, commanding, inviting, and exhorting us to praise him (verse 1). This call is rooted in a firm commitment to both his glory and our joy. When God’s people are gathered in his name, he serves as the host. He has initiated and invited us into fellowship with him. .... [more]
Tune Our Hearts: The Call to Worship | TGC

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A lot more fun

"Through us and in spite of us"

...[T]he line separating good and evil passes not through states,
nor between classes, nor between political parties either,
but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.
This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.
Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil,
one small bridgehead of good is retained;
and even in the best of all hearts,
there remains a small corner of evil. ....
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Tish Harrison Warren, in Christianity Today, on "Our Beautiful, Broken Christian Ancestors":
...[W]e all inherit cultural and familial legacies marred by sin. But if the false gospel of some is ancestor worship, the false gospel of others is “progress.” We mobile urbanites can deride our heritage altogether. Confident in our own broad-minded superiority, we adopt a historical determinism that smugly labels everyone on the “right” or “wrong” side of history. ....

...[W]e are tempted to airbrush saints of old, glorify church tradition, and pine for a mythic, unadulterated past. .... We belittle the gospel when we paper over wickedness or weakness in our heroes and traditions. ....

On the other hand, we are tempted to write off church tradition entirely, engaging in what C. S. Lewis famously described as “chronological snobbery.” When my husband was getting his PhD, he taught a course in church history to divinity students. One day after class, he mentioned that the students seemed disengaged. “Why?” I asked. In short, it was because they deemed John Calvin a homophobe, Augustine of Hippo a sexist, and Arius a marginalized voice. The students had taken their particular contemporary concerns—about inclusion and equality—and imposed them on all who had come before them. They could easily deconstruct, and dismiss, nearly every leader in church history. ....

Standing in the muddy stream of church history, we recall that we, too, are blind to the evil within us and around us. In Augustine’s day, misogyny was the water he swam in, everywhere and invisible. Lewis wrote that the antidote to chronological snobbery is to realize that our current moment has its own myopia and illusions. These “are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.” ....

Martin Luther—whose legacy is clearly checkered—declared that each of us, in Christ, is rightly called both saint and sinner. ....

This view of humanity, rooted in the gospel, is what allows us to look squarely at and actively repent of evil in our church, and national, heritage. And yet it also lets us recognize that we have no choice but to learn from past voices that are simultaneously sinful and holy. The gospel allows us to honestly confront evil in church history, and to embody the good news that God uses even sinners—despicable and broken, confused and conflicted, good bad/bad good guys—to glorify himself. ....

...[F]ollowing Jesus allows us to be grateful for both our familial and church ancestors. In their mixed legacies, we not only glimpse our own brokenness, we also glimpse that for which Christ died and which he will redeem. ....

Our shared hope—the hope of those past, present, and future—is that the Lord, the only true “good guy” and the Redeemer of history, will preserve his church, through us and in spite of us. [more]

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dylan and The Dead

Bob Dylan never had any trouble getting backup bands. It was The Band for a time. Later it was Tom Petty. In summer, 1987, Dylan rehearsed with the Grateful Dead, his compositions mostly. The rehearsals were taped. I've been listening to these songs all afternoon. The really good stuff begins around track seven (out of seventy-four). This was after Dylan had released a couple of explicitly Christian albums and it is interesting to contemplate the Dead singing along with "Slow Train Coming," or "Gotta Serve Somebody."

Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead Rehearse Together in Summer 1987. Listen to 74 Tracks. | Open Culture

Inside the dome

Inside Wisconsin's Capitol Building.

can be enlarged

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Buchan again

John Buchan (1875-1940) wrote, among much else, some of the best "thrillers." I like almost all of them. There are problems, among which are some ethnic stereotypes unfortunately not untypical of the time of authorship. Gertrude Himmelfarb addressed those issues to my satisfaction in an essay printed in Encounter (pdf) in 1960.

