Thursday, August 30, 2018

In the gathering darkness

Posted by Ray Ortlund a few years ago:
Let us then as Christians rejoice that we see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts which encompass them. For it is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been explored to no effect...and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it’s then that Christ’s hand reaches out sure and firm. Then Christ’s words bring inexpressible comfort, then his light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness forever.

Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom, 1980)
Then Christ's hand reaches out

"Both of them born to liberty..."

Chateaubriand (1768-1848) on two contemporaries:
A degree of silence envelops Washington’s actions; he moved slowly; one might say that he felt charged with future liberty, and that he feared to compromise it. It was not his own destiny that inspired this new species of hero: it was that of his country; he did not allow himself to enjoy what did not belong to him; but from that profound humility what glory emerged! Search the woods where Washington’s sword gleamed: what do you find? Tombs? No; a world! Washington has left the United States behind for a monument on the field of battle.

Bonaparte shared no trait with that serious American: he fought amidst thunder in an old world; he thought about nothing but creating his own fame; he was inspired only by his own fate. He seemed to know that his project would be short, that the torrent which falls from such heights flows swiftly; he hastened to enjoy and abuse his glory, like fleeting youth. Following the example of Homer’s gods, in four paces he reached the ends of the world. He appeared on every shore; he wrote his name hurriedly in the annals of every people; he threw royal crowns to his family and his generals; he hurried through his monuments, his laws, his victories. Leaning over the world, with one hand he deposed kings, with the other he pulled down the giant, Revolution; but, in eliminating anarchy, he stifled liberty, and ended by losing his own on his last field of battle.

Each was rewarded according to his efforts: Washington brings a nation to independence; a justice at peace, he falls asleep beneath his own roof in the midst of his compatriots’ grief and the veneration of nations.

Bonaparte robs a nation of its independence: deposed as emperor, he is sent into exile, where the world’s anxiety still does not think him safely enough imprisoned, guarded by the Ocean. He dies: the news proclaimed on the door of the palace in front of which the conqueror had announced so many funerals, neither detains nor astonishes the passer-by: what have the citizens to mourn?

Washington’s Republic lives on; Bonaparte’s empire is destroyed. Washington and Bonaparte emerged from the womb of democracy: both of them born to liberty, the former remained faithful to her, the latter betrayed her.

Washington acted as the representative of the needs, the ideas, the enlightened men, the opinions of his age; he supported, not thwarted, the stirrings of intellect; he desired only what he had to desire, the very thing to which he had been called: from which derives the coherence and longevity of his work. That man who struck few blows because he kept things in proportion has merged his existence with that of his country: his glory is the heritage of civilisation; his fame has risen like one of those public sanctuaries where a fecund and inexhaustible spring flows.
François-René de Chateaubriand, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave] Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe, English translation by A. S. Kline

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Dorothy L. Sayers and her faith

While searching online for something I recalled related to the last post I came across this: The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers: Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays. It will be published next week. I've pre-ordered it. From Amazon's description:
In this anthology, renowned murder mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers tackles faith, doubt, human nature, and the most dramatic story ever told.

For almost a century, a series of labyrinthine murder mysteries have kept fans turning pages hungrily as Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane discover whodunit, again and again.

Detective novel enthusiasts may not know that for almost as many years, Christian thinkers have appreciated the same Dorothy L. Sayers....

Now, for the first time, an anthology brings together the best of both worlds. The selections uncover the gospel themes woven throughout Sayers’s popular fiction as well as her religious plays, correspondence, talks, and essays. Clues dropped throughout her detective stories reveal an attention to matters of faith that underlies all her work.

Those who know Sayers from her nonfiction writings may wonder how she could also write popular genre fiction. Sayers, like her friend G.K. Chesterton, found murder mysteries a vehicle to explore the choices characters make between good and evil. Along with C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings, with whom she maintained a lively correspondence, Sayers used her popular fiction to probe deeper questions. She addressed not only matters of guilt and innocence, sin and redemption, but also the cost of war, the role of the conscience, and the place of women in society.

None of these themes proved any hindrance to spinning a captivating yarn. Her murder mysteries are more reminiscent of Jane Austen than Arthur Conan Doyle, with all the tense interpersonal exploration of the modern novel.

A good sign

From an address delivered by Dorothy L. Sayers in 1940 titled "Creed or Chaos?":
.... There is a great difference between believing a thing to be right and not doing it, on the one hand, and, on the other, energetically practising evil in the firm conviction that it is good. In theological language, the one is mortal sin, which is bad enough; the other is the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is without forgiveness simply and solely because the sinner has not the remotest idea that he is sinning at all. So long as we are aware that we are wicked, we are not corrupt beyond all hope. Our present dissatisfaction with ourselves is a good sign. We have only to be careful that we do not get too disheartened and abashed to do anything about it at all. ....
Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos?, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949, p. 27.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Which of Narnia Chronicles should be read first?


Should the Narnia books be read in the order they were written or according to their place in the chronology of Narnia? Opinions differ and dubious claims have been made that Lewis himself preferred the latter. Alister McGrath, in my opinion, argues persuasively for the former:
.... The most significant difficulty concerns The Magician's Nephew, the last in the series to be written, which describes the early history of Narnia. To read this work first completely destroys the literary integrity of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which emphasises the mysteriousness of Aslan. It introduces him slowly and carefully, building up a sense of expectation that is clearly based on the assumption that the readers know nothing of the name, identity, or significance of this magnificent creature. In his role as narrator within The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis declares, "None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do." But anyone who has read The Magician's Nephew already knows a lot about Aslan. The gradual disclosure of the mysteries of Narnia—one of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's most impressive literary features—is spoiled and subverted by a prior reading of The Magician's Nephew.

