Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Flashman again

My brother tells me that he has recently re-read the first book of the "Flashman Papers." I previously posted this:

Asked by The American Spectator to recommend summer reading and drinks, Freddy Gray, the managing editor of the London Spectator, chose an excellent series of books and I heartily endorse his recommendation, at least for the mature reader:
At the London Spectator, we have just established a “Cad of the Year” prize.... We invented the prize partly in reaction to Country Life’s “Gentleman of the Year” award, but more as homage to the Flashman novels, which are enjoying something of a revival at the moment.

Flashman, in case you didn’t know, is English fiction’s greatest anti-hero. He first appeared as Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays as the bully who torments Brown and his pious little friends, gets “beastly drunk,” and is then expelled from Rugby. George MacDonald Fraser then had the genius idea of taking on Flashman’s life and wrote a series of adventure novels, narrated by the bounder himself, Sir Harry Flashman. (Starter for ten: What’s the difference between a cad and a bounder?) Flashman gets into all sorts of scrapes, meets the greatest figures of the nineteenth century, and pulls one over all of them. He ends up a decorated military hero—even though he is always a coward, a liar, and a scoundrel.

The books are, almost without exception, outrageously funny. It’s like P.G. Wodehouse, only filthy rather than innocent. So I’ll be re-reading the best Flashy novels in the evenings this summer—and getting pleasantly unsober on white port throughout. Only white port though. Like Flashman, I know better than to mix my drinks.​
The "filth" isn't particularly erotic but is an important aspect of Flashman's extremely disreputable character. The history "Flashman" recounts is mostly accurate (and endnoted) — apart, of course, from the presence of Flashman himself. From Wikipedia:
During his travels Flashman meets people who took part in 19th-century events, including Queen Victoria, Abraham Lincoln, Otto von Bismarck, Oscar Wilde and Florence Nightingale, and he is involved as a participant in some of the century's most notable events, including the Indian Mutiny, the Taiping Rebellion, the charge of the Light Brigade, the Siege of Khartoum, John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The books can be found at Amazon: The Flashman Papers. The Wikipedia article on The Flashman Papers includes, at the end, the books listed according to the chronology of Flashman's fictional life:

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trouble no more

From an atheist's appreciation of "Bob Dylan’s Soulful Christian Phase":
.... Bob Dylan has released a new box set, Trouble No More, chronicling the period of his career most controversial to critics—the three years, beginning in the late 1970s, during which he made exclusively Christian music. To anger secular listeners with great severity, Dylan’s gospel was not of the “Jesus is just alright” hippie variety. It was fire and brimstone, “sinners in the hands of an angry God” exhortation. In live performances, his introductions to songs such as “Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody” and “Are You Ready” included end-of-days prophecy and warnings of hellfire for nonbelievers.

Discovering Dylan’s Christian music decades after its release, I was prepared to hate it. But it became the stage of Dylan’s chameleon-like career to which I most return. The rock-gospel trilogy of Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love boasts of some of Dylan’s most powerful and impactful music. ...

In the most marvelous composition of Dylan’s Christian music, “Every Grain of Sand,” the songwriter takes measure of his entire life, and searches for some semblance of meaning and source of purpose:
Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay
I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.
The questions at the heart of Dylan’s struggle are those that trouble every human life: How can we prevent our regrets from disabling our ambition? How do we face our imminent extinction with pride and strength? How do we gain the confidence to behave as if our lives matter for more than what is empirically verifiable? ....

Monday, January 29, 2018

The worst form of government

I have quite a few books in my library related to Winston S. Churchill: biographies, collections of photographs, and books by himself. I acquired this one from the gift shop of the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. From the chapter on "Government and Economies":
Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that Democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. - House of Commons
And again:
The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. No one pretends that Democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time"
I had thought this next was contributed by Orson Welles to the script of The Third Man (1949). I didn't realize Welles had borrowed it from Churchill.
Look at the Swiss! They have enjoyed peace for centuries. And what have they produced? The cuckoo clock! - 1938
Some people's idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage."

I have always felt that a politician is to be judged by the animosities he excites among his opponents.

Expenditure always is popular; the only unpopular part about it is the raising of the money to pay the expenditure. - House of Commons, 1901

The electors, based on universal suffrage, may do what they like, and afterwards they have to like what they do. - Blackpool, 1946

Sunday, January 28, 2018

"We need external help..."

