Sunday, April 29, 2018

One night

A couple of days ago a friend indicated that Drums Along the Mohawk was "the first time [she] saw Claudette Colbert in a movie." If her recollection is correct she has missed some pretty good films, including It Happened One Night, Best Picture and both the Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars for 1934, The Palm Beach Story, a 1942 Preston Sturges film, and Since You Went Away, a rather sentimental 1944 World War II home front story with a teenage Shirley Temple that I showed my freshmen every year culminating the unit on the home front. She had a long career and did a lot of television from the fifties to the eighties.

It Happened One Night was an early Frank Capra picture. Colbert's co-star was Clark Gable. From the 1934 NY Daily News review:
Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable make a potent combination in so far as their power to draw crowds into the theatre is concerned. The first showing of It Happened One Night, in which they appeared together for the first time, was greeted by a full house early yesterday morning at the Music Hall, while a long queue waited outside to get in.

The co-stars make a good team. They are an attractive pair and they play their respective roles with a refreshing lightness. They are ably assisted by a supporting cast that includes Walter Connolly, who gives, as always, a finished screen performance in the role of Claudette's multi-millionaire father; Roscoe Karns, who is amusing as a flirtatious traveling salesman; Jameson Thomas, as a charming mountebank; Alan Hale, the late Blanche Frederici, Ward Bond, Arthur Hoyt and others. ....

Claudette plays the role of Ellie Andrews, the old child of the very rich Alexander Andrews. She leaves her father and his luxurious yacht flat at Palm Beach in order to escape, via a New York bound bus, to her newly acquired husband, who had flown to New York immediately after the ceremony rather than face old man Andrews' rage.

On the bus Ellie meets a young reporter, Peter Warne, played by Gable. He recognizes her and promises to help her rejoin her husband providing he gets a good story out of it. He considers her at first just a good piece of news copy, but before their adventure is half over he is head over heels in love with her and she with him. ....
Eighty years after being made, It Happened One Night remains a mirror and a measuring stick—not only for all subsequent romantic comedies, but also (perhaps more significantly) for all lovers who came after Peter and Ellie and dream of a similar union of bodies, wits and fates.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Praise every morning

I'm pretty sure the first time I heard this was Cat Stevens on the radio. And I probably thought he wrote it. Then I found it in the hymnbook my church was using. It was in fact composed by Eleanor Farjeon in 1931. I associate the hymn with Spring.

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the word
Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness, where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day

If you don't see the performance embedded below the YouTube link is

Friday, April 27, 2018

"There's a lot to be said for making people laugh"

At the beginning of a film review in the current Weekly Standard, John Podhoretz describes another, older, film — one of my favorites by one of my favorite directors.
In 1941, Preston Sturges wrote and directed a movie called Sullivan's Travels about a successful director of cinematic fluff who longs to make a serious artistic statement called O Brother, Where Art Thou? "I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions!" he tells the head of his studio. "But with a little sex," the studio chief cautions. For complicated reasons, Sullivan ends up a falsely convicted felon working on a chain gang. One night he and his fellow convicts are allowed to see a Mickey Mouse short. He watches as they howl with joy and learns at that moment the great value of his supposedly trivial work. "There's a lot to be said for making people laugh," Sullivan concludes. "Did you know that's all some people have?"
I think this is the best of the thirteen Sturges films but I've very much enjoyed others. One site lists eight as "essential": “The Great McGinty” (1940), “Christmas in July” (1940), “The Lady Eve” (1941), “The Palm Beach Story” (1942), “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” (1944), “Hail the Conquering Hero” (1944), “Unfaithfully Yours” (1948) (which I haven't seen) and, of course, "Sullivan's Travels."

Thursday, April 26, 2018


George MacDonald Fraser is one of my favorite historical novelists (the Flashman series). He was, in his books, pretty meticulous about historical accuracy. His The Hollywood History of the World is about films about historical events. It has chapters like "First Age: The Ancient World," "Second Age: Knights and Barbarians," "Fifth Age: Rule Britannia," and "Sixth Age: New World, Old West." So two of my enthusiasms come together here: films and historical fiction. MacDonald on one of my favorite John Ford films:
Drums Along the Mohawk is the story of a patriot community in the Mohawk Valley in 1776, to which Gilbert Martin (Henry Fonda) has brought his lady wife (Claudette Colbert), who reacts with dismay at her primitive surroundings and goes into hysterics at the sight of an Indian. No sooner has she grown accustomed to the hardships of frontier farming than the Revolution reaches the valley, which is subjected to terrible Indian raids led by the sinister John Carradine in an eye-patch. Their farm is burned, and the young couple are forced to hire out to a redoubtable widow (Edna Mae Oliver at her best). More Indian attacks follow, the community are beleaguered in their little fort, and Martin has to run for help — literally, with three Indians racing in pursuit in a splendid sustained chase sequence. Of course he gets through, and the fort is relieved just as the Indians are breaking in.

