Friday, December 31, 2021

For those we've known and loved

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and days of auld lang syne?

Peggy Noonan, in 2011, on the song:
"Auld Lang Syne"—the phrase can be translated as "long, long ago," or "old long since," but I like "old times past"—is a song that asks a question, a tender little question that has to do with the nature of being alive, of being a person on a journey in the world. It not only asks, it gives an answer.

It was written, or written down, by Robert Burns, lyric poet and Bard of Scotland. In 1788 he sent a copy of the poem to the Scots Musical Museum, with the words: "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, has never been in print." Burns was interested in the culture of Scotland, and collected old folk tales and poems. He said he got this one "from an old man"—no one knows who—and wrote it down. Being a writer, Burns revised and compressed. He found the phrase auld lang syne "exceedingly expressive" and thought whoever first wrote the poem "heaven inspired." The song spread throughout Scotland, where it was sung to mark the end of the old year, and soon to the English-speaking world, where it's sung to mark the new.

The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn't be. We'll remember those times and those people, we'll toast them now and always, we'll keep them close. "We'll take a cup of kindness yet." .... [more]
SHOULD auld acquaintance be forgot,    
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne

And here 's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae rin about the braes,
And pu'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.
And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine;
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
We twa hae paidl't i' the burn,
Frae mornin' sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd      
Sin' auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

Days of Auld Lang What?

Tuesday, December 28, 2021


Dec. 28, The Massacre of the Holy Innocents:
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. (Matt. 2:13-18 KJV)
The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, Gustave Dore
ALMIGHTY God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify Thee by their deaths; Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by Thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify Thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, December 27, 2021

"The only real and abiding pleasure..."

A quotation from Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse:
Among the compensations of advancing age is a wholesome pessimism, which, though it takes the fine edge off of whatever triumphs may come to us, has the admirable effect of preventing Fate from working off on us any of those gold bricks, coins with strings attached, and unhatched chickens, at which ardent youth snatches with such enthusiasm, to its subsequent disappointment. As we emerge from the twenties we grow into a habit of mind that looks askance at Fate bearing gifts. We miss, perhaps, the occasional prize, but we also avoid leaping light-heartedly into traps.

As we grow older and realize more clearly the limitations of human happiness, we come to see that the only real and abiding pleasure in life is to give pleasure to other people.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Mass murder

On the thirtieth anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and on the 128th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong, an important reminder—some things that should not be forgotten.

In the 20th century the selected governments below, within their own countries, quite apart from war, killed their own subjects in massive numbers:
USSR between 1917 and 1987 — 61,911,000
People’s Republic of China between 1949 and 1987 — 35,326,000
Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945 — 20,946,000
Nationalist China between 1928 and 1949 — 10,075,000
169 million in total were killed by the government ruling them in the last century. 37.4 million more were killed in wars — some started by these same regimes. The statistics come from R.J. Rummel's Death by Government published in 1994 (revised in 1997). There has been a lot of killing of people by their own governments since then.
China's leadership, today, honors Mao, and is genocidal.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Friday, December 24, 2021

Joan Didion on "The Alamo"

Joan Didion died yesterday, age 87. For a time in the '50s and '60s she wrote for National Review and they have made some of those writings available as pdfs. From her review of John Wayne's The Alamo (1960):
.... About forty-five minutes into The Alamo, a man appears on that immense Todd-AO horizon. He smiles. He moves his shoulders a little. He says "Les-go" or something like it; who cares what he says? He goes riding through the tall grass down to San Antonio, right off the top of the screen, and you are, if you are like me, lost, lost forever. It is John Wayne. It might be Clark Gable. appearing in a white linen suit amid the flaming ruin of Atlanta to carry Scarlett home to Tara; it might be the purr of an American plane—always distinguishable from Axis planes, which had engines that whined—coming in overhead just as the rations run out in a World War II movie. From then on, the ball game's over. At least it was for me. I wept as Wayne told his Mexican inamorata How A Man's Gotta Live. I wept as he explained why Republic Is A Beautiful Word. I wept throughout the siege of the mission; there was no use in my companion's trying to amuse me by pointing out that it had just come home to Richard Widmark, although the problem had been under discussion on screen for some three hours, that "WE NEED MORE MEN!"

