Monday, February 29, 2016

"Very wicked indeed..."

The Time website recently published a list of 100 female writers most read on college campuses. Number 97 on the list was Evelyn Waugh. From "An Ignorant Time":
.... When the dust-up hit the Net, one of Twitter’s most popular commentators, Matthew Yglesias, owned up to his ignorance like a man—an unlettered man. “Confession time,” he wrote. “Until today I thought Evelyn Waugh was a woman, because his name is ‘Evelyn’ and that is typically a woman’s name.” Whereupon, a derisive Twitterer asked, “Have you ever read anything?” Answering in kind, Yglesias shot back, “Yes, several books but none by Evelyn Waugh.”

Very amusing, but Yglesias isn’t your average blogger. He’s a graduate of Dalton—a tony Manhattan progressive school—and attended Harvard where he graduated magna cum laude in 2003. If Waugh is untaught—and perhaps unknown—in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that lends credence to an essay in the education-watching site Minding the Campus. Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen laments, “My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.”

Waugh saw all this coming more than 50 years ago. In Scott-King’s Modern Europe, a fatuous headmaster declares, “Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ anymore. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the public world. You can hardly blame them, can you?” Scott-King, Waugh’s mouthpiece, responds: “I can and do. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.” .... [more]

Sunday, February 28, 2016

"That it may please Thee..."

From Thomas Cranmer's Great Litany:
We sinners do beseech Thee to hear us, O Lord God; and that it may please Thee to rule and govern Thy holy Church Universal in the right way,

That it may please Thee to give to all people increase of grace to hear and receive Thy Word, and to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit,

That it may please Thee to bring into the way of truth all such as have erred, and are deceived,

That it may please Thee to give us a heart to love and fear Thee, and diligently to live after Thy commandments,

That it may please Thee to show Thy pity upon all prisoners and captives, the homeless and the hungry, and all who are desolate and oppressed,

That it may please Thee to inspire us, in our several callings, to do the work which Thou givest us to do with singleness of heart as Thy servants, and for the common good,

That it may please Thee to visit the lonely; to strengthen all who suffer in mind, body, and spirit; and to comfort with Thy presence those who are failing and infirm,

That it may please Thee to support, help, and comfort all who are in danger, necessity, and tribulation,

That it may please Thee to give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue us with the grace of Thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to Thy holy Word,

That it may please Thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts,

That it may please Thee to strengthen such as do stand; to comfort and help the weak-hearted; to raise up those who fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet,

That it may please Thee to grant to all the faithful departed eternal life and peace,

We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Capturing the imagination and cultivating the conscience

Among the luckiest children are those whose parents read to them. I have collected a few books that suggest good choices although, having no children of my own, I haven't been able to use the advice myself. One that I just revisited, and that I am happy to find still in print, is Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories. I wish I had thought to give it to parents I know who have young children.

The first chapter is "Imagination: The Heart's Best Guide" and begins:
WHEN HER TWO-YEAR-OLD sister began to cry over a missing stuffed bear, Crystal, age four, declared, "She wants her Dogger," and proceeded to offer one of her own stuffed animals as a substitute. Dogger is a story about a boy who loses his worn, stuffed dog, and about his older sister, Bella, who trades a large and beautiful stuffed bear to get Dogger back for him. Crystal, who had heard the story only the night before, was putting into practice the good example set by Bella.

Crystal is a lucky girl. Her mother reads to her. And her mother is selective in what she reads. As a result, Crystal is beginning to develop a picture in her mind of the way things should be, of how people can act when they're at their best.

This book is intended to introduce the reader to books that help youngsters grow in virtue—books like Dogger. There is no shortage of such books. In fact, there are thousands of finely crafted stories for children that make honesty, responsibility, and compassion come alive. But they are not always easy to find. Concepts such as virtue, good example, and character have been out of fashion in our society for quite some time, and their absence is reflected in the available guidebooks to children's literature. Although there are many such guides, they all suffer from a common limitation: that is, their focus is almost solely on readability or, worse, on popularity. What is missing from these guides—what seems to be avoided—is any suggestion that certain books may help to develop character, and that others may not. The distinctive feature of this book, by contrast, is its focus on the moral dimension of reading. We think many parents want books for their children that are not simply a good read but good in the other sense of the word—books that not only capture the imagination, but cultivate the conscience as well.

