Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Reading aloud is really important"

The Five Books site asks Cressida Cowell, herself an author of children's books, to nominate "The Best Magic Books for Children." On her first choice, The Ogre Downstairs, she says: it to all my little siblings and cousins. So I not only enjoyed it myself but I passed it on to them. That power of reading aloud to younger children, making them laugh and seeing them as excited as I was, I think it’s possibly part of why I’m doing what I’m doing now.

I think reading aloud is really important isn’t it? Sharing a story as a family.

Yes, I write all of my books to be read aloud and that’s why they’re all a bit of a performance. I write my books specifically to be read aloud, to be enjoyed by the adults as well. But also as a performance.... It’s all done to make it a performance, so that it is fun to read aloud. ....
I haven't read all five. I know nothing about The Ogre Downstairs (1974) and although I have read Edith Nesbit I haven't read this one: The Five Children and It (1902). Her third choice is The Hobbit (1937):
The Hobbit is such a richly imagined fantasy that, especially as a child, you can live in it. It is so completely immersive. The Hobbit also contains one of my favourite scenes in children’s literature – the riddling match with Gollum.
Her other choices are The Sword in the Stone (1938) by T.H. White and The Wizard of Earthsea (1968) by Ursula K. Le Guin. I thought it notable that none were published after 1974 (over forty years ago) and the earliest barely within the beginning of the 20th century.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


The Center for Baptist Renewal continues a series on an "Evangelical Baptist Catholicity Manifesto" with Article IV, "Baptist Distinctives," from which:
We have deliberately moved in the Manifesto from what we hold most in common with other Christians (the Trinity, the good news of Christ’s life & work) to what we hold in common with other Protestants, to, now, what makes us distinctly Baptist. .... While the canon of “Baptist distinctives” is debated, there are at least five that are readily identifiable and agreed upon by most Baptists throughout space and time: the necessity of personal conversion, a regenerate church, believers’ baptism, congregational governance, and religious liberty. ....

...[W]e should note that while none of these distinctives have theological priority in Baptist life, they do have a sort of logical priority or ordering. An emphasis on personal conversion gives rise to an affirmation of believers-only baptism, which in turn necessarily prompts affirmation of regenerate church membership, a corollary of which is congregational governance. The last distinctive, religious liberty (referred to by some as “soul freedom” on an individual level and “separation of church and state” on a governmental level), arises from the previous four and also provides the cultural and theological context in which they can be exercised to the fullest. ....

We believe that these Baptist beliefs have much to commend them both biblically and theologically. So we do not wish to keep them to ourselves, as it were, but instead to press them home to all willing partners in cross-denominational dialogue. As we have stated previously, we believe that the Baptist tradition is a renewal movement within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Thus, we commend our distinctives for consideration by the whole church of the Lord Jesus Christ. .... Each tradition has its own unique gifts to offer the whole church. .... (much more)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

In the sure and certain hope

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
And if I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
The greatest act of faith a man can perform is the act that we perform every night. We abandon our identity, we turn our soul and body into chaos and old night. We uncreate ourselves as if at the end of the world: for all practical purposes we become dead men, in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection. (G.K. Chesterton, The Meaning of Dreams)
From an essay about the phrase "our daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer by Philip Lawton in the current Sabbath Recorder:
Humans are interesting creatures. We fight and beg and steal for control of our lives, but then every night we lay down that control. We trust that we will wake the next morning. But the truth is we have no control over whether that will happen. Every night when you go to bed you have faith that you will wake the next morning. When we are sleeping we are at our most vulnerable. And yet even the strongest control freak will go to bed each night. The irony of that is staggering.

What I realized this summer is that every day I wake is a blessing from God. There are a million things that could happen to me while I sleep and I have no control over any of them. I am quite literally putting my life in the hands of someone else. If the power goes out, I could die. If lightning strikes and shorts out my CPAP, I could die. If aliens come and abduct me in my sleep…. well maybe not that. But the point is that I have no control over what happens to me while I sleep. And that is exactly the way that God wants it. ....

"No more a stranger, nor a guest..."