That is the outline of a beautifully observed study of frontier life. Ford can let his camera range over a room, picking up tiny details of furnishing, or over a church service, with its eccentric minister (Arthur Shields) praying and advertising in one breath, and tell more about a period than an hour-long lecture. It is a gentle, pastoral film for the most part, which makes its violent passages all the more telling, and at the end of it one begins to understand what it must have been like to try to make a home on he edge of the wilderness, and the price that had to be paid for survival. I said that Britain is not identified as the enemy, who are described throughout as 'Tories' — quite correctly, so far as those Americans who fought against the Revolution are concerned. Indeed, when the film came out in 1939, I doubt if British audiences realised they were watching a phase of the Revolution at all, especially since the raising of the Stars and Stripes at the end is accompanied by the ambiguous strains of 'God Save the King/My Country of Thee'.
This is a very good Blu-ray of Drums Along the Mohawk

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Something worse than death

Ben Dueholm, a Lutheran pastor, and a friend, recently attended a conference for Christian writers. One of those he heard speak was a television writer and producer who works in Hollywood. From Ben's sermon: "For the Sheep":
.... And the moderator of this panel asked her, “what’s it like to be Catholic in the entertainment industry?” My friend answered with something that I thought was very obvious and yet kind of profound. She said “I’m the only one in the writers’ room who thinks that dying is not the worst thing that can happen to a person.” She went on to talk about how, in movies and television shows, if a character is faced with the possibility of dying, writers and audiences will accept that the character can do anything to avoid it. That dying is the worst fate, and nothing you do to avoid it is immoral or unjustified.

My friend talked about growing up with stories of saints who were martyred rather than giving up their faith, and that left her with the idea that some things really are worse than death. You can lose your life, but it’s worse to lose your soul. ....

...It’s not that we, as modern Americans, are so in love with our own lives—that we are so overflowing with joy and satisfaction that we lash out at the slightest hint of possible danger. It’s that we do not believe in or value our eternal souls. As if so many of us believe we are not prepared to bring our sins before God. Or maybe worse, as if we think there is no such thing, and there will be no accounting of our actions.

In today’s Gospel we hear something entirely different. Today Jesus calls himself the good shepherd. What makes him good? He lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hands run when they see the wolf coming. They leave the sheep on their own. But Jesus, the good shepherd, does not run. He does not seek first to preserve his own life. He lays it down for the sheep. ....

He laid down his life for us, so we lay down our lives for each other. The resurrection of Jesus breaks the chains of death and hell, first in himself, and then in his church. He speaks of a life that is greater than death because he is the Life that is greater than death. When he gives us this life, through words and sacrament and preaching and faith, we share in his life beyond death too.

So a good rule of thumb: if a voice in the world is telling you to be more afraid—if a voice is cultivating your fear, using your fear, enjoying your fear—that is not the voice of the Good Shepherd. That is at best the voice of a hired hand. None of us can save our own lives, in the end, and no one can do it for us, either. Instead, we are told to listen for the voice of Jesus, and to hold to it even when we may be fearful.

That is what John’s letter calls “our victory over the world”: our faith. We worship one who points us beyond fear of death into love of life. Not the brief experience of life that we try so hard to keep from slipping through our fingers, but the life that stretches out before and after everything we can see. We worship one who teaches us with his words, and then shows us with his resurrection, that death has not won. Amen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Faith and works


THE disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage, from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living. Without some such contrast or comparison, without some such shifting of the point of view, we should see nothing whatever of our own social surroundings. We should take them for granted, as the only possible social surroundings. We should be as unconscious of them as we are, for the most part, of the hair growing on our heads or the air passing through our lungs. It is the variety of the human story that brings out sharply the last turn that the road has taken, and it is the view under the arch of the gateway which tells us that we are entering a town.

Yet this sense of the past is curiously patchy among the most intelligent and instructed people....