Such books bestow a double blessing. They provide hours of pure pleasure. They also provide good companions. They introduce your child to friends who are a little older, a little wiser, a little braver. Along with these companions your child gets to ask some tough questions. Is Long John Silver good or bad? Should Beauty keep her promise to Beast? Should Frodo continue on his seemingly doomed mission while there is still a chance to return to the safety of the Shire? These are not easy questions to answer, especially when time is running out or the edge of the cliff is crumbling underfoot, but they are the kind of questions with which we are all confronted sooner or later. And when they come they often come in situations in which we have little time to think or at times when we may be angry, fearful, or just plain exhausted. It's exactly at times like this that the half-forgotten memory of a story can rise to our aid. ....
Most of the book (240 pages out of 317) is devoted to recommending books. The recommendations are in categories like "Picture Books," "Fables and Fairy Tales," "Myths, Legends and Folk Tales," "Sacred Texts," "Historical Fiction," etc. with a paragraph or two about each book and particular recommendations for "Younger Readers" and "Middle Readers."

For example, the "Younger Readers" recommendations in the "Sacred Texts" section include:
  • The Children's Bible
  • Days of Awe: Stories for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by Eric A. Kimmel
  • Ladder of Angels: Stories from the Bible by Madeleine L'Engle
  • The Song of the Three Holy Children by Pauline Baynes (who illustrated the Narnia books)
The "Historical Fiction" recommendations for "Middle Readers" include:
  • Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Gray
  • Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
  • Johnny Tremaine by Esther Forbes
  • The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
...and many others, including my boyhood favorite, Treasure Island.

There is also a section for "Contemporary Fiction" but since the book was published in 1994 those recommendations are not contemporary any more.

An Appendix recommends "Twenty Great Children's Videos" and they are really good recommendations, all now available on DVD.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Tao

I have discovered that the full text of C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man can be found online (also here as a pdf and for Kindle). This short book (61 pages) is an argument for objective moral law — what has been called Natural Law and Lewis called the Tao. From Wikipedia's description of the book:
The Abolition of Man is a 1943 book by C.S. Lewis. It is subtitled "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools," and uses that as a starting point for a defense of objective value and natural law, and a warning of the consequences of doing away with or "debunking" those things. It defends science as something worth pursuing but criticizes using it to debunk values—the value of science itself being among them—or defining it to exclude such values. The book was first delivered as a series of three evening lectures at King's College, Newcastle, part of the University of Durham, as the Riddell Memorial Lectures on February 24–26, 1943.
From the second lecture (the second chapter of the book) titled "The Way":
.... This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There never has been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) 'ideologies,' all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in. .... (Abolition of Man, Macmillan, 1949, pp. 28-29)
Full text of The Abolition of Man

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ghastly "celebrations of life"

Continuing with reflections on Christian funerals occasioned by the funeral of Antonin Scalia, Carl Trueman:
.... The straightforward seriousness of the rites reflected the metaphysical depth of the Christian understanding of life and of its end. I could not help but compare the occasions with the growing penchant even among professing Christians for turning funerals into these ghastly ‘celebrations of life’. ....

‘Celebrations of life’ and funeral liturgies which choose ‘My Way’ or ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ are interesting phenomena because they reflect the metaphysical superficiality of this present age and our childish inability to face up to the seriousness of death even when it is staring us in the face. They also represent the perfect paradox of an age built on so many fundamental contradictions. If the life was worth anything, then its end must represent a painful and permanent void for those left behind. Such a thing can surely not be celebrated with any honesty? And if the life was worthless or meaningless and ended without leaving a painful void in the lives of others, is it really worth celebrating at all?

Rites surrounding the dead demonstrate how seriously we take life. For a hedonistic society like ours whose primary purpose is personal pleasure and whose first priority is entertainment, death is a rather confusing, if somewhat unavoidable, embarrassment. ‘Celebrations of life’ are one of the results, both pitiful and incoherent ..... [more]

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Because of one man

In "Covering the funeral of Antonin Scalia, while ignoring what the Mass was really about," Terry Mattingly notices that most of the media covered it as a political event. The sermon by the Justice's son, a priest, attempted to call attention to the more important reality:
We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more, a man loved by many, scorned by others, a man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth. It is He whom we proclaim. Jesus Christ, son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of Him, because of His life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.

