Sunday, March 31, 2019

"Prone to wander..."

Jonathan Aigner has been posting hymns for each Sunday in Lent. Today he chose "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." It's a great hymn. I don't use the video he chose but I like it, especially the organ.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love.
Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.
O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

Thursday, March 28, 2019


The author of my newly acquired book about C.S. Lewis keeps quoting from his poems. It has been a very long time since I opened Poems, collected and edited by Walter Hooper. In the chapter I'm reading today this one came up:

All day I have been tossed and whirled in a preposterous happiness:
Was it an elf in the blood? or a bird in the brain? or even part
Of the cloudily crested, fifty-league-long, loud uplifted wave
Of a journeying angel's transit roaring over and through my heart?
My garden's spoiled, my holidays are cancelled, the omens harden;
The plann'd and unplann'd miseries deepen; the knots draw tight.
Reason kept telling me all day my mood was out of season.
It was, too. In the dark ahead the breakers only are white.
Yet I—I could have kissed the very scullery taps. The colour of
My day was like a peacock's chest. In at each sense there stole
Ripplings and dewy sprinkles of delight that with them drew
Fine threads of memory through the vibrant thickness of the soul.
As though there were transparent earths and luminous trees should grow there,
And shining roots worked visibly far down below one's feet,
So everything, the tick of the clock, the cock crowing in the yard
Probing my soil, woke diverse buried hearts of mine to beat,
Recalling either adolescent heights and the inaccessible
Longings and ice-sharp joys that shook my body and turned me pale,
Or humbler pleasures, chuckling as it were in the ear, mumbling
Of glee, as kindly animals talk in a children's tale.
Who knows if ever it will come again, now the day closes?
No-one can give me, or take away, that key. All depends
On the elf, the bird, or the angel. I doubt if the angel himself
Is free to choose when sudden heaven in man begins or ends.


An interesting response to a New York Times op-ed:
“Why is there anything rather than nothing?” Accept the question as a koan, not a challenge to debate, and you will have a mystical experience, although you may need to walk away from your screen, still your mind, and sit alone quietly in your room for a few minutes before the strange wonder that the question points to begins to register.

The “answer” to the question is not a proposition. It’s an experience — of astonishment, as you stop in your tracks before the inscrutable reality that things .... exist, your own self being the thing you feel most keenly. You didn’t will yourself into existence. How did you get here? Look to your parents, and from there to their parents, and so on, back to...primordial dust? The Big Bang? Bracket for a moment the question of what we should call the thing where that regression into the past comes to its final stop. Bracket the question of what the thing is exactly. That it was there, rather than not there — that’s the stubborn mystery.

Give a non-theistic cosmologist that one free miracle, the mystery of being, and he’ll explain the rest. The rest is what he’s interested in anyway. Those who dwell on the one free miracle, meanwhile, are liable to find that it never gets old, that it moves them on occasion to blurt, mentally or out loud, something like “Oh my God.”

Did someone say “God”? Here we go. .... (more)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Wishing the worst

Always relevant, but this week especially so:
.... Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. ....
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, "Forgiveness."

Monday, March 25, 2019

A short introduction

C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction by James Como from Oxford University Press just arrived in the mail. I'm looking forward to enjoying it. OUP also allows you to download it free if you're willing to register with them and provide credit card information (which they promise not to use). Here is the URL: Download [PDF] CS Lewis A Very Short Introduction Free Online. I purchased mine in paperback from Amazon.

From the online description:
.... Although he is best known for the iconic Chronicles of Narnia series, C.S. Lewis was actually a man of many literary parts. Already well-known as a scholar in the thirties, he became a famous broadcaster during World War Two and wrote in many genres, including satire (The Screwtape Letters), science fiction ( Perelandra), a novel (Till We Have Faces), and many other books on Christian belief, such as Mere Christianity and Miracles. His few sermons remain touchstones of their type. In addition to these, Lewis wrote hundreds of poems and articles on social and cultural issues, many books and articles in his field of literary criticism and history, and thousands of letters. At Oxford University he became a charismatic lecturer and conversationalist. Taken together his writings have engaged and influenced, often very deeply, millions of readers. Now Lewis societies, television documentaries, movies, radio plays, and theatrical treatments of his work and life have become common, and he is frequently quoted by journalists, critics, and public thinkers. This Very Short Introduciton delves into the vast corpus of C.S. Lewis' work, discussing its core themes and lasting appeal. As James Como shows, C.S. Lewis' life is just as interesting as his work. A complex man, he came to his knowledge, beliefs, and wisdom only after much tortuous soul-searching and many painful events. Moving chronologically through Lewis' life, Como provides throughout a picture of the whole man, his work, and his enduring legacy. ....