From a Paul Johnson essay:
Evelyn Waugh
The Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh, that superbly gifted but curmudgeonly and occasionally malevolent writer, had a wickedly sharp tongue, and sometimes behaved as though he loved to inflict pain by his words. One day, a brave woman dared to ask him: 'Mr. Waugh, you say such horrible things to people, I cannot believe you are really religious. How can you behave as you do, and still remain a Christian?'

He replied with grim sincerity: 'Madam, I may be all the things you say. But believe me, were it not for my religion, I would scarcely be a human being.' ....

The truth is that all of us are Jekyll and Hyde creatures, part saint, part beast. The great strength of Christianity is that, while insisting that man is made in the image of God, it accepts that there is a radical flaw in the reproduction. From time to time, God's image is reflected in man's face as in a hideous distorting mirror. Theologians call this the doctrine of Original Sin. But this is merely to rationalize what we can all observe but cannot explain. Shakespeare, in his marvelous play Hamlet, in which he tried to pour everything he knew of man's ambivalent nature, has his hero say: 'What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a God!' And yet, he adds, man is the quintessence of dust. Man can be, and often is, the most destructive, cruel and malicious of creatures. When Dr. Samuel Johnson was touring the Scottish Highlands with James Boswell, Lady Macleod of Dunvegan Castle asked him if no man was naturally good. He replied: 'No madam, no more than a wolf!' Boswell: 'Nor no woman, Sir?' Johnson: 'No, Sir!'

Dr. Johnson's listeners were shocked by his rigor, but what he meant was obvious enough. We have a propensity to evil in our natures which cannot be entirely corrected from our own resources. We need external help to keep our dark side under control....

What rot.

I just pre-ordered the Blu-ray of Darkest Hour. Those who know a great deal about this time and Churchill's role in it give mixed reviews of the film. One who liked the film very much was Andrew Roberts, historian and Churchill biographer. But he disliked the scene in the Underground. He explains in “Have no doubt — this was Churchill’s most certain hour.”:
Even the ludicrous scene in which Churchill goes down into the London Underground to try to ascertain the will of the people over the question of whether to fight on against Hitler was acceptable, on the grounds that Hollywood needed to include diversity in a movie that was otherwise going to be dominated by white, middle-class, middle-aged males. ....

.... Churchill has not been doing well at the movies recently….That’s why it is such a relief to watch Churchill depicted in Darkest Hour as lovable, decent and brave. However, now that McCarten has stated that the scene on the Tube is “in some ways the most truthful scene in the whole movie”, he must be challenged.

“We are very proud of that scene,” he goes on, ”because we thought it brought together all the ways and reasons in which Churchill finally made up his mind that he would not transact with the Nazis. People forget that he was full of doubt about this, but it was when he spoke to the people that all the other factors in his mind came together. It was the working class that convinced him. He was a working-class hero. And it was very characteristic of him to go off and disappear and then pop up somewhere else, so this is why we did it this way.”

What rot. Churchill was not in any doubt whatsoever about the need to fight. He did not “finally make up his mind that he would not transact with the Nazis” in May 1940; he was utterly opposed to making peace with them, and for a decade had been their most vigorous opponent in Britain. Over four fraught days of war cabinet meetings in 1940, from May 25 to 28 inclusive, he used every means to avoid having to go down the route of negotiating with Hitler.

Although Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, wanted to find out via the Italians what Hitler’s peace terms might be, Churchill repeatedly said that he was opposed to the idea. Churchill made two statements that, if wrenched out of context — which McCarten does on both occasions — sound as if he would consider Hitler’s terms if they were reasonable. When read in context, however, it is clear he was attempting to keep his fellow war cabinet members — Clement Attlee, Neville Chamberlain and Arthur Greenwood — onside by sounding as reasonable as possible, thus outmanoeuvring Halifax. No serious historian believes anything else, and the war cabinet minutes have now been in the public domain for nearly half a century.

Nor was Churchill in any way influenced by the views of the working class, except insofar as its political leaders, Attlee and Greenwood, supported him in not seeking terms (something the film does not make clear). Otherwise, the working class was not consulted, any more than any other class was. If the public had been, they might not have given the full-throated cry that McCarten assumes. No fewer than 11.6m Britons signed the Peace Ballot in 1935, and huge pacifist meetings drew thousands throughout the Phoney War.