Scripture says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” And that sets a good course for our thoughts and our prayers here today. In effect, we look in three directions: to yesterday, in thanksgiving; to today, in petition; and into eternity with hope. We look to Jesus Christ yesterday – that is, to the past – in thanksgiving for the blessings God bestowed upon Dad. In the past week, many have recounted what Dad did for them, but here today, we recount what God did for Dad; how He blessed him.

We give thanks, first of all, for the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our Lord died and rose, not only for all of us, but also for each of us. And at this time we look to that yesterday of His death and His resurrection, and we give thanks that He died and rose for Dad.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Raising a fist to death

A few days ago, on Facebook, I quoted from this letter Justice Scalia wrote to a pastor after attending the funeral of retired Justice Lewis Powell. Today Timothy George reflects on funerals and funeral sermons in "Justice Scalia on Funeral Sermons":
Can be enlarged
.... In days gone by, funerals did not focus on “celebrating” life at the expense of ignoring death. Funerals acknowledged the mystery and liminality of death by fostering serious reflection on both the meaning of life and its finitude. “Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes,” the minister would say at the interment while tossing a clod of dirt into the opened grave. This act was done “in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection” (Book of Common Prayer).

Today, even in many churches that retain an orthodox confession of faith, funeral services are often minimalist affairs with a spare (if any) liturgy, no sermon of substance, and sentimentalized music, all suffused with anecdotal stories about the deceased and other half-hearted efforts intended to camouflage the fact that death remains, as St. Paul called it, “the last enemy” to be destroyed (I Cor. 15:25-26). This stands in stark contrast to the tradition of a Christian funeral as worship of the living God who, in Jesus Christ, triumphs over sin, death, and the grave—Christus Victor! Tom Long again:
Though the liturgy may be gently worded, there is no hiding the fact that, in a funeral, Christians raise a fist at death; recount the story of the Christ who suffered death, battled death, and triumphed over it; offer laments and thanksgivings to the God who raised Jesus from the grave; sing hymns of defiance; and honor the body and life of the saint who has died.
.... [more]
George goes on to describe the funeral service Scalia wrote of approvingly and includes the entirety of Scalia's letter to the pastor.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


I have posted several times recently about parts of my library. I have accumulated a lot of books. In the last few years I've been giving away more than I have been buying and, when unsure whether I will want to re-visit, getting the Kindle edition rather than the physical book. Many that I have discarded have gone to friends or to the Madison Public Library. The library sells them to support its work. I've been trying to narrow what I keep down to things I may want to re-read or at least use as reference (although I am much more likely to use Google for that these days).

My most enjoyable leisure reading has always been mysteries. Far more of what I've kept of them have been from an earlier era — many from a time before I existed. This is not the complete collection — there are three more shelves.

Monday, February 15, 2016

"If the Lord wills..."

Diagnosed with a very serious cancer, the author of a book about a very popular but this-worldly theology considers "Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me." From the essay:
.... I am a historian of the American prosperity gospel. Put simply, the prosperity gospel is the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith. I spent 10 years interviewing televangelists with spiritual formulas for how to earn God’s miracle money. I held hands with people in wheelchairs being prayed for by celebrities known for their miracle touch. I sat in people’s living rooms and heard about how they never would have dreamed of owning this home without the encouragement they heard on Sundays. ....

.... The prosperity gospel tries to solve the riddle of human suffering. It is an explanation for the problem of evil. It provides an answer to the question: Why me? For years I sat with prosperity churchgoers and asked them about how they drew conclusions about the good and the bad in their lives. Does God want you to get that promotion? Tell me what it’s like to believe in healing from that hospital bed. What do you hear God saying when it all falls apart?

The prosperity gospel popularized a Christian explanation for why some people make it and some do not. They revolutionized prayer as an instrument for getting God always to say “yes.” It offers people a guarantee: Follow these rules, and God will reward you, heal you, restore you. ....