"All get what they want; they do not always like it."

A nice discovery this morning. This person has re-read all of the The Chronicles of Narnia in publication order (the correct order) and, instead of writing a critical essay, collected "My Favorite Narnia Quotes." If you've read the books you will enjoy these reminders. A few of the quotations follow but all of them can be found here.
  • At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.
  • “Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
    “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
    “Not because you are?”
    “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
  • “He has died. Most people have, you know. Even I have. There are very few who haven’t.”
  • After that, the Head’s friends saw that the Head was no use as a Head [of a school], so they got her made an Inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found she wasn’t much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after.
  • “She has won her heart’s desire; she has unwearying strength and endless days like a goddess. But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it. All get what they want; they do not always like it.”
  • But very quickly they all became grave again: for, as you know, there is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes.
  • And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

"Even darkness must pass"

Sam: It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Personal libraries

Some of my books
Joseph Epstein: On two separate occasions I radically cut back my personal library, lest it take over my apartment. Each time, like the detached tail of the iguana, it grew back. No matter my efforts at literary population control, my books seemed relentlessly to multiply. ....

Micah Mattix: I can’t remember when I first started keeping books. I was not an insatiable reader growing up, but I held on to my Narnia and Hardy Boys for a while — I can see them now on the inset shelf in my childhood bedroom — until I either gave them away or lost them. Of Mice and Men was an early favorite, but my original copy of that is gone, too.

I suppose I first started consciously collecting books my first or second year in college, when I decided not to sell back my course texts at the end of the semester. ....

Otto Penzler: .... I quickly concede that the books I chose to collect are relatively frivolous, but mystery fiction has produced extraordinarily poetic prose while turning a spotlight on the world as it was when the works were published. ....

I started to collect right after college, so it adds up to 55 years of what soon became obsessive behavior. I’d read virtually no detective stories as a youngster but at 20 started with The Complete Sherlock Holmes (which should be required reading in every high school in America), and then moved on to the puzzles designed by Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, and their devious compatriots. When introduced to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, I realized that there were crime writers who deserved to be taken seriously as literary figures. ....

Terry Teachout: Because I keep books that I find rereadable, I usually own several books per author. One shelf is devoted to M.F.K. Fisher, John P. Marquand, and Anthony Powell, while another bulges with Evelyn Waugh and Max Beerbohm. My literary taste is moderately Anglophilic: Kingsley Amis, Somerset Maugham, Barbara Pym, and P.G. Wodehouse all take up plenty of space on the shelves.... (more, possibly behind a paywall)

Thursday, March 21, 2019


On the 334th anniversary of his birth, Bach:Cantata No 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben," (28 min.):

Happy I, who has Jesus,
  O how tightly I cling to Him,
so that He delights my heart
when I am sick and sad.
I have Jesus, who loves me
and gives Himself to me as my own;
Ah, therefore I will not let go of Jesus,
even if my heart is breaking.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Who created God?

After I posted about John Lennox the other day a friend mentioned that he is on YouTube. Today HillFaith linked to this Lennox video:

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Stone Table

A new, but unauthorised, Narnia novel we may never get to read:
Polly Plummer and Digory Kirke
Francis Spufford has taken a break from writing award-winning adult literature to fill in the details of what exactly went on in Narnia before The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. But he isn’t expecting his novel, set in C.S. Lewis’s magical world, to be published any time soon. ....

“I was a deeply, passionately Narnia-loving child myself,” Spufford said, “and I’d always wanted there to be one more novel. Not that I had a specific gap in mind, I just wanted to stay in Narnia a little longer.”

The series is “finished as it stands” he continued, “but there is a gap in the history of Narnia between The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. That was the only gap I thought was large enough for someone to do some impertinent fiddling.” ....