A friend's post today reminded me of this post here from 2012:
My favorite hymn paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm: Isaac Watts' "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need."
My shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
He leads me, for His mercy’s sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death
Thy presence is my stay;
One word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.
My Shepherd Will Supply My Need

Monday, September 25, 2017

Another "Golden Age"

If the 1920s and '30s were the "Golden Age" for the detective novel, then the 1950s and 60's may have been the Golden Age of spy fiction:
Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, appeared in 1953, and Jack Higgins’s The Eagle Has Landed — about a Nazi plot to kidnap Churchill — came out in 1975. In the two decades between these two famous books, the British thriller dominated English-language adventure fiction. It was, as those of a certain age know, a particularly blissful time to be a youthful reader....

Their heroes regularly confronted Nazis, ex-Nazis and proto-Nazis, the secret police of any and all communist countries and a variety of “super-rich and power-mad villains, traitors, dictators, rogue generals, mad scientists, secret societies” and “ruthless businessmen.” They were seldom books that asked “Whodunit?” but rather “How will the hero ever manage to survive?” ....
Michael Dirda is here reviewing Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a new book about those books, many of which I read growing up in those years. In the review Dirda mentions many of the authors and titles.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The end?

Someone, a numerologist, has predicted that tomorrow will be the end of history. Russell Moore responds:
.... None of this has anything to do with biblical Christianity. Jesus, and then his apostles, told us to expect a day of final judgment, to look for the return of Christ to our present reality of space and time.

But the key to all of this is the unexpected nature of it. Jesus said that life would go on, just as it always does, until, suddenly — like a thief in the night — the eastern skies explode into light. The Bible verses the prophecy-mavens use to fix their dates — wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and so on — are spoken of by Jesus as the exact opposite. When you see these things, Jesus said, “see that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matt. 24:6). Upheavals of this nature will happen in every generation, as “but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matt. 24:8). ....

History could, of course, come to consummation on Sept. 23, or on Sept. 24 or 1 million years from now, on Feb. 29. I don’t know. Neither do you. And we’re in good company. Jesus said that he himself, in his human nature, did not know the timing of his return, but only the Father (Mark 13:32).

One thing is for sure. When that day does arrive, we will not need numerology to figure out if it’s here. Jesus will be visible and indisputable. ....

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The cost of ignorance

Mark Bauerlein on "Camille Paglia's Teaching":
.... The very first question asked her about comparisons between President Trump and Adolf Hitler, to which she replied: “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.” ....

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.” Thanks to the (presumed) sensitivity of modern youth, Paglia says, students have not had a “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history.... Ancient history must be taught.... I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.” Without that background, she implies, our only standard of appraising current circumstances is current circumstances plus a few utopian dreams. We have so much material prosperity, they think, so why don’t we have more perfect people to enjoy it? ....

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"I began to suspect that life itself has a plot.”

In "The Mainliner Who Made Me More Evangelical" (behind a subscription wall) Russell Moore is reflecting on the importance of  Frederick Buechner as two new books by that author are published. I begin quoting with something Wendell Berry said to Moore:
.... “Isn’t it something, how we get what we need at just the right time?” he said. “The right book comes along at just the right time. The right friend comes along at just the right time. The right conversation comes along at just the right time. It’s grace.”

His words left me bursting with gratitude, but not only—or even primarily—for Berry. As I left his farm, I couldn’t help thinking of two authors who came along right when I needed them: C.S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner. ....

...[W]hy would I—a conservative evangelical of the Reformed stripe, a Southern Baptist of all things—keep coming back to the writings of this mainline Protestant from Vermont? One reason is that Buechner probably kept me from becoming a liberal Protestant.

As a teenager, I grappled with a call to ministry, but I was reluctant to enter the Bible-Belt ministry of the time, suspicious as it was of the intellect and imagination. ....

Then, meandering through a local library’s used book sale, I found Buechner. The book was his collection of essays, A Room Called Remember. This was someone who didn’t seek to manipulate my emotions or enlist me in a cause. He just told the truth as he saw it. And he clearly loved Jesus. So I voraciously consumed everything he ever wrote—and in the 30 or so years since, I’ve read much of it over and over again. J. Gresham Machen and Carl F.H. Henry taught me that I needn’t put my mind in a blind trust in order to follow Jesus. Buechner taught me the same about my imagination. ....