The prosperity gospel holds to this illusion of control until the very end. If a believer gets sick and dies, shame compounds the grief. Those who are loved and lost are just that — those who have lost the test of faith. In my work, I have heard countless stories of refusing to acknowledge that the end had finally come. An emaciated man was pushed about a megachurch in a wheelchair as churchgoers declared that he was already healed. A woman danced around her sister’s deathbed shouting to horrified family members that the body can yet live. There is no graceful death, no ars moriendi, in the prosperity gospel. There are only jarring disappointments after fevered attempts to deny its inevitability.

The prosperity gospel has taken a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and stripped it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse, it has replaced Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty. The movement has perfected a rarefied form of America’s addiction to self-rule, which denies much of our humanity: our fragile bodies, our finitude, our need to stare down our deaths (at least once in a while) and be filled with dread and wonder. At some point, we must say to ourselves, I’m going to need to let go. .... [more]
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Psalm 73:25–26)

Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me - The New York Times

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"The only thing in the world not for sale is character.”

A website offers nine quotations from Antonin Scalia from among which:
“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools … and he has not been disappointed. … If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.” (Speech at Living the Catholic Faith conference, 2012.)

“Bear in mind that brains and learning, like muscle and physical skill, are articles of commerce. They are bought and sold. You can hire them by the year or by the hour. The only thing in the world not for sale is character.” (Commencement address, College of William and Mary, 1996.)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bernard Cornwell

I enjoy historical fiction almost as much as I do mysteries and thrillers. Bernard Cornwell is one of the best authors for a good fast enjoyable read. The books are informative as well since he takes care to respect the actual historical circumstances. I particularly liked the Sharpe series, set before and during the Napoleonic wars, the "Grail Quest Series," about an English soldier in the Hundred Years War, and, now, his "Saxon Series" about the wars between the Saxons and the Danes in the time of King Alfred. Reviewing today Cornwell's most recent historical fiction, Warriors of the Storm, Joseph Bottum evaluates Cornwell's strengths and weaknesses compared to others in the genre. I have no argument with anything  Bottum writes but here use his words to call attention to the positives:
.... As you would expect for one of the bestselling authors in the genre of historical military fiction, Cornwell shows a talent for describing violence: His fights are always exciting, but he never allows the overall course of a battle to be lost in the details of a single soldier’s actions. ....

Cornwell prides himself on the historical accuracy of his books, as well he ought. But it is a thin accuracy, limited to the stories’ fast-paced action. He knows exactly how a Baker rifle would work in the hands of a skirmisher during Wellington’s campaign through Portugal and Spain—even while it’s not certain he knows why, exactly, the British were there in Portugal and Spain. For a certain kind of writer, writing fictional stories drawn from actual military history, it’s enough that the grander events of the story did take place. Their only necessary justification is their factual reality, and the fiction weaves its fictional characters like decorative stiches on the fabric of history as it actually happened.

Whether in his Sharpe series of 19th-century battles or his tales of warfare in the Dark Ages, Cornwell uses his descriptions of the mechanics and tools of war to build his historical settings. And that, I think, is something of a departure from the normal course of such soldier novels. If your sense as a reader is that his technique is more typical of naval stories, you would be right. Cornwell once suggested that—with the 1981 Sharpe’s Eagle—he began his stories of a foot soldier in the Napoleonic Wars because there wasn’t anything equivalent to the popular naval fiction set in that era. Although he loved sailing, he thought that the Duke of Wellington, not Admiral Nelson, was the greatest military figure that Britain threw against Napoleon, and he wanted to do for the British soldier in popular fiction what C.S. Forester had done for the British sailor in his Hornblower novels. ....

...[I]n his Saxon chronicles, Cornwell tells the tale of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a child of a Saxon lord in Northumbria who was captured and brought up [by] Danish raiders. Beginning with The Last Kingdom in 2004 and extending to the latest volume with Warriors of the Storm, Cornwell has been using the series to raise awareness of the historical foundation of England, in those moments when Alfred the Great fought off the Danes and established what Cornwell believes is the first unified people that could be called English.

Even more than Cornwell’s other characters, Uhtred is pulled by multiple forces. His battle sense is pure Viking, but his people are the Saxons. His own son converts to the rising religion of Christianity, which he feels a betrayal of the pagan gods he knows. ....

[Patrick] O’Brian once complained that there was “too much plot, not enough lifestyle” in Cornwell’s historical fiction—but that’s the point. In books such as Warriors of the Storm, Bernard Cornwell lets battle do his work for him, his historical settings conveyed through the characters’ internal conflicts as they stride through a landscape of war.

