Saturday, March 31, 2018




.... Martin Luther said himself that Saturday was the day that God himself lay cold in the grave. Friday was death, Sunday was hope, but Saturday was that seemingly ignored middle day between them when God occupied a dirty grave in a little garden outside Jerusalem. Saturday is about waiting, about uncertainty, about not knowing what’ll happen. ....

So much of Christian faith is Saturday faith. ....

A medieval theologian, Anselm, once described the kind of faith that comes with Saturday—fides quaerens intellectum: “faith seeking understanding.” By that, he meant that faith isn’t something that arises after moments of understanding. Rather, faith is something that you cling to when understanding and reason lay dead. We don’t believe once we understand it—we believe in order to understand it. Saturday’s like that: offering a day of waiting, a day of ambiguity, a day when God is sovereign even if our ideas and theologies and expectations about him are not. It is the day that our ignorance is our witness and our proclamation. Truth is, our intellect will always be one step behind in our love of God. We don’t love God once we understand him; we love God in order to understand him. ....

At times, we are all like the two disciples on their way to Emmaus who were really close to Jesus but didn’t always know it. In Luke 24, two disciples walked away from Jerusalem, where they’d just seen their Lord and Master die on the cross. Leaving, dejected, upset, hopeless, and broken, to find the next stage in their lives and careers. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus had been resurrected and was actually walking alongside them on their way to Emmaus. The hope of Sunday hadn’t dawned on them yet. The Gospels tell us that, on their way to Emmaus, the disciples were “downcast.”

That experience is the kind of experience Saturday is all about. .... [more]
A. J. Swoboda is a pastor in Portland, Oregon. This is from his A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience, excerpted in Christianity Today.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Toward hope

Amy Becker provides an explanation of Jesus' words on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It is an explanation I find very satisfying:
...[W]hen Jesus cries out using the initial line of Psalm 22, he is referring his listeners to the entirety of the Psalm. The Psalm begins with a description of a man on display for his physical suffering, mocked by those around him, and this section concludes with the words:
Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me;

They pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
.... But the Psalm does not end with this desolate portrait.

From here, it becomes a plea to God for rescue, and then a declaration of what God will do:
The poor will eat and be satisfied...
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;

all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
 declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
.... It is a cry that many of us have offered in the midst of our own moments of desolation, a reminder that God himself experienced suffering and sorrow. And in these desolate times, may we remember that Jesus' cry of desolation points us back to the God who does not forget us, the God who rescues and redeems and always, always, points us toward hope. The crucified God who always anticipates resurrection. .... [more]

Thursday, March 29, 2018

On the third day

In "The Day of Jesus' Resurrection According to Matthew," Paul Manuel takes up the question of the chronology of Easter. His conclusions:
.... Buried on Friday, before the Sabbath had begun, when did Jesus rise from the dead? The most common belief is that he rose early Sunday morning, but that does not seem to agree with his prediction of spending "three days and three nights" (72 hours?) in the grave. An examination of the different statements about the time of the resurrection, though, reveals considerable variation, forcing the reader to view them either as a host of contradictions or as simple approximations referring to parts of a three-day period. ....

How are we to understand such disparate statements about the time of Jesus' resurrection? These are all approximate references and, therefore, not contradictory. Their purpose is to direct attention to the third day, which is when Jesus rose from the dead. If there is any uncertainty which day of the week that momentous event occurred, Luke resolves the matter, for he identifies "the third day" with "the first day of the week" (i.e., Sunday). ....

The chronological markers in the gospel accounts enable modern readers to establish the day of Jesus' crucifixion and the day of his resurrection. According to those markers, Jesus died on Friday, the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath, and he rose on the third day, which was Sunday, the first day of the week. (more)
The argument, with end notes, is here.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"The cliches suddenly work..."

From an interesting long review of Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules For Life (which I haven't read) by an unbeliever who compares him to C.S. Lewis:
.... The best analogy I can think of is C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a believer in the Old Religion, which at this point has been reduced to cliche. What could be less interesting than hearing that Jesus loves you, or being harangued about sin, or getting promised Heaven, or threatened with Hell? But for some reason, when Lewis writes, the cliches suddenly work. Jesus’ love becomes a palpable force. Sin becomes so revolting you want to take a shower just for having ever engaged in it. When Lewis writes about Heaven you can hear harp music; when he writes about Hell you can smell brimstone. He didn’t make me convert to Christianity, but he made me understand why some people would.

Jordan Peterson is a believer in the New Religion, the one where God is the force for good inside each of us, and all religions are paths to wisdom, and the Bible stories are just guides on how to live our lives. This is the only thing even more cliched than the Old Religion. But for some reason, when Peterson writes about it, it works. When he says that God is the force for good inside each of us, you can feel that force pulsing through your veins. When he says the Bible stories are guides to how to live, you feel tempted to change your life goal to fighting Philistines. ....

.... But the other reason I feel guilty about the Lewis comparison is that C.S. Lewis would probably have hated Jordan Peterson.

Lewis has his demon character Screwtape tell a fellow demon:
Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man [for Hell], and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours — and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours.
I’m not confident in my interpretation of either Lewis or Peterson, but I think Lewis would think Peterson does this. He makes the world an end and faith a means. His Heaven is a metaphorical Heaven. If you sort yourself out and trust in metaphorical God, you can live a wholesome self-respecting life, make your parents proud, and make the world a better place. Even though Peterson claims “nobody is really an atheist” and mentions Jesus about three times per page, I think C.S. Lewis would consider him every bit as atheist as Richard Dawkins, and the worst sort of false prophet. ....

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

12 rules for life

I haven't read much science fiction since I was a teenager. Apart from Tolkien, I really don't read fantasy either. My genre reading is primarily detective/mystery stories. But I enjoyed "Stephen Carter's 12 Science-Fiction Rules for Life" this morning. Carter writes "Like so many other scribes, I have been inspired by psychologist Jordan Peterson’s fascinating book to sketch my 12 rules of life. But mine are different...." Four of them:
“An atom-blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.” — Isaac Asimov, Foundation.
This is one of the clearest expressions of the basis of the liberalism of process. It matters not only whether one accomplishes an end but also how. Any tool available to the “good guys” today might be wielded by the “bad guys” tomorrow. One should always take this proposition into account when choosing a toolkit.
“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
This much-quoted line is also much-misunderstood. It’s spoken by the dwarf Gimli as the Fellowship is preparing to depart on its mission to return the Ring. To see the context, one must consider Elrond, Lord of Rivendell’s response: “But let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.” Elrond’s point is that it’s okay to back out — but back out now, before taking on the responsibility. Once the vow is made and the task undertaken, Gimli is right: One mustn’t give up because the going gets hard. But we should not avoid making promises just because it’s wrong to break them. On the contrary, as Tolkien notes, making promises is also a duty.
"Whether a thought is spoken or not it is a real thing and it has power.” – Frank Herbert, Dune.
If thoughts matter, then thinking matters — which means training people to think matters. I doubt that Tuek, the smuggler who spoke these words in the novel, would have much cared for social media.
"The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’” — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
As Bradbury notes, a crucial reason to read is that we can be surprised, upset, offended, turned in a different direction. Books at their best make us think. We don’t live in a thoughtful age, and for just that reason, reading books that challenge us has become more important than ever. When we read seriously and thoughtfully, we run the risk that we might change our minds. That’s good. One of the worst things in the world is conformity, which is another word for intellectual cowardice.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Is Easter pagan?

Yesterday's post reminded me of this one mainly because of the image. Re-posted from 2009:

In an article at Christian History, Anthony McRoy systematically refutes the idea that "Easter" has any connection to possible pagan antecedents, and concludes:
...The Christian title "Easter"...reflects its general date in the calendar, rather than the Paschal festival having been re-named in honor of a supposed pagan deity.

Of course, the Christian commemoration of the Paschal festival rests not on the title of the celebration but on its content—namely, the remembrance of Christ's death and resurrection. It is Christ's conquest of sin, death, and Satan that gives us the right to wish everyone "Happy Easter!"
He notes that:
The argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration (Easter in English and Ostern in German). It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is the Christian Passover festival.
Even if there were some preceding pagan holiday or practice, that wouldn't prove anything—any more than it does for Christmas, or Halloween for that matter. As McRoy points out:
Of course, even if Christians did engage in contextualization—expressing their message and worship in the language or forms of the local people—that in no way implies doctrinal compromise. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to biblical norms. After all, Christians speak of "Good Friday," but they are in no way honoring the worship of the Norse/Germanic queen of the gods Freya by doing so.

But, in fact, in the case of Easter the evidence suggests otherwise: that neither the commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection nor its name are derived from paganism. .... (more)
Good history and good sense.

Even the bunny and the egg—like Santa Claus and the Christmas tree—are, at worst, relatively harmless distractions.

Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday? | Christian History

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Bunny lit

In the midst of an absurd political controversy about "Bunny Books" The Weekly Standard offers "Ten Bunny Tales Better Than Either Marlon Bundo Offering," among which:
1. Watership Down

Richard Adams’ opus, first published in 1974, has everything. It’s a quest to find a new home—featuring fearsome bloody battles; a wealth of natural detail; convincing authority in its adventuresome hero, Hazel, his clairvoyant righthand and their band of trusty fellows; and its own vaguely Welsh-seeming language. (“Tharn” means a fear that freezes you in your tracks.) It’s also a 426-page epic entirely about rabbits. To his credit, Adams shakes off attributions of mythic or religious allegory and says the book’s success stems from his having set out simply to amuse his daughters in the car. Luckily for us, they were driving through rabbit country. ....

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Easily the world’s best-known bunny bandit, Peter Rabbit may be adorable but he also braved the threat of being. baked. in. a. pie. when he stole carrots and cabbage from Mr. McGregor’s garden. Beatrix Potter, who first dreamed him up to amuse her former governess’s son was a delightful storyteller but also and uncommonly talented naturalist with a keen commercial instinct. Peter, in his trademark blue coat, became the first actually trademarked literary doll to be mass-produced and sold. First by self-publishing Peter’s inaugural Tale in 1901, then by sewing and selling the first blue-coated plush herself, Potter pioneered popular affection for bunny lit—a tradition which has vastly multiplied, much like rabbits themselves, ever since. ....
And also: 4. The House at Pooh Corner, 5. The Velveteen Rabbit, 7. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, etc. The others unfamiliar to me.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Beside the rotting river strand..."

Having once read The Lord of the Rings I proceeded to acquire everything I could find by Tolkien. One that I found early on was The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and other verses (1963), a collection of poems supposedly "made by Hobbits, especially by Bilbo and his friends." One of the shorter and darker ones is "The Mewlips."

The shadows where the Mewlips dwell
Are dark and wet as ink,
And slow and softly rings their bell,
As in the slime you sink.
You sink into the slime, who dare
To knock upon their door,
While down the grinning gargoyles stare
And noisome waters pour.
Beside the rotting river-strand
The drooping willows weep,
And gloomily the gorcrows stand
Croaking in their sleep.
Over the Merlock Mountains a long and weary way,
In a mouldy valley where the trees are grey,
By a dark pool's borders without wind or tide,
Moonless and sunless, the Mewlips hide.
The cellars where the Mewlips sit
Are deep and dank and cold
With single sickly candle lit;
And there they count their gold.
Their walls are wet, their ceilings drip;
Their feet upon the floor
Go softly with a squish-flap-flip,
As they sidle to the door.
They peep out slyly; through a crack
Their feeling fingers creep,
And when they've finished, in a sack
Your bones they take to keep.
Beyond the Merlock Mountains, a long and lonely road,
Through the spider-shadows and the marsh of Tode,
And through the wood of hanging trees and the gallows-weed,
You go to find the Mewlips and the Mewlips feed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"Sin-drenched nations"

Mark Tooley recently gave a presentation to the Wesleyan Theological Society about “godly nationalism.” This column, "Sin-Drenched Nations," is his response to some of the reaction he received:
.... Several questions I got afterwards from young people in the audience were revealing. One asked if Christians must love countries like America and Israel founded on “stolen” land. Another similarly asked if American Christians must love their country built on greed. Still another skeptically asked about loyalty to a racist nation like America. ....

All nations are drenched in sin, I responded, yet we are called to love and serve the community where God has placed us, just as Christ Himself did. And we should recall that, unlike Christ, we are ourselves sinful, each of us actively contributing to the faults of our own societies. So we should judge our nations, present or past tense, modestly and reluctantly. Smug contempt for our own people can be self-righteous.

Contempt specifically for America, including among many Christians, especially in academia, reflects partly the dominance of the Howard Zinn perspective, which chronicles American history as primarily a catalog of repressions. These recalled injustices are often very real, but the distortion is tagging America as uniquely perfidious, racist, sexist, greedy, militarist, etc. America is sinful, like all nations, but it never had a monopoly on sin. And more often than not, American ideals have provided a level of human justice unusual in world history.

The Christians who disdain America often suffer from particular theological confusion, believing humanity basically good, while America is the odious aberration. .... [more]

Monday, March 19, 2018

"The Fools in Town..."

The post-war crime/detection/espionage authors I have particularly enjoyed include John D. MacDonald, Dick Francis, John le Carré, Elmore Leonard,  and Ross Thomas. I haven't read Thomas recently but have a lot of his titles, each one of which I've read and enjoyed. Most, if not all, are still in print. From his 1995 NYT obituary:
.... Mr. Thomas, who also wrote under the pseudonym Oliver Bleeck, won critical praise for his stylish, well-told suspense novels enlivened with a dash of wit. The writer Stephen King, noting Mr. Ross's gift for character and witty dialogue, once called him "the Jane Austen of the political espionage story." Other critics placed him in the hard-boiled tradition of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

Mr. Thomas reveled in bleak tales of political corruption, string-pulling and behind-the-scenes scheming. "I do use the fact that I've been in the back rooms where the deals are being cut," he once told an interviewer. "If there's a trace of cynicism in my books, it's only based on reality."....

In 1965...Mr. Thomas turned out his first novel, The Cold War Swap, which he wrote in six weeks. The novel, a tale of skulduggery by the Central Intelligence Agency, received an Edgar Award for best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America.

His many novels include Cast a Yellow Shadow (1967), The Porkchoppers (1972), The Money Harvest (1975), The Mordida Man (1981) and Out on the Rim (1987). Briarpatch won an Edgar Award as best mystery novel of 1985. His most recent novel was Ah, Treachery! (1994). ....
Mysterious Press says that he wrote a book a year for twenty-five years. I only have seventeen of them, mostly paperbacks. One of mine is The Fools in Town Are on Our Side (1970). From its cover:
Lucifer Dye was born in Montana and raised in Shanghai's most distinguished bordello. Recently dismissed from Section Two, a secret American Intelligence Agency, he heads for San Francisco to be debriefed. Dye and Section Two are parting company because of the sudden, unexpected death of a Red Chinese double agent...a death which resulted in Dye's three month billet in a Singapore dungeon.

Unemployed, armed only with a passport, a severance check, and his wits, Dye is approached by a man named Victor Orcutt. Orcutt's vocation is the cleaning up of corrupt cities through the application of Orcutt's First Law: "To get better, it must get much worse."

Orcutt proposes a $50,000 fee. Dye's assignment: to corrupt an entire American city. ....

Sunday, March 18, 2018


Last week after our monthly fellowship meal I overheard a conversation about crucifixion and offered some information from this article. I've posted references to it before during the Lenten season.

Justin Taylor:
Written over 20 years ago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this article goes into graphic detail about the physical pain that Jesus would have endured in his beatings and crucifixion....
Here is an excerpt from that article, "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ" by William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer. The original article is downloadable as a pdf and is substantially longer and detailed, with many diagrams and ample citation. Our Lord's manner of execution was like that suffered by a great many others in the Roman world:
…. It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 lb (136 kg), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75 to 125 lb. (34 to 57 kg), was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed. Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death. Outside the city walls was permanently located the heavy upright wooden stipes, on which the patibulum would be secured. In the case of the Tau cross, this was accomplished by means of a mortise and tenon joint, with or without reinforcement by ropes. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes. Only very rarely, and probably later than the time of Christ, was an additional block (suppedaneum) employed for transfixion of the feet.

At the site of execution, by law, the victim was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. The hands could be nailed or tied to the crossbar, but nailing apparently was preferred by the Romans. The archaeological remains of a crucified body, found in an ossuary near Jerusalem and dating from the time of Christ, indicate that the nails were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 in (13 to 18 cm) long with a square shaft 3/8 in (1 cm) across. Furthermore, ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin have documented that the nails commonly were driven through the wrists rather than the palms.

After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the patibulum and the victim, together, were lifted onto the stipes. On the low cross, four soldiers could accomplish this relatively easily. However, on the tall cross, the soldiers used either wooden forks or ladders.

Next, the feet were fixed to the cross, either by nails or ropes. Ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin suggest that nailing was the preferred Roman practice. Although the feet could be fixed to the sides of the stipes or to a wooden footrest (suppedaneum), they usually were nailed directly to the front of the stipes. To accomplish this, flexion of the knees may have been quite prominent, and the bent legs may have been rotated laterally.

When the nailing was completed, the titulus was attached to the cross, by nails or cords, just above the victim’s head. The soldiers and the civilian crowd often taunted and jeered the condemned man, and the soldiers customarily divided up his clothes among themselves. The length of survival generally ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging. However, even if the scourging had been relatively mild, the Roman soldiers could hasten death by breaking the legs below the knees (crurifragium or skelokopia). …. (the article pdf)
Between Two Worlds: On the Physical Death of Jesus

Saturday, March 17, 2018

"Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning"


The Celtic poem known as St. Patrick's Breastplate:

I bind unto myself today 
The strong Name of the Trinity, 
By invocation of the same, 
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;

I bind unto myself today.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.
Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

St. Patrick's "Breastplate" Prayer (The Prayer Foundation).

Friday, March 16, 2018

The human condition

Pulled down a book I've had for about ten years and haven't re-read for almost that long: Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us About Suffering & Salvation. From the "Postlude":
I asked him another question. I had been to Beale Street, to Clarksdale, to the site on the Stovall plantation where Muddy Waters's shack once stood, and to the Delta Blues Museum, where the reconstructed shack of Muddy Waters now meets museum patrons, complete with a wax Muddy Waters smiling over his guitar. The shack was moved there and restored by the fundraising efforts of ZZ Top, who used a spare piece from it to make a guitar they dubbed "Muddywood:' And yet, despite these experiences, I still hadn't entirely found the blues. Now was my chance. So I asked him, "What is the blues?" By now Johnnie Billington had been quietly strumming chords, coaxing his guitar to life. He said without hesitation, "The blues is truth." The truth about life, the truth about us. He didn't use the exact words, "the human condition," but this was what he was talking about.

Pop music, that stuff on the radio, he said, was fake. It's all all right in that world, happy. When it does try to encounter sadness, he said, it just sounds plain silly. "The blues is communal:" he added. "You might be okay today. Money in the bank. Tomorrow, though, you may get the blues. You'll be feeling bad. But then you hear the blues. You find out that guy up there singing, he feels bad too. And you realize that it's okay. You realize you'll get through this." Johnnie Billington helps you realize that we're all in this, the human condition, together. ....

The blues is truth, the blues is community, the blues is living. The blues is the truth of the curse, the harshness that all the sons and daughters of Adam know all too well. But there is another truth that is there if you listen closely. This is the truth of grace, the truth of the cross. Singing the blues means knowing both these truths, not shrinking back or embellishing the human condition, and not failing to be an agent of grace, an agent of the one who broke into the human condition, the Man of Sorrows, who is the Truth, who is the way out, and who, through the resurrection, is the Life now and in the world to come.

The blues is community. Perhaps no one spoke of community better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was Bonhoeffer who, while studying in America in 1930, pulled an ad for a Sunday school teacher off a bulletin board by a church in Harlem. At the storefront church in Harlem, Bonhoeffer heard music that he had never heard before. He left America with an armload of spirituals, and he would play those records...
There is a discography.

Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us About Suffering & Salvation at Amazon.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Two books

I was re-reading a post from several years ago that quoted from two essays David Mills wrote about Ayn Rand and laughed out loud when I came to this:
Then there is the famous comment ascribed to the writer Raj Patel: “There are two novels that can transform a bookish fourteen year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs.” ....
The Childish Ayn Rand - Aleteia

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Whom shall you worship?

From a very interesting comparison of the very different messages conveyed by L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and the recent film version
.... There is a great question behind both the book and the movie: whom shall you worship? The movie answers: yourself; the universe; you must find out that these are the same thing, and that this All, which is really you, is where your help comes from. “I am part of the Universe!” exclaims Oprah in the movie.

The lyrics of the final song over the credits perfectly encapsulate this message: “Today I saw a rainbow in the rain / It told me I can do anything / If I believe in me,” Demi sings. And then the chant before the chorus: “I can, I can, I will, I will / I am, I am, no fear, no fear.” Learn to take on yourself the name of God, the I AM, and you have learned the lesson of the movie version.

It is precisely the opposite of the message of the book. And this is why, while Jennifer Lee’s version of perennialism seems to mirror L’Engle’s, it does not.

Just before the children hear the winged creatures singing on Uriel, Mrs. Whatsit transforms.
“Now, don’t be frightened, loves,” Mrs. Whatsit said. Her plump little body began to shimmer, to quiver, to shift. The wild colors of her clothes became muted, whitened. The pudding-bag shape stretched, lengthened, merged. And suddenly before the children was a creature more beautiful than any Meg had even imagined, and the beauty lay in far more than the outward description. Outwardly Mrs. Whatsit was surely no longer a Mrs. Whatsit. She was a marble-white body with powerful flanks, something like a horse but at the same time completely unlike a horse, for from the magnificently modeled back sprang a nobly formed torso, arms, and a head resembling a man’s, but a man with a perfection of dignity and virtue, an exaltation of joy such as Meg had never before seen. No, she thought, it’s not like a Greek centaur. Not in the least.

From the shoulders slowly a pair of wings unfolded, wings made of rainbows, of light upon water, of poetry.

Calvin fell to his knees.

“No,” Mrs. Whatsit said, though her voice was not Mrs. Whatsit’s voice. “Not to me, Calvin. Never to me. Stand up.”
The first time that Scripture is quoted in the book is thus in response to an implied question: to whom, then? The centaur's answer:
Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Traps everywhere

In reading Chesterton, as in reading Macdonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere—"Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratagems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.
C.S. Lewis: Surprised by Joy

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Trouble in the Fall

Last evening in conversation with a friend he expressed his desire to be in New England at the height of Autumn. That made me think of Hitchcock's film The Trouble with Harry (1955). It's a good movie, one of Hitchcock's semi-comedic films, set in that location in that season. And the Fall colors are great.

The kid is Jerry Mathers, later the Beaver.

Monday, March 5, 2018

"Lit by a light from beyond the world"

From C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy, his autobiography:
I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths. They had not the mythical taste. And yet the very matter which they set down in their artless, historical fashion—those narrow, unattractive Jews, too blind to the mythical wealth of the Pagan world around them—was precisely the matter of the great myths. If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time, as Plato's Socrates or Boswell's Johnson (ten times more so than Eckermann's Goethe or Lockhart's Scott), yet also numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god—we are no longer polytheists—then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not "a religion," nor "a philosophy." It is the summing up and actuality of them all.
Quoted in Affirmations of God and Man (1967) edited by Edmund Fuller

Sunday, March 4, 2018

"Bring us in safety to the beginning of another day..."

I post again one of the three surviving evening prayers offered by Jane Austen.
Father of Heaven! whose goodness has brought us in safety to the close of this day, dispose our hearts in fervent prayer. Another day is now gone, and added to those, for which we were before accountable. Teach us Almighty Father, to consider this solemn truth, as we should do, that we may feel the importance of every day, and every hour as it passes, and earnestly strive to make a better use of what Thy goodness may yet bestow on us, than we have done of the time past.

Give us grace to endeavour after a truly Christian spirit to seek to attain that temper of forbearance and patience of which our blessed  Saviour has set us the highest example; and which, while it prepares us for the spiritual happiness of the life to come, will secure to us the best enjoyment of what this world can give. Incline us oh God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves.

We thank Thee with all our hearts for every gracious dispensation, for all the blessings that have attended our lives, for every hour of safety, health and peace, of domestic comfort and innocent enjoyment. We feel that we have been blessed far beyond any thing that we have deserved; and though we cannot but pray for a continuance of all these mercies, we acknowledge our unworthiness of them and implore Thee to pardon the presumption of our desires.

Keep us oh! Heavenly Father from evil this night. Bring us in safety to the beginning of another day and grant that we may rise again with every serious and religious feeling which now directs us.

May Thy mercy be extended over all mankind, bringing the ignorant to the knowledge of Thy truth, awakening the impenitent, touching the hardened. Look with compassion upon the afflicted of every condition, assuage the pangs of disease, comfort the broken in spirit.

More particularly do we pray for the safety and welfare of our own family and friends wheresoever dispersed, beseeching Thee to avert from them all material and lasting evil of body or mind; and may we by the assistance of Thy Holy Spirit so conduct ourselves on earth as to secure an eternity of happiness with each other in Thy heavenly kingdom. Grant this most merciful Father, for the sake of our blessed Saviour in whose holy name and words we further address Thee.

Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

"Till it could not offend a fly"

From Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos (1949), as quoted in Affirmations of God and Man (1967) edited by Edmund Fuller:
Let us, in Heaven's name, drag Out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious—others will pass into the Kingdom of Heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like Him? We do Him singularly little honor by watering down His personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.

It is the dogma that is the drama—not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death—but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realize that here is something that a man might be glad to believe. (emphasis added)

Friday, March 2, 2018

"Strewing a little happiness..."

From an enjoyable appreciation of P.G. Wodehouse by Joseph Epstein, "Frivolous, Empty, and Perfectly Delightful":
.... For a writer who never aspired to be other than popular, in later life Wodehouse acquired accolades from many writers who easily cleared the high-brow bar, including T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh, Dorothy Parker, Kingsley Amis, Eudora Welty, Lionel Trilling, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Hillaire Belloc called him “the best writer of English now alive,” a handsome tribute seconded by H.L. Mencken. “Temperate admirers of his work,” wrote the English drama critic James Agate, “are non-existent.”

Wodehouse wrote no faulty sentences, and countless ones that, for people who care about the pleasing ordering of words, give unrivalled delight. In his biography McCrum offers the following splendid example, one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, that could be adduced:
In the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.
....“I believe there are two ways of writing novels,” Wodehouse wrote. “One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right down deep into life, and not giving a damn.” No one would accuse P.G. Wodehouse of ever flirting with realism. His fiction is uniformly preposterous. “I don’t really know anything about writing except farcical comedy,” he wrote to his friend the novelist William Townsend. “A real person in my fiction would stick out like a sore thumb.”

Nobody dies in Wodehouse novels or stories. In his fiction there are no wars, economic depression, sex below the neck, little Sturm and even less Drang, with only satisfyingly happy endings awaiting at the close. English country-house scenes were his favorite milieu. These are populated with aimless young men in spats with names like Stilton Cheesewright, Bingo Little, Tuppy Glossop, and Pongo Twistleton; troublesome young women, terrifying aunts, and eccentric servants; notable props include two-seater roadsters, cigarette holders, monocles, and lots of cocktails. ....

The work of humorists is not usually long-lived. Among Americans, two very different examples, James Thurber and S.J. Perelman, seem to have bitten the dust, at least they have for me. Yet Wodehouse remains readable and immensely enjoyable. Perhaps this is owing to his having written about a world that never really existed, so that his work, unlike Thurber and Perelman’s, isn’t finally time-bound. “I’m all for strewing a little happiness as I go by,” Wodehouse wrote to William Townsend, and he did so in ample measure. He would have been pleased to learn that for his readers the gift of that happiness has yet to stop giving.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Maritain, Eliot, Lewis, Auden, and Weil

Coming in August and already pre-ordered. I find anything by Jacobs invariably interesting and this one is about both a time in which and some thinkers in whom I am particularly interested. The book is The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis. The Amazon description:
By early 1943, it had become increasingly clear that the Allies would win the Second World War. Around the same time, it also became increasingly clear to many Christian intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic that the soon-to-be-victorious nations were not culturally or morally prepared for their success. A war won by technological superiority merely laid the groundwork for a post-war society governed by technocrats. These Christian intellectuals--Jacques Maritain, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, W.H. Auden, and Simone Weil, among others--sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world.

In this book, Alan Jacobs explores the poems, novels, essays, reviews, and lectures of these five central figures, in which they presented, with great imaginative energy and force, pictures of the very different paths now set before the Western democracies. Working mostly separately and in ignorance of one another's ideas, the five developed a strikingly consistent argument that the only means by which democratic societies could be prepared for their world-wide economic and political dominance was through a renewal of education that was grounded in a Christian understanding of the power and limitations of human beings.

The Year of Our Lord 1943 is the first book to weave together the ideas of these five intellectuals and shows why, in a time of unprecedented total war, they all thought it vital to restore Christianity to a leading role in the renewal of the Western democracies.
Alan Jacobs, The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis

"In worship we read, sing, pray, preach, and show forth...the Word of God"

I am really liking the ideas expressed at the Center for Baptist Renewal. Today they address "Historic Worship," describing an ideal that I think Baptists should consider seriously. The essay closes with this:
...[W]e simply want Baptist churches to realize that every church has a liturgy—a service of the people. Even if they do not use that word, every church has repeated practices and particular orders of worship. Further, those repeated practices shape and form their people in particular ways. All we are asking, at a foundational level, is for Baptist churches to think explicitly about what liturgy they have, and what effects it may or may not have on their people. Perhaps this will lead to change; perhaps it will lead simply to a deepening and enriching of already-existing practices. In either case (or both), we hope that Baptist churches will reflect critically on their liturgies, and consider some of the elements of the traditional liturgy that have, for the most part, been lost in Baptist life.