Buechner’s appeal to story is an apologetic—one as clear and compelling as Lewis’s treatment of the universal moral sense in Mere Christianity. “Writing novels, I got into the habit of looking for plots,” he says.... “After awhile, I began to suspect that my own life had a plot. And after awhile more, I began to suspect that life itself has a plot.” ....

...Buechner suggests that having a Christian vision of reality means paying attention to the seemingly humdrum, even boring, plotlines of grace in our lives. One’s life is not “just incident following incident without any particular direction or purpose, but things are happening in order to take you somewhere.” Looking back on his own life, Buechner sees “that very often things that seemed at the time to have had very little significance were key points in the plot of my life.” ....

...[T]he main thing Buechner has taught me and re-taught to be a steward of tears. I found my eyes welling up several times over these pages, especially in Buechner’s stories of grappling with guilt, fear, and grief. “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention,” Buechner writes in Beyond Words.... “They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

But ultimately, Buechner wants us to see through our tears to the joy lying beyond. Again, as the writer of plots, he knows that joy is best glimpsed against a backdrop of conflict. He teaches us to feel what it is to suffer with Christ, but then to be held by him—to know he is there to hold us. “Joy is knowing that this is true from your stomach,” he concludes, referencing Deuteronomy 33:26–27. “Knowing that even though we see only through a glass darkly, even though lots of things happen—wars and peacemaking, hunger and homelessness—joy is knowing, even for a moment, that underneath everything are the everlasting arms.” A few minutes after reading this, I caught myself humming the tune to the old gospel song, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” Once again, Buechner drove me further into my evangelical identity, not away from it. ....

Monday, September 18, 2017

Outrage on the hunt

In "The Joy of Destruction" Joseph Bottum writes about some of the reasons our politics have become so intolerant:
.... The glory of the Internet is that it allows like-minded people to find one another. And the horror of the Internet is that it allows like-minded people to find one another. Coin collectors, baseball-card enthusiasts, and used-book readers have all benefited from the opportunities offered by online connection. So have neo-Nazis, child-pornographers, and Communist agitators. Where they were once connected only by the sickly sweet smell of the ink from the mimeograph machine clumping away on the kitchen table, the forces of anger now have instantaneous links.

And that instantaneity allows a radicalizing more rapid than the world has ever seen. Back in a 1999 study called “The Law of Group Polarization,” legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein suggested that discussion among people with similar views causes a hardening of opinion. “In a striking empirical regularity,” he wrote, “deliberation tends to move groups, and the individuals who compose them, toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by their own predeliberation judgments.” It hardly matters whether the groups are pro-gun, pro-abortion, or pro-anarchy. With sufficient group discussion on one side of an issue, everyone involved takes a step toward the extreme: The mildly supportive become strongly supportive, the strongly supportive become wildly supportive, and the wildly supportive become fanatical psychopaths.

In such books as Violence and the Sacred (1972) and The Scapegoat (1982), the French-American theorist René Girard offered an explanation for this kind of thing, developing his ideas about scapegoating and what he called “mimetic rivalry.” Against Freud, Girard argued that human desires do not always come packaged in predetermined forms. We create many of them in imitation of others. We learn to want by watching what others want, and we catch desire the way we catch a disease.

More recent years have seen some attention paid to the concept of “competitive victimhood.” A fascinating 2017 trio of surveys by Laura De Guissmé and Laurent Licata, for example, pointed out that a group’s empathy for the victimhood of others is significantly decreased whenever the group expands its own sense of victimhood. But Girard was there first, warning that the idea of victimhood, stripped of its Christianity, would itself become a device of cultural violence, with people competing for the status of victim even as they trample those who oppose them or merely fail to support them sufficiently.

If that sounds like the current protesters—if that sounds like too much of our current political agitation on both left and right—it should. Trying to understand antifa, the Washington Post recently described the amorphous group as a collection of “predominantly communists, socialists and anarchists who reject turning to the police or the state” to achieve radical ends, preferring to pursue their radical ends through violent confrontation on the streets. The disorganized organization could not have existed before the Internet—or, at least, it could never have found so quickly march alongside it, before such leaderless collectives were made possible by computerized communication.