Monday, April 23, 2018

Baptists and Creeds

Baptists, especially Southern Baptists, have a reputation of being anti-creedal ("No creed but the Bible!"). This perception, common among Baptists and non-Baptists alike, does not reflect the truth about Baptists historically.

Defenders of creeds and confessions in Baptist life point to early Baptist documents such as the Orthodox Confession of 1678 which states, “The three creeds, viz. Nicene Creed, Athanasius’s creed, and the Apostles creed […] ought thoroughly to be received, and believed. For we believe, they may be proved, by most undoubted authority of holy scripture, and are necessary to be understood of all Christians […] according to the analogy of faith…” Baptists accept these creeds, not on their own authority but on the authority of Scripture [which] the creeds faithfully articulate. ....

.... The Alabama Baptist, the news journal of the most “southern” of Southern Baptists, had this to say about creeds in 1879:
A religion without a creed is like a building without a foundation, like a government without a polity...Christianity is a failure if, after two thousand years, it has established no system of principles that may be formulated into a creed...A Christian preacher without a creed is first one thing, and then another, and ordinarily is nothing in the end. A church without a creed is nothing better than a club instituted with no higher purpose than occasional enjoyment and entertainment...It is true that Christianity is more than a group of doctrines; but it is no less true that the doctrines of the Word [the doctrines laid out in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds] are the seeds of life and virtue; that without them we cannot worship acceptably.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

No one else

John Henry Newman:
Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him. Job 13:15 (KJV)

THIS IS a sentiment which often occurs in Scripture, whether expressed in words or implied in the conduct of good men. It is founded on the belief that God is our sole strength, our sole refuge; that if good is in any way in store for us, it lies with God; if it is attainable, it is attained by coming to God. Though we be in evil case even after coming to Him, we are sure to be in still worse, if we keep away. If He will but allow sinners such as we are to approach Him, for that is the only question, then it is our wisdom to approach Him at once in such a way as He appoints or appears to approve. At all events, there is no one else we can go to; so that if He refuses to receive us, we are undone. And on the other hand, if He does receive us, then we must be ready to submit to His will, whatever it is towards us, pleasant or painful. Whether He punishes us or not, or how far pardons, or how far restores, or what gifts He bestows, rests with Him; and it is our part to take good or bad, as He gives it.

This is the general feeling which St. Peter seems to express in one way, when he cries out, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." It is the feeling, under different circumstance and in a different tone, of the Prodigal Son, when he said, "I will arise, and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants." It shows itself under the form of peace and joy in the words of David: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me"; and it speaks in the text by the mouth of the heavily afflicted and sorely perplexed Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." Inquirers seeking the truth, prodigals repentant, saints rejoicing in the light, saints walking in darkness, all of them have one word on their lips, one creed in their hearts,— to "trust in the Lord for ever, for with the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." ....
John Henry Newman, Sermon VIII, "Peace and Joy Amid Chastisement," Parochial and Plain Sermons, 1875.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Something considerably worse

While browsing in The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse chosen and edited by Kingsley Amis:

The Revolutionaries
R.P. Lister
O TREMBLE, all ye earthly Princes,
  Bow down the crowned and chrism'd nob;
Wise is the Potentate that winces
  At the just clamour of the mob.
Shiver, ye Bishops, doff your mitres,
  Huddle between your empty pews
Here comes a horde of left-wing writers
  Brandishing salmon-pink reviews.
Comes the New Age. Your outworn faces
  Vanish at our enlightened curse,
While we erect in your old places
  Something considerably worse.


The first essential step.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Abolition of Man

...[T]he book addresses one of the most important questions that has been considered throughout Western and, Lewis insists, human history. Is there a moral reality woven into the fabric of the universe such that we can discover what is true about right and wrong and act accordingly? Or is morality something malleable, a tool for the powerful or for unguided evolution or for the flow of History, something that we need not discover but now that we have come of age can create and shape for ourselves? From Antigone’s challenge to Creon to the serpent’s asking “Did God really say?”—from Plato’s battle with the sophists to Pilate’s asking “What is truth?”—from Rousseau’s reimagined natureless state of nature to Jefferson’s “We hold these truths to be self-evident”—from Nietzsche’s creative super men to today’s transhumanists—this is arguably the question that lies beneath all of our disputes and controversies.