The British Union of Fascists and the Communist Party opposed the war, and there were plenty of working-class members of both. The strikes in the factories producing Hurricanes and Spitfires in 1940 and 1941 also suggest that solidarity among the working class for Churchill’s vision was no more to be trusted than it was among any other class.

Churchill did not follow anyone in his opposition to the Nazis. He led it. The Underground scene belittles him by implying that he was so doubtful that he could not give his inspiring speeches without confirmation from others….
Via Power Line.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Strengthen the feeble knees

God, which knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that for man's frailness we cannot always stand uprightly; Grant to us the health of body and soul that all those things which we suffer for sin, by Thy help we may well pass and overcome; through Christ our Lord. Amen. (Thomas Cranmer for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

ETERNAL and ever-blessed God, who art the Author of our life, and the end of our pilgrimage; We beseech Thee so to guide us by Thy Word and Spirit, amid all perils and temptations, that we may not wander from Thy way, nor stumble upon the dark mountains; but may finish our course in safety, and come to our eternal rest in Thee; through the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (The Book of Common Worship, 1906)

Friday, January 26, 2018


Excise taxes on beef, pork, and chicken could be the next big thing in a state and local tax environment that’s already comfortable with “sin tax” regimes aimed at cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, and gambling and is adapting quickly to special levies on sugar-sweetened beverages, greenhouse gases, and marijuana.

While there are no current legislative proposals imposing state or local surcharges on meat, a growing number of public health, environmental, and animal rights advocates are bullish on tax schemes addressing the mounting social costs of meat production and consumption.

“We have never been closer to a meat tax,” said Ashley Byrne, associate director of campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “We have seen people—including meat eaters—realizing that meat is bad for their health and meat is taking this incredible toll on the environment. People seem more open than ever to an excise tax on meat. If we are going to tax tobacco, if we are going to tax soda, it absolutely makes sense to have a similar tax on meat.
First they came for tobacco...
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
Robert Burns

Thursday, January 25, 2018

On Robert Burns' Day

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.
Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.
My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.
My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.

The second verse reminded me of a book by another Scot.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A lullaby

Sleep my love and peace attend thee,     
All through the night
Guardian angels God will lend thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and vale in slumber steeping,
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night.

While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O'er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night.

In Welsh:

"Be ye men of valour"

In Winston Spencer Maccabee" Meir Soloveichik writes about the first speech Churchill delivered to the British people after becoming prime Minister:
.... The Nazis had thus far destroyed every adversary that they had faced, leaving in their wake a “group of shattered states and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians—upon all of whom the long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall.” Noting that he was speaking on a celebratory day in the Christian calendar, Churchill then concluded with an apparent scriptural citation—a rare rhetorical choice for him—as inspiration to his country at the most perilous moment in its history.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Centuries ago words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of Truth and Justice: “Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.”
Thus ended Churchill’s first radio address as prime minister to the British people, which has come to be known as the “Be Ye Men of Valour” speech. ....
Winston Spencer Maccabee | commentary

Monday, January 22, 2018

"Thy presence is my stay"

Re-posted: My favorite hymn paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm: Isaac Watts' "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need." I particularly like the last lines of the final verse.

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.
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.
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.

My Shepherd Will Supply My Need

Sunday, January 21, 2018

"Our earthly rulers falter"

Words by GKC and music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not Thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.
Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to Thee.
From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honor, and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord!
Words: Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1906
Music: King's Lynn, Ralph Vaughn Williams, 1906

On the wrong side of history

Reviewing the posts on this site tagged "G.K. Chesterton" I found several GKC quotations on the question of "Progress":
This is the only period in all human history when people are proud of being modern. For though today is always today and the moment is always modern, we are the only men in all history who fall back upon bragging about the mere fact that today is not yesterday. I fear that some one in the future will explain that we had precious little else to brag about. (Illustrated London News, 3/12/32)
All the thinkers who really think, and all the theorists whose theories seriously count, are growing more and more skeptical about the very existence of progress, and certainly about the desirability of this sort of self-swallowing and suicidal kind of progress. The notion that every generation proves worthless the last generation, and is in its turn proved worthless by the next generation, is an everlasting vista and vision of worthlessness which is fortunately itself worthless.” (“Are the Artists Going Mad?”)
WE often read nowadays of the valor or audacity with which some rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition. There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one's grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past. He cares as little for what will be as for what has been; he cares only for what ought to be.