Buchan's granddaughter (and biographer) writes about "The many lives of John Buchan," and particularly his most famous book, in the current Spectator:
.... As well as journalist and barrister, he was at various times colonial administrator, head of wartime propaganda, member of Parliament, novelist, poet, historian, public thinker and viceroy. But his name has been made, seemingly for all eternity, by a short spy thriller which he wrote in a few weeks for his own amusement.

In August 1914 Buchan took a family holiday in Broadstairs, Kent; a duo-denal ulcer was playing up badly and his doctor recommended rest. There he began his second ‘shocker’ (the first was The Power House), finishing it when ordered to bed again in December. The book’s dedication, to his friend and business partner, Tommy Nelson, defines the ‘shocker’ as a ‘romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible’, which, taking in all the coincidences as well as the explosive incident with the lentonite, seems about right. The novel was serialised in Blackwood’s Magazine between July and September 1915, and appeared in book form in October, when it was an immediate critical and commercial success, selling 25,000 copies in the first six weeks. ....

The tense, fast-moving, first-person narrative contains surprisingly interesting characterisations for an adventure story, not to mention deft and vivid descriptions of landscape and weather, for which Buchan was to become renowned. It has all his hallmarks of brevity, clarity, keen observation and wry humour. The South African Hannay irritates some readers by his heartiness, robust colonial utterances and emphasis on getting a job done, but we shouldn’t forget he was conceived in wartime. I like his resourcefulness, sensitivity to atmosphere and cheerful courage. Although at least partly modelled on General Sir Edmund Ironside, Hannay is, in many ways, the average man who knows his limitations, and is thus someone with whom readers can readily identify. The book was very popular with soldiers in the trenches.

In 1934, Alfred Hitchcock bought the option to film the book from Buchan, by now a very well-known writer and politician. The 39 Steps, possibly the first ‘man-on-the-run’ thriller ever filmed, made Hitchcock famous in America for the first time when it came out in 1935. Much of the plot was changed to accommodate a love interest and to reflect the different international situation, 20 years on from 1915. Hannay, played by Robert Donat, acquires a beautiful but reluctant companion, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll). The scene where they have to share a room in a Scottish inn and she removes her stocking, while handcuffed to him, gives off an erotic spark even now. An amused Buchan told Hitchcock at the premiere that the film was a great improvement on the book; only my loyal granny could never be reconciled to Hitchcock changing the story.

.... We shall never know whether the book would have remained in print continuously for a century without the film industry promoting it so assiduously. What is plain is that its prominence has succeeded in obscuring many of the other things for which John Buchan deserves to be remembered. [more]
Buchan is always a good read and The Thirty-Nine Steps is a good place to start, but he wrote even better books of which the most relevant today is probably Greenmantle, another Hannay story.

Other posts about Buchan or his books on this site.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Farther Along

Two verses of "Farther Along" were used in the soundtrack of Winter's Bone. It's a performance I like.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.

Friday, October 9, 2015


Do many of those who wear apparel decorated with the image of Che Guevara actually know anything about him? The image is ubiquitous in Cuba and common on American college campuses. The Nazis were pretty good at graphics, too, but it would be insane to walk around with a picture of Reinhard Heydrich on your chest. Do contemporary wearers of Che T-shirts really intend to honor him? On this anniversary of his death the following rather easy quiz is offered:

click on the image to enlarge

No More Che Day

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Inadmissible facts

Yesterday I came across this: "Those who 'abjure' violence can do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf." I searched for the context and found it. It is from an 1945 essay by George Orwell: "Notes on Nationalism." He is using "nationalism" as meaning "the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests." That attitude is applicable to any allegiance, not just to a nation-state. From that essay:
...[I]t is unusual for anyone describable as an intellectual to feel a very deep attachment to his own country. Public opinion — that is, the section of public opinion of which he as an intellectual is aware — will not allow him to do so. .... He still feels the need for a Fatherland, and it is natural to look for one somewhere abroad. Having found it, he can wallow unrestrainedly in exactly those emotions from which he believes that he has emancipated himself. God, the King, the Empire, the Union Jack — all the overthrown idols can reappear under different names, and because they are not recognized for what they are they can be worshipped with a good conscience. ....

In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one's own mind. ....