Abolition addresses this perennial and paramount question, and in doing so takes the side of Antigone and Plato and the Bible and Confucius, and opposes Thrasymachus, Rousseau, Nietzsche, B.F. Skinner, and our modern skeptics. Whereas many of Lewis’s works describe and defend the Author of the moral law in both his special and general revelation, Abolition concerns itself only with the reality of the law itself, and the stark alternatives to a belief in objective morality. “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date,” Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, and thus, if Lewis is correct about the status of the moral law, we should expect his book to be forever “timely.”

The importance of the topic is not sufficient for the book’s standing, however, as there have been many good books written to defend moral reality that have fallen into obscurity. A second reason that Lewis’s work stands out is that it defends reason brilliantly in an age in which reason has fallen into disrepute. In his Screwtape Letters, published not long before Abolition, Screwtape notes that modern people no longer believe in reason. At one point human beings “knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.” Fortunately—from the perspective of Hell—people no longer believe this. Back in the 1940s, Lewis had anticipated the advent of postmodernism, perspectivalism, and even fake news. ....

On the wrong side of history

Via Betsy Newmark, excerpting an op ed in the New York Times by a former US Senate Democratic aide:
Historical progressivism is an ideology whose American avatars, like Woodrow Wilson, saw progress as the inevitable outcome of human affairs. Of course, liberals and conservatives believe that their policies will result in positive outcomes, too. But it is another thing to say, as American Progressives did, that the contemporary political task was to identify a destination, grip the wheel and depress the accelerator.

The basic premise of liberal politics, by contrast, is the capacity of government to do good, especially in ameliorating economic ills. Nothing structurally impedes compromise between conservatives, who hold that the accumulated wisdom of tradition is a better guide than the hypercharged rationality of the present, and liberals, because both philosophies exist on a spectrum.

A liberal can believe that government can do more good or less, and one can debate how much to conserve. But progressivism is inherently hostile to moderation because progress is an unmitigated good. There cannot be too much of it. Like conservative fundamentalism, progressivism contributes to the polarization and paralysis of government because it makes compromise, which entails accepting less progress, not merely inadvisable but irrational. Even when progressives choose their targets strategically — Hillary Clinton, for example, called herself “a progressive who likes to get things done” — the implication is that progress is the fundamental goal and that its opponents are atavists. ....

The critic of progress is not merely wrong but a fool. Progressivism’s critics have long experienced this as a passive-aggressive form of re-education.

Because progress is an unadulterated good, it supersedes the rights of its opponents. This is evident in progressive indifference to the rights of those who oppose progressive policies in areas like sexual liberation. ....

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"If in this life only we have hope..."

The correct perspective:
The unmistakable emphasis of the teaching of the New that our hope is not in the present world but in a new world, which although it is breaking into this world in the life of the Christian community is only to be fulfilled and consummated in the future. "If in this life only we have hope," says St. Paul to the Corinthians, "we are of all men the most miserable." As J.B. Phillips has pointed out, modern Christian thought has almost completely reversed the priority of the New Testament. We have sought to justify God, his kingdom, and his grace, by showing how useful he can be in the solution of our earthly problems. The New Testament authors look at things just the other way around. This world, as they see it, is important because it affords opportunities for those decisions, those acts of faith, those commitments which constitute our participation in the life of the eternal kingdom of heaven. .... The Christian view of the future is not some irrelevant addition to the Christian story, a kind of postscript without which the story would nevertheless be whole and intact. If there is no resurrection of the dead then, as St. Paul saw, Christian preaching is empty and Christian faith a mockery.

.... Christian hope consists in the expectation that what we already know and have experienced in part will be crowned and brought to fulfillment. It means both having and not having at the same time. It creates a mood of deep confidence within a tension of almost unbelievable severity. We can bear the burden of the flesh—the sharp struggle within us of our old selves and of the Spirit who is the principle of the new life—because we have a reasonable and holy hope. It is reasonable because we see enough in Christ's resurrection and in our own rescue from despair to know the divine power. It is holy because it has no other ground but the divine mercy and love. ....

The mood of Christianity is often likened to that of an army who, although many hard battles remain to be fought, have seen in one decisive encounter where the preponderant power really lies. At some crucial point with all the advantage on his side the enemy has nevertheless been defeated, and so the final issue is no longer really in doubt. This is not an excuse for complacency, but it is an antidote to despair. The resurrection of their Lord seemed to the early Christians to be this kind of encounter, and without it, and the confidence and new principle of life which it released, Christianity would never have been born at all. The mood is not at all one of complacency but rather one of energetic attack inspired by the confidence that no labor is in vain in the Lord. The Christian is not indifferent to the historic consequences of his decisions and actions, but when such consequences are disappointing, when "hopes deceive and fears annoy," the perspective of the world to come enables him to go on doing the wisest and the best he can. ....
John M. Krumm, Modern Heresies, Seabury, 1961, pp. 165-169.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

"Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward"

"On the morning of April 15, 1918..."

From Joseph Loconte, "C.S. Lewis & The Great War":
In the spring of 1918, Germany and the Central Powers staged a final massive offensive that threatened to overwhelm British and French forces along the Western Front. Sir Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force in Europe, issued the order: “Every position must be held to the last man.... With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each man must fight to the end.”

One of the young soldiers with his back to the wall was Second Lieutenant Clive Staples Lewis. A confirmed atheist at the time, C.S. Lewis would survive the storm and steel of the First World War. But the experience of war would transform him, launching him on a spiritual journey that culminated, years later, in his conversion to Christianity. He would earn worldwide fame as a Christian apologist and author of a series of children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, which tell the story of “a great war...with all the world looking on,” a battle between the forces of Light and Darkness.

On the morning of April 15, 1918, however, Lewis was a long way from the religion of the Bible. His battalion, the Somerset Light Infantry, had come under German bombardment at the French village of Riez du Vinage. After five months in the trenches, he had had enough of war: “the frights, the cold, the smell of high explosive, the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles.” His poetry during this period rails against a silent and indifferent universe: “Come let us curse our Master ere we die / For all our hopes in endless ruin lie.” Lewis might have joined the ranks of anti-war poets such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.

He might just as easily have been killed. A shell exploded nearby, obliterating his sergeant and wounding him with shrapnel. Lewis was dragged from the battlefield and taken to a hospital near Étaples. “I could sit down and cry over the whole business: and yet of course we have both much to be thankful for,” he wrote his father. “If I had not been wounded when I was, I should have gone through a terrible time.” .... (more)
A documentary series that is coming later this year (if you don't see a video embedded below, the YouTube link is  ).

C.S. Lewis & World War I — Atheism to Christianity | National Review

Friday, April 13, 2018

The loud and troublesome insects of the hour.

Re-posted, because I pay altogether too much attention to the "loud and troublesome insects of the hour.":
From Farnsworth's Classical English Metaphor: Edmund Burke in 1791.
Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number, or that, after all, they are other than the little, shriveled, meager, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Free speech

What a good idea! But will it be assigned to those who need to read it most.
Heterodox Academy has produced a new book based on John Stuart Mill’s famous essay On Liberty to make it accessible for the 21st century. ....

All Minus One is ideal for use in college courses, advanced high school classes, or in any organization in which people would benefit from productive disagreement. ....
From the Introduction to All Minus One:
From street battles over controversial speakers in Berkeley California to the 'no platforming' movement in British universities to the expansion of hate crime laws in Canada, the English speaking countries are consumed by debates over free speech. The conflict is fiercest on university campuses. Both sides point to rights that must be protected; bath sides point to harms that will be suffered if the other side gets its way. Neither side seems able to convince the other with logic, shame, or violence. It is time to step back and look at the big picture. Why is free speech important in modern liberal democracy? ....

Mill believed that the pursuit of truth required the collation and combination of ideas and propositions, even those that seem to be in opposition to each other. He urged us to allow others to speak—and then to listen to them—for three main reasons.
  • First, the other person's idea, however controversial it seems today, might turn out to be right. ("The opinion may possibly be true.")
  • Second, even if our opinion is largely correct, we hold it more rationally and securely as a remit of being challenged. ("He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.")
  • Third, and in Mill's view most likely, opposing views may each contain a portion of the truth, which need to be combined. ("Conflicting doctrines share the truth between them.")
For free speech to be valuable to the pursuit of truth, we all need to be both humble and open. We need humility to recognize that we might not be right about everything all of the time, and that we have something to learn from others. We also need to be open to the possibility of altering our views, opinions, and even values based on our engagement with the world. In other words, our identity as a person must be kept separable from the ideas we happen to endorse at a given time. Otherwise, when those ideas are criticized, we are likely to experience a conversation, book, or lecture as an attack upon our self, rather than as an opportunity to think about something more deeply. ....
The book can be downloaded as a pdf here. The pdf is free. The Kindle version linked on the same page is only $2.99. There will eventually be a physical edition.