And for my present purpose I specially insist on this abstract independence. If I am to discuss what is wrong, one of the first things that are wrong is this: the deep and silent modern assumption that past things have become impossible. There is one metaphor of which the moderns are very fond; they are always saying, "You can't put the clock back." The simple and obvious answer is "You can." A clock, being a piece of human construction, can be restored by the human finger to any figure or hour. In the same way society, being a piece of human construction, can be reconstructed upon any plan that has ever existed. ("What's Wrong with the World)

Friday, January 19, 2018

"More mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear"

Another quotation—or a variation thereof—I (and many others) have falsely attributed to Chesterton:

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, 
but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

What he actually wrote:
.... Fairy tales...are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. .... ("The Red Angel," Tremendous Trifles, 1909)

Nazis and the New Age

Chesterton never wrote "“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything,” but he well could have. The following is from a review by Philip Jenkins of Eric Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich:
.... Kurlander shows just how extensively occult and esoteric ideas influenced the German leadership in the Nazi era. More accurately, he shows that the power of such ideas in the larger society ran wide and deep, and by no means only among people who placed themselves on the extreme Right. Among many others, these included interests in astrology and parapsychology; “Ario[Aryan]-Germanic paganism, Indo-Aryan spirituality, and the Nazi search for alternative religions;” and a range of pseudo-sciences, including World Ice theory and dowsing. ....

Like all good New Agers, the Nazis were also fascinated by the Mystic Powers of the ancient East, and sought to launch expeditions into deepest Tibet. Had the British not been so firmly in charge of the Indian subcontinent, they would undoubtedly have made their pilgrimages there, like so many other later would-be disciples in search of a guru. Only a very sober reader can address such stories without inevitably thinking back to the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Those occult interests extended to such mythical beings as vampires and werewolves, who to some activists were no mere characters of fiction and metaphor. When the Germans designed what was hoped to be a secret resistance army to oppose the invading Allies, its members joined Operation Werewolf. Borrowed partly from popular culture, vampire imagery shaped Nazi interpretations of the allegedly blood-sucking Jews. ....

At this point, the question obviously arises: did the Nazis really take this stuff seriously? The answer is mixed. Some German activists certainly did, and a few had the ear of key figures in the Nazi regime. Heinrich Himmler could usually be relied on to be a gullible listener. Other Nazi leaders were happy to use the occult ideas to produce propaganda, depicting Hitler as not just a world-historical figure but as a magus. ....

In praising Hitler’s Monsters unreservedly, I do raise one objection, specifically about viewing these German conditions as in any sense unique. Kurlander rightly suggests that esoteric ideas achieved unparalleled influence in Germany, but in many ways, they were no less widespread in other countries, especially the United States. In the first forty years of the twentieth century, the United States was the world capital of all manner of esoteric interests – Rosicrucian, Spiritualist, Theosophical, pseudo-Oriental, Aryan, and what would later be termed New Age. All these ideas inspired numerous sects and cult movements, but a few went on to achieve real mass memberships. In the 1930s, several of these sects were reaching audiences in the millions....

From 1941 to 1945, the Vice President of the United States was Henry A. Wallace, about whom much bad can be said in terms of his secular politics. Very fortunately, he was not permitted to run for a second term, so that when FDR died in 1945, his successor was instead the truly capable Harry Truman. Wallace was deep into Theosophy and other mystical sects. ....

Throughout the West, occult and esoteric ideas were simply in the atmosphere in a way that is hard to reconstruct today. That was a fact of intellectual and cultural life that historians disregard at their peril.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Edinburgh Castle

Librarians don't just curate books. They discard them  The usual excuse is that they haven't circulated for some time. A book I retrieved from the discarded books at the Milton College Library sometime in the mid-'60s was The Story of Edinburgh Castle by L. Weirter, published (I think, there was no copyright date) in 1913 and printed by The Ballantine Press in London (My copy was from the John C. Winston Company, Philadelphia). I bragged about my find to the person who, it turned out, had made the decision to discard the book. It is a  large format volume 12.5" X 9.4" with twenty-five tipped in illustrations protected by tissue paper, including those below. I hadn't looked at it for some time. The thirteen chapters include "The Black Dinner," "The Blackest Day for Scotland," "Bonnie Prince Charlie," "The Story of the Regalia," and "Mons Meg and Other Relics" (Mons Meg is a very large cannon).
The first time I was in Edinburgh I stayed on the third floor in a hotel on Princes Street. My window looked out over the Walter Scott monument and toward the Castle which is floodlit at night. Of course I visited the Castle and inhabited the Royal Mile between it and Holyrood Palace for several days. Standing by the gate of the Palace one morning I happened to see the Queen only a couple of feet away as she left by Rolls for, as I recall, a department store opening.
The Castle from the Vennel
The Castle Hill

Monday, January 15, 2018


From Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ:
1. Troubles and crosses?
They're good:
they often make us examine ourselves,
they remind us we live in exile here,
they keep us from trusting the world.
    When we're crossed?
Good too, even when we intend the best.
These adversities
nudge us to humility,
defend us against pride,
push us toward God for inward approval when we put up with condemnation and don't get deserved credit.

2. Settle yourself so fully in God that you don't need much comfort from people.
Troubled by evil thoughts?
Now you understand better your great need of God, without whom you can do nothing good.
Now you sorrow, grieve, and pray; now life drags, death looks inviting, and you wish you could live in heaven with Christ.
Now you know perfect security and full peace cannot come from the world.
Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Baker, 1982, p 27.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The faith of the Queen

From a Washington Post story by Sarah Pulliam Bailey: "Fact checking ‘The Crown’: Queen Elizabeth’s close relationship with preacher Billy Graham." I watched most of the first season of that series but haven't kept up with this one. This season has been criticized for more historical inaccuracies than the first. The Post story is an effort to get it right.
.... Scholars believe the queen possessed a “deep vibrancy of her faith” as someone who read scripture daily, attended church weekly and regularly prayed, said Stan Rosenberg, a member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford. Despite suffering some public attacks for her handling of Princess Diana’s death and her political views, she is widely admired for her faith, and “folks here know her to be thoughtful, authentic, serious, and devout but not a pressingly intrusive Christian,” he said.

The queen’s Christmas messages, a British tradition that goes back to 1932, have provided a window into her private faith.

“I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad,” she said in 2002. “Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God. … I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.” ....

The queen’s meeting with the evangelist came about after Graham launched one of his evangelistic “crusades.” Graham had spoken to “the greatest religious congregation, 120,000, ever seen until then in the British Isles,” according to a biography of the late John Stott, a chaplain to the queen. During one of his rallies, Graham preached for 12 weeks, drawing 2 million.

Graham delivered a sermon for the queen on Easter Sunday in 1995 in the royal family’s private chapel.

“Good manners do not permit one to discuss the details of a private visit with Her Majesty, but I can say that I judge her to be a woman of rare modesty and character,” he wrote in his autobiography Just As I Am. ....

...Queen Elizabeth has made several public comments about the role of forgiveness in her life.

“Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith,” she said in 2011. “It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.” ....

Saturday, January 13, 2018

When He returns

The iron hand it ain't no match for the iron rod.
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God.
For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
It is only He who can reduce me to tears.
Don't you cry and don't you die and don't you burn.
Like a thief in the night, he'll replace wrong with right
When He returns.
Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that is passes through.
He unreleased His power at an unknown hour that no one knew.
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice ?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness ?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride ?
Will I ever learn that there'll be no peace, that the war won't cease
Until He returns?
Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask.
He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask.
How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned.
He's got plans of his own to set up His throne
When He returns.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Apostle Paul and women

At the Anxious Bench Beth Allison Barr offers "It's Time to Stop Using Paul Against Women: A Short Reading List." So far the list contains only two items but she will grow it. Barr writes "Today, at the age of 42, Paul no longer frustrates me. I have realized, as one of my very astute students once said, that when we are confused about God, it is never God who is wrong. The fault always lies in our own understanding."

The first item on the reading list is an essay by Charles H. Talbert considering the correct interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-36:
34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignore this, they will themselves be ignored. 39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
Hopefully you already notice an awkward transition from vs. 35-36. Here is what Talbert argues about it: “verse 36 begins with a particle (e in Greek) which is translated “What!” in the RSV. The force of that particle indicates that what has come before is rejected or refuted by what follows [which is the same as the particle functions in 1 Cor. 11:22]…if verses 34-36 are read together, then verse 36 is a refutation of verses 34 and 35, not a conclusion drawn from them. This leads naturally to a reading of this passage as an instance of the diatribe: verses 34 and 35 are Corinthian assertions, reflecting cultural values like those of pagans and Jews; and verse 36 is Paul’s response, rejecting the Corinthian stance about women. Paul’s position here would then be in harmony with that taken in Gal. 3:27,28 and 1 Cor. 11:2-16. Whereas some Corinthians rejected the participation of women in the leadership of worship, Paul responded with horror.”

Talbert, in other words, suggests this reading:
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. What?! Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”
Instead of a command for women to be silent in the churches, Paul is instead rebuking those who are silencing women. ....

It's Time to Stop Using Paul Against Women: A Short Reading List

Monday, January 8, 2018

"If you tarry..."

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Saints and angels joined in concert,
Sing the praises of the Lamb;
While the blissful seats of Heaven
Sweetly echo with His name!
Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
Sinners here may do the same.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
Sinners here may do the same.
I will go to Jesus.


Russell Moore on "Why Theocracy Is Terrible":
.... Theocracies are awful and abusive, not only because they oppress human beings but because they also blaspheme God. ....

To see why, a Christian does not need simply to look at the historical and sociological data on how these theocracies harm their own people; we can also see clearly why this is the case by looking at our own gospel. The central claim of the gospel is that, as the Apostle Paul put it, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2:6). God rules and reigns through his Word, and his Word tells us that now is the time of God’s patience, when all people everywhere are called to repent of sin and find mercy in Christ (2 Pet. 3:9-10).

Does God intend to rule the entire universe, with his will done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10)? Yes, but this kingdom is found in Jesus Christ, not apart from him. Jesus is the one anointed to rule over the cosmos, and anyone else who claims this is a pretender to the throne. Jesus himself has told us that in this time between his kingdom’s inauguration and his kingdom’s fulfillment, he is gathering a church of redeemed people, making a clear distinction between the church and the world (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

Our call to the world at this point, Jesus tells us, is not to uproot the “weeds” in the garden (Matt. 13:29). We also are not to grab the sort of power that would cause people to pretend as though they were part of God’s kingdom—a kingdom that comes through the transforming power of the Word upon the heart—when they are merely cowering before earthly power. Our power comes by the open proclamation of the truth, not by the clattering of the sword (2 Cor. 4:2-3).

Jesus told us to beware those who claim messianic authority between his first and second comings. He will come to us the next time not through some person or committee claiming authority from God, but with obvious, indisputable, and unrivaled glory in the eastern skies. What is hidden now, seen only by faith, will be revealed then, perceived by sight. ....

Violent and authoritarian regimes claim to speak for God so that they cannot be questioned for their morality or their competence. They wish to use God’s glory and God’s authority without God. ....

Is there a better bedtime prayer?

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 Thee 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")

Saturday, January 6, 2018

"God within, and God without..."

The last four lines of the prayer are a variant of one I prayed when young but the rest of this bedtime prayer was unfamiliar to me.


Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four Angels there be spread:
One at the head, one at the feet,
And two to guard me while I sleep.
God within, and God without,
And Jesus Christ all round about;
If any danger come to me,
Sweet Jesus Christ deliver me.
Before I lay me down to sleep
I give my soul to Christ to keep;
And if I die before I wake,
I pray that Christ my soul will take.,

Friday, January 5, 2018


The Journey of the Magi
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T.S. Eliot
From "Poem for Epiphany" by Dwight Longenecker:
This was one of the first of Eliot’s poems I encountered, and I have loved it since. I especially like the way he uses various imagery from the gospels to load the poem with a mysterious level of meaning–pointing us to a contemplation of the deeper meanings–meanings that have yet to be revealed.

“Feet kicking empty wineskins”, “Six hands dicing for pieces of silver”, “three trees on a low sky” then my favorite image, “an old white horse galloped away in the meadow” ....

The “old white horse galloped away in the meadow” does not represent the Old Testament dispensation or the former lives of the three kings or the departure of purity or youthful power. Instead it is meant to evoke an emotional response in the reader which is beyond words. In other words, how do you feel when you hear those words? I feel strangely nostalgic and thrilled. I feel a poignancy and longing at the words. This is how Eliot’s poetry is supposed to work, and those who keep trying to find specific symbolic or allegorical meanings are missing the point.