Equally important, the complex symbolic structure of the Chronicles of Narnia is best appreciated through a later reading of The Magician' Nephew. This is most helpful when it is placed (following the order of publication) as the sixth of the seven volumes, with The Last Battle as the conclusion. ....
Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, 2013

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Christianity Lite

A Canadian pastor explains "Why I Abandoned Seeker Church." His first point (of seven):
1. Because you get what you fish for

The basic logic of the seeker sensitive movement was that we would get people in the door by playing contemporary music, singing contemporary songs, speaking contemporary jargon and addressing contemporary issues. Then at some unspecified point in the future we would transition into more meaty and substantial things.

It was your basic bait and switch operation and as you might imagine it never really worked out in practice.

The bottom line is that what you win people with is what you have to keep people with. If you market yourself as a church for people who don’t like church, then you can’t do churchy things without expecting significant pushback.

This is why most seeker churches never managed to exit the theological merge lane. If you sell them on Christianity Lite then you need to continue to offer Christianity Lite week after week after week. The logic of seeker church traps you in a spiritual reenactment of Waiting For Godot. ....

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Waste Land"

"Elon Musk tweets that he wants us to read the end notes for T.S. Eliot’s famous poem 'The Waste-Land.'” He's been having a rough time lately and Kevin Williamson finds it interesting that he apparently "is seeking solace in poetry."
“The Waste-Land” is a famously obscure and recondite poem. It is part Grail lore, part social reportage, and part library. The poem, which was originally published with its end notes, is full of references to diverse works of literature, music, and philosophy. Its mood is bleak, and one of its themes is an isolation so deep that “loneliness” doesn’t really capture it — the belief that we are all prisoners inside our own minds (or souls), and that, being unable to pass beyond those walls, we are never able to truly know one another or to be known. It is good reading for the disconsolate and the forlorn, which even billionaires must be from time to time.

And Eliot is good reading for conservatives. (It is fitting that Russell Kirk gave The Conservative Mind the subtitle: “From Burke to Eliot.”) Eliot saw a fundamental divide in the West, “between the secularists — whatever political or moral philosophy they support — and the anti-secularists; between those who believe only in values realizable in time and on earth, and those who believe in values realized out of time.” (“Out of time” — no wonder Elon Musk is in an Eliotic mood.) Kirk dedicated an entire volume to the poet: Eliot and His Age: T. S. Eliot’s Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century. Kirk on Eliot is far better reading than today’s 27th column on Paul Manafort, if you want to get one last light summer read in. ....


Lord, teach me the art of patience whilst I am well, and give me the use of it when I am sick. In that day either lighten my burden or strengthen my back. Make me, who so often in my health have discovered my weakness presuming on my own strength, to be strong in my sickness when I solely rely on Thy assistance.
Thomas Fuller, 1608-61

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

To go blithely

The day returns and brings us the petty round of irritating concerns and duties. Help us to play the man, help us to perform them with laughter and kind faces. Let cheerfulness abound with industry. Give us to go blithely on our business all this day, bring us to our resting beds weary and content and undishonoured, and grant us in the end the gift of sleep. Amen
Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

"Refutation is no necessary part of argument..."

Alan Jacobs in "once more on generational thinking" concludes the post with:
I’ve been told that I think the way I do because I’m white, because I’m straight, because I’m a Christian, because I’m Southern — but rarely, to my recollection, because of my age. I’m pretty sure that’s about to change. In a few weeks I’ll turn sixty, and then I will have the rest of my life in which to enjoy having my ideas waved away because of the year in which I was born. Which ought to be fun.
He is writing about the logical fallacy sometimes called Bulverism, a term coined by C.S. Lewis in an essay that can be found in God in the Dock, Part III, Chapter 1. From Lewis:
You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.

In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it "Bulverism". Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third — "Oh you say that because you are a man." "At that moment", E. Bulver assures us, "there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall." That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

Crime and the Western

I recently discovered a site called CrimeReads. I've enjoyed it and believe anyone who reads crime/detective/mystery novels would too. Today, from "Where The Western Meets Crime Fiction":
Crime novels. Westerns. Most of us think of these two genres as grossly different: one tends to feature detectives-types solving mysterious felonies, while the other prefers to focus on rough-riding cowboys behaving badly. ....

Both are about the triumph of good over evil. Early in a novel of either genre, we will see our protagonist encounter an injustice, usually the victim of crime (who may or may not still be breathing). Both novels will end when the scales of justice have finally been righted; the perpetrators of evil have met their due punishment. In a crime novel, justice usually comes in the form of a court of law. In the western, justice tends to be delivered by a bullet through the heart.

Both genres are propelled by strong-willed protagonists who rub the establishment the wrong way. The crime novel’s detective will often push the boundaries of investigative practices, even after her boss threatens her job. The western’s protagonist is usually someone with little faith in the legal system to begin with; during the quest for justice, the law usually levels its sights on our hero. ....
The writer then offers nine examples from the genre including authors both familiar (J.A. Jance, C.J. Box, Elmore Leonard), unfamiliar (Louis Owens, Anne Hillerman), and known but unread by me (Cormac McCarthy, Craig Johnson). Anne Hillerman is Tony Hillerman's daughter and "The Spider Woman’s Daughter shows that Anne Hillerman is now the bearer of the family torch."

Open Season is the first in a series about C.J. Box's protagonist Joe Pickett, a game warden in Wyoming. I have thoroughly enjoyed those books.

Monday, August 20, 2018

“As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

GetReligion is a site concerned with the media coverage of religion in America. Today Terry Mattingly writes about "The must-cover 'Big Ideas' at heart of the complex Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis" and wonders whether you have noticed the coverage of these things in the news you have been reading or viewing:
When candid liberals and conservatives agree on core facts, I pay very close attention.

I will emphasize elements of the scandal on which these men agree, ranking these Big Ideas according to their importance (as I perceive them, after nearly four decades of reading).
I: The key to the scandal is secrecy, violated celibacy vows and potential blackmail. Lots of Catholic leaders – left and right, gay and straight – have sexual skeletons in their closets, often involving sex with consenting adults. These weaknesses, past and/or present, create a climate of secrecy in which it is hard to crack down on crimes linked to child abuse.

II. Classic pedophiles tend to strike children of both genders. However, in terms of raw statistics, most child-abuse cases linked to Catholic clergy are not true cases of pedophilia, but are examples of ephebophilia – intense sexual interest in post-pubescent teens or those on the doorstep of the teen years. The overwhelming majority of these cases are adult males with young males.

III. One of the biggest secrets hiding in the bitter fog from all of these facts is the existence of powerful networks of sexually active gay priests, with many powerful predators – McCarrick is a classic example – based on seminaries and ecclesiastical offices. Thus, these men have extraordinary power in shaping the lives of future priests.
It seems to me that Madison's Catholic bishop, Bishop Robert Morlino, got it exactly right writing to his diocese in response to the scandal (from which I borrowed the title of this post).

 The must-cover 'Big Ideas' at heart of the complex Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis — GetReligion

Howard Pyle

The other day I noted that Howard Pyle is one of my favorite illustrators. Here are three of his works. The first is from a book he both wrote and illustrated, Otto of the Silver Hand (1888). The others are illustrations from his pirate stories that were collected in Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1921).

In the middle of the narrow way stood the motionless, steel-clad figure (1888)

An Attack on a Galleon (1905)

Walking the Plank (1887)

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Another book I need to buy is Roger Scruton's Conservatism: Ideas in Profile. I think conservatism will survive Trumpism since it has survived worse. From a review online:
Sir Roger Scruton’s new book on Conservatism: Ideas in Profile is a 176-page treat for anyone who is interested in ideas. .... Conservatism: Ideas in Profile is a page turner. I hung on every syllable, every word, every oxford comma, and every semicolon (isn’t the semicolon the femme fatal of the punctuation world?).

The blue and white cover of this book is pleasing to the eye, and when I turned to the inside sleeve, Sir Roger is described as ‘the man who, more than any other, has defined what conservatism is’. Indeed, this is quite right since perhaps Edmund Burke. Burke who quite rightly has a prominent place in the book is seen as the founder of modern day conservatism. ....

Sir Roger explores a plethora of conservative thinkers and the thoughts of great people such as Thomas Hobbes, Michael Oakeshott, Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Salisbury, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher among others.

The book is arranged over six delightful chapters starting with 'Pre-History' and concluding with 'Conservatism Now'. Furthermore, there are chapters on 'The Birth of Philosophical Conservatism', 'Cultural Conservatism', the ‘Impact of Socialism' and 'Conservatism in France and Germany'. The chapter on Conservatism in France and Germany (which also includes the Spanish thinker José Ortega y Gasset) is a great strength of this book. The inclusion of great German thinkers such as Kant and Hegel, and the French Joseph de Maistre, is a demonstration of conservatism’s wider and deeper intellectual roots beyond the anglosphere. ....

I would suggest that the most interesting chapter is on cultural conservatism, which focuses on the anxieties over the loss of religious roots in society, the worrisome dehumanising effect of the Industrial Revolution, and the consequential damage that was being inflicted upon the settled way of life. In this chapter, Sir Roger explores the thoughts of Coleridge, John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, and T.S. Eliot among others. These thinkers shared a revulsion towards the new forms of so-called ‘progressive’ opinion, which they found disconcerting. Scruton also explores the worry expressed by the aforenoted thinkers regarding ‘progressive’ opinions’ propensity to treat questions of morality and law as mathematical puzzles to be solved, which of course they are not.

The book comes to its conclusion, its cessation, its climax, on a chapter called 'Conservatism Now'. In this chapter, Sir Roger suggests that the most recent attempts to define conservatism has been to define it as the champion of Western civilisation against its enemies. These two main enemies are: political correctness and religious extremism, especially the militant Islamism promoted by the Wahhabi–Salafi sects. ....


Transported made me think of other illustrations I've liked about young people reading:

It is enough

As the rain hides the stars, as the autumn mist hides the hills, as the clouds veil the blue of the sky, so the dark happenings of my lot hide the shining of Thy face from me. Yet, if I may hold Thy hand in the darkness, it is enough. Since I know that, though I may stumble in my going, Thou dost not fall. (translated from the Gaelic)

Friday, August 17, 2018

Seeing the world for what it is

V.S. Naipaul died a week ago. I haven't read him and probably won't although I probably should. From David Pryce-Jones' "V.S. Naipaul: In Memoriam":
The winds of change had blown away the British Empire by then. The imperial past was presented in universities and the media as nothing but a criminal enterprise. As someone from a colony, Vidia [Naipaul] was generally expected to write briefs for the prosecution. The Middle Passage and The Loss of El Dorado show that he had no illusions about the past but was not willing to judge it by the standards of the present. Vidia was different. For him, The World Is What It Is, a definitive phrase of his that Patrick French rightly used as the title of his otherwise rather aggressive biography. Seeing the world for what it is means an end to wishful thinking about how the world ought to be. Human nature with all its virtues and vices is constant and no revolution, no electioneering, no amount of tinkering, is going to change that fact. The grim consequences that befall characters who for one reason or another fail to take the world for what it is give Vidia’s fiction its power.
Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001.
.... On the morning when the Swedish Academy announced his Nobel award, I rang to congratulate him. “Oh, you’ve heard of my little spot of luck, have you.” Nadira and he invited me to accompany them to Stockholm. The moment we reached the hotel, Vidia was swept off to a television studio. On the program with him were two previous Nobel winners, Nadine Gordimer and Günter Grass. They were agreeing that poverty is the whole motivation of Islamist terror. Vidia shot back that like millions of others he came from a poor family and did not commit terror. ....

Thursday, August 16, 2018

"Not by what we say but by what we do"

Via Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO. Gregory of Nyssa (4th c.):
When we consider that Christ is the true light, having nothing in common with deceit, we learn that our own life also must shine with the rays of that true light. Now these rays of the Sun of Justice are the virtues which pour out to enlighten us so that we may put away the works of darkness and walk honorably as in broad daylight. When we reject the deeds of darkness and do everything in the light of day, we become light and, as light should, we give light to others by our actions.

If we truly think of Christ as our source of holiness, we shall refrain from anything wicked or impure in thought or act and thus show ourselves to be worthy bearers of his name. For the quality of holiness is shown not by what we say but by what we do in life. 

Out of the ether

The Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v Wade decision overturned every state law outlawing or limiting abortion. Madison, Wisconsin's current Isthmus includes "The crazy uncle in the attic" by a "pro-choice" supporter on that decision. He, Michael Cummins, on Roe:
.... The framers of the Constitution went to great pains to enumerate lists of both federal powers (Article I, Sec. 8) and protected rights (the Bill of Rights). Roe is the culmination of a Supreme Court habit, developed in the middle of the last century, of treating certain parts of the Constitution as catchalls for unenumerated powers and rights. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), for example, discovered a right to use contraception within an enforceable “zone of privacy” in the “penumbras“ emanating from the enumerated Bill of Rights. In concurring opinions, a couple of the Griswold justices located the right instead in the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment: “No state shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” (See it? Me neither.)

The opinion portion of Roe consists, in a nutshell, of a detailed world history of abortion back to ancient times (provided for reasons unclear), a few approving citations of Griswold and similar cases, and then a declaration that first-trimester abortion is within the supposed zone of privacy. As Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe puts it, “one of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”

Roe’s deficiencies are an open secret among America’s liberal intelligentsia. Even legal scholars who enthusiastically embrace the concept of a flexible Constitution seem to regard it, among the family of groundbreaking mid-century Court decisions, as the crazy uncle in the attic. University of Pennsylvania law professor Kermit Roosevelt writes, “you will be hard-pressed to find a constitutional law professor…who will embrace the opinion itself rather than the result. As constitutional argument, Roe is barely coherent. The court pulled its fundamental right to choose more or less from the constitutional ether.” ....

As pro-choice Brookings Institution senior fellow Benjamin Wittes points out, “lots of fundamental rights are protected by legal authorities other than the Constitution. For instance, the right not to be fired by a private employer because of one’s race or religion is statutory, not constitutional.”

Indeed, most of our rights are cognizable only at the statutory level. Adults, for example, have the statutory right to move about freely in their cars, so long as they comply with certain requirements. Our elected representatives maintain statutes that support that right because it is popularly recognized as such. The Constitution has nothing to do with it.

To be sure, some set of rights should be protected from majority rule. Instead of being limited to the Constitution’s enumerated rights, Roe asserts that the set of protected rights is open-ended, and that its expansion is the prerogative of the Court. Had the framers thought through the protocols of judicial review, they would certainly have rejected the unlimited power this implies.

We should reject it, too. ....
If Roe were ever overturned by the Supreme Court the legality of abortion and the extent of its legality would once again be up to state courts and legislators as it always had been before Blackmun's incoherent opinion in 1973.

The crazy uncle in the attic - Isthmus | Madison, Wisconsin

“I don’t do organized religion.”

In "Willow Creek, the Catholic Church, and Perils of Organizing Religion" Chris Gehrz writes about the necessity of accountability — necessary but obviously not sufficient:
“Sorry, I don’t do organized religion.” That’s what a friend of mine says whenever faith comes up in our conversations: “I don’t do organized religion.” ....

...I wrote about the importance for people in my Christian tradition of reading the Bible communally, as a way of checking the limitations of our individual understanding. “None of us,” explains my denomination, “has the breadth of experience, intellectual skill, social sensitivity, or spiritual depth to interpret the Scriptures alone.” Among the many other complicated benefits of Christian community, seeking to understand God’s word together “creates a culture of mutual openness and generosity among us and among our diverse cultural contexts. This in turn creates the kind of spiritual maturity that helps us live with the ambiguity often present in our life together.” ....

So no, I wouldn’t want to seek after the community of our Triune God without being part of the community of the Church. I don’t trust myself enough to do that.

Instead, I find myself enchanted with Christianity precisely because it is organized.

But right now I’m also feeling more disenchanted than usual because we’ve seen so clearly the dark side of organizing our religion.

Consider two terribly disturbing stories from the two largest groups in American Christianity: Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants. I’ll start with the second....

For irreligious skeptics like my friend, I’m sure the Hybels case confirms their belief that organizing religion only enables the abuse of power. But to religious onlookers like Katelyn Beaty, a “healthy reckoning with power in Christian communities” actually requires an organizational solution:
Churches must seek leaders who are accountable and vulnerable, not just charismatic and driven. Every leader, no matter how spiritually mature, educated and gifted, must submit to normal structures of unbiased accountability on multiple levels. This would mean, at least, a board of elders who are chosen independently of the pastor’s preference; a larger denominational body or regional pastors network that governs local affairs; and a supportive setting in which pastors can share vulnerably about all dimensions of their spiritual growth and challenges.
It’s not the only way of creating systems of accountability, but one of the most venerable solutions is to embed clergy and congregations within a denominational structure. ....

Time for the other story, which, I’m sure you’ve guessed, has to do with clerical abuse in the Catholic Church. ....

...[T]he layers of organization meant to provide accountability betrayed the trust of the faithful. In theory, the existence of a hierarchy above the local church and its pastor could have provided safeguards lacking in a case like Willow Creek’s. Instead, concern for the reputation of the larger organization apparently led many such officials to conceal the truth and suppress justice. Several were rewarded with even more authority and responsibility in the process. The angry frustration of the grand jurors is palpable:
…despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability. Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

George MacDonald

In Christianity Today an article about the importance of books in religious formation: "How Fiction Fueled Madeleine L’Engle’s Faith......":
.... Her engagement with these books—Scripture included—was deeply formative. They nourished “the same hunger in me, the hunger for the truth that is beyond fact, the hunger for courage and hope in a difficult world, the hunger for something more than ordinary vision.”

George MacDonald
The one author who not only cultivated that hunger but fed her solid spiritual meat was the 19th-century Scottish minister and writer, George MacDonald. Author of At the Back of the North Wind and The Princess and the Goblin, among other fairy tales, MacDonald saw storytelling as a moral enterprise. He wrote, “In physical things a man may invent; in moral things he must obey—and take their laws with him into his invented world as well.”

By this vision, the storyteller is not, ultimately, the source of storytelling: God is. Furthermore, according to MacDonald, we cannot avoid accountability to the original Storyteller for the moral universe he has created.

However, that doesn’t mean we bludgeon our readers over the heads with overt statements of Christian belief. MacDonald wrote in his essay “The Fantastic Imagination,” “The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is—not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself.” For a preacher, this was particularly hard; MacDonald, throughout his fiction, seemed unable to occasionally refrain from sermonizing. But his chief desire was that “if there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it.”

And wake, it did. C.S. Lewis, for example, was in his teens, already an avowed atheist, when he picked up MacDonald’s Phantastes at a train station sometime in 1916 and, a few hours later, knew he had “crossed a great frontier.” What it did to him, Lewis claimed, “was to convert, even to imagination.” The conversions of his conscience and intellect were to come much later, but the initial experience of “goodness” or holiness in the story—and the longing that it sparked in him—was the first catalyst for transformation. Lewis would go on to credit MacDonald for influencing everything from his understanding of heaven to his trust in the great love of God.

The same was true of L’Engle. In a little-known essay on the topic titled, “George MacDonald: Nourishment for a Private World,” she described how MacDonald shaped her understanding of God. MacDonald depicted God as “a loving Father who knows that sometimes ‘No’ is the only possible answer of Love, a Father who can be trusted, who understands laughter and tears, a Father who is nothing like the stern, Victorian image.” ....


My computer screen wallpaper right now uses a collection of paintings mostly by N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle, late 19th and early 20th century illustrators. This one by Wyeth came up a few moments ago. A book can transport you somewhere else entirely.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pleasures forevermore

Psalm 16:5-11 (RSV):
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; Thou holdest my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure.
For Thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let Thy godly one see the Pit.
Thou dost show me the path of life;
In Thy presence there is fulness of joy,
In Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.
Jonathan Edwards thought of God the way David thought of God in this psalm. It was for "sweet delight in God" that he gave himself to God. He wrote,
The first instance I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and in divine things, that I have lived much in since, was on reading these words, 1 Timothy 1:17: "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were, diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from anything I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if l might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to Him in Heaven, and be, as it were, swallowed up in Him forever.
Edwards's words are a variation on the theme of verse 11: "You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever."
Ben Patterson, God's Prayer Book, Tyndale, 2008, p.67.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Faith in human nature


"We still claim to think well of forgiveness, but it has in fact very nearly lost its moral weight by having been translated into an act of random kindness whose chief value lies in the sense of personal release it gives us.” So writes Wilfred McClay in a recent essay, “The Strange Persistence of Guilt.” To forgive, he argues, is to have a just claim and abandon it in the name of love. But when we pardon those who trespass against us because we have been told that it’s good for our physical or mental health, we’re doing something different. We are acting not for the benefit of the offender, but for our own sake. We confuse a freely offered, transcendent act of love with the psychological equivalent of a laxative.

Self-regarding release from resentment is not always a bad thing. Forgiveness or no forgiveness, why remain the psychological hostage of an abusive person? It is neither healthy nor reasonable to allow such a person power over our thoughts. All the same, relinquishing angry feelings is an act of pardon, not forgiveness, because it is not done out of concern for the offender. “I no longer resent you because you are not worth resenting” may be justified as a strategy of self-defense. The offender may deserve to be diminished in our eyes. But rather than ennobling the forgiver, this approach merely relieves his pain. ....

If we take seriously the transgression and transgressor, we want the offender to apologize, attempt restitution, and otherwise repent. This enables us to treat him or her respectfully, as an adult. Conjoined with repentance, forgiveness no longer seems ungrounded and arbitrary. “You have injured me, but you have admitted your guilt, you have demonstrated a change of heart, and therefore I forgive you.” This is a response that safeguards the dignity of the offended person, who should not be expected to “play the doormat.” It recognizes the presumed gravity of the offense, and does not disrespect the person of the offender. In this scenario, forgiveness is earned, and the act of forgiving comes close to becoming a straightforward moral obligation. “He has shown contrition, therefore I owe him conciliation.”  .... [more]

Sunday, August 12, 2018

"Let me rejoice in the light..."

Samuel Johnson:
O LORD, my Maker and Protector, who hast graciously sent me into this world, to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which Thou hast required. When I behold the works of thy hands and consider the course of thy providence, give me Grace always to remember that thy thoughts are not my thoughts, nor thy ways my ways. And while it shall please Thee to continue me in this world where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me by thy Holy Spirit to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious, and doubts impossible to be solved. Let me rejoice in the light which thou hast imparted, let me serve thee with alive zeal, and humble confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which Thou receivest, shall be satisfied with knowledge. Grant this, O Lord, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


“I hate to read new books.”

So begins William Hazlitt’s essay “On Reading Old Books.” ....

There are, of course, good new books and bad old books. But the sheer volume of what is published—an issue since the invention of the printing press, even if more insistent now given the rise of new technologies—makes the work of winnowing wheat from chaff difficult, and time is finite. ....

First, it is a truism that old books that are still read have stood the test of time.... As Hazlitt says, with nice understatement, “I do not think altogether the worse of a book for having survived the author a generation or two.” As Lewis would write over a century later, “A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it.” ....

The books we love while young contribute to our development as individuals in no more imaginary a way than learning to ride a bike or the first day of middle school does. The enjoyment they yield, in other words, is not empty: these books play a part in the formation of our memories, the pattern we discern as our lives unfold, and therefore help to constitute our very selves. Hazlitt says this explicitly: “In reading a book which is an old favourite with me (say the first novel I ever read) I not only have the pleasure of imagination and of a critical relish of the work, but the pleasures of memory added to it.” In fact, re-reading one’s favorite books can serve in some ways as dreamlike time travel, or even an otherwise impossible bilocation, in which we can—for a brief moment—simultaneously put one foot in our past and another in our present. ....

Friday, August 10, 2018

The only thing left to hold on to

Found today:
We have already seen that in Jesus we have seen the mind of God, and that mind is love. If then we say that the Word was active in creation it means that creation is the product of the mind of God which we see in Jesus Christ. This means that the same love which redeemed us created the world, that love is the principle of creation as love is the principle of redemption. There is a time in life when this may seem simply a theological or philosophical truth; but there is also a time in life when it is the only thing in life left to hold on to. There is a time when life and the world seem quite clearly to be an enemy, when life seems out to break our hearts, to ruin our dreams, and to smash our lives. There comes a time when we seem to be living in a hostile universe. At such a time it is the greatest thing in life, sometimes it is the only thing left, to be able to cling on to the conviction that 'life means intensely and it means good.' For if we believe that it was this mind of God in Jesus Christ which conceived and created the universe then it does mean that, whatever it feels like, God is working all things together for good, and the world is out not to break us but to make us. If the Christ of creation and the Christ of redemption are one and the same, then there is light even in the darkest hour.

Jesus is the Word. He is God's ultimate and final communication to men; he is the demonstration to men of the mind of God towards them; he is the guarantee that at the heart of creation there is love.
William Barclay, Jesus as They Saw Him, 1962.
"Life means intensely and it means good" is a quotation from Robert Browning

Thursday, August 9, 2018


Alisa Childers writes of "3 Christian Urban Legends That Need to Die." The first:
1. "Abba" means "Daddy."

At some point in your Christian life, you've probably heard that when Jesus used the word, abba to address God the Father, He was using the Aramaic equivalent of the casual and child-like "Daddy," or "Papa" we find in English. It's a nice-sounding sentiment, but unfortunately, (don't shoot the messenger!) it's not true.

President of Wheaton College Philip Ryken wrote,
Abba does not mean ‘Daddy’....The best way to translate abba is “Dear Father,” or even “Dearest Father.” That phrase captures both the warm confidence and the deep reverence that we have for our Father in heaven. It expresses our intimacy with God, while preserving his dignity.
This particular legend can be traced back to a 1971 text by New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias. He wrote that abba was a "children's word" that was like "the chatter of a small child." Although he never used the exact words "Daddy" or "Papa," his idea that abba was a diminutive of "baby talk" form was repeated over and over despite being heavily criticized by other scholars.

The Apostle Paul even used abba twice in the New Testament. But ​have you ever wondered why the English translators didn't just translate abba as Daddy? It's because that isn't what it means. If Jesus or Paul would have wanted to express something along the lines of "Daddy" or "Papa" in reference to God, there are Greek diminutives of "father" available like pappas they could have used....but they didn't.

Bottom line. Abba may not be a children's word, but Jesus did refer to God as "Father," which was a revolutionary idea in the ancient world. God as my Father? It was unheard of! Jesus showed us that we can have a loving, intimate, and secure relationship with God as His sons and daughters, and that fact should never be devalued or diminished.

A Christian funeral

Jonathan Aigner ponders "How To Choose Music For A Funeral." I agree with much (not all) that he writes but very much agree with the following and have made my preference clear to my pastor and relatives and friends:
One of the things the baby boomer generation has introduced into the liturgical sphere is the “celebration of life” service. That’s quite unfortunate.

A “celebration of life” points to a dead person. A funeral points to the cross.

A “celebration of life” sidesteps grief. A funeral confronts grief head-on.

A “celebration of life” ignores resurrection. A funeral depends on resurrection.

Funerals aren’t celebrations of human life. Funerals are proclamations of another life, a life that ended in a death that ended in a life.

That is the life worth celebrating. The music you choose must point to Jesus, not to the casket. ....

Death sucks. It just sucks. And when we lose someone we love, we remember how badly it sucks. And we helplessly face the fact that we can’t do a damn thing about it.

It’s not supposed to be that way.

But Jesus lives, and so shall we.

And that makes all the difference.
How To Choose Music For A Funeral

Not just the mythos but the ethos

For $250 million Amazon has purchased the television rights to The Lord of the Rings. Apparently the planned series will be set to take place before Fellowship of the Ring — a prequel series.  Hannah Long wonders "Can Amazon Maintain the Spirit of ‘The Lord of the Rings’?"
...[W]ithout the strong anchor of Tolkien’s worldview—the stories will be missing the strong elegiac resonance of Middle Earth.

Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy made this mistake. The bombastic, colorful blockbusters relied heavily on intertextual references to iconic Lord of the Rings moments, from a pointless subplot introducing a character with no relevance to the plot of The Hobbit (the Necromancer), to randomly name-dropping characters like Aragorn. The Hobbit knew the notes of Tolkien’s world but not the tune. As a result, the story turns Tolkien’s beloved children’s story into a clowning, brainless blockbuster. ....

By contrast, Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy caught, though imperfectly, the broad strokes of Tolkien’s ideas. The ring’s ability to stave off mortality and dominate creation is well-established in the trilogy. The story’s bittersweet ending was diluted by the removal of the Scouring of the Shire scene, but remains in Frodo’s gradual withdrawing from Middle Earth (it’s why the many endings of Return of the King are justified).

Sam Gamgee’s speech in The Two Towers film describing his hope for this beaten-up, broken-down world echoes Tolkien’s own belief, drawn from a passage of Chesterton, that despite the sadness of the Earth, “when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.”

Or as Sam puts it, “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

Tolkien’s universe is full of opportunity for expansion, and he wasn’t opposed to the idea (in the same letter to his publisher, he spitballed about creating a myth so expansive that a whole culture could add to it). However, if Amazon wants to build an expanded universe, it will have to understand the universe it’s expanding.

With Amazon’s emphasis on new stories and addicting storylines, and with a successful but dumbed-down film franchise looming in audience’s memory, it could be easy to neglect the rich literary milieu to which it has gained the rights and just focus on crowd-pleasing spectacle. That would be a shame and a waste. For the story to ring true, Amazon must capture not just the mythos but the ethos of Tolkien’s world.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Power tends to corrupt

Lawrence Reed was once asked “Who would you rank as the [Roman] Empire’s worst Emperor?” After describing some pretty awful ones he settles on Caligula. But power tends both to attract awful people and corrupt those who weren't:
Power does so much more than corrupt. It attracts the already-corrupted and gives them the wherewithal to administer their corruption. It feeds on arrogance, narcissism, and self-deception. It dements the mind until it embraces schemes that ruin the lives of others. It rots the soul. I can think of no more destructive motivation than the lust for it. Rare is the individual who emerges a better person for having possessed it. ....

We do know real things

.... Through his popular non-fiction books, his fiction, and his innumerable lectures and radio addresses, Lewis explored the question of “just war,” relativism, subjectivism, and ethical and moral purpose. Of these books, The Screwtape Letters probably sold the best, but the one that has lasted to this day—especially in terms of reputation and stature—is his short but vigorous Abolition of Man. As with Mere Christianity, published in 1952 but based on several of Lewis’s World War II addresses, The Abolition of Man began as a series of lectures, ostensibly to consider the state of the English language and the teaching of it. Owen Barfield, one of Lewis’ closest friends and a deeply important scholar in his own right, pronounced The Abolition of Man not only Lewis’s best non-fiction work, but also the best example of one of Lewis’s two best traits: his “atomic rationality.” (The other trait was his romantic mythmaking.) Since its initial publication seventy-five years ago, The Abolition of Man has served as one of the finest non-reactionary bulwarks against the faddish ideologies and various subjectivisms and other nihilistic nonsense of the political and cultural Left. No student can read it without calling into question the whole of his education. ....

From the opening sentence to its fascinating appendix on the deep cultural understating of the natural law, The Abolition of Man destroys the idols of the modern and post-modern age. Lewis particularly notes that if we do not understand the meanings of meanings, grammar, and style, we lose our ability to think clearly. One cannot separate the word from, in Stoic terms, the Word. To demean one is to demean the Other. (Russell Kirk would make a similar argument, twelve years later in his nearly forgotten masterpiece, Academic Freedom.) Lewis begins The Abolition of Man with a chapter entitled “Men Without Chests.” ....

Following in the line of not only Plato and St. Augustine, but also of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, teachers and professors must align themselves and their students with the eternal verities and the natural laws (what Lewis chooses to label “the Tao”), recognizing that we do know real things, true things, and false things. ....

In the modern world, though, we have trained the head and encouraged the heart, while neglecting the soul. Or, as Lewis so scathingly put it, we are producing men without chests. “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” ....

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Making stupid

Professor Owen Williamson of the University of Texas at El Paso has compiled a Master List of Logical Fallacies. He defines the affective fallacy as the idea that “one's emotions, urges or ‘feelings’ are innate and in every case self-validating, autonomous, and above any human intent or act of will (one's own or others'), and are thus immune to challenge or criticism.”

Williamson continues, “One argues, ‘I feel it, so it must be true. My feelings are valid, so you have no right to criticize what I say or do, or how I say or do it.’" ....

In The Magician’s Nephew (a volume in C.S Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia), Uncle Andrew can only hear roaring when Aslan the lion is singing. C.S. Lewis explains Uncle Andrew’s failure to see things as they are: “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”

Lewis continued:
“And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring.

Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.”
When we elevate our feelings as if they are the truth, we are indeed trying to make ourselves stupider. And indeed, we will often succeed in making life miserable for ourselves and others.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The problem is human nature

From James Bowman's review of The Last Utopians:
.... The trouble with utopia is precisely that it is not in harmony with nature—especially with human nature.

Typically, utopians get around this awkward fact by denying that there is any such limiting thing as human nature. Well before Marx posited his idea of man as a mere product of historical and economic circumstances, Robert Owen established his “Owenite” communities in the belief that “human nature would be transformed” by them. Focusing on the hopeful future thus becomes a way of forgetting the failures of the past. Any history of utopianism is fraught with paradox, since utopians can hardly be utopians without first abolishing history—or claiming it, as Marx did, as their own property, which comes to the same thing. The past is not only an irrelevance to any projected future utopia but a positive danger, since unless it is constantly rewritten, as in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it serves as a reminder both of the failure of past utopias and of the fact that the future never turns out the way we expect or plan for it to do. ....

Back in Victorian times, people had some excuse for utopianism, which had not had very much in the way of a real-world tryout at that point. Now it has. Now we have no excuse for an easy faith in other, better worlds, as opposed to slightly improved versions of this one. This must be why other utopian theorists tend not to look to the past but to disguise their utopianism as “progressivism.” But towards what are they progressing if not utopia as they conceive it? ....

"Ye know not"

There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. James 4:12-15 KJV


At CrimeReads a list of ten novels about elaborate criminal plots. A few of those I've read (the films were really good, too):
Elmore Leonard, Out of Sight

...[I]mperturbably cool bank robber Jack Foley escapes from prison, but ends up locked in a trunk with Federal Marshal Karen Sisco. Leonard’s great ear for dialogue and deep sense of place and time give his books a unique feeling: the character-driven caper novel, in which, much like life, all our plans and plots confound and complicate each other in seemingly random ways. But like a pool hustler pulling off a sweet trick, all the balls ricochet off of each other and fall, elegantly, into perfect place.

Jim Thompson, The Getaway

Here the heist novel becomes a journey to the heart of noir darkness, as the classic pulp artist spins the tale of ace bank robber Doc McCoy and his wife Carol. Their path, from jail to job to a run for the border, is littered with double-crosses and betrayals, and ends in a symbolic hell where, inevitably, those who live by crime and deceit are doomed to devour each other. Also made into the awesome Steve McQueen/Ali McGraw movie by the equally great and grim Sam Peckinpah.

P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

A bit of a curveball, I know, or better yet a screwball, but farce shares a lot with the heist story: a plan is concocted to achieve some goal and immediately goes wrong, necessitating a new plan and so on, into glorious delirium. Bertie and his gentleman’s gentleman Jeeves are constantly conspiring to steal or retrieve treasured objects—in this case a coveted silver cow creamer—and their schemes involve all manner of disguises, impersonations, and climbing over walls and into windows while evading the cops, though the stakes, and the body count, are admittedly quite a bit lower. Read this as a refreshing break between the others, and meet the Maestro. There is no one better.

Jack Higgins, The Eagle Has Landed

I decided to end with this because it is both an interesting take on the form and exactly the kind of thrilling, suspenseful, high-spirited adventure that drew me to the caper book in the first place. Set during WWII, it concerns a German plot to, get this, kidnap Winston Churchill. The outlandishness of that scheme is only the beginning, but the intricate plan, the twists, crises, and daring solutions are expertly woven into real history—just the thing to capture the imagination of the fourteen-year-old in us all.