And if the result isn’t high literature, it’s still very good genre work: readable, fast, informative, and fun. A professional fiction, with all that the word professional conveys. [more]
Cornwell writes books that I ration because once I start I have difficulty stopping. He is particularly good with battles as indicated, and also accurate about the weapons and tactics and human toll. I haven't re-read any of the books but I haven't discarded them either and I still buy them in physical form.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"...yet I will rejoice in the Lord"

One of those books that I found at just the right time in my life is Ben Patterson's Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent. The Epilog:
Does it strike you as odd that a book on waiting has scarcely mentioned the word patience? Or perseverance? Aren't those the virtues that we are to exercise when we are forced to wait? They are, but they are secondary to what really is needed to wait with grace. More basic than patience or perseverance are humility and hope. These two are the attitudes, the visions of life, that make patience possible. Patience is a rare and lovely flower that grows only in the soil of humility and hope.

Humility makes patience possible because it shows us our proper place in the universe. God is God, we are his creatures; he is the King, we are his subjects; he is master, we are his servants. We have no demands to make, no rights to assert. I can be impatient only if I think that whatever it is I want is being withheld or delayed unfairly. As Chuck Swindoll put it, "God is not in your appointment book; you're in his." His superiority is not only in power and authority, it is in love and wisdom as well. He has the right to do whatever he wants to do, whenever he wants to do it, but he also has the love to desire what is best for all his creatures and the wisdom to know what is best. He is superior to us in every conceivable way—in power and love and wisdom. To know that is to be patient.

Hope makes patience possible because it gives us the confidence that our wait is not in vain. Hope believes that this God of love, power and wisdom is on our side. It exults in the knowledge that, in the delays of life, he knows exactly what he is doing. If he moves quickly, it is for our good; if he moves slowly, it is for our good. No matter how things look to us, God is the complete master of the situation. There is an old theological word for this—providence. The venerable Heidelberg Catechism defines God's providence as:
The Almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were, by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.
There are no accidents, no glitches with God. He does all things well. Everything that comes to us comes by his hand and through his heart. He provides for our needs and fulfills our deepest desires in the fullness of time, not a moment too late, nor a second too soon. Hope assures us that in all things, even in the delays of life, God is working for our good. To know that is to be patient.

One of the surprise "goods" that God is working for us as we wait is the forging of our character. What we become as we wait is at least as important as the thing we wait for. To wait in hope is not just to pass the time until the wait is over. It is to see the time passing as part of the process God is using to make us into the people he created us to be. Job emerges from his wait dazzled and transformed. Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah.

Hope invites us to look at our waitings from the grand perspective of God's eternal purposes. In fact to be a believer is, by definition, to be one who waits. When Jesus won his victory over sin and death, he ascended into heaven, promising one day to return. We Christians wait for that return, poised between the times, in the "already, but not yet." We look back to his victory and strain forward to see its consummation.

The apostle Paul says the pain of our waiting is like the waiting of childbirth. It is the tension and groaning of labor (Rom 8:22-25). I attended my wife in the births of each of our four children. One thing struck me as odd about each event: that the time when she was required to exert her greatest effort and push the baby out was the time when she was least able. She was exhausted from hours of labor and now she was to summon all her strength and push. How could she? Hope made it possible: the hope of giving birth to the child. When human strength was gone, something beyond the purely human took over and gave her the strength she needed.

The Bible said it would be this way for those who hope in God. "Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Is 40:31). Likewise for our Lord Jesus and his cross, "who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him... so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb 12:2-3).

My wish is that we might gain the humility and hope to not grow weary and lose heart. I hope that you and I might be able to say, with full hearts, what Henrietta Mears said near the end of her life. This wonderfully eccentric and indefatigable saint accomplished great things for God in her life. When asked if there was anything she would have done differently, had she her life to live over, she said without hesitation, "I would trust God more."
Ben Patterson, Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, 1989, pp. 167-170.
Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation. 
(Hab 3:17–18)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"To thee and thy mandates..."

I graduated from Milton College in 1968. Milton was one of the oldest colleges in Wisconsin, chartered in 1867 (Milton Academy dated back to 1844). The college closed its doors in 1982 having accumulated much debt and never having any significant endowment. The buildings on the former campus have been re-purposed in various ways, for example the former college library is now the Milton city library. 