I was inconsolable by the time the battle was done, and Wayne lay on the cold cold ground, bleeding as no one has bled since Janet Leigh in Psycho. The last white woman walked out of the Alamo then. She had soot on her face, and she was carrying her child, and she held her head high as she walked past Santa Anna into the sunset. So conspicuous was my sniffling by then that you could scarcely hear the snickers from my neighbors, a couple of young men from Esquire, both of whom resembled Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

They don't make 'em like Duke on the New Frontiers.
Joan Didion, “Wayne at the Alamo” — December 31, 1960 (pdf)

Two Christmas prayers

From The Book of Common Prayer, a prayer for Christmas Day:
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us Thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made Thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by Thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end.  Amen.
And from The Book of Common Worship (Presbyterian Board of Publication), 1906:
O ALMIGHTY God, who by the birth of Thy Holy One into the world didst give Thy true light to dawn upon our darkness; Grant that as Thou hast given us to believe in the mystery of His incarnation, and hast made us partakers of the divine nature, so in the world to come we may ever abide with Him, in the glory of His kingdom; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep"

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863, during the Civil War:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
  And wild and sweet
  The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!   
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
  And made forlorn
  The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,   
The belfries of all Christendom
  Had rolled along
  The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
  "For hate is strong,
  And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
  A voice, a chime,
  A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
  The Wrong shall fail,
  The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
  And with the sound
  The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

"How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die"

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.
If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God's Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have seen it, 'cause he was the King
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Christmas Eve at Mole End

From The Wind in the Willows, Christmas at Mole End:
"What's up?" inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.

"I think it must be the field-mice," replied the Mole, with a touch of pride in his manner. "They go round carol-singing regularly at this time of the year. They're quite an institution in these parts. And they never pass me over—they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will be like old times to hear them again."

"Let's have a look at them!" cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the door.

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the forecourt, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, "Now then, one, two, three!" and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry streets to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.

Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet—
You by the fire and we in the street
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison—
Bliss to-morrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow—
Saw the star o'er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
"Who were the first to cry Nowell?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning."
The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong glances, and silence succeeded—but for a moment only. Then, from up above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

"Very well sung, boys!" cried the Rat heartily. "And now come along in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something hot!"
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, Chapter Five: "Dulce Domum"

Monday, December 20, 2021

St. Nick

"Merry Old Santa," Thomas Nast, 1881
“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)

My favorite Santa Claus, from St. Nicholas magazine, December, 1916,  

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Christmas card, 2021

I used this card once before but I like it, so again:


"This is my Friend..."

I have loved this, for the words as much or more than the performance, ever since I first heard it::

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

"Speaking truthfully about God"

From an interesting essay about orthodox Trinitarianism:
.... A feature common to both liberal and evangelical systematic theology in recent years has been a pragmatic focus: Theology is valued not for what we learn from it about the being of God, but for how it helps us have better marriages, better ecclesiology, better political systems, and so on. Theological doctrines and systems must prove their usefulness to be accepted.

Theological pragmatism arises as we lose confidence in the possibility of speaking truthfully about God in himself. ....

I now realize that, in this modern sense, Nicene theology is gloriously useless. The purpose of ­theology is to speak truthfully about God, to purify our ideas of God so that we can enjoy him. It is to enable the rational worship of God, which is polluted by idols (1 John 5:21). In other words, theology has no pragmatic purpose in the way moderns think of it. A good theologian is not one who tries to imagine how theological statements might have some practical usefulness for human projects, but rather one who seeks to contemplate, and to bring others to contemplate, the beauty of God’s being for its own sake. (more)
"The Decline of Nicene Orthodoxy," First Things," January, 2022.

Monday, December 13, 2021

"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God"

George Frideric Handel's Messiah was originally an Easter offering. It burst onto the stage of Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The audience swelled to a record 700, as ladies had heeded pleas by management to wear dresses "without Hoops" in order to make "Room for more company." Handel's superstar status was not the only draw; many also came to glimpse the contralto, Susannah Cibber, then embroiled in a scandalous divorce.