The Stone Table follows Polly Plummer and Digory Kirke, who watch Aslan sing Narnia into being in The Magician’s Nephew, as they return to Narnia. Spufford said he was cautious in giving clues as to what happens in the adventure, but the novel “explains why there are four empty thrones in the castle of Cair Paravel, and where the Stone Table came from”. ....

The much-loved world of Aslan is under copyright until 2034. After finishing the novel, Spufford made a “tentative” approach to ask the Lewis estate if they might agree to publication, but did not receive a reply. Eventually he printed up 75 copies and started giving them to friends. According to the writer Adam Roberts, the novel is “superb”, a rare match of literary ability and authorial sensibility. .... (more)
Alan Jacobs has read the book: "I had the privilege of reading Francis Spufford’s The Stone Table in draft, with what I believe the enthusiasts call 'dawning wonder,' and also with increasing frustration at a copyright regime that made it unlikely to be published." Jacobs writes:
The Stone Table features characters who appear in other Narnia books: most notably, two children named Polly Plummer and Digory Kirke and the great lion Aslan. The seven Narnia books that Lewis wrote have already come into the public domain in some countries, and may even do so in the United States — though those of us who have seen the law extend copyright again and again may be pardoned for doubting that it will ever happen. But Spufford has written a new Narnia story, so copyright law doesn’t affect his: what matters is that the world of Narnia is a registered trademark of C.S. Lewis (PTE.) Ltd. — and trademarks, if they are consistently used and defended against infringement, last forever. ....

The Stone Table deserves a very wide readership indeed. Spufford has suppressed his own distinctive and eloquent style and made himself a ventriloquist of Lewis: to read the story is really and truly to return to the Narnia millions of readers love. And this is not merely a matter of style: Spufford’s story is thematically and even theologically Lewisian. It is a marvelous and utterly delightful tale, as wise as it is thrilling. I so wish you could read it. (more)

Monday, March 18, 2019

"The end product of a blind, unguided process"

I don't believe I'd ever heard of this apologist. From "John Lennox: Oxford Math Professor Defends Christianity":
.... By the time Lennox arrived at Cambridge University as an undergraduate in 1962, he already had devoured many of Lewis’s writings. He couldn’t resist sneaking out of his math lectures to hear Lewis lecture on John Donne before a packed auditorium.

More than any other thinker, it was Lewis — an atheist who converted to Christianity with the help of J.R.R. Tolkien — who gave Lennox the conceptual tools to confront the materialist objections to faith in God. “I thought it was very important to try to walk inside the shoes of someone who knew atheism from the inside, and Lewis provided that guide to me,” he says. “In all his questioning, there was the slow development of his impression that there was a God who could be taken seriously. All of that became very important to me.”

Now, at 75, Lennox has distinguished himself internationally for his intellectual defense of Christianity. He has debated — and, according to his admirers, bested — celebrated atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Peter Singer. A fellow in the philosophy of science at Oxford, he writes books that explore the essential compatibility between the scientific quest, rightly understood, and religious belief. Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo: All believed in a God who created and sustained the universe. “Instead of the founders of modern science being hindered by their belief in God,” Lennox reminds me, “their belief in God was the motor that drove their science.” ....

Lennox discerns in this a self-defeating materialism. In books such as God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? he argues that the scientist’s confidence in reason ultimately depends on the existence of a rational and purposeful Creator. Otherwise, our thoughts are nothing more than electro-chemical events, the chattering of soul-less synapses. “If you take the atheistic, naturalistic, materialistic view, you’re going to invalidate the reasoning process,” he says, “because in the end you’re going to say that the brain is simply the end product of a blind, unguided process. If that’s the case, why should you trust it?” .... (more)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Disagreeing better

.... Brooks argues that “motive attribution asymmetry” leads people to assume that those with whom they disagree are motivated by hate. This shuts off the possibility of negotiation and compromise, and breeds contempt, which Brooks defines as a combination of anger and disgust. Contempt, not only for the ideas held by those with whom we disagree, but also, and more significantly, for the people who hold those ideas.