My grandfather attended Milton early in the last century. My father graduated from Milton in the 1930s. Both of my parents spent almost all of their working years as members of the faculty there. I never even considered going to school anywhere else.

I inherited a copy of the Carmina, a Milton College songbook published in 1928. The second entry in the book is "Our Colors," Milton's alma mater with words composed by Milton's second president, W.C. Daland.

The college's colors were originally "the Brown and the Blue" but by the time I was a student they had become gold and blue, supposedly because it was easier to acquire athletic uniforms in those colors.

Later in the book comes "St Anne's Tune," actually Isaac Watts great hymn "O God Our Help in Ages Past," the hymn that I remember being sung as part of every commencement ceremony. It is found here with an arrangement by W.C. Daland.

Monday, February 8, 2016

"Firmly I believe..."

One of the hymns I discovered (i.e. it was new to me) was Firmly I Believe and Truly by Cardinal John Henry Newman. My best recollection is that I happened across it as I browsed hymnbooks preparing for a worship service. I have several reference sources for hymns, one of which is A Hymn Companion (1985) by Frank Colquhoun. It includes short entries about three hundred hymns including this one. I agree with the author's comment on the last line of verse 4. The usual tune, "Shipston," was arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Firmly I believe and truly J. H. Newman, 1801-90

Like 'Praise to the Holiest' this hymn comes from Newman's Dream of Gerontius. The words are spoken by the aged monk as he approaches death. They are of the nature of a credo, a confession of Christian faith, and as such they found their way into The English Hymnal 1906. They have since come into wide use in church worship.

The first four stanzas affirm faith in God the Holy Trinity; in the incarnation of the Son and his crucified manhood; in the sufficiency of his grace as the Holy and the Strong; in the Church and in 'her teachings as his own'. The fifth stanza is a doxology to end the hymn on a note of adoration.

One question arises. Are all the Church's teachings Christ's own? As a Roman Catholic Newman of course had no doubt on that score; he believed in an infallible Church. Many would be happier if the line were to read, 'And his teachings as her own'. All must agree that it is Christ's teachings that validate the Church's, not the other way round.
Cyberhymnal includes an additional verse:

Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.
And I hold in veneration,
For the love of Him alone,
Holy Church as His creation,
And her teachings are His own.

And I trust and hope most fully
In that manhood crucified;
And each thought and deed unruly      
Do to death, as He has died.

And I take with joy whatever
Now besets me, pain or fear,
And with a strong will I sever
All the ties which bind me here.

Simply to His grace and wholly
Light and life and strength belong,
And I love supremely, solely,
Him the holy, Him the strong.

Adoration aye be given,
With and through the angelic host,
To the God of earth and Heaven,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Firmly I Believe and Truly


For quite a few years now I have been one of the worship leaders for our small congregation, right now for a month every three months. That means I prepare every aspect of the worship service apart from the sermon. Hymns have always been an integral part of our worship, chosen to emphasize a worship theme that is typically summarized as "We worship God because...," because "we are His people," or "He is our source of Peace," or "He is faithful," etc. You get the idea. Consequently I didn't want to be limited to the hymns in a single hymnbook. I have an uncle who collects hymnbooks as does the pastor of my church. My collection is paltry compared to theirs, but then when they started they had no access to the additional resources now available online.

This is my shelf of hymnbooks.

The Hymnbook is the one I grew up with in the Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church. The Madison church to which I belong uses two: Hymns of Faith and Life and Psalter Hymnal, a hymnbook published by the Christian Reformed Church, acquired because we wanted the possibility to sing all of the Psalms. Combining those with books from Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, Reformed, Wesleyan, and Baptist  traditions almost guarantees that I can find a hymn appropriate to the theme that is also singable, i.e. good orthodox words to good music. If I can't find what I want from the books, I can find it at an online site like Cyberhymnal.

Friday, February 5, 2016

"A pleasing orderliness"

T.S. Eliot enjoyed Golden Age detective fiction and reviewed books in the genre for The Criterion. From The New Yorker where Paul Grimstad writes "What Makes Great Detective Fiction, According to T.S. Eliot":
S.S. Van Dine was one of Eliot's favorites
.... A key tenet of Golden Age detection was “fair play”—the idea that an attentive reader must in theory have as good a shot at solving the mystery as the story’s detective. To establish parameters of fairness, Eliot suggests that “the character and motives of the criminal should be normal” and that “elaborate and incredible disguises” should be banned; he writes that a good detective story must not “rely either upon occult phenomena or … discoveries made by lonely scientists,” and that “elaborate and bizarre machinery is an irrelevance.” The latter rule would seem to exclude masterpieces like Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” which involves a murder carried out by a snake trained to shimmy through a heating duct, then down a bell rope whose tassel extends to the victim’s pillow. But Eliot admitted that most great works broke at least one of his rules. He in fact adored Arthur Conan Doyle, and was given to quoting long passages from the Holmes tales verbatim at parties, and to borrowing bits and ideas for his poems. (He confessed in a letter to John Hayward that the line “On the edge of a grimpen,” from “Four Quartets,” alludes to the desolate Grimpen Mire in The Hound of the Baskervilles.)

In the June, 1927, issue of The Criterion, Eliot continued to articulate his standards, reviewing another sixteen novels and drawing fine distinctions between mysteries, chronicles of true crimes, and detective stories proper. ....

During the year he wrote his mystery reviews, Eliot was undergoing a sharp turn to the right politically, and was steeped in dense works of theology in preparation for his baptism into the Anglo-Catholic church. (In a June, 1927, letter to his friend Virginia Woolf he described himself, only half-jokingly, as a “person who specializes in detective stories and ecclesiastical history.”) His conversion to a man of royalist proclivities and religious faith, after which he attended Mass every morning before heading off to work in Russell Square, was at least in part a matter of giving order to a world he saw as intolerably messy. At the end of his 1944 essay, Edmund Wilson suggested that it was no accident that the Golden Age of detection coincided with the period between the two World Wars: in a shattered civilization, there was something reassuring about the detective’s ability to link up all the broken fragments and “know just where to fix the guilt.” Such tidy solutions were to Wilson the mark of glib and simplistic genre fiction. But to Eliot, who in “The Waste Land” wrote of the fractured modern world as a “heap of broken images,” it seems possible that Golden Age detective stories offered above all a pleasing orderliness—a way of seeing ghastly disruptions restored to equilibrium with the soothing predictability of ritual. [more]

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Nothing more comforting

I have noticed a growing impatience with prayer in our culture. You see it in the papers or on Twitter. When people say they’re praying for someone or something, the attitude in some quarters seems to be, “Don’t just pray; do something about it.” But the thing is, when you are praying, you are doing something about it. You are revealing the presence of God. Whenever people are in grief or even when they’re about to start a great undertaking, they feel the worst pain of all: They feel alone. How am I going to get through this? Why is this happening to me? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

That is why there is nothing more comforting—or more humbling, really—than to hear someone say, “I’m praying for you.” Because when hear you that, you realize, you’re not alone. God is there. And hundreds, if not thousands, if not millions of people are all speaking to Him on your behalf. They’re not praying for some abstract notion. They’re praying for you the person. It says a lot about our country that people of both parties—and all faiths—will drop everything and pray for their fellow Americans. What it says is, we believe in the dignity of the individual. And that is why prayer should always come first.

All Americans believe this. But as Christians, we especially can appreciate this truth. We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe God came down from heaven and became a man—with a name and a body—so we could know him. We could begin to understand. He walked among the poor and lowly of this world so he could raise us to new heights in the next. It is a miracle. It inspires us every day. And that is why we should “rejoice always”; “pray without ceasing”; and “in all circumstances, give thanks.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"The courtesy of clarity"

Via Anecdotal Evidence, Joseph Epstein:
One of the keenest pleasures of reading derives from being in the close company of someone more thoughtful than you but whose thoughts, owing to the courtesy of clarity, are handsomely accessible to you.
Anecdotal Evidence: `The Courtesy of Clarity'

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Another online discovery from the Library of Congress: The Æsop for Children, including:

Æsop is important for cultural literacy. Among the phrases that are mysterious unless the stories are familiar: "wolf in sheep's clothing" (see above), "sour grapes," "the race is not always to the swift," "crying wolf!" "dog in the manger," "the goose that laid the golden egg."

A list of the fables with links to each of them.