The group polarization of online discussions, the mimetic rivalry to show oneself more pure than others, the Twitterized brutality toward those who fail to show enough purity, the outrage on the hunt for something to be outraged about: The Internet sometimes seems to have been invented for the sole purpose of proving the social-contagion theories of René Girard. ....

Sunday, September 17, 2017

On Constitution Day

.... Several weeks into the proceedings, the octogenarian Benjamin Franklin proposed that the meetings open with prayer. "How has it happened," he pondered, according to a copy of the speech in Franklin's papers, "that we have not, hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our Understandings?"

This was a poignant but peculiar suggestion coming from Franklin, the great printer, scientist and diplomat. He described himself in his autobiography as a "thorough deist" who as a teenager had rejected the Puritan faith of his parents. Why would Franklin ask the Philadelphia delegates to begin their daily deliberations with prayer?

Even stranger, few convention attendees supported the proposal. A couple of devout delegates seconded his motion, but it fizzled among the other participants. Franklin scribbled a note at the bottom of his prayer speech lamenting, "The Convention except three or four Persons, thought Prayers unnecessary!"

If Franklin truly was a deist, he wasn't a very good one. Doctrinaire deists believed in a distant Creator, one who did not intervene in human history, and certainly not one who would respond to prayers. Yes, Franklin questioned basic points of Christianity, including Jesus' divine nature. Yet his childhood immersion in the Puritan faith, and his relationships with traditional Christians through his adult life, kept him tethered to his parents' religion. If he was not a Christian, he often sounded and acted like one.

The King James Bible, for example, had a significant influence on Franklin. From his first writings as "Silence Dogood"—the pseudonym he adopted when writing essays for his brother's newspaper, the New-England Courant—to his speeches at the Constitutional Convention, Franklin was constantly referencing the Bible. He knew it backward and forward, recalling even the most obscure sections of it from memory. ....

As a young man Ben did indulge some strident views and scurrilous behavior, especially on an extended trip to London. But he was certain that personal responsibility and industry were the keys to worldly success. He wrote of deism in his autobiography: "I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful." So he devoted himself to a personal "plan of conduct," through which he tracked his practice of godly virtues. ....

Then came the Revolutionary War. Its weight, along with the shock of victory and independence, made Franklin think that God, in some mysterious way, must be moving in American history. "The longer I live," he told the delegates in Philadelphia, "the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth, That God governs in the affairs of men."

He repeatedly cited verses from the Bible to make his case, quoting Psalm 127: "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." Without God's aid, Franklin contended, the Founding Fathers would "succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel." At the Revolutionary War's outset, as he reminded delegates, they had prayed daily, often in that same Philadelphia hall, for divine protection. "And have we now forgotten that powerful friend?" ....

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Faith and works

Also from "Answers to Questions on Christianity," in God in the Dock:
The controversy about faith and works is one that has gone on for a very long time, and it is a highly technical matter. I personally rely on the paradoxical text: 'Work out your own salvation...for it is God that worketh in you.' It looks as if in one sense we do nothing, and in another case we do a damned lot. 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,' but you must have it in you before you can work it out.
C.S. Lewis,  God in the Dock (1970)
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (KJV)


Once again:
ALMIGHTY GOD, who art a very present help in time of trouble; Let not the heart of Thy people fail when fear cometh, but do Thou sustain and comfort them until these calamities be overpast: and since Thou knowest the cause and reason why this grievous disaster of wind and wave hath fallen upon men, so do Thou heal the hurt and wounded, console the bereaved and afflicted, protect the innocent and helpless, and deliver any who are still in peril, for Thy great mercy's sake. Amen (The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, 1906)

Friday, September 8, 2017


From a chapter titled "Answers to Questions on Christianity," based on the transcription of a talk from 1944:
Question: Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness?