The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. .... Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defense of western countries. ....

Let a certain note be struck, let this or that corn be trodden on...and the most fair-minded and sweet-tempered person may suddenly be transformed into a vicious partisan, anxious only to "score" over his adversary and indifferent as to how many lies he tells or how many logical errors he commits in doing so. .... One prod to the nerve of nationalism, and the intellectual decencies can vanish, the past can be altered, and the plainest facts can be denied. ....

.... There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when "our" side commits it. Even if one does not deny that the crime has happened, even if one knows that it is exactly the same crime as one has condemned in some other case, even if one admits in an intellectual sense that it is unjustified — still one cannot feel that it is wrong. Loyalty is involved, and so pity ceases to function. ....

I think one must engage in politics — using the word in a wide sense — and that one must have preferences: that is, one must recognize that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one's own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias. .... [Y]ou can at least recognize that you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes. The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. .... [more]
The context of that quotation I found yesterday:
If one harbours anywhere in one's mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:
BRITISH TORY: Britain will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.
COMMUNIST. If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.
IRISH NATIONALIST. Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.
TROTSKYIST. The Stalin regime is accepted by the Russian masses.
PACIFIST. Those who "abjure" violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A date in history

Dorothy L. Sayers:
.... For Jesus Christ is unique—unique among gods and men. There have been incarnate gods a-plenty, and slain-and-resurrected gods not a few; but He is the only God who has a date in history. And plenty of founders of religions have had dates, and some of them have been prophets or avatars of the Divine; but only this one of them was personally God. There is no more astonishing collocation of phrases than that which, in the Nicene Creed, sets these two statements flatly side by side: "Very God of very God. ...He suffered under Pontius Pilate." All over the world, thousands of times a day, Christians recite the name of a rather undistinguished Roman pro-consul—not in execration (Judas and Caiaphas, more guilty, get off with fewer reminders of their iniquities), but merely because that name fixes within a few years the date of the death of God. ....
Dorothy L. Sayers, The Man Born to be King, 1943

Friday, October 2, 2015

"The active patient wisdom of wise courageous action..."

In the current Weekly Standard John Podhoretz reviews a documentary, Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon. From the review:
.... In less than a decade, the magazine had inspired the creation of Saturday Night Live, created a new movie genre with National Lampoon’s Animal House, and seeded American comedy with the performers and writers and directors who have dominated the form from that day to this. It was during this time that Kenney and P. J. O’Rourke created the brand’s enduring masterpiece, National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook Parody. The yearbook was the perfect encapsulation of everything that made the Lampoon great: its meticulous attention to detail, its pitch-perfect understanding of Middle-American culture, and its refusal to kowtow to the political correctness of its day. ....
I own a copy of that "yearbook." It is dated "1964" — the year I graduated from high school. After digging through several boxes of saved junk I found it. The yearbook belonged to Larry Kroger (who went on to matriculate at Faber College in Animal House).  The high school was C. Estes Kefauver Memorial High School in Dacron, Ohio.

The yearbook was (like thousands of real yearbooks that year) dedicated to JFK who had been assassinated the previous fall:
can be enlarged
We proudly dedicate the 1964 Kaleidoscope to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, whose tragic death marred the passage of this year at Kefauver High, a man whom we admired not for what he did for himself but for what he did for his country and we as citizens of it.

JFK, perhaps we learned more from you than from any other teacher in high school. You taught us the courage of action in West Berlin, the wisdom of patience in Southeast Asia, the action of wisdom in our space race, the patience of courage in desegregated schools, and the active patient wisdom of wise courageous action at the Guantanamo Naval Base. You are gone, but, you have left behind a legacy of peace and prosperity at home, abroad, and in school. And, though the Presidency has passed on to other able hands, it is you who remains 'President of the Class of '64" in our hearts. You who might as well have said, "Ich bein ine Kefauver Senior."
That year the band director at my high school led an effort to rename it "John F. Kennedy Memorial High School."

A fairly representative page from the Clubs section of the kaleidoscope:

click to enlarge
Funny or Die | The Weekly Standard