The men and women in attendance sat mesmerized from the moment the tenor followed the mournful string overture with his piercing opening line: "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." Soloists alternated with wave upon wave of chorus, until, near the midway point, Cibber intoned: "He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." So moved was the Rev. Patrick Delany that he leapt to his feet and cried out: "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!" ....

...[W]here Bach's oratorios exalted God, Handel was more concerned with the feelings of mortals. "Even when the subject of his work is religious, Handel is writing about the human response to the divine," says conductor Bicket. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Messiah. "The feelings of joy you get from the Hallelujah choruses are second to none," says conductor Cummings. "And how can anybody resist the Amen chorus at the end? It will always lift your spirits if you are feeling down."

Handel composed Messiah in an astounding interlude, somewhere between three and four weeks in August and September 1741. "He would literally write from morning to night," says Sarah Bardwell of the Handel House Museum in London. The text was prepared in July by the prominent librettist, Charles Jennens, and was intended for an Easter performance the following year. "I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excel all his former Compositions, as the Subject excels every other Subject," Jennens wrote to a friend. ....

Other Handel oratorios had strong plots anchored by dramatic confrontations between leading characters. But Messiah offered the loosest of narratives: the first part prophesied the birth of Jesus Christ; the second exalted his sacrifice for humankind; and the final section heralded his Resurrection. ....

There is little doubt about Handel's own fondness for the work. His annual benefit concerts for his favorite charity—London's Foundling Hospital, a home for abandoned and orphaned children—always included Messiah. And, in 1759, when he was blind and in failing health, he insisted on attending an April 6 performance of Messiah at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden. Eight days later, Handel died at home. ....

Mozart paid Handel the supreme compliment of reorchestrating Messiah in 1789. Even Mozart, however, confessed himself to be humble in the face of Handel's genius. He insisted that any alterations to Handel's score should not be interpreted as an effort to improve the music. "Handel knows better than any of us what will make an effect," Mozart said. "When he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt." (more)
My favorite recording is Handel: Messiah, conducted by Trevor Pinnock. There are undoubtedly newer performances I would enjoy as much.

The Glorious History of Handel's Messiah- page 1 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Sunday, December 12, 2021

"The past is a foreign country"

Dominic Sandbrook in "Make History Great Again!" certainly understands what got a young me interested in history:
.... History isn’t about you; that’s what makes it history. It’s about somebody else, living in an entirely different moral and intellectual world. It’s a drama in which you’re not present, reminding you of your own tiny, humble place in the cosmic order. It’s not relevant. That’s why it’s so important.

So how should we write history for children? The answer strikes me as blindingly obvious. As a youngster I was riveted by stories of knights and castles, gods and pirates. What got me turning the pages wasn’t the promise of an ‘uncomfortable’ conversation. It was the prospect of a good story. ....

A great story, then. And a great setting. All children are fascinated by alien worlds, from the planets of Star Wars to Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Why should Cleopatra’s Alexandria, with its melting pot of languages and religions, its temples and theatres, its lighthouse and library, be any less intoxicating? ....

There’s also the characters. That’s what history’s really about, don’t you think? Not issues, but people. The great names: Thomas More in the Tower, Edith Cavell facing the firing squad, T.E. Lawrence riding across the desert. And the not-so-great names: a gladiator making his debut at the Colosseum, a Polish schoolgirl in the Warsaw uprising, a boy sailor at the Battle of Jutland. And yes, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King too. But not just them. The heroes of previous generations were heroes for a reason. There’s not a child alive who wouldn’t be thrilled by the story of Nelson or Napoleon. Why deny them the pleasure?

Finally, the most important thing of all. Not a place, time or character, but an attitude. ‘The past is a foreign country,’ L.P. Hartley famously wrote at the beginning of his great novel The Go-Between, ‘they do things differently there.’ Exploring that vast, impossibly rich country ought to be one of the most exciting intellectual adventures in any boy or girl’s lifetime — not an exercise in self-righteous mortification. Put simply, it should be fun. This is why children fall in love with history. Not because it’s relevant, or improving, or even instructive. And certainly not because it fosters grievance and victimhood. Not because it’s ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘necessary’. But because it’s fun. ....
Dominic Sandbrook, "Make History Great Again! And stop teaching children to be mortified by the past"


C.S. Lewis:
—The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment in Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. (Miracles)

—In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down;…down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature he has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. (Miracles)

—The Incarnation…illuminates and orders all other phenomena, explains both our laughter and our logic, our fear of the dead and our knowledge that it is somehow good to die, and which at one stroke covers what multitudes of separate theories will hardly cover for us if this is rejected. (Miracles)

—But supposing God became man—suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person—then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God….But we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man, That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all. (Mere Christianity)

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The hinge of history

On the importance of Christmas (John 1:14):
Who then was Jesus, really?

You cannot even ask the question without implicitly choosing among answers. The very wording of the question, in the past tense ("Who was Jesus?") or the present ("Who is Jesus?"), presupposes its own answer. For those who believe his claim do not say that he was divine, but is divine. Divinity does not change or die or disappear into the past. Furthermore, if he really rose from the dead, he still is, and is very much alive today.

The Importance of the Issue

The issue is crucially important for at least six reasons.

1. The divinity of Christ is the most distinctively Christian doctrine of all. A Christian is most essentially defined as one who believes this. And no other religion has a doctrine that is even similar. Buddhists do not believe that Buddha was God. Muslims do not believe that Muhammad was God: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet."

2. The essential difference between orthodox, traditional, biblical, apostolic, historic, creedal Christianity and revisionist, modernist, liberal Christianity is right here. The essential modernist revision is to see Christ simply as the ideal man, or "the man for others"; as a prophet, rabbi, philosopher, teacher, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, reformer, sage or magician—but not God in the flesh.

3. The doctrine works like a skeleton key, unlocking all the other doctrinal doors of Christianity. Christians believe each of their many doctrines not because they have reasoned their own way to them as conclusions from a theological inquiry or as results of some mystical experiences, but on the divine authority of the One who taught them, as recorded in the Bible and transmitted by the church.

If Christ was only human, he could have made mistakes. Thus, anyone who wants to dissent from any of Christ's unpopular teachings will want to deny his divinity. And there are bound to be things in his teachings that each of us finds offensive—if we look at the totality of those teachings rather than confining ourselves to comfortable and familiar ones.

4. If Christ is divine, then the incarnation, or "enfleshing" of God, is the most important event in history. It is the hinge of history. It changes everything. If Christ is God, then when he died on the cross, heaven's gate, closed by sin, opened up to us for the first time since Eden. No event in history could be more important to every person on earth than that.

5. There is an unparalleled present existential bite to the doctrine. For if Christ is God, then, since he is omnipotent and present right now, he can transform you and your life right now as nothing and no one else possibly can. He alone can fulfill the psalmist's desperate plea to "create in me a clean heart. O God" (Ps 51:10). Only God can create; there is even a special word in Hebrew for it (bara').

6. And if Christ is divine, he has a right to our entire lives, including our inner life and our thoughts. If Christ is divine, our absolute obligation is to believe everything he says and obey everything he commands. If Christ is divine, the meaning of freedom becomes conformity to him.
Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, IVP, 1994, pp. 151-152.

"But in reason..."

Fifty-five years ago this December A Man for All Seasons appeared in theaters. It is still one of my favorite films. In 1967 it won six Academy Awards including Best Picture. Robert Bolt's Thomas More may have differed significantly from the actual man but his version of the man, played by Paul Scofield (who won Best Actor), was thoroughly admirable. George Weigel:
.... Bolt...gave us a different More in his drama and later in his screenplay—a More who “grasps” his death, not as an existential stalwart, a courageously autonomous “Self,” but as a Catholic willing to die for the truth, which has grasped him as the love of God in Christ. Thus, when More’s intellectually gifted daughter Margaret, having failed to argue him out of his refusal to countenance Henry VIII’s divorce and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn, plays her final card and cries, “But in reason! Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?,” More replies, haltingly, “Well…finally…it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.”

And not love of self, but love of God and love of the truth. For the God who is truth all the way through is also, St. John the Evangelist teaches us, love itself. And to be transformed by that love is to live in the truth—the truth that sets us free in the deepest and noblest meaning of human liberation. ....

Friday, December 10, 2021

Christmas remembered

The discomfort sciatica is causing me makes it unlikely I will travel at all this Christmas or be very good company if I did. My living circumstances make it almost impossible to host anyone comfortably here. So, for the first time in my life I expect to spend the holiday alone. That is no particular hardship — I have lived my adult life alone and am something of an introvert. But it has aroused a degree of nostalgia. I re-read this from Dickens' Pickwick Papers. I particularly like the second paragraph.
...[N]umerous 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 28.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Receive the kingdom

From the The 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition (see the previous post). This prayer appears at the end of the service for "The Burial of the Dead."
MERCIFUL God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, in whom whosoever believeth shall live, though he die; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in Him, shall not die eternally; who also hath taught us (by his holy apostle Saint Paul) not to be sorry, as men without hope, for those who sleep in Him: We meekly beseech Thee, O Father, to raise us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness, that, when we shall depart this life, we may rest in Him, as our hope is this our brother doth, and that, at the general resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in Thy sight, and receive that blessing which Thy well-beloved Son shall then pronounce to all who love and fear Thee, saying, 'Come, ye blessed children of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world': Grant this, we beseech Thee, O merciful Father, through Jesus Christ, our mediator and redeemer. Amen.
Amazon sells The 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition (InterVarsity) for about $20.00.

A very good resource

Russell Moore posts "My Favorite Books of 2021," most of which I haven't read, but I am enthusiastic about this recommendation:
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition

Having been raised in a very Southern Baptist context, I am quite sure I did not even know what the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) was until I was an adult. And yet, I realize now that its words shaped me more than anything else, save the King James Bible. Every wedding and funeral that I ever witnessed or officiated were all dependent on the words and liturgies of this great gift to the universal church.

This edition of the 1662 prayer book is itself a gift to the church. The typeface and binding are beautiful, and its size makes it easy to keep nearby, to use as a resource when reading the Bible or praying. My copy stays right here next to me all the time.
My Favorite Books of 2021

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The best Sherlock Holmes

Just as Joan Hickson was the perfect Miss Marple, Jeremy Brett was the definitive Sherlock Holmes. From a Telegraph appreciation of the series:
.... Stage actor Brett was approached in 1982 with the idea to make an exquisitely crafted, fully authentic adaptation of the consulting detective’s best cases. He set his heart on becoming “the best Sherlock Holmes the world has ever seen”.

He conducted exhaustive research, becoming a stickler for any discrepancy between the scripts and Conan Doyle’s stories. One of Brett’s most treasured possessions was his bulging “Baker Street File”, detailing everything from Holmes’s mannerisms to his eating habits. In contrast to the stuffy portrayals of the black-and-white era, Brett brought passion to the role. He introduced Holmes’s fluttering hand gestures and barks of eccentric laughter (“Ha!”). He would leap over furniture in search of clues or hurl himself to the ground to examine a footprint.

Brett’s Holmes was like a bird of prey, with piercing vision and a predator’s instincts. He suffered black moods between cases – like Brett himself, who was bipolar – but crackled with electrifying energy when the game was afoot. .... Of the 80-odd actors to portray Holmes, Brett is how I imagine the character. ....

The series ran from 1984 to 1994, comprising 41 films. .... This is pure Sherlock for the connoisseurs, as faithful to his literary roots as has ever been seen on screen. ....
I have been re-watching the series, reaching "The Empty House" last night. They are as good as I recalled. The entire series is available on Amazon Prime.

Culture Fix: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

True saving faith


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.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Not the way it is supposed to be


Searching for information about The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe I came across this from 2015. It seemed right for Advent. Advent is about a Hope once fulfilled but also yet to come:
“It is winter in Narnia,” said Mr. Tumnus, “and has been for ever so long….always winter, but never Christmas.”
There are words that capture our imaginations, often from the very first time we hear them. I confess that when I read this so long ago now, I understood them—though now years later, I understand them so much more fully. ....

For every one of us, with our families, our friends, our neighbors, our cities, in every relationship in every way we are burdened by what is tragically not the way it is supposed to be. And beyond what we see with our own eyes, the day by day onslaught of the news of the world is more often than not a window into a heartache and horror that seem impossible to explain.

Across the board, in all of life, we feel the tension of the now-but-not-yet of history and hope. As my friend Todd Deatherage recently wrote, “Sometimes it feels like there is a lot more ‘not yet’ than ‘now.'” ....

Always winter. Never Christmas.

But then I know that I have staked my life on something more: that this wounded world, this very broken world, is not the last word. Simply said, I believe in Christmas, and in a Christmas that has moral meaning. Cursed as we are, cursed as this life so often seems, it will not always be winter. ....

Sunday, December 5, 2021

And the darkness has not overcome it

From "Want to Get Into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness" by an Anglican priest reminding us that Advent isn't Christmas:
.... The church waits in Advent.

In the church calendar, every period of celebration is preceded by a time of preparation. Historically, Advent, the liturgical season that begins four Sundays before Christmas Day, is a way to prepare our hearts (and minds and souls) for Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth — that light has come into darkness and, as the Gospel of John says, “the darkness could not overcome it.” But Advent bids us first to pause and to look, with complete honesty, at that darkness.

To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness. ....

...Advent offers wisdom to the wider world. It reminds us that joy is trivialized if we do not first intentionally acknowledge the pain and wreckage of the world.

G.K. Chesterton wrote that original sin is the “only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” The believer and atheist alike can agree that there is an undeniable brokenness to the world, a sickness that needs remedy. Whether we assign blame to human sinfulness, a political party, corporate greed, ignorance, tribalism or nationalism (or some of each), we can admit that things are not as they should be — or at least, not as we wish they were. ....

The church, after all, reserves 12 whole days for feasting and festivity during Christmas. Both darkness and light are real, and our calendar gives time to recall both. But in the end, Christians believe the light is more real and more enduring. ....

Friday, December 3, 2021

Jackson's LOTR, after twenty years

From an evaluation of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, twenty years on:
.... Two decades provide enough remove to ask whether the critical and commercial success was merited and, more important, whether Jackson and his team captured the spirit of Tolkien’s work.

Does the trilogy hold up as cinema? Re-watching it recently, I found that the answer is obviously yes. The casting is, for the most part, impeccable. The scenery, much of it filmed on location in New Zealand and augmented as needed with sets, models, or CGI, feels simultaneously fantastic and lived in.

The special effects are good enough that this enchanted world requires little suspension of disbelief. Visually, the film has aged much better than many other works from that unfortunate early-2000s period, when film studios overused new technology and gave things a video-gamey sheen. Howard Shore’s score is one of the greatest ever; including over 100 themes, it is transportive, evocative, and lush, alternating, like the film itself, between intimate moments of quiet grace and dramatic cues appropriate for gigantic battles and titanic struggles. The entire production takes itself seriously without feeling leaden; it simply feels credible. Jackson wanted those involved “to think that Lord of the Rings was real” ....

It is widely acknowledged that there are many serious differences between Jackson’s adaptation and Tolkien’s novel. Answers vary, however, to the question whether Jackson’s work maintains Tolkien’s spirit or ruins it. Ian McKellen, who plays the noble wizard Gandalf, has remarked that “the enthusiasts who have read the novels over and over may notice every change but in doing so they will miss the point.” On the other hand, Christopher Tolkien, the author’s son and literary executor, complained that Jackson and his crew had “eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25.”

Who is right? Both — and neither. ....

...[S]o many of the big-budget spectacles that followed (and still follow) in the trilogy’s wake forget the human core that must be at a film’s center if viewers are not to sit numbly as waves of CGI wash over them. Jackson himself forgot it a decade after The Return of the King, with his much-inferior Hobbit prequel trilogy. But whatever complaints one may have about it, the deserved and enduring popularity of his original trilogy will continue to point new generations of readers to Tolkien’s work. And that will remain a virtue in itself. (more)
"Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, 20 Years On"