Thursday, December 31, 2020


Wassail, wassail, to our town,
The cup is white, the ale is brown;
The cup is made of the ashen tree,
And so is your ale of the good barley.
Little maid, little maid, turn the pin,
Open the door and let us come in.
God be here, God be there,
I wish you all a happy New Year.
Note The Wassail Cup was a wooden cup (one rhyme says "made of the rosemary tree") of spiced ale, apples and sugar, which they drank at the New Year. The word Wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon Waes hal! be whole! — that is to say, good health to you! Children carried round a bunch of evergreens hung with apples, oranges and ribbons, called a Wessel-bob. "Turn the pin" means "unfasten the latch".

Cicely Mary Barker, The Children's Book of Rhymes

Looking ahead

Samuel Johnson, New Year, 1769:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, who hast continued my life from year to year, grant that by longer life I may become less desirous of sinful pleasures, and more careful of eternal happiness. As age comes upon me let my mind be more withdrawn from vanity and folly, more enlightened with the knowledge of Thy will, and more invigorated with resolution to obey it. O Lord, calm my thoughts, direct my desires, and fortify my purposes. If it shall please Thee give quiet to my latter days, and so support me with Thy grace that I may die in Thy favour for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020



Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning

....Is it okay to feel joy? Is it acceptable, when so many are suffering, that I am finding joy in additional time for stillness or for family? Is it wrong for me to discover that I am oddly joyful amid the isolation?

C.S. Lewis was right. Joy often comes as a surprise. It invades the most sorrowful spaces. It reminds us that beauty and goodness and life can grow even in the most unpromising soil.

Jesus cared about joy. He wished for our joy to “be complete.” Joyful mornings may be the best way to survive a long series of tearful nights.

Saturday, December 26, 2020


Chesterton on stifling disagreement:
CREEDS must disagree: it is the whole fun of the thing. If I think the universe is triangular, and you think it is square, there cannot be room for two universes. We may argue politely, we may argue humanely, we may argue with great mutual benefit; but, obviously, we must argue. Modern toleration is really a tyranny. It is a tyranny because it is a silence. To say that I must not deny my opponent's faith is to say I must not discuss it.... It is absurd to have a discussion on Comparative Religions if you don't compare them.
G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, Oct. 10, 1908.


One hundred years ago Hercule Poirot was introduced to readers in the United States. The book in which he first appears is The Mysterious Affair at Styles. From The Telegraph today:
...[D]uring the First World War, by which time [Agatha Christie] was married to her first husband Archie and working in a hospital dispensary at Torquay, she perceived a certain something in the properties of poisons that would form the nucleus of a murder plot.

She also considered the Belgian refugees who had been offered sanctuary in the town. “Why not make my detective a Belgian, I thought?” she wrote in her autobiography. “Hercule – Hercule Poirot. That was all right – settled, thank goodness.”

She envisaged him as neat, fussy, vain, his highly polished appearance the external expression of a clean, ordered brain. A fabulous line drawing, rather than a three-dimensional character, yet with an instant aliveness upon the page, and possessing the indefinable quality of connection with the reader. ....
The final Poirot wasn't published until 1975. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is now in the public domain and can be read online or downloaded.

Friday, December 25, 2020

The adventure of orthodoxy

.... People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so as exactly to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. .... It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom—that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.
G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy, Chapter VI (1908)

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2020


“Santa Claus” is an Anglo-Germanic rendition of “Saint Nicholas,” which is apt, because the original inspiration is a man named Nicholas who was a saint in the early Christian Church. He is believed to have been born in a Mediterranean village in a prosperous family that raised him in the faith – one of his uncles was a priest — and when his parents died, he followed his uncle’s vocational path while using his inheritance to help the needy.

Nicholas became a bishop in the church, which had not yet undergone the split between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox. Under the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian, Christians were widely persecuted; Nicholas was among those imprisoned, although not martyred, as were many early saints. He died of old age, beloved by his fellow believers and revered for his generosity. ....

In later years, Nicholas would be claimed as a patron saint by many people, especially sailors, as the miracles and good deeds credited to him piled up. In one reported act of kindness, he threw three bags of gold through the window of a house where a poor widower lived with three daughters who needed a dowry in order to marry. It is said that the bags of gold landed in stockings hanging by the chimney. Perhaps you see where this is going...

Nicholas died on Dec. 6 in the year 343 (Dec. 19 on the Julian calendar), and this anniversary became a day of celebration: St. Nicholas Day. In the ensuing centuries, Christianity spread throughout the remnants of the Roman Empire, and by the end of the first Christian millennium, Nicholas was the faith’s most popular saint. ....

It was the Dutch who brought this tradition to America. Here, it was refined many times again, first in print and ultimately by tens of thousands of mall Santas in identical red suits. The jolly old elf made his first appearance in a New York newspaper in 1773, three years before Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. ....

By 1821 an anonymous poem reaffirmed the gift-giving proclivities of “Santeclaus”.... Two years later, Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas was published. By 1863, America’s preeminent cartoonist and illustrator, Bavarian-born Thomas Nast, was drawing on his native culture to flesh out the images of Santa that dance in our heads to this day. .... (more)

Hearken all!

Ralph Vaughan Williams, "Herefordshire Carol," Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge:

This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love;
Therefore don’t turn me from your door,   
But hearken all both rich and poor.
And at that season of the year
Our blest Redeemer did appear;
He here did live, and here did preach,
And may thousands he did teach.
The first thing which I do relate
Is that God did man create;
The next thing which to you I’ll tell
Woman was made with man to dwell.
Thus He in love to us behaved,
To show us how we must be saved;
And if you want to know the way,
Be pleased to hear what He did say.
And we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose;
And so a promise soon did run
That He would redeem us by his Son.

There are more verses, including:

"Go preach the Gospel," now He said,
"To all the nations that are made!
And he that does believe on me,
From all his sins I'll set him free."

O seek! O seek of God above
That saving faith that works by love!
And, if He's pleased to grant thee this,
Thou'rt sure to have eternal bliss.

God grant to all within this place
True saving faith, that special grace
Which to His people doth belong:
And thus I close my Christmas song.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Remembering Christmas past

From The Pickwick Papers, Chapter XXVIII:
.... Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty; it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness; the old year was preparing, like an ancient philosopher, to call his friends around him, and amidst the sound of feasting and revelry to pass gently and calmly away. Gay and merry was the time; and right gay and merry were at least four of the numerous hearts that were gladdened by its coming.

And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How many families, whose members have been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then reunited, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual goodwill, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight; and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilised nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first joys of a future condition of existence, provided for the blessed and happy! How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of the hearts that throbbed so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstances connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday! Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home! ....
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, Chapter XXVIII.

"God rest Ye Merry"


Norman Rockwell, Christmas Trio, 1923

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Incarnation 2


Sean Morris is grateful for the hymns we sing during this season:
.... In addition to the Christmas hymns and carols being among the most beautiful, sing-able, and familiar, they are also among the most richly doctrinal and creedal. I know of no other time of the year where so many Evangelical and Protestant congregations (from all sections of the worship-style spectrum) are singing and meditating on such explicitly creedal confessions of the church and Scripture with such frequency and regularity. ....
For instance...
...[S]tanzas 2 and 3 of “Of The Father’s Love Begotten”:
O that birth forever blessed, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom heav’n-taught singers sang of old with one accord;
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!
...[I]f, as people of faith, our humanity is both blessed and in various degrees redeemed by the coming of a Savior who took on our humanity, then by all means, hymnody that extols such beautiful truths is worth singing and celebrating!  .... (more)

Monday, December 21, 2020


Once again: 


My song is love unknown, My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown, That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none the longed-for Christ would know:
But Oh! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Here might I stay and sing, No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King! Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Samuel Crossman, 1664

Sunday, December 20, 2020

"I also am a steward"

One of the groups I follow on Facebook is called "Christ & Tolkien" describing itself as "A group for all Christians — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, etc. — who love the works of Prof. J.R.R. Tolkien." Today it led me to an online conversation with Alan Jacobs during which he discovers the "Gandalf Option":
Well, yeah, I’m just inventing it right now. I hadn’t thought to call it this before, but it’s something I think about a lot. There is a point late in the Lord of the Rings where Gandalf is confronting Denethor, the steward of Gondor. And Denethor thinks that Gandalf wants to be the one to rule Gondor. Gandalf tries very hard to be patient with Denethor, and he says, “Denethor, my lord steward, you need to understand something. The rule of no realm is mine, neither Gondor nor anywhere else. It’s not what I do. I’m not here to rule. I am here to try to nourish and to care for all the good things that I find in this world.” He says, “When I come across something that is alive and is capable of bearing beauty, then I want to nurture that, and that is my call.” And if through this whole mess and misery that they were going through at the time, he says, “If anything survives that can flower and bear fruit in the days after, then my work will not have been in vain.” And then he says to Denethor, “For I also am a steward.” I love that line. Honestly, if I were going to define my calling in just a few sentences, it would be those sentences. And I think that’s what we should be doing. We get so caught up in fighting against all the things that we believe to be wicked and destructive that we fail to nourish and care for and strengthen, to feed and water the gardens that we hope will produce fruit for our children and our grandchildren. I think that is the great failing of the church in the West—that we go out charging into battle, but we forget to care for our own gardens. So that’s my option. My option is the Gandalf Option. I’ve never said those words exactly that way, but I probably will use them from now on.
Online Conversation | Crisis & Christian Humanism with Alan Jacobs

Losing the ability to think

Alan Jacobs on two of C.S. Lewis's essays, "The Inner Ring" and "Membership":
“The Inner Ring” is about how you lose your ability to think when you are connected to the wrong people. That is, when you are connected to people whose approval you desire, but who demand from you obedience and strict adherence to a narrow set of ideas, you will not learn to think well. In fact, you will stop thinking, because thinking might alienate you from that inner ring that you so desperately want to belong to. By contrast, when he talks about membership, he explores St. Paul’s notion of the many members of the body of Christ, the many organs of the body of Christ. What is essential to understanding those organs of the body is that each of them has a distinctive function. Therefore, there is an extraordinary diversity among them. But all of them are contributing to the health of the body. And when that’s the case, you don’t expect everyone to sound exactly like you who is a member of the same body. You expect there to be some degree of difference. You expect them to have some variety of possibilities that each of them is embodying—all of which are measured by the way that they contribute to the overall health of the body. ....
Online Conversation | Crisis & Christian Humanism with Alan Jacobs

Saturday, December 19, 2020


This is the time of year when various publications ask their contributors to list the best books they've read in the past twelve months. I enjoyed reading the contributions here, among which, a few of the books I know and like:
  • Much Obliged, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse. Never was such beautiful English prose expended on such seemingly inconsequential stories as in the works of P.G. Wodehouse. And yet the reader of depth and sensitivity will discover that there are treasures to be discovered in the bromidic adventures of Bertie Wooster: joy, the interplay of order and disorder, the last vestiges of a truly Christian culture, and self-sacrificial loyalty to one’s family and friends. Much Obliged, Jeeves is not my favorite Jeeves novel, but it was still a delight to read.
  • The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis. This defense of objective truth, particularly in the form of Natural Law and universal human values, showcases Lewis’ gift for condensing a tremendous amount of learning and philosophical insight into succinct and accessible prose. Much of this brief volume defends the notion of reality as received rather than something man shapes by means of science, technology, or social convention.
  • The Hornblower Series – CS Forester. Never could I have believed that I could get so obsessed with a story about a young seafarer’s adventures on the high seas, but I have got completely hooked on this series, which tells the tale of a young midshipman who joins the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and rises through the ranks, facing adventure, love, companionship and peril at every turn. Compulsive reading and perfect escapism during this most trying of years.
  • The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, by Dorothy Sayers. I read Whose Body?, Clouds of Witness, Unnatural Death, Strong Poison, Five Red Herrings, Have His Carcase, Nine Tailors, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon. For complex plots, delightful prose, and charming leads, Sayers is hard to beat.
  • Out of a Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis. I started these novels in order to think about what an unfallen race might look like, especially what unfallen sex might look like. Out of a Silent Planet is rather profound, and Augustinian, on this question. The stories are alternatively riveting and theologically satisfying.
  • Fear nothing

    In the House of Tom Bombadil:
    ...Pippin lay dreaming pleasantly; but a change came over his dreams and he turned and groaned. Suddenly he woke, or thought he had waked, and yet still heard in the darkness the sound that had disturbed his dream: tip-tap, squeak; the noise was like branches fretting in the wind, twig-fingers scraping wall and window: creak, creak, creak. He wondered if there were willow-trees close to the house; and then suddenly he had a dreadful feeling that he was not in an ordinary house at all, but inside the willow and listening to that horrible dry creaking voice laughing at him again. He sat up, and felt the soft pillows yield to his hands, and he lay down again relieved. He seemed to hear the echo of words in his ears: 'Fear nothing! Have peace until the morning! Heed no nightly noises!' Then he went to sleep again.
    J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 7.

    Thursday, December 17, 2020

    A soundtrack

    The Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released to theaters twenty years ago. It's one of the brothers' best and its soundtrack was enormously successful, too. T Bone Burnett produced the music, as he had also done for The Big Lebowski. The soundtrack helped revive interest in bluegrass. An essay about the music, "O Brother, Where Aren’t Thou?: The Two-Decade Cultural Impact of ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’" concludes with a quotation from Burnett:
    The thing that has stuck with me the most over the how many people have told me that they’ve played these songs at their weddings and at family members’ funerals and all these other major life events. Or that they remember their grandfather playing one of these songs on the front porch when they used to go visit him when they were children. These songs have entered so many personal lives at important moments and people seem really happy to have both those old reminders and the new memories. Something I always tell the artists I work with is that the song’s arrow shouldn’t point to themselves, it should point to the listener. Every time someone tells me a personal story about a touching moment involving a song from O Brother, then I’m reminded that we were successful at the most important thing.

    "O Brother, Where Aren’t Thou?: The Two-Decade Cultural Impact of ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’

    Monday, December 14, 2020

    "Good science"

    From an important essay, "Why Did So Many Doctors Become Nazis?":
    .... The Nazi euthanasia campaign was publicly justified with four main arguments. First, ridding Germany of the unfit was simply “good science.” Who better to determine what constituted good science than German physicians, who were already the best in the world? The experts knew what was best for the German body.

    Second, euthanasia was deemed humane. Since it was supported and implemented by a profession with a long tradition of healing and caring, the argument was even more persuasive. Pediatric euthanasia was often supported by many parents of disabled children for this reason; yet, with mixed motivation, for many wanted to avoid the strong stigma of having a disabled child. This conflict of interest shows how medical culture can influence the ethics of both individuals and society at large. ....

    By the end of the “T4” program to euthanize disabled adults and children, between 70,000 and 100,000 persons had lost their lives; stigma against the vulnerable in attitude and language had become codified in law. According to Proctor, these three programs—forced sterilization of the “unfit,” the Nuremberg Laws, and the euthanasia laws—were the primary means the Nazi physicians and scientists used to accomplish “racial hygiene,” and led directly to the technological and medical surge responsible for genocide at the death camps. ....

    The physicians who actively aided the Holocaust believed that they were practicing “good science.” But scientific truth alone does not “grasp” the reality of life, and if we believe it so, we are further on the road to what the late Jean Bethke-Elshtain called “scientific fundamentalism.” Physicians and health care professionals must, therefore, remember the Holocaust, but remember, as Pope John Paul II said on his visit to Yad Vashem, to “remember with a purpose.” ....

    ...[S]ociety is created for the person, not the person for society, and hence the dignity and integrity of the person and her freedom cannot be sacrificed for the sake of society. No contingent factor—race, religion, economic status, disability, or actions of the past, present or future—can rob a person the dignity she is owed. ....

    .... Targeted abortion for unborn children with genetic conditions such as trisomy 21 and cystic fibrosis have reduced populations by more than 90%, and are justified on utilitarian grounds. But if a person is the fundamental unit of value of our society, then no “other good” can eclipse her. Politically, legally, and medically, this would mean an expansive and firm definition of person, for it is a far smaller risk to give protection to an entity where personhood is possible, than to destroy the life a person who in the end deserved our protection. ....  (much more)
    Why Did So Many Doctors Become Nazis?

    Sunday, December 13, 2020

    Espionage and counter-espionage

    David Cornwell, who wrote as John le Carré, died yesterday. I've read quite a few of his books. My favorite was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the first of a trilogy involving a Soviet master spy known as Karla. Two of the books in that trilogy, Tinker, Tailor... and Smiley's People were turned into very good BBC series starring Alec Guinness as Smiley. The John le Carré obituary in the Washington Post included this:
    In Tinker Tailor, Smiley seeks to find a “mole” — a double agent answering to Moscow — in the British intelligence service. Mr. le Carré based the plot on the real-life double agent Kim Philby, who fled to the Soviet Union after being unmasked.

    “It’s the oldest question in the world, George,” a government official tells Smiley, luring him out of retirement. “Who can spy on the spies?”

    The story is taut and filled with treachery, but the book is also a revealing study of the various suspects — and of Smiley himself, who learns during his investigation that his wife has had an affair with the mole.

    Back in the clandestine chase, Smiley returns to his well-practiced habits of suspicion:
    What of the shadow he never saw, only felt, till his back seemed to tingle with the intensity of his watcher’s gaze; he saw nothing, heard nothing, only felt. He was too old not to heed the warning. The creak of a stair that had not creaked before; the rustle of a shutter when no wind was blowing; the car with a different number plate but the same scratch on the offside wing; the face on the Metro that you know you have seen somewhere before: for years at a time these were signs he had lived by; any one of them was reason enough to move, change towns, identities. For in that profession there is no such thing as coincidence.
    The books and the two TV mini-series with Guinness are very good, although the series might be thought a bit slow today. I've posted on the first before. I didn't care for the more recent film.

    Disguised as the Holy Ghost

    Walter Hooper sought out essays C.S. Lewis had written for occasional publications and collected many he found in God in the Dock (1970). Today I read Lewis's "Meditation on the Third Commandment" (1941) and some passages seemed particularly relevant to my last post. Lewis is responding to a proposal for an explicitly Christian political party.
    .... By the mere act of calling itself the Christian Party it implicitly accuses all Christians who do not join it of apostasy and betrayal. It will be exposed, in an aggravated degree, to that temptation which the Devil spares none of us at any time — the temptation of claiming for our favourite opinions that kind and degree of certainty and authority which really belongs only to our Faith. The danger of mistaking our merely natural, though perhaps legitimate, enthusiasms for holy zeal, is always great. .... The demon inherent in every party is at all times ready enough to disguise himself as the Holy Ghost.... And when once the disguise has succeeded, his commands will presently be taken to abrogate all moral laws and to justify whatever the unbelieving allies of the 'Christian' Party wish to do. If ever Christian men can be brought to think treachery and murder the lawful means of establishing the regime they desire, and faked trials, religious persecution and organized hooliganism the lawful means of maintaining it, it will, surely, be by just such a process as this. The history of the late medieval pseudo-Crusader, of the Covenanters, of the Orangemen, should be remembered. On those who add 'Thus said the Lord' to their merely human utterances descends the doom of a conscience which seems clearer and clearer the more it is loaded with sin.

    All this comes from pretending that God has spoken when He has not spoken. ....
    C.S. Lewis, "Meditation on the Third Commandment," God in the Dock, 1970.


    Alan Jacobs may or may not have in mind the insanity that happened in Washington yesterday (see here and here) but I thought his post this morning relevant to much that was said there:
    There is no infallible means for discerning when a religious believer has been spoken to, directly and personally, by God. However, there is a reliable way to disconfirm such a claim. When a person demands that other people immediately accept that he has been spoken to by God, and treats with insult and contempt those who do not acknowledge his claim to unique revelation, then we can be sure that no genuine message has been received, and that the voice echoing in that person’s mind is not that of God but that of his own ego.
    Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God:
    because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
    1 John 4:1 (KJV)

    Friday, December 11, 2020


    Via Touchstone Magazine:
    ...Our intellects stammer and boggle when they try to reach the truth about Divine things, not because the other world is a reflection of ours, but because ours is a reflection, and how pale a reflection, of the other. That was what our Lord wanted us to see when he turned our metaphors, even, inside out for us, as you may read in St. John. The water in Jacob's well isn't real water; the real water is the living fountain of grace which he will unseal for the woman of Samaria, if she will only stop to listen. The vine that grows on yonder wall is not a real vine; the only real Vine is his own mystical body. The things we see and touch are only the shadows cast by eternal truth. What marvel if we, to whom shadow is substance, cannot raise our minds to contemplate the substance by which the shadow is cast?....”

    Ronald A. Knox The Hidden Stream, chapter 4, "Our Knowledge of God by Analogy" (1953)

    "With a twist of Christianity..."

    Ben Sixsmith, in The Spectator, on "The sad irony of celebrity pastors":
    Making yourself a very public representative of God, rather than a humble messenger, is a dangerous business when you are — like all of us — a very flawed human being. When you add in all the sweet temptations of wealth and fame, that becomes especially true. If you put yourself up on a pedestal you have further to fall, and when you are a religious authority, unlike an artist, or an athlete, or even a politician, your rectitude is your only excuse for being there. ....

    I am not religious, so it is not my place to dictate to Christians what they should and should not believe. Still, if someone has a faith worth following, I feel that their beliefs should make me feel uncomfortable for not doing so. If they share 90 percent of my lifestyle and values, then there is nothing especially inspiring about them. Instead of making me want to become more like them, it looks very much as if they want to become more like me. That, sadly, appears to have been true of Lentz and his celebrity acquaintances.
    The sad irony of celebrity pastors

    Thursday, December 10, 2020

    “What matters is the size of the pastor’s ego”

    From a review of a new book about the qualities of a healthy church:
    For a church to be a place where the truth is proclaimed, it must be a church that pursues justice rather than loyalty to the leader. Too many pastors have placed a premium on loyalty, but a church pursuing a goodness culture “will be filled with courageous people who do the right thing,” people who aren’t afraid to take hits and go against their leaders. A church where a goodness culture prevails is also a church oriented around service rather than celebrity. Rather than focusing on leadership it is a church that cultivates followers of Christ—a Christ who, in the words of the apostle Paul, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

    Lest the focus on Bill Hybels or James MacDonald or, as of this past week, Carl Lentz, mislead readers, Barringer and McKnight make clear that neither the size nor the prominence of the church makes a difference in this equation. “What matters is the size of the pastor’s ego.” But this isn’t just a problem of outsized egos. The crisis pertains to an entire religious culture. ....
    Confronting Toxic Christianity

    Tuesday, December 8, 2020

    "Rubbing off on one another"

    Via an article in Dissent, Ralph Ellison (1914-1994), "in a review of a book about music and race in America," on "cultural appropriation":
    It is here, on the level of culture...that elements of the many available tastes, traditions, ways of life, and values that make up the total culture have been ceaselessly appropriated and made their own—consciously, unselfconsciously, or imperialistically—by groups and individuals to whose own backgrounds and traditions they are historically alien. Indeed, it was through this process of cultural appropriation (and misappropriation) that Englishmen, Europeans, Africans, and Asians became Americans.

    The Pilgrims began by appropriating the agricultural, military and meteorological lore of the Indians, including much of their terminology. The Africans, thrown together from numerous ravaged tribes, took up the English language and the biblical legends of the ancient Hebrews and were “Americanizing” themselves long before the American Revolution...

    Everyone played the appropriation game...Americans seem to have sensed intuitively that the possibility of enriching the individual self by such pragmatic and opportunistic appropriations has constituted one of the most precious of their many freedoms.... [I]n this country things are always all shook up, so that people are constantly moving around and rubbing off on one another culturally.
    All Shook Up: The Politics of Cultural Appropriation

    Fairy tales

    This morning via a blog I read every day I discovered that the CS Lewis Society of California has collected links to articles by and about CSL. I spent some time re-reading "On Three Ways of Writing for Children," originally an address (1952) collected in Of Other Worlds (1966). That book also includes "On Stories" and other essays about writing, one of which is "It All Began With a Picture..." explaining how the Narnia tales originated. Some excerpts from "On Three Ways...":
    Where the children's story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that, will read the story or re-read it, at any age. I never met The Wind in the Willows or the Bastable books till I was in my late twenties, and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account. I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last. ....

    Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development: When I was ten I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. ....

    I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them [than fairy tales]. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did. All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infinitely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations. ....

    ...[F]airy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. This is a special kind of longing. The boy reading the school story of the type I have in mind desires success and is unhappy (once the book is over) because he can't get it: the boy reading the fairy tale desires and is happy in the very fact of desiring. For his mind has not been concentrated on himself, as it often is in the more realistic story. ....

    A far more serious attack on the fairy tale as children's literature comes from those who do not wish children to be frightened. I suffered too much from night-fears myself in childhood to undervalue this objection. I would not wish to heat the fires of that private hell for any child. On the other hand, none of my fears came from fairy tales. .... Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened. .... (more)

    Monday, December 7, 2020

    "A date which will live in infamy"

    Seventy-nine years ago today the Japanese attacked targets all across the Pacific including Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where the US Pacific fleet was based. The attack was devastating, sinking or damaging eight battleships, three cruisers and three destroyers. 2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded. It was a surprise attack on a nation at peace. The next day President Roosevelt went before Congress to ask for a Declaration of War:
    Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

    The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. ....

    The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

    Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

    Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

    Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

    Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

    Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

    And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island. ....

    "A Date Which Will Live in Infamy": FDR Asks for a Declaration of War

    Till then

    Tim Challies' college age son, Nick, died recently. Today he writes about him in "Goodnight Till Then," referring to the refrain of an old hymn, unfamiliar to me, that I suspect was most often sung at funerals.

    I journey forth rejoicing
    From this dark vale of tears;
    To heav’nly joy and freedom,
    From earthly bonds and fears;
    Where Christ, our Lord, shall gather
    All his redeemed again,
    His kingdom to inherit,
    Good night, till then!
    Good night, good night, good night till then!
    I go to see his glory,
    Whom we have loved below;
    I go, the blessed angels,
    The holy saints to know,
    Our lovely ones departed,
    I go to find again;
    I wait for you to join us,
    Good night, till then!
    Good night, good night, good night till then!
    Why thus so sadly weeping,
    Beloved ones of my heart?
    The Lord is good and gracious,
    Tho’ now he bids us part;
    Oft have we met in gladness,
    And we shall meet again,
    All sorrow left behind us,
    Good night, till then!
    Good night, good night, good night till then!
    I hear the Saviour calling—
    The joyful hour is come;
    The angel-guards are ready,
    To guide me to our home,
    Where Christ, our Lord, shall gather
    All his redeemed again,
    His kingdom to inherit,
    Good night, till then!
    Good night, good night, good night till then!

    Sunday, December 6, 2020

    No fate worse than death

    I have barely begun reading Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All Is Lost and haven't even reached the first chapter. From the Introduction:
    Latter-day sensibility, and a loss of faith in traditional Western religions, has decreed that there is, literally, not a fate worse than death. We have, in our wisdom, transformed our short span of existence into a kind of living Purgatory, where life itself is misery and palliative surcease can only be found via drugs, sex, or therapy. That there might exist a teleologically aspirational end state is unthinkable; past and future have vanished, to be replaced by an eternally torturous present that can only be endured, and not transformed. Death becomes no one; if there is nothing worth living for, except for the sake of living, then what is worth dying for? ....

    In an age of victimhood and identity politics, heroism is increasingly regarded as an antiquated relic of the "patriarchy" as if, historically at least, there had ever been an alternative. Is it "racist" to sacrifice yourself for your own kind rather than submit to the sword of the alien enemy seeking to supplant you? By regarding all cultures as equal, or even superior, to one's own, has not treason therefore become the highest form of patriotism? The cultural-Marxist import of "Critical Theory" would have us ask these questions, not to illuminate the moral issues, which have long since been decided, but to sow doubt about our most basic social concepts: a pacifist, post-Christian, feminized West seemingly can no longer take its own side in a quarrel. Accommodation, inclusivity, tolerance, and, above all, shame have become the new watchwords. In a politically correct culture, only a fool would sacrifice himself for something as fashionably objectionable as the traditional nuclear family or as base as personal honor. ....

    If the importance of the individual is central to the social and political meaning of the West, if we are not to be cogs in a wheel or clerks in a gigantic post office, then our fates as free and autonomous men and women are what must most concern us—far more than the static and sometimes destructive collectivism that seeks to supplant our agency. Western art and culture is the story of heroes, not groups. What may seem today to be antiquated concepts of honor, virtue, glory, and the chivalric protection of women and children we forsake at our existential peril. The great stories of our patrimony are the stories of heroes, generally martial, not diplomats or committees. What features do these stories have in common? The first is the embrace (often, at first, reluctant) of a great cause, one that allows, or propels, the individual into the service of his people. Concomitant with this commitment is the hero's acceptance that he may have to give his life in this endeavor, that there are some things, big things, worth dying for so that others might live, or live freely. Self-sacrifice is, after all, the ultimate sacrifice. ....

    Prelude on Three Welsh Hymn Tunes

    Saturday, December 5, 2020

    Thought precedes action

    The current issue of National Review celebrates the magazine's sixty-fifth anniversary. It does so by publishing essays by many of today's best conservative writers. One of them, Robert P. George, a professor at Princeton, quotes the 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine predicting, in 1834, what would happen in a post-Christian Germany (and it did come to pass in Germany in the 20th century).  George thinks it might also have some application to America today.
    Christianity, and this is its greatest merit, has somewhat mitigated the brutal Ger­man love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which the Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman [the cross, Christianity] is fragile. And the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then the ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes. And then Thor, with his giant hammer, will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals.

    Do not smile at my advice, the advice of a dreamer who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, and philosophers of nature. Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible that has already taken place in the realm of the spirit. Thought precedes action, as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder is of true Teutonic character. It is not nimble, but rumbles ponderously. Yet it will come. And when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the history of the world, then you will know that the German thunderbolt has fallen. At that uproar, the eagles of the air will drop dead. The lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.
    Heinrich Heine’s Prophecy of Nazism

    Check your attic

    In The Telegraph today: "Classic books are selling for thousands – is there a fortune hidden on your children’s shelves?" (almost certainly behind a subscription wall):
    Classic children’s books that have captivated young readers for generations are now in high demand among adult collectors, who are willing to pay thousands of pounds for pristine copies and rare editions. ....

    Collectors are increasingly willing to spend thousands of pounds for rare copies in top shape. A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone sold for £60,000 at Hansons auction house in Staffordshire in October. Cheffins, a Cambridge auctioneer, sold a first edition copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis for £1,900 and first editions of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy for £3,200. ....
    Not mine
    Mr Ashton said the works of Beatrix Potter and CS Lewis had stood the test of time and remained highly desirable. More recent works such as the Asterix series, by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, as well as Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and titles by Roald Dahl were also rising in popularity among book dealers. ....

    Mr Ashton urged people to check their homes to see if they owned any hidden gems. “Many of us have children’s books that have been cleared away into cardboard boxes and consigned to the loft, so it could be worth checking these out to see if there are any first editions lurking, which could be worth into the thousands,” he said.
    "Classic books are selling for thousands – is there a fortune hidden on your children’s shelves?"

    Thursday, December 3, 2020

    Why change the words?

    Jonathan Aigner argues against changing the words of traditional hymns in "7 Reasons to Stop Changing Words to Beloved Hymns." An example:
    “Archaic” language is beautiful and thoroughly understandable.
    “But won’t it make worship awkward for young people?!?”

    This is one of the stupidest arguments imaginable. My parents don’t use “thee” and “thou” in conversation. Neither did my grandparents or great-grandparents, that I’m aware of. But singing text such as, “Thee will I honor,” wasn’t too difficult for them to understand. So, pray tell, why are young people too stupid to understand this today, while previous generations understood it intuitively?

    In reality, at the time when many of these texts were authored, this so-called “archaic language” was not in common everyday usage. While undoubtedly being influenced by the King James Version, it also preserved a sense of distance and awe before Almighty God. Jesus isn’t your buddy, and God isn’t your “daddy” (no, Abba doesn’t mean “daddy”). While it is certainly not an absolute requirement to use deeper English in prayer and praise, the fact that some of the most beautiful and profound hymn texts use it should not be a hindrance. This isn’t a foreign language. It’s not even “old” English.

    In trying to make church easier, we’ve made it both dumber and more complicated for ourselves. .... (more)

    7 Reasons to Stop Changing Words to Beloved Hymns

    Tuesday, December 1, 2020

    When there is no hope

    I think I'll order this book. Sounds like a good read. A couple of the reviews quoted at Amazon:
    “An unrelenting and rousing account of one of humanity’s most laudable wartime phenomena, and a book that hurls a gauntlet at the feet of a contemporary culture which, despite our living in a world that is still violently challenging, fails to find nobility in self-sacrifice. It engages in the very best sense: every reader will find something to agree with and something to argue against in these pages―but isn’t that the true meaning of 'provocative?' Walsh wanders through his comprehensive roster of quixotic military adventures with youthful enthusiasm, lyrical style, and academic ease; and Last Stands is a promise to heroism fulfilled.”
    Caleb Carr, New York Times bestselling author of The Alienist and Surrender, New York

    "Last Stands is a thoroughly original study of doomed or trapped soldiers often fighting to the last man, from Thermopylae to the Korean War. But Michael Walsh’s book is more than a military history of heroic resistance. It is also a philosophical and spiritual defense of the premodern world, of the tragic view, of physical courage, and of masculinity and self-sacrifice in an age when those ancient virtues are too often caricatured and dismissed. A much needed essay on why rare men would prefer death to dishonor, and would perish in the hope that others thereby might live."
    Victor Davis Hanson, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of The Second World Wars

    "In Last Stands, Michael Walsh examines ferocious truths―about war and human nature, about men in battle, about courage in the face of hopelessness, about honor, duty, sacrifice, and the profound respect that masculinity may command. Last Stands, a work of scholarship and fine storytelling, is a grimly riveting study of the realities of Horace's Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."
    Lance Morrow
    Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All Is Lost