From an essay Brooks wrote, adapted from the book:
Contempt makes political compromise and progress impossible. It also makes us unhappy as people. ....
The argument Dr. Brooks makes that resonates most strongly with me is first to reject the notion that disagreement is bad.
You might be tempted to say we need to find ways to disagree less, but that is incorrect. Disagreement is good because competition is good. Competition lies behind democracy in politics and markets in the economy, which — bounded by the rule of law and morality — bring about excellence. Just as in politics and economics, we need a robust “competition of ideas” — a.k.a. disagreement. Disagreement helps us innovate, improve and find the truth.
Instead, according to Brooks, we need to disagree better. .... (more)

"In my end..."

Just discovered, T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets: extracts from "East Coker," read by Jeremy Irons (12 minutes). YouTube has more of Eliot read by Irons.

"I bind unto myself..."

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 15, 2019


A high school history and psychology teacher writes "In Defense of Lecture in the Classroom." By doing so he is defending the method I most often used.
.... The material every day is new to most and there is little to no prior knowledge of the information. ....

Lecture imparts knowledge. Knowledge is a requirement for innovation and creativity. Simply put, you cannot be creative with knowledge you do not have. This is why, when initially presenting information to students, I try to do so in as simple a method as possible. Creating an environment with as few distractions as possible decreases the extraneous load on our limited working memory and allows for the possible processing of more material. ....

Evidence tells me the idea of having a particular learning style and the statistics associated with the learning pyramid are myths. ....

It isn’t everything, but it should certainly have its place in the classroom…especially with initial presentation of new material or as a method of reviewing information. Collaboration, creativity, and innovation are all great…after you’ve acquired the knowledge. ....

So, please don’t write off this effective and efficient method. It mustn’t be boring or passive. Provided students are afforded the opportunities to synthesize, discuss, and apply material presented, lecture is a wonderful foundation for learning in most classrooms. (more)
With younger students, especially, it is important to mix up the method of presentation a bit but lecture is the most efficient way to present knowledge and knowledge is essential. Of course it isn't effective if the teacher doesn't know the subject matter well enough to know what is important. Nor is it the easiest way to teach. The effective lecture requires not only familiarity with the material but also the ability to engage the interest of those in the class.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

More Moto

Today I acquired Mr. Moto's Three Aces, a 1956 book club omnibus containing three of the pre-WWII books. From the fly-leaf:
THANK YOU, MR. MOTO (1936) — The story of two Americans swept into the intrigues which run throughout ancient Peking.... All the city knew that danger lurked in the shadowed streets—that at any second death might come swiftly and silently to prying foreigners. Yet outwardly the city preserved the calm of centuries. Eleanor Joyce was blind to the dangerous connection between her secret commission and national events. Tom Nelson sensed something and his friends feared he had found out too much. Mr. Moto knew, too, but was powerless to interfere—until the blundering of the two Americans suddenly and strangely made him master of the situation!

THINK FAST, MR. MOTO (1937) — The old and respected banking house of Hitchings Brothers in Shanghai is more than a little concerned because a distant relative, Eva Hitchings, has persisted in operating a gambling house in Honolulu—which she defiantly calls Hitchings Plantation. Young Wilson Hitchings, just out from home to learn the business, is sent to Honolulu to wipe out the blot on the family reputation. But he little realized that he would encounter Mr. Moto! With blood-chilling politesse, the slick Mr. Moto keeps four rendezvous with death in twenty-four hours—as Chinese outlaws gamble to lose in Honolulu!

MR, MOTO IS SO SORRY (1938) — On the same train with Sylvia Dillaway and Calvin Gates, bound for Mongolia, were the Russian and Mr. Moto. As soon as Mr. Moto's presence was known to the Russian, he gave his cigarette case to Sylvia. The case was inscribed with a code message to the Russian Army. The fear of danger was borne out when the Russian was mysteriously murdered, and to protect Sylvia, Calvin took the case from her. Then things started happening fast. The Japanese Army wanted that case—and the devious Mr. Moto was playing a little war game of his own. But certain shocking events came to light and turned everything upside down!
More fun reading.

John P. Marquand, Mr. Moto's Three Aces,  Little Brown and Company,  1956.


Commenting on the absurdity of a New York magazine recommended list of books "to understand socialism," Steven Hayward suggests better ones, among which Leszek Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism.
The three volumes proceed soberly and methodically through the development of Marxism and socialism starting with Hegel and other antecedents that Marx drew heavily upon. But then you finally reach the epilogue of volume three, which opens thus:
Marxism has been the greatest fantasy of our century. It was a dream offering the prospect of a society of perfect unity, in which all human aspirations would be fulfilled and all values reconciled... Almost all the prophecies of Marx and his followers have already proved to be false, but this does not disturb the spiritual certainty of the faithful, any more than it did in the case of chiliastic sects: for it is a certainty not based on any empirical premises or supposed ‘historical laws,’ but simply on the psychological need for certainty. In this sense, Marxism performs the function of a religion, and its efficacy is of a religious character.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


I've been missing Kevin DeYoung since his move and new responsibilities. But here he is: "We Are Supposed to Feel Bad About Stuff":
Our world is seriously confused about shame.

Strike that, the church is seriously confused about shame. We’ve made Jesus into a Rogerian therapist, the Bible into a book of self-actualizing pablum, and the gospel into a perpetual reminder that, hey, you’re awesome! The only shame left is saying or doing anything that leaves one feeling ashamed.

Shame is not a small matter in the Bible. The English word “shame” occurs 174 times in 161 verses in the ESV (and “ashamed” another 63 times in 58 verses). Clearly, the Bible has a lot to say on the topic.

Shame can be a hard subject to talk about because a massive problem for many people is misplaced shamed. Whether in every day “failures” like a messy house and unwanted pounds, or in more catastrophic situations like the experience of sexual abuse or racial bigotry, almost all of us have elements of our person or our past that wrongly make us feel embarrassed, dirty, and ashamed. The Bible is well aware of this tendency. When Zophar inquired of Job, “Shall no one shame you?” he was castigating Job for sins Job hadn’t actually committed. Zophar thought Job should be ashamed, but Job knew he had nothing be ashamed of.

In the New Testament we see the apostles often addressing the misplaced shame Christians were liable to feel because of their faith in a crucified Savior. This is why Paul says “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Rom 1:16) and why he insists that no one who believes in Jesus will be put to shame (Rom. 10:11). Peter emphasizes the same thing (1 Pet. 2:6), reminding the believers that there is no shame in suffering as a Christian (1 Pet 4:16), and that ultimately it is the enemies of Christ who will be put to shame for having opposed God’s people (1 Pet 3:16). Most importantly, we follow Jesus, who was treated with utter shame (Mark 12:4; Luke 18:32; 20:11), and yet, in despising the shame, gave us the subjective example and the objective means by which we can cast aside the shame that does not rightly belong to us.

Because misplaced shame is such a pervasive human problem, and because the Bible is genuinely concerned to see us address our (often) undeserved sense of humiliation, too many Christians think the way to make hurting people feel better is to simply eliminate the category of shame altogether. Surely, it’s not coincidence that two recent, popular (and misguided) books—incidentally, by women and for women—are entitled Shameless: A Sexual Revolution and Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals. Church got you down? Voices in your head making you unhappy? Just follow your dreams, be true to yourself, take a chance, and do what makes you happy. Shame is just another word for the impossible expectations that the church, the flesh, and the Devil put upon you.

But just because you found a hammer does not mean the whole world is actually a nail. .... (more)


In "Why J. Gresham Machen Didn’t Like the Term ‘Evangelical’," Thomas Kidd quotes from Machen's “What Is Orthodoxy?” (1935). Machen is not satisfied with "Fundamentalism," or "Conservative," or "Evangelical" as descriptive of his theology. Instead:
...[I]n view of the objections that face the use of other terminology, I think we might do far worse than revive the good old word orthodoxy as a designation of our position.

Orthodoxy means, as we have seen, “straight doxy” [or “straight teaching, straight doctrine”]. Well, how do we tell whether a thing is straight or not? The answer is plain. By comparing it with a rule or plumb line. Our rule or plumb line is the Bible. A thing is “orthodox” if it is in accordance with the Bible. I think we might well revive the word. But whether we revive the word or not, we certainly ought to hold to the thing that is designated by the word.

Auden on the Psalms

From a 1971 W.H. Auden letter critical of liturgical reform:
As for the Psalms, they are poems, and to 'get' poetry, it should, of course, be read in the language in which it was written. I myself, alas, know no Hebrew. All I know is that Coverdale reads like poetry, and the modern versions don't.
Coverdale's version of the Psalms is the version used in the Book of Common Prayer.

Coverdale's Psalm 1:
  1. BLESSED is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners : and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful.
  2. But his delight is in the law of the Lord : and in his law will he exercise himself day and night.
  3. And he shall be like a tree planted by the water-side : that will bring forth his fruit in due season.
  4. His leaf also shall not wither : and look, whatsoever he doeth, it shall prosper.
  5. As for the ungodly, it is not so with them : but they are like the chaff, which the wind scattereth away from the face of the earth.
  6. Therefore the ungodly shall not be able to stand in the judgement : neither the sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
  7. But the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous : and the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Monday, March 11, 2019

"They that seek..."

Great art Thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and Thy wisdom infinite. And Thee would man praise; man, but a particle of Thy creation; man, that bears about him his mortality, the witness of his sin, the witness that Thou resistest the proud: yet would man praise Thee; he, but a particle of Thy creation. Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee. Grant me, Lord, to know and understand which is first, to call on Thee or to praise Thee? and, again, to know Thee or to call on Thee? for who can call on Thee, not knowing Thee? for he that knoweth Thee not, may call on Thee as other than Thou art. Or, is it rather, that we call on Thee that we may know Thee? but how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? or how shall they believe without a preacher? and they that seek the Lord shall praise Him: for they that seek shall find Him, and they that find shall praise Him. I will seek Thee, Lord, by calling on Thee; and will call on Thee, believing in Thee; for to us hast Thou been preached. My faith, Lord, shall call on Thee, which Thou hast given me, wherewith Thou hast inspired me, through the Incarnation of Thy Son, through the ministry of the Preacher. ....

Oh! that I might repose on Thee! Oh! that Thou wouldest enter into my heart, and inebriate it, that I may forget my ills, and embrace Thee, my sole good! What art Thou to me? In Thy pity, teach me to utter it. Or what am I to Thee that Thou demandest my love, and, if I give it not, art wroth with me, and threatenest me with grievous woes? Is it then a slight woe to love Thee not? Oh! for Thy mercies' sake, tell me, O Lord my God, what Thou art unto me. Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation. So speak, that I may hear. Behold, Lord, my heart is before Thee; open Thou the ears thereof, and say unto my soul, I am thy salvation. After this voice let me haste, and take hold on Thee. Hide not Thy face from me. Let me die—lest I die—only let me see Thy face. .... (The Confessions)

"There shall be always a Church on earth..."

From Chapter nine:
When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he frees him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, or only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.
And from Chapter twenty-five, a passage which may seem especially relevant these days:
This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to his will.
The blog poster explains why he finds these passages reassuring.

The Westminster Confession.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A sense of evil

Originally posted in 2006:
"How in blazes do you know all these horrors?" cried Flambeau.

The shadow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his clerical opponent.

"Oh, by being a celibate simpleton, I suppose," he said. "Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil? But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren't a priest."

"What?" asked the thief, almost gaping.

"You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology." (G.K. Chesterton)
I have always enjoyed reading mysteries. I began with Conan Doyle, and soon progressed to Agatha Christie, and then to Chesterton, Marjorie Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, etc. I still enjoy those authors — whether in print or in the many film and television versions. A part of the pleasure is that justice always (or almost always) triumphs. Some great evil, usually murder, is committed, peace and order is disrupted, anarchy threatens, but then order is re-established, tranquility restored and justice done.

Later, I started reading the so-called "hard-boiled" authors like Chandler and Hammett and their many successors. The moral issues tended to be much less clearly drawn and the victory of good much less complete. No one, in these books, is unambiguously good.

A sense of evil is central to all of them. It is much easier to be drawn into the books if you possess a firm belief in the reality of original sin — the flaw in every person. The "hard-boiled" stories were more realistic about evil, though, since the dividing line between good and evil passes — not between us — but through each of us; and — in this life — there are no final victories for good.

"Woe to those who call evil good..."

From another interesting essay at Quillette, Spencer Case on "Moral Zealotry and the Seductive Nature of Evil":
A tempting fallacy about morality is to think that wickedness must arise from transparently abhorrent motives, and goodness from nice ones. Few explicitly endorse this crude dualism, but many breezily equate hatred with evil, love with goodness, or both. This way of thinking makes it difficult for us to see the dangers of moral zealotry, one of the most insidious motives for wicked behavior. ....

...Solzhenitsyn wrote that, “To do evil a human must first of all believe that what he is doing is good” and seek a justification for his actions. Shakespearean villains like Macbeth and Iago, “stopped short at a few dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.” The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of many other real-life pariahs:
Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That is how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, civilization; the Nazis, by race; the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood and the happiness of future generations.
He could have added, “…jihadists, by the glory of a new Caliphate.”

Solzhenitsyn doesn’t specify here whether he thinks that these oppressors were driven by moral considerations, or merely appealed to them post hoc to rationalize their deeds. We are left to surmise that there was some element of both. ....

It would be nice if evil always announced itself and evil people always looked malevolent. Evil, alas, sometimes wears a nicer face. Otherwise it could be fearsome, but not seductive. There is no human impulse or emotion that is immune to moral corruption. Our most benevolent instincts and intentions, untethered from reason, can lead us very far astray, indeed. Subtle are the ways of the devil. (more)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Mr Moto

Today in the mail I received John P. Marquand's Stopover: Tokyo (1956). It is the last of six Mr. Moto novels and the only one set after World War II. In the pre-war books Moto is an agent of Imperial Japan and most of the stories take place in a China then being invaded by the Japanese. Moto himself is sometimes portrayed as at odds with the militarists. The last of the pre-war books was written in 1941 before Pearl Harbor. Moto was on hiatus during the war but reappears in this book, still serving in Japanese intelligence but now allied with US intelligence. Most of the Mr. Motos were serialized in magazines before coming out as books. I think I first read this one in the Saturday Evening Post. I would have been ten years old. The dust cover is in bad shape but has been carefully conserved. The book itself is a first edition and is in quite good condition. Quoting from the dust cover:
STOPOVER: TOKYO brings to life with an electrical crackle of tension a struggle for supremacy in the neon-lighted maze of postwar Tokyo. More than sharing honors with Mr. Moto in the story are the young American Intelligence agent Jack Rhyce and his beautiful associate Ruth Bogart, also of Intelligence and posing as his secretary. Jack's mission: to break up a Communist espionage and terrorist ring in Tokyo known to be planning anti-American riots and political assassination.

Under the cover of working with a seemingly innocuous organization called the Asia Friendship League, Jack was to try to locate and silence Skirov, the Russian rumored to be masterminding the Communist secret apparatus. In addition, he was to find and put out of commission an unidentified American presumed to be next-in-command to Skirov. Reports had been received from certain left-wing sources that Skirov and the American were soon due to meet in Tokyo. When they did, the fireworks would start. It was up to Jack to keep them from going off.

Even in San Francisco, where Jack and Ruth first met, they realized that unknown parties were watching them. By the time their plane had landed in Tokyo they knew their chances of making a fatal mistake were dangerously increased by the fact that they were falling in love. And from Gibson, their Tokyo contact, they quickly found that the "harmless" Asia Friendship League was far less harmless than it seemed. Into an increasingly complex pattern of plot and counterplot slips a third character—the ubiquitous Mr. Moto. To Jack Rhyce he is not immediately recognizable as friend or enemy, but it is through his agency that the mounting pressure is brought to the danger point and the velvet Japanese night is made to erupt in violence.
Last week I watched all eight of the Mr. Moto movies starring Peter Lorre. The last of those was produced in 1939. In the films Moto works for the "International Police" or another employer rather than the Imperial government. I found they held up rather well for me as light entertainment. The books by Marquand, who was a serious novelist, are better, or at least that's how I remember them. It will be interesting to find out.

The Wikipedia entry on Moto — both the books and the films — is pretty good.

"If you tarry till you're better..."

A blogger I follow thought this a good hymn for Ash Wednesday,  "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy" (Joseph Hart, 1759):

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
A variation on the hymn by the Missouri All State Choir:

Monday, March 4, 2019


Tom Nichols tells us that while in Oxford he came across some previously unknown letters from Screwtape to his nephew. Wormwood has been reprieved and assigned to a subject in North America. I hope this won't be the only one of the newly discovered letters he will share:
My Dear Wormwood,

By now you know that it was only through my good offices that you have been released from the House of Incompetent Tempters so soon. For you, it has been an eternity, but your stay was shorter than you deserved, and you have me to thank for it.

Your letter of effusive gratitude is not only pointless but offensive. Yes, I secured your release because I am your uncle—a relationship I cannot escape, no matter how embarrassing your failures during your last posting on Earth. But Hell is built on realism, not emotion. The truth of the matter is that this current stage of our war with the Enemy is in a critical phase. We face dedicated counterattacks on all fronts. We have also, however, been faced with a flood of foolish souls who seek damnation in such numbers that we are nearly overwhelmed in our ability to escort them to Our Father Below in anything like an orderly fashion.

This is our good fortune, to be sure, but it has forced us to press back into service even such manifest failures as you. Do not for one moment believe that your return to duty reflects confidence in your abilities: your previous debacle in mid-20th century England, in which the Enemy relieved a man from your grasp before your very eyes, is a loss that even now rumbles the empty stomachs of your fellow devils.

I have therefore interceded with the Office of Tempter Assignments to send you to a battlefield on which even an idiot like you might succeed. .... (read it all)

Sunday, March 3, 2019


Re-posted because it's perfect:


From the beginning of an informative column by Matt Ridley in The Spectator, "Lying with science: a guide to myth debunking":
‘The whole aim of practical politics,’ wrote H.L. Mencken, ‘is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.’ Newspapers, politicians and pressure groups have been moving smoothly for decades from one forecast apocalypse to another (nuclear power, acid rain, the ozone layer, mad cow disease, nanotechnology, genetically modified crops, the millennium bug…) without waiting to be proved right or wrong.

Increasingly, in a crowded market for alarm, it becomes necessary to make the scares up. More and more headlines about medical or environmental panics are based on published scientific papers, but ones that are little more than lies laundered into respectability with a little statistical legerdemain. Sometimes, even the exposure of the laundered lies fails to stop the scare. Dr Andrew Wakefield was struck off in 2010 after the General Medical Council found his 1998 study in the Lancet claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism to be fraudulent. Yet Wakefield is now a celebrity anti-vaccine activist in the United States and has left his long-suffering wife for the supermodel Elle Macpherson. Anti-vax campaigning is a lucrative business.

Meanwhile, the notion that chemicals such as bisphenol A, found in plastics, are acting as ‘endocrine disruptors’, interfering with human hormones even at very low doses, started with an outright fraudulent study that has since been retracted. .... (much more)

Friday, March 1, 2019

St David's Day

Philip Jenkins on why we are certain March 1 was the day the patron saint of Wales died and why "death days" were so important:
St David's, Pembrokeshire, Wales
March 1 is the feast of David, the early medieval bishop and missionary who became patron saint of Wales. We actually know strikingly little of David apart from that date, of March 1, but I’m going to suggest that represents a good deal in its own right. ....

A death about 590 is a reasonable guess, but we could easily slip fifty years either way. Oddly though, we can be sure that he died on March 1, whether in (say) 532 or 632 AD. Through the Middle Ages, hagiography was a vast area of cultural effort, when almost any outrageous achievements could be credited to a saint. (No, David did not really make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was ordained by the Patriarch). The one thing that we know these writers did keep faithfully was the death day – the date not the year – because that marked the hero’s ascension to glory, the promotion to heaven. In a particular church or community, those days were critical, as marking the annual celebration of the beloved local saint.
Argue as much as you like, then, about precise years, achievements, martyrdoms and areas of activity, about the number of lepers cured and tyrants opposed – but don’t quarrel with death days.
Death days.
It’s an interesting term. I know my birthday. I also know that at some future point I will die, and that that will befall on a particular date. Let me be optimistic and assume that it will be a distant event, say on July 23, 2049. Each year, then, I pass through July 23 happily unaware that I am marking my Death Day, surely as significant a milestone as my birthday, but not one I can ever know with certainty until it occurs. Nor is it something we really ever contemplate, as we all know, in our hearts, that we are immortal.
I suppose though that it is something we can learn from those medieval monks, that the Death Day is not just a key event in anyone’s life, but literally the only one we can take with absolute confidence. [emphasis added]