What interests how Eliot’s use of evocative imagery that connects to the Biblical imagery is similar to the way Tolkien uses imagery in Lord of the Rings. The characters speak and act in a world that constantly echoes the world of the Church and the Scriptures, and yet never descends to the one on one correlation of allegory or to the specific allusion of a reference or quote. ....
"Poem for Epiphany" by Dwight Longenecker

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
(The Fellowship of the Ring)

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

It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule. (The Return of the King)

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

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Be about doing what you know.

From 2009, but modified to update.

Kevin DeYoung's book title alone would seem to sum up its thesis: Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. The intended audience is apparently young adults, but as DeYoung described its purpose, it is just as relevant to any Christian.
The gist of the book is that too many of us spend too much time trying to divine God's will and too little time striving to obey the plain commands of Scripture. God's will is not a corn maze or magic eight ball. His will is our sanctification. God promises to direct our steps all throughout life, but he never promises to show us what each step is ahead of time. Too many of us are prone to passivity and indecision, because doing nothing feels more spiritual (and less risky) than doing something. So we stumble around in chains of subjective impressions and wander here and there and in and out of our parent's basement.

God's will is not a bullseye to hit, but a life to live.
DeYoung made the first chapter available here as a pdf.

I've read the book and highly recommend it. It called to mind an earlier book (1980) that greatly influenced how I think about discerning God's will for my life, Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View by Friesen and Maxson. Friesen and Maxson are concerned with those who are burdened by the need for specific direction out of fear that they might be "out of God's will" for their lives. DeYoung focuses on those who lack decisiveness and find safety in inaction—for whom not knowing God's specific will grants permission to do nothing.

Friesen and Maxson argue that quite enough of God's moral will for our lives is clear in the Scriptures, and that we should occupy ourselves doing what we know. From that book:
...[T]he emphasis of Scripture is on God's moral will. In fact, the Bible reveals nothing of an "individual will" governing each decision. Rather, the teaching of Scripture may be summarized by these basic principles:
  1. In those areas specifically addressed by the Bible, the revealed commands of God (His moral will) are to be obeyed.
  2. In those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle (nonmoral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action. Any decision made within the moral will of God is acceptable to God.
  3. In nonmoral decisions, the objective of the Christian is to make wise decisions on the basis of spiritual expediency.
  4. In all decisions, the believer should humbly submit, in advance, to the outworking of God's sovereign will as it touches each decision.
By "spiritual expediency" in point three, they mean wisdom, and say "The ultimate Source of the wisdom that is needed in decision making is God. Accordingly, we are to ask Him to provide what we lack. God mediates His wisdom to us through His Word, our personal research, wise counselors, and the applied lessons of life."

Both Decision Making and Do Something seem to be saying that we should be about doing what we know is God's will—not agonizing over, or complacently waiting for, what we do not know.

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Just Do Something

Monday, January 1, 2018

"Grant that by longer life..."

Samuel Johnson on the occasion of the new year, 1769:

LMIGHTY and most merciful Father, who hast continued my life from year to year, grant that by longer life I may become less desirous of sinful pleasures, and more careful of eternal happiness. As age comes upon me let my mind be more withdrawn from vanity and folly, more enlightened with the knowledge of Thy will, and more invigorated with resolution to obey it. O Lord, calm my thoughts, direct my desires, and fortify my purposes. If it shall please Thee give quiet to my latter days, and so support me with Thy grace that I may die in Thy favour for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Happy New Year!

On, Wisconsin!

Today I happened across an article describing how Wisconsin got a state song. The Journal Sentinel describes its origin as a UW football fight song (1909) (the words familiar to most of us) but the official words of the state song (1913) are different:

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Grand old Badger State!
We, thy loyal sons and daughters,
Hail thee, good and great.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Champion of the right,
"Forward," our motto —
God will give thee might!

It's not every day that a governor signs a bill with brass-band accompaniment.

But Gov. Gaylord Nelson did on July 7, 1959 — which actually made sense, since he was signing into law the measure that made "On, Wisconsin!" the official state song.

At the time, Wisconsin was reportedly one of just 10 states that didn't have an official song. ....