ALL MINUS ONE: John Stuart Mill’s Ideas on Free Speech Illustrated – Heterodox Academy

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Evading responsibility

Speaker Ryan's decision to not seek re-election got me thinking of his unrealized desire to reform entitlements. He very much wanted to do so but most of his colleagues wanted to avoid the political consequences. This evening I came across these:

Merely modern

Via Patrick Kurp. Carlyle on what a young man should read: may be strenuously advised to keep reading. Any good book, any book that is wiser than yourself, will teach you something — a great many things indirectly or directly, if your mind be open to learn.
The first use of good literature is that it prevents a man from being merely modern. To be merely modern is to condemn oneself to an ultimate narrowness; just as to spend one’s last earthly money on the newest hat is to condemn oneself to the old-fashioned. The road of the ancient centuries is strewn with dead moderns. [more]

Thursday, April 5, 2018

A West Virginia author

At CrimeReads I happened across an essay, "Mystery's First Great Historian," about Howard Haycraft, author of, among other things, Murder for Pleasure (1941) and editor of The Art of the Mystery Story (1946). Browsing through the former (I own both) I came across Melville Davisson Post, author of the Uncle Abner short stories about which I have posted before. Post lived near Lost Creek, West Virginia, and so I expect he was acquainted with relatives of mine. Some of what Haycraft wrote about Melville Davisson Post:
Melville Davisson Post
Melville Davisson Post (1871-1930) was born near Clarksburg, West Virginia. He worked on his father's farm, attended rural schools, and received a degree in law from West Virginia University in 1892. Several years spent in the practice of criminal and corporation law in his native state gave him the background for The Strange Schemes of Randolph Mason (1896), a volume of short stories dealing with an unscrupulous lawyer who used his knowledge of legal loopholes to defeat justice. The book created something of a furor, moralists objecting that it gave too much advice to criminals. Post retorted in the preface to a sequel, The Man of Last Resort (1897), that nothing but good could come of exposing the law's defects. ....

The MASON stories qualify as detection only in an oblique sense, if at all. But there is no doubt that they helped to pave the way in Post's mind for UNCLE ABNER, whose sleuthing is of the purest ray. A rockhewn Virginia squire of the Jeffersonian era, whose position as protector of the innocent and righter of wrongs in his mountain community compelled him to turn detective with some of the most convincing results known to the short story form, UNCLE ABNER (who never appeared in a novel) had a long career in the popular magazines, beginning in 1911. The book collection of the tales, Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries, did not appear until 1918, but has been in print continuously ever since. ....

The ABNER stories are still read and re-read after more than a quarter-century less for the intensive plots of which their author was so proud—strikingly original in their time but mostly hackneyed by imitation to-day—than for the difficult-to-define quality that separates the sheep from the goats in any form of literature: in Post's case, as nearly as can be expressed, his richly sentient realization of character, place, and mood. ....

After the success of his early tales, Post abandoned the legal profession entirely for literature. The story of his later life is principally synonymous with his writing career, though he traveled extensively abroad and was active in the councils of the Democratic party at home. He fell from a horse at the age of fifty-nine and died two weeks later at his West Virginia home. ....

...ABNER'S detection in the final analysis nearly always hinges on character. It is his judgment of men's souls that leads him to expect and therefore to find and interpret the evidence, where lesser minds...see naught.

No reader can call himself connoisseur who does not know UNCLE ABNER forward and backward. His four-square pioneer ruggedness looms as a veritable monument in the literature. .... (Howard Haycraft, Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story, 1941, pp. 94-97)
Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries by Melville Davisson Post - Free eBook can be read online or downloaded at the link.

Order from chaos

Christopher Kaczor, a Christian and professor of philosophy, writes that Jordan Peterson is "the most influential biblical interpreter in the world today." He also notes some of the things that Peterson—not a Christian—doesn't understand about Christianity. But Peterson's writings, he says, are "biblically saturated" and that he believes "that scripture is an unimaginably ancient and profound source of wisdom refined through the ages from the collective human imagination." From Kaczor's "Jordan Peterson on Adam and Eve":
.... Perhaps the most important stories shaping Peterson’s thought are those that are most controversial on the literal level: the first chapters of Genesis. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth in a chaotic and formless darkness. God says, “Let there be light.” On Peterson’s view, this truthful speech brings order out of the dark, formless chaos. Because they are made in the image of God, man and woman can also create order from chaos by the free choice of speaking and living the truth.