Lewis: Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best. I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better, but I can’t give any advice on it.  
C.S. Lewis,  God in the Dock (1970)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A blubber of buzzwords

In "The Nashville Statement’s Imperfect Clarity" Samuel D. James reacts to the reactions to the Nashville Statement:
.... I suspect that what has turned off many people to the Nashville Statement is its clarity. The document’s fourteen affirmations and denials are short, unequivocal, and to the point. Could it be that Americans, even some who profess traditional beliefs about these issues, prefer their theology a bit vague? This has been the legacy of the “seeker-friendly” movement within evangelicalism, with its toned-down doctrine encased in the blubber of psychological buzzwords like “brokenness,” “authentic,” and “spirituality.” There is a tendency within American evangelicalism to avoid saying what the Bible really means—or even what you really mean, as Eugene Peterson’s recent embarrassing flap demonstrated. Though I am a believer in “mere Christianity,” not everything Christianity entails is mere. Sometimes it really does boil down to affirming and denying. The drafters of the Nashville Statement understand that. ....

Monday, September 4, 2017

Teaching history

I tell my students nowadays who are in graduate school and going on to become teachers—the number one thing is to have a real passion for your subject and to be able to convey that to your students. Obviously the content is important, but that's not as unusual as being able to really convey why you think history is important. I think that's what inspires students. ....

The first thing I would say is that we have to get away from the idea that any old person can teach history. ....

.... The number-one thing is, you have to know history to actually teach it. That seems like an obvious point, but sometimes it's ignored in schools. Even more than that, I think it's important that people who are teaching history do have training in history. A lot of times people have education degrees, which have not actually provided them with a lot of training in the subject. They know a lot about methodology. [That’s] important, but as I say, the key thing is really to love the subject, to be able to convey that to your students, and if you can do that, I think you'll be a great teacher.

Sunday, September 3, 2017


T.S. Eliot:
Of all that was done in the past, you eat the fruit, either rotten or ripe.
And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying, and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of GOD,
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the inheritance.
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone, when he stands alone on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that was done by those who have gone before you.
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers;
And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity they will decry it.
Poem: Choruses from "The Rock " by T. S. Eliot

Friday, September 1, 2017


Normally I sleep well. At whatever hour I go to bed I fall asleep almost immediately, sleep uninterrupted for seven or eight hours, and get up when I feel like it (an advantage of retirement). Last night wasn't like that. I woke up anxious and angry sometime around 4:30. The reason was a dream. I was a teacher again, sitting at my desk in my classroom sometime after school, when I heard a commotion in the hall. When I got out there what I dreamt I saw was akin to bear-baiting. A big, normally good-tempered, mentally-challenged, kid was being harassed by a bunch of guys. He was red-faced, enraged, running one way and then the other after one or another of them as they ran away laughing. I knew them all. I tried to assert authority and end it but was entirely ignored. That's a teacher's nightmare. I woke up angry, still thinking of ways to get after those (imaginary) idiots.

From Patrick Kurp's blog this morning, `Steep My Senses in Forgetfulness':
One of the minor inconveniences of living through a hurricane is the unsatisfactory nature of sleep. Normally, I quickly and effortlessly turn catatonic after slipping between the sheets. The subsequent six or seven hours are erased as thoroughly as time spent under anesthesia during surgery. With a storm raging on the other side of the wall, with fears of water-logged books, drowning pets and family members, days without air-conditioning and no cold lemonade, sleep is a sweaty, Coleridgean slide show of distasteful visions. One night I revisited the worst boss I have ever had, who died more than thirty years ago, and she was unhappy yet again with the job I had done. In dreams, we all return to childhood, a terrible fate. Boswell, during his adventure in Scotland, and without the help of a hurricane, would have understood. In the entry on this date, Sept. 1, in 1773, he writes in The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1785):
“I awaked very early. I began to imagine that the landlord, being about to emigrate, might murder us to get our money, and lay it upon the soldiers in the barn. Such groundless fears will arise in the mind, before it has resumed its vigour after sleep!”
Like Boswell, my newly awakened mind is murky on the best of mornings, before it has “resumed its vigour.” ....
Normally in the morning my mind "resumes its vigour" rather quickly and if I have remembered dreams, good or bad, they fade from consciousness quickly.