Saturday, December 31, 2016

Old times and old friends

I've posted this or a variation of it several times before on New Year's Eves:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and days of auld lang syne?

Peggy Noonan, in 2011, on the song:
"Auld Lang Syne"—the phrase can be translated as "long, long ago," or "old long since," but I like "old times past"—is a song that asks a question, a tender little question that has to do with the nature of being alive, of being a person on a journey in the world. It not only asks, it gives an answer.

It was written, or written down, by Robert Burns, lyric poet and Bard of Scotland. In 1788 he sent a copy of the poem to the Scots Musical Museum, with the words: "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, has never been in print." Burns was interested in the culture of Scotland, and collected old folk tales and poems. He said he got this one "from an old man"—no one knows who—and wrote it down. Being a writer, Burns revised and compressed. He found the phrase auld lang syne "exceedingly expressive" and thought whoever first wrote the poem "heaven inspired." The song spread throughout Scotland, where it was sung to mark the end of the old year, and soon to the English-speaking world, where it's sung to mark the new.

The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn't be. We'll remember those times and those people, we'll toast them now and always, we'll keep them close. "We'll take a cup of kindness yet." .... [more]
SHOULD auld acquaintance be forgot,    
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne

And here 's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae rin about the braes,
And pu'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.
And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine;
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
We twa hae paidl't i' the burn,
Frae mornin' sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd      
Sin' auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

The statue of Burns below stands not far from where my brother lives in Milwaukee, WI. The story of why it came to be there.

 Days of Auld Lang What?, Buzz: Burns statue salutes 'Auld Lang Syne' creator

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


This Christmas Terry Teachout's brother sent him hours of digitized home movies taken by their father and they brought forth memories. Some of what he wrote:
...[M]y parents are dead now. So is everyone in my father’s family. So are my mother’s parents, and all but one of her siblings. And so, of course, is the simpler, less knowing world of my youth that is enshrined in those faded movies, the self-confident age of Eisenhower and Kennedy, of three TV networks and tuna casserole with crumbled potato chips on top, of films and newspapers and Books of the Month that everyone saw, read, and believed. It lives only in memory....

Memories are especially important at this time of year, to me and, I suspect, to most people who have put youth behind them. “‘I miss.’ That sums up Christmas for me.” So said a thirty-nine-year-old friend of mine the other day, and I knew what she meant. How could I not? I miss my mother and father. I miss my aunts and uncles. I miss the old wooden swing on the porch of my grandmother’s house. I miss the Christmas presents and sliding boards and carefree vacations that my father loved to film. I miss the shadowless summer afternoons (“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” Henry James once said to Edith Wharton) when there was nothing to worry about, when my parents did the worrying behind my back and let me assume that all was right with the world.

For a long time I returned each Christmas to Smalltown, U.S.A. I slept in my old bedroom, ate my mother’s cooking, and pretended, even after my father died, that nothing had changed, even though I knew perfectly well that everything had changed. ....

To have had a happy childhood is the greatest of gifts, a permanent source of comfort and inspiration. ....

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A prayer for Christmas

From The Book of Common Prayer, a prayer for Christmas Day:
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end.  Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christ's three-fold coming

"The Christmas Oratorio recounts the coming of Christ in history in order to help bring about the coming of Christ in the hearts of its hearers, while pointing them toward the final coming of Christ at its end." 

Christ's Three-Fold Coming in Music | Nathaniel Peters | First Things

Monday, December 19, 2016

Bilbo: "Never laugh at live dragons"

In the mail today:

David Rowe, Proverbs of Middle-earth at Oloris Publishing, and at Amazon, at each location for $18.00.

From the publisher's description:
The works of JRR Tolkien are unique in English Literature, as they are filled with hundreds of original proverbs. 'Not all those who wander are lost,' 'Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,' and 'Never laugh at live dragons' are all poetic, wise, and convincingly real-sounding, but they are also a lens, through which more can be seen. These proverbs belong to entirely invented wisdom traditions and reflect the culture, the philosophical worldview, and the history of those who use them.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Christmas gifts, 1916

I've been browsing through the December, 1916, issue of St. Nicholas magazine — one hundred years ago. That magazine, as I noted a couple of posts ago, was intended for a young audience. All of the issues before 1924 are available online as PDFs. When looking at old magazines I always find the advertisements interesting. Advertisers, of course, motivated to sell a product, are always attempting to appeal to their potential buyers and, if they're any good, will provide some insight into those folks — both the children and their parents. These ads are all from that December issue of the magazine. The ads can all be enlarged to make the text more readable.

Parker Pen, of course, was located in Janesville, Wisconsin:
Sleeping on a glowing watch may not have been a great idea: 

"One Christmas was so much like another..."

I'm not sure when began our Christmas tradition of listening to Dylan Thomas's reading of his A Child's Christmas in Wales, but it has continued.

The edition of the book in my library is the same as that illustrated in the YouTube above. One of the illustrations from that book:

"For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept. ..."

Friday, December 16, 2016

A new Bible

Just in time for the Holidays — almost like a gift to myself (although I invested in it almost three years ago) — arriving this afternoon:

Bibliotheca is one of only two KickStarter projects in which I've invested. One of them failed. This one came through and it is beautiful.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas card - 2016

Santa Claus

Of all the portrayals of the modern St Nicholas — Santa Claus ("a right jolly old elf") — this is my favorite, from the cover of St. Nicholas magazine, December, 1916:

Kevin DeYoung on the real St. Nicholas.

The magazine itself:
St. Nicholas Magazine (1873-1941) was a successful American children's magazine, published by Scribner's beginning in November 1873, and designed for children five to eighteen. ....

From the outset St. Nicholas Magazine published work of the best contemporary illustrators: Charles Dana Gibson, Arthur Rackham and Howard Pyle, all contributed to St. Nicholas and later, Ellis Parker Butler, Norman Rockwell and Livingston Hopkins.

"The best-known children's authors and illustrators contributed to St. Nicholas," according to a 2002 review on children's literature. Many children's classics were first serialized in St. Nicholas Magazine. Its first runaway hit was with "Little Lord Fauntleroy." Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys was serialized in the magazine, and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. ....
Scans of St. Nicholas magazine up through 1923 can be found here.

For a time I owned some bound collections of St. Nicholas from the 19th century that had been discarded from the Milton College Library.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

It can happen here

A warning for Americans from a Canadian professor who has been critical of legislation that mandates particular language and criminalizes violations. Apparently at least one American city has already gone down that path:
.... Authorities [in New York City] now fine citizens up to $250,000 for the novel crime of “mis-gendering” — referring to people by any words other than their pronouns of choice (including newly constructed words such as zie/hir, ey/em/eir and co). ....

.... The Big Apple now legally protects a non-exhaustive list of 31 gender identities. ....

Facebook offers a choice of 58. ....

“Gender-neutral” pronouns are, in my opinion, part of the “PC Game.” Here’s how you play:
First, you identify a domain of human endeavor. It could be the wealth of people within a society. It could be the psychological well-being of individuals within a given organization. It could be the prowess of school children at a particular sport.

Second, you note the inevitable continuum of success. Some people are richer or happier than others. Some children are better at playing volleyball.

Third, you define those doing comparatively better as oppressors of those doing comparatively worse.

Fourth, and finally, you declare solidarity with the latter, and enmity for the former (now all-too-convenient targets for your resentment and hatred).
You have now established your moral superiority, cost-free, and can trumpet it at will. ....

Words such as zie and hir, are, in my opinion, moves in the PC game. It’s not a game I wish to play. .... It’s a free speech issue, in its essence.

People often defend freedom of speech on the grounds that citizens must retain the right to criticize their leaders. That’s true, but it’s not the fundamental truth. ....

To identify problems, solve them, and reach consensus, we have to do it foolishly. We have to mis-speak, and over-react, and engage badly in intense verbal conflict. We have to be tested and corrected by others. All of that requires legal protection.

People become upset by differences of opinion, and want them suppressed. And it’s no wonder. But the alternative is worse.

Without free speech, we cannot explore our ever-transforming territories, orient ourselves, and get to the point. Without freedom of speech, we will not talk — and we will not think. ....

There is...a crucial difference between laws that stop people from saying arguably dangerous words and laws that mandate the use of politically-approved words and phrases. We have never had laws of the latter sort before, not in our countries. This is no time to start. .... [more]

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Christie and Mother Goose

Related to the last post — Agatha Christie enjoyed using nursery rhymes as titles for her books and short stories. I'm sure there are others. The links are to the rhymes.

"For every evil under the sun..."

An early addition to my personal library was The Annotated Mother Goose: Nursery Rhymes Old and New, Arranged and Explained (1962) annotated by William S. Baring-Gould and Ceil Baring-Gould. At about the same time I bought The Annotated Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass (1960) by Lewis Carroll and edited by Martin Gardner (still in print), and later, The Annotated Sherlock Holmes (1967) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, also annotated by Baring-Gould. All of these "annotated" editions were published by Clarkson S. Potter. The notes explained historical origins, defined unfamiliar terms, noted inconsistencies in the texts, described biographical and geographical circumstances, etc. This morning I took down the Mother Goose volume. The range is large, from "Simple Simon" to "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" to "Georgie Porgy kissed the girls" to "Rub-adub-dub, Three men in a tub..." and many, many more. One of the shorter chapters (Chapter XV) collected "Mother Goose's Wise Sayings" from which these examples (and a few comments):

Mother Goose was a conservative:
For every evil under the sun,
There is a remedy, or there is none,
If there be one, try and find it:
If there be none, never mind it.
Many of the rhymes are about proper behavior, for example:
Of a little take a little
   You're kindly welcome, too;
Of a little leave a little
   'Tis manners so to do.

Be always on time,
Too late is a crime.

Hearts, like doors, will ope with ease
To very, very, little keys,
And don't forget that two of these
Are "I thank you" and "If you please."
The first line of this one is familiar, but the second isn't, and that is where the wisdom lies.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy:
All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.
 One may as well adopt this attitude on a day like today:
The more rain, the more rest,
Fine weather's not always the best.
One thing at a time,
   And that done well,
Is a very good rule,
   As many can tell.

If you are not handsome at twenty,
Not strong at thirty,
Not rich at forty,
Not wise at fifty,
You never will be.

Of all the sayings in the world
  The one to see you through
Is, never trouble trouble
  Till trouble troubles you.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A carol on Christmas Eve

From The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, this edition illustrated by Michael Hague, one of my favorite illustrators.
.... It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the forecourt, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little field mice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their forepaws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, "Now then, one, two, three!" and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snowbound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yuletime.
Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside, 
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!
Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow—
Saw the star o'er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go—
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!
Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet—
You by the fire and we in the street—
Bidding you joy in the morning!
And then they heard the angels tell
"Who were the first to cry Nowell?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!"
For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison—
Bliss tomorrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!

The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong glances, and silence succeeded but for a moment only. Then from up above and faraway, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"A morbid obsession with the future"

Via Anecdotal Evidence, Roger Scruton:
Nostalgia is an unhealthy state of mind. But the study, love and emulation of the past are necessary to our self-understanding. All that has gone most wrong in our century has proceeded from a morbid obsession with the future—a belief in 'new dawns', 'revolutionary transformations', and resurrected nations on the march. The past, unlike the future, can be known, understood and adapted to our current uses. When we cast ourselves free from it, we are swept away by outside forces, adrift on the oceanic tide of happening. The future, which we cannot describe, begins to seem inevitable. This surrender to the unknown persists, despite all the crime and destruction that have been wrought in its name.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Wheat and tares

Alan Jacobs — who neither tweets nor reads tweets — has discovered that something he has written has excited a tweet-storm. He has also concluded that "social media really have killed reading." I'm not familiar with all of the issues but in earlier posts he indicates that he agrees with the need for church discipline. I find what he posts today absolutely right:
...The determination of who is and is not a Christian is above your pay grade, and expressly forbidden to you by Jesus. Again we must return to the parable of the wheat and the weeds, which, like all the parables, is about the Kingdom of God. When Jesus explains the parable, he says that “the good seed is the sons of the kingdom,” while “the weeds are the sons of the evil one.” But when “the servants of the master of the house” want to gather up the weeds, the master forbids them, “lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” Note what the master’s verdict is here: he is not concerned that the servants will leave too many weeds; he is, rather, concerned that in their over-exuberance, their hypertrophied zeal for justice, they will mistake wheat for weeds: they will see “sons of the evil one” where they ought to be seeing “sons of the kingdom.” And apparently this tendency is so entrenched in the servants that they are not merely warned to be careful, they are forbidden the task altogether. They are not allowed to identify “sons of the evil one.” Note that the explanation of the parable says that there are indeed sons of the evil one, and merely points out that the servants of the master of the house cannot reliably identify them.

Why does all of this matter? It matters because when someone in my church, or within the Christian fold more generally, says or does things that I believe terribly wrong, or terribly mistaken, I have many options available to me but among them is not the declaration that “You are not a child of the kingdom, you are a child of the evil one." ....

And see, once you acknowledge those you passionately disagree with as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow members of “the household of faith,” a great many obligations kick in. The letters of the New Testament are full of instruction for how we brothers and sisters are to interact with one another, and almost all of that instruction is sobering in its rigor: We must be patient, humble, gentle, not quarrelsome, encouraging and upbuilding — and must exhibit all those traits even when we believe people are wrong and are striving to correct them. It’s hard work, and I stink at it. But that’s what we’re all called to.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Are all sins equal?

Michael J. Kruger has been posting a series about "Taking Back Christianese." Today he addresses “All Sins Are Equal in God’s Sight,” a phrase which, he notes "does not come from Scripture." After explaining what those who use the phrase probably mean by it, he writes:
...[T]o say all sins are the same is to confuse the effect of sin with the heinousness of sin. While all sins are equal in their effect (they separate us from God), they are not all equally heinous.

Second, the Bible differentiates between sins. Some sins are more severe in terms of impact (1 Cor 6:18), in terms of culpability (Rom 1:21-32), and in terms of the judgment warranted (2 Pet 2:17; Matt 9:42; James 3:1).

...[T]he Westminster Larger Catechism 150 agrees:
Q. Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?

A. All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous, but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.
Third, although all people are sinners, the Bible makes it clear that some are more holy than others. The Bible has the category of the “righteous” person who is singled out by God as notably different (see my article on that subject here).

In the end, all sins are the same in their effect, but some sins are different in terms of their heinousness. .... [more]

In between the already and the yet to come

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

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

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Aim at Heaven

A friend's post on Facebook sent me looking for the chapter titled "Hope" in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. The first paragraph from the chapter:
Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth "thrown in": aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity