Wednesday, October 31, 2018


In the mail today: The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers: Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays. The material below is from the editor's introduction (all I've read so far). It will be best understood by those who've read The Screwtape Letters. (I've read a couple of the chapters now and would advise those who haven't read the mysteries to read them before reading this book. The editor gives away way too much plot.)
One of the best examples of Sayers's humorous letters is the earliest extant from her long correspondence with C.S. Lewis. Writing as though she is one of the devils in Lewis's book, The Screwtape Letters, which had just come out the previous year, she enclosed an advance copy of The Man Born to Be King. In the letter she writes as "Sluckdrib," the devil personally responsible for Dorothy L. Sayers:
The effect of writing these plays upon the character of my patient is wholly satisfactory. I have already had the honour to report intellectual and spiritual pride, vainglory, self-opinionated dogmatism, irreverence, blasphemous frivolity, frequentation of the company of theatricals, captiousness, impatience of correction, polemical fury, shortness of temper, neglect of domestic affairs, lack of charity, egotism, nostalgia for secular occupations, and a growing tendency to consider the Bible as Literature....[but] the capture of one fifth-rate soul (which was already thoroughly worm-eaten and shaky owing to my assiduous attention) scarcely compensates for the fact that numbers of stout young souls in brand-new condition are opening up negotiations with the Enemy and receiving reinforcement of faith. We knew, of course, that the author is as corrupt as a rotten cheese; why has no care been taken to see that this corruption (which must, surely, permeate the whole work) has its proper effect upon the listeners? ... Either the Enemy is really able to turn thorns into grapes and thistles into figs, or (as I prefer to believe) there is mismanagement somewhere.

For the glory of God

Today is Reformation Day and tomorrow is All Saints' Day.  Last year we celebrated both in our worship service. This was the introduction to the service:
 This Reformation Day is the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther issued his challenge to debate his 95 theses – not the beginning of the Reformation but an important point in it. Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day. Days were thought of as evening to evening so the eve was the beginning of the next day – think New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve. Although today most approach it as a secular holiday that wasn’t its origin and for us Protestants all believers are “saints” – and All Saints’ Day is when we acknowledge “the great cloud of witnesses” who have passed on. So our service today both recognizes the Protestant Reformation and all those believers who have gone before.

Therefore being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand,
and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2 [KJV]

No fear

I've posted this several times in years past as Halloween has approached. I was reminded to do so once again today by reading someone else repeating the ahistorical nonsense about Druids and Samhain:

As Halloween approaches it is useful for the more excitable among us to be reminded that the Evil One has already been defeated. From "Concerning Halloween" by James B. Jordan:
.... "Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.) ....

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. [emphasis added] Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. ....

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR! .... [more]
Biblical Horizons » Concerning Halloween

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Ef you Don’t Watch Out!"

Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley:
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other childern, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
     Ef you
Onc’t they was a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,—
So when he went to bed at night, away up stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wasn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found was thist his pants an’ roundabout—
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
     Ef you
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’one, an’ all her blood an’ kin;
An’ onc’t, when they was “company," an’ ole folks was there,
She mocked ‘em an’ shocked ‘em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They was two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
     Ef you
An’ little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,—
You better mind yer parents, an’ yer teachers fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns’ll git you
     Ef you
Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley

Monday, October 29, 2018


Becoming Mrs. Lewis was delivered this afternoon. I will read almost anything that touches on CSL. The book is described here:
.... From New York Times best-selling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C.S. Lewis called "my whole world." When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C.S. Lewis — known as Jack — she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn't holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn't destroy.

In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. ....

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Avoiding partisanship

Aeon posts an interesting essay about Simone Weil, (1909-1943) from which:
.... Weil, a firm believer in free thought, argued that: ‘The intelligence is defeated as soon as the expression of one’s thought is preceded, explicitly or implicitly, by the little word “we”.’ Uncritical collective thinking holds the free mind captive and does not allow for dissent. For this reason, she advocated the abolition of all political parties, which, she argued, were in essence totalitarian. To substantiate this claim, Weil offered three arguments:
  1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions.
  2. A political party is an organisation designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members.
  3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit.
These tentacular organisations make people stupid, requiring a member to endorse ‘a number of positions which he does not know’. Instead, the party thinks on his behalf, which amounts to him ‘having no thoughts at all’. People find comfort in the absence of the necessity to think, she claims, which is why they so readily join such groups. ....
I think political alliances, i.e. parties, are inevitable in a democracy but I also think she was right about the effect of political partisanship.
Weil supported the freedom of individual expression. (She believed, however, in certain speech restrictions for institutions such as newspapers and government propaganda offices that, as collectivities, were, for her, naturally suspect.) She writes that ‘complete, unlimited freedom of expression for every sort of opinion, without the least restriction or reserve, is an absolute need on the part of the intelligence’. The health of the intelligence relies on full access to the facts, and without it, thinking is always deficient. She would have sided with even the most detestable of speakers, if for no other reason than that thy enemy must be known.

The public reading of Scripture

Stephen Presley at the Center For Baptist Renewal observes that "one of the startling ironies facing our church culture is the simple fact that as access to the Bible has increased biblical literacy has decreased." He argues that a part of the remedy might be "Recapturing a Love for Public Scripture Reading.":
I don’t assume that corporate Scripture reading alone will cure the problem, but it can’t hurt either. If only for a few moments, it will unite the entire church in a communal act of listening and engaging the word of God, which might just help us take some incremental steps toward hiding the word in our hearts. ....

...[T]he early church has always prized the public reading of Scripture. They could not imagine a worship service without some one reading healthy portions of Scripture drawn from across the canon. The thought that a pastor might read only a few verses (or no verses at all!) and then entertain the congregation for forty minutes with funny stories and pop culture references would strike them as bizarre at best. ....

...[I]n the early church, public reading was not—as some today might imagine—boring. They did not advocate a dry, monotone-reading that slowly plodded through the text. Public reading in the early church was a lively and imaginative performance, where the reader interpreted the text, through gestures, tone, intonation, rhythm, and cadence. ....

This also means that the one who reads Scripture corporately was not a random member of the congregation selected five minutes before the service started, but a serious student of the Scriptures, who studied the pronunciation and nuances of each passage.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Wodehouse in the Poets' Corner

From the London Times, October 13, 2018, "Wodehouse at Westminster Abbey":
“About seven feet in height, and swathed in a plaid ulster which made him look about six feet across, he caught the eye and arrested it. It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment.”
Bertie Wooster’s first impressions (in The Code of the Woosters, 1937) of Roderick Spode, founder of the fascist Black Shorts movement, remain a matchless send-up of the vaulting ambition and attenuated intellectual powers of would-be dictators. Yet PG Wodehouse, creator of Bertie and his brilliant manservant Jeeves, was later inadvertently caught up in a wartime controversy that sullied his public reputation and drove him to voluntary exile in the United States. It was unfair, but the blow to Wodehouse is now at last being partially redressed. This peerless comic writer is to be justly immortalised close to his heroes in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Wodehouse, then aged 58 and living in France, was incarcerated by the Nazis as an “enemy alien” in 1940. Politically naive and out of touch with British public opinion, he agreed to do a humorous broadcast on German radio in 1941 about this experience.

It was a crass and stupid decision, but it was not, contrary to allegations that dogged Wodehouse till his death in 1975, an act of treachery. As George Orwell bravely wrote in 1945: “I have striven to show how the wretched Wodehouse – just because success and expatriation had allowed him to remain mentally in the Edwardian age – became the corpus vile in a propaganda experiment, and I suggest that it is now time to regard the incident as closed.”

Officially, at last, it is. Wodehouse is a great figure of English letters and eminently deserves his place near Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Shelley. Rehab was never sweeter.
Kevin DeYoung on Wodehouse, and Joseph Epstein on the same.

The "Great Pumpkin"

 On October 26, 1959, Linus first mentions the "Great Pumpkin":
From a "tweet": Baseball by BSmile on Twitter: "Today In 1959: Linus mentions the "Great Pumpkin" for the first time!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ross Thomas

I've posted about Ross Thomas before. Yesterday at CrimeReads appeared "Ross Thomas: A Crime Reader's Guide," a good introduction to an author who never disappointed me. The opening paragraphs:
Nobody wrote scoundrels the way Ross Thomas could. His heroes all had checkered pasts, though often with a Bogartian streak that led them to do the right thing against their own self-interest. His villains were a spectacular assortment of con men, spies, shady politicians, corrupt cops, wheelers, dealers, fixers, and schemers. His complex plots often revolved around political intrigue and backroom chicanery leading to sudden violence, and featured double-, triple-, or quadruple-crosses, so much so that it might not be until the very end that you knew exactly who had done what to whom.

All of this, in a too-brief span from 1966 to 1994, was written with keen intelligence, sharp humor, and a brilliant gift for character, description, dialogue, and intimate observation. So good was he at all of the latter that Stephen King called him “the Jane Austen of political espionage.” His worldview was jaded, but to charges that he was overly cynical, Thomas only responded, “If there is a trace of cynicism in my books, it’s only based on reality. People are always saying, ‘Things can’t be as bad as you make them,’ and I say, ‘No, they’re worse.’” .... (more, including a list of "The Essential Thomas")

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Political correctness is unpopular (very unpopular) with everyone except the tiny minority that wields it as a weapon. From Tablet, "Campus Week: The Emperor’s Woke Clothes":
A recent survey of 8,000 Americans reveals that people of all ages, races, and educational levels oppose it by lopsided margins. None of the demographic categories presumed to be aligned with it, or to fall within its protective embrace, actually support it. Three out of 4 black people, 2 out of 3 people with postgraduate degrees, and 78 percent of people under the age of 24 all regard political correctness as a problem. While 79 percent of white people oppose political correctness, it is Asians (82 percent), Hispanics (87 percent), and American Indians (88 percent) who are most likely to be resistant to it. ....

The study demonstrates that the opponents of political correctness are not primarily the followers of Donald Trump. Nor are they in any significant sense the alt-right, a ragbag of at most a few thousand malcontents in a country of 350 million, who have been falsely magnified into a ludicrous simulacrum of a real social force. They are not predominantly the remnants of a dying white America brainwashed by Fox News. They are not a pitiable collection of angry white males....

... The study shows that virtually no one who does not directly benefit from the exercise of this power (in the form of sinecures, professional advancement, or the destruction of rivals within liberal institutions) supports it.

The only group within which a majority of respondents do not regard political correctness as a problem are those that the study characterizes as “progressive activists,” a category that comprises 8 percent of the country. Only 30 percent of this group considers political correctness to be a problem.

“Compared with the rest of the (nationally representative) polling sample,” Mounk writes,
progressive activists are much more likely to be rich, highly educated—and white. They are nearly twice as likely as the average to make more than $100,000 a year. They are nearly three times as likely to have a postgraduate degree. And while 12 percent of the overall sample in the study is African-American, only 3 percent of progressive activists are. With the exception of the small tribe of devoted conservatives, progressive activists are the most racially homogeneous group in the country.
The extent to which this finding might surprise you is a measure of how close you are to either elite. It is also a measure of how successfully the toxic rhetoric of warring elite cliques has gaslighted you into submitting to a narrative that is brazenly false. .... (more)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"O may Thy house be my abode, And all my work be praise..."

Barbara C. Saunders, March 10, 1940 - October 23, 2018

My shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
He leads me, for His mercy’s sake,
In paths of truth and grace.
The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.
When I walk through the shades of death    
Thy presence is my stay;
One word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.

Monday, October 22, 2018

On hypocrisy

Samuel Johnson:
Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practise; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others those attempts which he neglects himself. [The Rambler, 14]

Friday, October 19, 2018

Russell Kirk

On the centenary of Kirk's birth Matthew Continetti gives us a fine essay about "Russell Kirk: The Father of American Conservatism" at The Atlantic. Kirk was my introduction to conservative ideas. From Continetti:
.... By the time his 500-page book was published in 1953, Kirk had changed its title to The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana. T.S. Eliot replaced George Santayana in the subtitle beginning with the third edition, in 1960. The Conservative Mind was a critical and commercial success, turning its author into an intellectual celebrity. It also gave both a name and a philosophical and literary genealogy to a reemergent political persuasion: conservatism. “This study is a prolonged essay in definition,” Kirk says on the first page. “What is the essence of British and American conservatism?”

It was a question Kirk never quite answered. As he reminded readers for decades, conservatism resists precise definition. There is no conservative platform applicable to all people, in all places, at all times. “Strictly speaking, conservatism is not a political system, and certainly not an ideology,” Kirk wrote in 1982. Rather, “it is a way of looking at the civil social order.” Kirk spent his life circling back to general principles of conservatism, apprehended through the study of notable conservative writers and statesmen. These include belief in a “transcendent moral order”; support for “social continuity”; and adherence to the principles of prescription, prudence, variety, and imperfectability.

The Conservative Mind has provided generations of conservatives a sense of history and point of view. Where before conservatives had felt isolated, on the margins of political and cultural debate, they now could take their place in a great chain of thinkers, beginning in the modern era with Edmund Burke and continuing to the present. .... Kirk was as critical of capitalism—he reminded audiences that it was a Marxist term—as he was of socialism. As he put it later: “The intellectual heirs of Burke, and the conservative interest generally, did battle on two fronts: against the successors of the Jacobins, with their ‘armed doctrine’; and against the economists of Manchester, with their reliance upon the nexus of cash payment.”

Kirk’s criticisms of economic utilitarianism, industrialism, and commercialism distinguished him from many other opponents of government planning. “I never call myself an individualist; and I wish that you people hadn’t clutched that dreary ideology to your bosom,” Kirk wrote to Victor Milione, the president of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (later renamed the Intercollegiate Studies Institute) in May 1954. “Politically, it ends in anarchy; spiritually, it is a hideous solitude. I do not even call myself an ‘individual’; I hope I am a person.” Libertarianism, Kirk said, was a dead end because it failed to excite the moral imagination. A public exchange in 1957 with Friedrich Hayek exposed the divide. “I recall remarking that Hayek referred to religion as ‘mysticism,’” Kirk told a young correspondent many years later. “I retorted that such a notion merely reveals ignorance of religion.”

This suspicion of classical liberalism is one reason Kirk was reluctant to join Buckley’s National Review. Conservatism and libertarianism might fuse perfectly within the confines of Buckley’s personality, but he was just one charismatic figure. Kirk agreed to write a monthly column for the periodical that appeared from its founding until 1980. But the tension persisted. He never appeared on the masthead, chided Buckley when National Review failed to review his books, and was vilified by its senior editor Frank Meyer. It is noteworthy that Kirk looked upon the flagship publication of the conservative movement with detachment. “James Burnham was a utilitarian, really,” he wrote of another senior editor in a 1990 letter, “and I suppose I may be classified as a romantic—that is, on the side of Coleridge, Scott, and Southey, in the disputes of the first half of the nineteenth century.” When Kirk assembled his anthology of conservative thought for Penguin, he omitted Buckley while including the godfather of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol.

Although he called Kristol “a force for good” in a 1975 letter, Kirk soured on the neoconservatives after the end of the Cold War. ....

If we rewrite the standard version of conservative history to account fully for Kirk’s role, a more complex picture of conservatism comes into view: one where the Pentagon and marginal tax rates recede into the background, and religious communities, schools, national and local traditions, literature, and culture come to the fore. Kirk’s writing has much to offer this generation of conservatives—and liberals—as they consider what attitudes to adopt toward artificial intelligence, Silicon Valley, social media, free speech, drone wars, globalization, and entitlement spending. As I remember Russell Kirk on his centennial, I recall with gratitude and appreciation some of his favorite lines from Eliot’s “Little Gidding”: And what the dead had no speech for, when living, / They can tell you, being dead: the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. (more)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Possibly of interest

I taught elective political science classes for many years in two Madison, Wisconsin, public high schools. Obviously time was spent on the structure of the US government, the three branches, the bicameral nature of Congress, checks-and-balances, etc. In the context of the Cavanaugh approval by the Senate there have been complaints about the equal representation of states in that body, regardless of the population of the state. Vermont has as many Senators as Texas! It is unlikely that any amendment modifying equal representation could pass the normal requirement of three-quarters of  state legislatures. Changing the equal representation of states in the Senate would be even more difficult: see the final clause below of Article V of the US Constitution.
Article V (Article 5 - Mode of Amendment)
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
For a similar reason there is unlikely to be any significant change in the Electoral College. Quite a few state legislatures or conventions would have to be willing to have less influence on Presidential elections for such an amendment to be ratified.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"One step enough for me"

From 1905:

Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,     
          Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
          Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene: one step enough for me.
So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still
          Will lead me on
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
          The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
                                                                                                                                   John Henry Newman

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Joseph Epstein is a "bookish" person. I enjoyed reading his "The Bookish Life."
  • So many books are there in the world that no one can get round to even all the best among them, and hence no one can claim to be truly well-read. Some ­people are merely better-read than others.
  • The bookish life can have no goal: It is all means and no end. The point, I should say, is not to become immensely knowledgeable or clever, and certainly not to become learned.
  • The act of reading—office memos, newspaper articles on trade and monetary policy, and bureaucratic bumpf apart—should if possible never be separable from pleasure.
  • Some of the best of all books are those one loved when young and finds even better in later life. .... The frisson afforded by rereading is the discovery not only of things one missed the first time round but of the changes in oneself.
  • Unlike with friends, we spend time with books only because we truly wish to be in their company. We never have to ask what they thought of us. Clashes of egotism have nothing to do with the bookish relationship. Perhaps best of all, when we tire of books, unlike tiring of friends, we close them and replace them on the shelf.
  • Reading may not be the same as conversation, but reading the right books, the best books, puts us in the company of men and women more intelligent than ourselves. Only by keeping company with those smarter than ourselves, in books or in persons, do we have a chance of becoming a bit smarter.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The blind pulled up and the shutters thrown open

This is a selection from a sermon titled "Transposition" that C.S. Lewis delivered at Mansfield College, Oxford, in 1944, collected in (among other places) They Asked for a Paper (1962):
Let us construct a fable. Let us picture a woman thrown into a dungeon. There she bears and rears a son. He grows up seeing nothing but the dungeon walls, the straw on the floor, and a little patch of the sky seen through the grating, which is too high up to show anything except sky. This unfortunate woman was an artist, and when they imprisoned her she managed to bring with her a drawing pad and a box of pencils. As she never loses the hope of deliverance she is constantly teaching her son about that outer world which he has never seen. She does it very largely by drawing him pictures. With her pencil she attempts to show him what fields, rivers, mountains, cities and waves on a beach are like. He is a dutiful boy and he does his best to believe her when she tells him that that outer world is far more interesting and glorious than anything in the dungeon. At times he succeeds. On the whole he gets on tolerably well until, one day, he says something that gives his mother pause. For a minute or two they are at cross-purposes. Finally it dawns on her that he has, all these years, lived under a misconception. ‘But,’ she gasps, ‘you didn’t think that the real world was full of lines drawn in lead pencil?’ ‘What?’ says the boy. ‘No pencil marks there?’ And instantly, his whole notion of the outer world becomes a blank. For the lines, by which alone he was imagining it, have now been denied of it. He has no idea of that which will exclude and dispense with the lines, that of which the lines were merely a transposition—the waving treetops, the light dancing on the weir, the colored three-dimensional realities which are not enclosed in lines but define their own shapes at every moment with a delicacy and multiplicity which no drawing could ever achieve. The child will get the idea that the real world is somehow less visible than his mother’s pictures. In reality it lacks lines because it is incomparably more visible.

So with us. ‘We know not what we shall be;’ but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth. Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like penciled lines on flat paper. If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape; not as a candle flame that is put out but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun.
C.S. Lewis, They Asked for a Paper, Geoffrey Bles, 1962, pp. 177-78.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Freedom and order

From Russell Kirk's "Conditions of Freedom" (Commonweal, 1956) collected in Beyond the Dreams of Avarice (Regnery, 1956):
.... When most people use the word "freedom" nowadays, they use it in the sense of the French Revolutionaries; freedom from tradition, from established social institutions, from religious doctrines, from prescriptive duties. I think that this employment of the word does much mischief. For we do not live in an age—and there are such ages—which is oppressed by the dead weight of archaic establishments and obsolete custom. The danger in our era, rather, is that the fountains of the great deep will be broken up and that the pace of alteration will be so rapid that generation cannot link with generation. Our era, necessarily, is what Matthew Arnold called an epoch of concentration. Or, at least, the thinking American needs to turn his talents to concentration, the buttressing and reconstruction of our moral and social heritage. This is a time not for anarchic freedom, but for ordered freedom.

There are much older and stronger concepts of freedom, than that espoused by the French Revolutionaries. In the Christian tradition, freedom is submission to the will of God. This is no paradox. As he that would save his life must lose it, so the man who desires true freedom must recognize a Providential order which gives all freedoms their sanction. The theory of "natural rights" depends upon the premise of an unalterable human nature bestowed upon man by God. Only acceptance of a divine order can give enduring freedom to a society; for this lacking, there is no reason why the strong and the clever, the dominant majority or the successful oligarch, should respect the liberties of anyone else. Freedom without the theory of natural rights becomes simply the freedom of those who hold power to do as they like with the lives of those whose interests conflict with theirs.

And in the Christian tradition, as in the Judaic tradition and the Stoic philosophy and the religions of India, there subsists also the belief that freedom is the absence of worldly desire. .... The man who has made his peace with the universe is free, however poor he may be; the man who seeks always to gratify his appetites is servile, however rich he may be. ....
More quotations from the essay can be found online here.

Friday, October 12, 2018


...for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos, 1949

Thursday, October 11, 2018

“The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming.”

On the anniversary of his birth CrimeReads gives us "Elmore Leonard's Greatest Opening Lines."
Elmore Leonard was “the Dickens of Detroit,” “the poet laureate of wild assholes with revolvers,” and above all a master craftsman. Ever a writer’s writer, Leonard honed his craft meticulously over a career that spanned sixty years and nearly as many books, from westerns to era-defining crime novels like Get Shorty and Out of Sight to short story collections that still infuse the pop and mystery culture to this day. Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing,” published in the New York Times in 2001, has become gospel for many a writer, including such timeless gems as “[t]ry to leave out the part that readers tend to skip” and, most famously, “[i]f it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Leonard was also renowned for his opening lines. (In his “Rules,” he warns writers to skip prologues and never to start by describing the weather.) Rightly, he’s now remembered as one of the greatest lead writers in the history of crime fiction, able to engage a reader, capture a mood, and establish a world in a few brief words.

In honor of Leonard’s birthday—he was born on October 11th, 1925—we’ve assembled 25 of his greatest opening lines. They’re ranked here (in descending order) but that’s a matter of taste, mood, and whimsy. Let these words be an inspiration, an entertainment, or just a good kick in the ass. Warning: the temptation to keep on reading Leonard’s books will be strong, and you should follow that temptation where it leads. (the twenty-five)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

From beginning to end

A post at the Center For Baptist Renewal asks "What Does Your Liturgy Celebrate?"
.... You see, our pastors, like your pastors believe in the gospel. Our pastors believe that the gospel is what saves and it is what trains us for godliness (Titus 2). We believe that apart from the gospel we have nothing to offer those who join us for worship on Sundays. ....

At our church, it is our desire that our liturgy would celebrate Jesus and his gospel from beginning to end. I hope you’ll look at your own liturgy and ask the question; “What is our liturgy celebrating?”
And an example of worship at Emmaus Church in Kansas City from September 23:
  • Call to Worship – Psalms 19: 1-6
  • Grace Alone
  • Scripture of Response – 1 John 4:13-17
  • My Worth Is Not In What I Own
  • Come Ye Souls By Sin Afflicted
  • Corporate Confession – Psalm 19:12-14
  • Prayer of Confession (a written prayer of confession that the worship leader prays on behalf of our church and our nation)
  • Assurance of Pardon – Ephesians 2:13-18
  • Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor
  • Scripture Reading – John 14:1-14
  • Sermon – John 14:1-14
  • Communion
  • I Hear the Words of Love
  • Benediction – May the grace of Christ our Savior, And the Father’s boundless love, With the Holy Spirit’s favor, Rest upon you from above. Thus may we abide In union, With each other and the Lord, And possess, in sweet communion, joys which earth cannot afford.” Amen. (John Newton)
I'm not a fan of all of the music (the words are fine) but I very much like the form of worship.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?"

From the beginning of T.S. Eliot's "Choruses from 'The Rock'":
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God .
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.


Friday, October 5, 2018


Netflix will develop new series and film projects based on C.S. Lewis’ beloved The Chronicles of Narnia series. Under the terms of a multi-year deal between Netflix and The C.S. Lewis Company, Netflix will develop classic stories from across the Narnia universe into series and films for its members worldwide. All series and films produced through the deal will be Netflix productions, with Mark Gordon of Entertainment One (eOne) alongside Douglas Gresham and Vincent Sieber serving as executive producers for series and as producers for features. In total the Narnia books have sold more than 100 million copies and been translated in more than 47 languages worldwide. The deal marks the first time that rights to the entire seven books of the Narnia universe have been held by the same company.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

"OUR heavenly Father, hear..."

When last in Madison a good friend gave me a 19th century hymnbook. Its dimensions are 3" X 5.25" X 1.5" and it contains the words of 1254 hymns plus several doxologies and an appendix of "Temperance" songs. Like most such books it only contains words — there are no tunes although a tune is often suggested. It's very interesting to browse.  The example below is from the "Prayer and Praise" section:

The Lord's Prayer.
OUR heavenly Father, hear
The prayer we offer now:
Thy name be hallowed, far and near,
To thee all nations bow.
Thy kingdom come; thy will
On earth be done in love,
As saints and seraphim fulfill
Thy perfect law above.
Our daily bread supply,
While by thy word we live;
The guilt of our iniquity
Forgive, as we forgive.
From dark temptation's power,
From Satan's wiles defend;
Deliver in the evil hour,
And guide us to the end.
Thine, then, forevr be
Glory, and power divine;
The scepter, throne, and majesty
Of heaven and earth, are thine.
Thus humbly taught to pray,
By thy beloved Son,
Through him we come to thee, and say—
All for his sake be done.          Montgomery.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Planted by the river

Bob Dylan:
You know, these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness.
It's not happiness or unhappiness, it's either blessed or unblessed.
As the Bible says,
"Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly."

The Psalm he references: Psalm 1 (KJV)
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD;
and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous:
but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

On "Girl, Wash Your Face"

From the conclusion of Tim Challies' review of Girl, Wash Your Face:
.... It has long been my observation that there are two kinds of books being marketed to Christians. There are some whose foundational message is what you need to do and others whose foundational message is what Christ has already done. The first make a model out of the author, the second make a model out of Jesus. The first place the burden for change on personal power while the second place the burden for change on Christ’s power. It is clear that Girl, Wash Your Face falls squarely in the first category. ....