According to Peterson, the story of Adam and Eve contains enduring wisdom about the human condition. Why is the serpent in the garden? Chaos and order are omnipresent in human experience. Human life is unsustainable in pure chaos, but it is also stifled in pure order. The serpent represents the chaos in the otherwise orderly garden. Even if all the snakes could be banished from the garden, the snake of conflict between humans remains a possibility. And even if inter-human conflict could be eradicated, the snake within each person remains. Peterson’s view of the human person is shaped by Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s insight that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.” For this reason, Peterson notes, “A serpent, metaphorically speaking, will inevitably appear.” The lesson he draws is that it is better to make one’s children strong and competent than to attempt in vain to protect them from all snakes. To protect loved ones from all dangers is to make them like infants, depriving them of what could make them strong. ....

Once Adam and Eve eat the fruit, “the eyes of both [are] opened,” and they become self-conscious. They realize that they are naked, unprotected, and vulnerable. They realize how they can be hurt, how they will die, and how anyone like them is also vulnerable to death and suffering. With awareness of human vulnerability, the human choice of malevolence becomes possible. Mere animals also die, but they lack the self-consciousness to project their own mortality into the future. Mere animals kill, but the malevolence of Cain against Abel is a possibility only for humankind.

The self-consciousness of the human person is linked to the bigger brains of the human species. Bigger brains and relatively small female hips lead to the birth of helpless human children. Babies require intensive care if they are to survive. A birth mother always has a physical connection to her child and almost always has an intense bond to her baby. So the child’s vulnerability leads also to maternal vulnerability that facilitates male dominance.

Adam’s punishment of toil for bread is also linked to self-consciousness. He realizes that however much he has today, tomorrow will come. Given his self-consciousness projected into the future, Adam now has concern for tomorrow. So he must work. The fall prompts Adam and Eve to sacrifice, to delay gratification for a higher good. Peterson notes, “The successful among us delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future.” To sacrifice is to give up something good now for the sake of something better in the future. ....

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Thank God for laughter!


Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, the celebrated Brooklyn divine, was visiting the famous London preacher, Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon. After a hard day of work and serious discussion, these two mighty men of God went out into the country together for a holiday. They roamed the fields in high spirits like boys let loose from school, chatting and laughing and free from care. Dr. Cuyler had just told a story at which Mr. Spurgeon laughed uproariously. Then suddenly he turned to Dr. Cuyler and exclaimed, "Theodore, let’s kneel down and thank God for laughter!" And there, on the green carpet of grass, under the trees, two of the world’s greatest men knelt and thanked the dear Lord for the bright and joyous gift of laughter.
(attributed to The Sabbath Recorder, 4 January 1915. I've read through that issue of the Recorder and this story isn't to be found there.)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Fit for Thy service

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, suffer me once more to commemorate the death of Thy Son Jesus Christ, my Saviour and Redeemer, and make the memorial of his death profitable to my salvation, by strengthening my Faith in his merits, and quickening my obedience to his laws. Remove from me, O God, all inordinate desires, all corrupt passions, & all vain terrours; and fill me with zeal for Thy glory, and with confidence in Thy mercy. Make me to love all men, and enable me to use Thy gifts, whatever Thou shalt bestow, to the benefit of my fellow creatures. So lighten the weight of years, and so mitigate the afflicions of disease that I may continue fit for Thy service, and useful in my station. And so let me pass through this life by the guidance of Thy Holy Spirit, that at last I may enter into eternal joy, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Samuel Johnson, Easter, 1778.

He is risen!

Re-posted from 2011:

'Tis the spring of souls today; Christ has burst His prison,
And from three days’ sleep in death as a sun hath risen;
All the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying
From His light, to Whom we give laud and praise undying.

“Alleluia!” now we cry to our King immortal,
Who, triumphant, burst the bars of the tomb’s dark portal;
“Alleluia!” with the Son, God the Father praising,
“Alleluia!” yet again to the Spirit raising.

John of Damascus, 8th Century
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. .... And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. .... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. .... If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead....
I Corinthians 15 [ESV]
O GOD, who for our redemption didst give Thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by His glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy; Grant us so to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with Him in the joy of His resurrection; through the same Thy Son Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP]