Sunday, January 30, 2022


John Hinderaker at Powerline, a blog I follow, posts about "My Books of 2021." He reads far more than I do. His list includes many classics, most of which I have never read (although I should have), not even when they were required reading in college. He does also read the kind of books I read these days:
C.J. Box–Chuck to his friends–is a novelist whose books immediately rocket to the top of the best-seller lists. His principal character is Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden whose commitment to doing the right thing often lands him in trouble. The Pickett books come out once a year, and in 2021 it was Dark Sky. As always, I digested the latest Joe Pickett in a matter of hours.

Chuck’s Cassie Dewell series is also excellent. Watch for a new installment in 2022. Or start from the beginning with Back of Beyond and The Highway, one of the more riveting books I have ever read. ....
I enjoy C.J. Box, too. Spectrum Originals has a series based on early Joe Pickett books, and ABC's "Big Sky," has completed its second season and is based on another of C.J. Box's series.

He liked another favorite of mine:
Michael Connelly has sold many millions of books featuring Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch. The Bosch books have been turned into a very good television series on Amazon Prime. A few years ago Connelly introduced a new character, a woman detective named Renee Ballard, whom I like a lot. She has several times teamed up with the now-retired Harry Bosch, as in 2021’s The Dark Hours. It’s good.
And in historical fiction:
Bernard Cornwell is probably the greatest historical novelist now working. In 2020 he published War Lord, the 13th book in the Last Kingdom series, featuring a tenth-century Saxon warrior named Uhtred. I read War Lord last year. I have greatly enjoyed this series and highly recommend it. Cornwell also returned to the Richard Sharpe franchise with the first new Sharpe book, Sharpe’s Assassin, in a number of years. It is set just after the Battle of Waterloo and is very good, as you would expect.
John Hinderaker, "My Books of 2021," Powerline, January 29, 2022.

Friday, January 28, 2022

"The breaking of day..."

Minnie Louise Haskins​:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

Scouring and repairing

Some of us have wished that Jackson's LOTR films had included the narrative from Tolkien's chapter “The Scouring of the Shire” but, of course, that would have precluded killing off Saruman earlier in the films. Today Alan Jacobs on that chapter from Return of the King:
...[Y]ou should always pay attention to Tolkien’s words, especially when they are in any way unusual. He could have said “cleansing” or “purification” or could have invoked a very different image for putting things right. But scouring is what we do to something that is not just dirty but has become encrusted — to a surface to which something foreign (old food, rust) has become affixed and cannot easily be removed. Scouring requires strenuous effort because the foreign object is highly resistant to removal — it seems to want to remain. And the foreign material obscures the character of the object: the shining thing cannot shine. ....

And so when faced with an object that requires scouring we are tempted, sometimes, to throw it away and start over — to give up on it. But let’s look a little deeper into the word. The OED tells me that there are closely related terms in other European languages and that they all trace back to a key Latin word: cūrāre, care (from which we also get “cure”). Scouring is ex + cūrāre, to care for something by cleaning it out. To cure it. To return it to its proper cleanliness and shine and gloss.

To repair it. And the hobbits have to repair the Shire because it is their home. Starting over is not an option. ....

There is in both scouring and repairing a strong suggestion of restoration: of bringing something back to its ideal condition and proper function. .... When we are away from home, home naturally falls into disrepair; and does so even more quickly if it is not left alone but rather is despoiled by those who do not love it. This can be seen as vividly in the Odyssey as in The Lord of the Rings.

A question to ask myself: What do I despair of repairing? I would rather discard than scour. Scouring is a lot of work for an uncertain result. But I will do it for anything and anywhere I think of as my harbor, my place of refuge — my home.
Alan Jacobs, "scouring," Snakes and Ladders, January 28, 2022.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

"Have you no words?"

From Hymns by William Cowper, 1779:

29. Exhortation to Prayer.

What various hindrances we meet
In coming to a mercy seat!
Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,
But wishes to be often there?
While Moses stood with arms spread wide,
Success was found on Israel's side;
But when through weariness they fail'd,
That moment Amalek prevail'd.
Prayer makes the darken'd cloud withdraw,     
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw,
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.
Have you no words? Ah, think again,
Words flow apace when you complain,
And fill your fellow-creature's ear
With the sad tale of all your care.
Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian's armour bright;    
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.
Were half the breath thus vainly spent
To heaven in supplication sent,
Your cheerful song would oftener be,
"Hear what the Lord has done for me."

Willaim Cowper's Hymns, This hymn: What Various Hindrances We Meet

Monday, January 24, 2022

"For Thy mercy's sake..."

Hide not Thou Thy face from us, O Lord,
And cast not off Thy servants in Thy displeasure;
For we confess our sins unto Thee,
And hide not our unrighteousness.
For Thy mercy's sake,
Deliver us from all our sins.
And this:

Lord, for Thy tender mercy's sake,
Lay not our sins to our charge,
But forgive that is past,
And give us grace to amend our sinful lives.
To decline from sin and incline to virtue,
That we may walk in a perfect heart before Thee,
Now and evermore.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

A disposition

From Michael Oakeshott's essay, "On being conservative," which can be found in Rationalism in politics and other essays (1962, 1991):
.... To be conservative is to be disposed to think and behave in certain manners; it is to prefer certain kinds of conduct and certain conditions of human circumstances to others; it is to be disposed to make certain kinds of choices. And my design here is to construe this disposition as it appears in contemporary character, rather than to transpose it into the idiom of general principles.

The general characteristics of this disposition are not difficult to discern, although they have often been mistaken. They centre upon a propensity to use and to enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or to look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be. Reflection may bring to light an appropriate gratefulness for what is available, and consequently the acknowledgment of a gift or an inheritance from the past; but there is no mere idolizing of what is past and gone. What is esteemed is the present; and it is esteemed not on account of its connections with a remote antiquity, nor because it is recognized to be more admirable than any possible alternative, but on account of its familiarity: not, Verweile doch, du bist so schon, but, Stay with me because I am attached to you.

If the present is arid, offering little or nothing to be used or enjoyed, then this inclination will be weak or absent; if the present is remarkably unsettled, it will display itself in a search for a firmer foothold and consequently in a recourse to and an exploration of the past; but it asserts itself characteristically when there is much to be enjoyed, and it will be strongest when this is combined with evident risk of loss. In short, it is a disposition appropriate to a man who is acutely aware of having something to lose which he has learned to care for; a man in some degree rich in opportunities for enjoyment, but not so rich that he can afford to be indifferent to loss. It will appear more naturally in the old than in the young, not because the old are more sensitive to loss but because they are apt to be more fully aware of the resources of their world and therefore less likely to find them inadequate. In some people this disposition is weak merely because they are ignorant of what their world has to offer them: the present appears to them only as a residue of importunities.

To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one's own fortune, to live at the level of one's own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one's circumstances. With some people this is itself a choice; in others it is a disposition which appears, frequently or less frequently, in their preferences and aversions, and is not itself chosen or specifically cultivated. ....
Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in politics and other essays (1962, 1991)

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Delightful and restorative

The "Fans of P.G. Wodehouse" site on Facebook quotes from an interview with Alan Jacobs:
Whenever I get to the end of a semester where I’ve been teaching a lot of heavy stuff, I can’t wait to sit down and read something that’s light-hearted and that doesn’t make the same kind of demands on me. The first thing I do at the end of a semester is read a P.G. Wodehouse novel because I know that it’s going to be absolutely delightful and restorative.
The Tranquility and Wisdom of Old Books: Alan Jacobs talks with Plough’s Joy Clarkson about his book, Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

If I were a parent...

If I were a parent I would be tempted to buy this book (downloadable as a pdf for $6.00):
Do you want to help your children develop sharp minds, robust hearts, and a strong character? One of the best ways to do that is reading them good books. But how do you find good books? This list of more than 400 children's classics offers a place to start.

The updated, 26-page list focuses on classic picture books for children ages 3 to 7, expanded beyond the first edition to include a family read-aloud section that extends to older children and recommendations for early readers that aren't garbage. Some of the selections are out of print, but can still be obtained at a good library, through interlibrary loan, or online.

The list includes the following sections: For Parents, Faith, ABC, Art, Classics, Folk Tales, Myths, History, Humor, Math, Music and Rhyme, Poetry, Science, Early Readers, and Family Readalouds.

You will get a PDF (309KB) file
Joy Pullman, Classic Books For Young Children, Revised and Expanded

Saturday, January 15, 2022


In his Georgia speech the President asserted that “the fundamental right to vote is the right from which all other rights flow.” A few months ago Biden told members of the armed services “None of you get your rights from your government; you get your rights merely because you’re a child of God. The government is there to protect those God-given rights. No other government has been based on that notion. No one can defeat us except us.” Jonah Goldberg:
...[N]either the right to vote, nor democracy itself, are the source of all of our other rights.

This isn’t a pedantic point.

Let’s start with the subject of Jim Crow. Extending voting rights to blacks in the South was important, morally necessary, and just. But Jim Crow didn’t end in the South because blacks got the vote. A full 10 years before the Voting Rights Act 196[5] was passed, the Supreme Court—not exactly a very democratic institution—ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. More to the point, in at least some Southern states, if segregation had been put up for a vote it would have been sustained by a majority of the voters—even if blacks could vote. The process of desegregation began at gunpoint by federal troops enforcing the Supreme Court’s rulings.

There is nothing inherent to democratic theory that says the people can be counted upon to vote in favor of sustaining their rights, never mind the rights of other people. That’s why the Constitution protects our rights from democracy. The Bill of Rights explicitly makes it hard for government to infringe on our rights because our rights are considered prior to or above the whims of the voters. In a pure democracy, 50.1 percent of the people can pee in the cornflakes of 49.9 percent of the people. ....

One of the central insights of both liberalism and conservatism, rightly understood, is that sometimes the people can be wrong. That’s why the Founders made it hard to change the Constitution. That’s why they envisioned the Senate as a “cooling saucer” that tempers the passions of the House. And that’s why this country has elections all the time. Because the Founders understood that sometimes the people can get riled up, angry, confused, misinformed, petulant, or vengeful. Having lots of elections allows the voters to recognize that maybe they went too far in the previous election. It’s part of the process of democratic self-correction and renewal. There have been plenty of times in American history when the people were in a bad enough mood to vote away various rights if they had the power to do it. ....

.... Then there’s the philosophical argument. This is a bit of a misnomer because it can rightly be called a theological argument as well. It’s pretty straightforward. We are created by God. Our rights derive from this fact, and it is the job of the state to protect those rights. I can spend the next 10,000 words expanding and elucidating this idea, but I don’t see the point.

Some atheists and humanists don’t like this formulation for some obvious reasons (and some exhaustingly obscure ones). But the simple fact is that without the essentially Judeo-Christian view of humans as being equal in the eyes of God, we wouldn’t have the idea of inalienable rights today. This isn’t to say you can’t make an atheistic case for human rights—people do it all the frick’n time. It’s simply to note that the atheists are standing on the shoulders of the people who made the case for rights as God-given. And if you think I’m being too much of a Western chauvinist, that’s fine. All I ask is that you point out to me where in the history of the non-Western world the idea of universal human rights not only emerged (it must have somewhere) but actually took hold. ....

I am open to the idea that our rights don’t come from God, but I thank God every day I live in a culture that operationally believes they do. Because that is the best bulwark against the machinations of populists and politicians who set out to inflame passions for short-term gain at the long-term expense of our rights.

And such leaders are all around us. .... (more)
Jonah Goldberg, "Rites About Rights: Sure, voting is a right. But it’s not the source of our right," The Dispatch, Jan. 14, 2022.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Religious liberty

Russell Moore on why Christians ought to support religious freedom:
Religious freedom...—as articulated by the early British Baptists or by the persecuted Anabaptists during the Reformation or by the colonial American evangelists or by any of their allies—has never meant a "You believe in Baal; I believe in God; what difference does it make?" sort of pluralism. The question in religious freedom is who should have regulatory power over religion. If you believe that shouldn’t be the state, you believe in religious freedom.

That’s why the free churches—and those who believe in the necessity of personal repentance and faith—have been the most dogged supporters of religious freedom for all. They understand what the gospel is.

The gospel according to Jesus is not an external affirmation of generic belief from a heart still untransformed. The gospel according to Jesus is not accepting Christianity as a ticket of admission into society. The gospel according to Jesus means that "there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). One can stand before God at judgment only by union with the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. And one can come into union with Christ only through faith (Rom. 3:21–31).

This faith, as defined by Jesus and his apostles, does not come through the proxy of a nation, a ruler, or even a religious structure. If that were the case, John the Baptist would not have needed to preach repentance to the descendants of Abraham (Matt. 3:8–10). And if that were the case, the apostle Paul could have found no fault in those who served the false gods chosen by their national or family traditions (Acts 17:22–31).

Instead, the gospel addresses each person—individually—as one who will stand at the judgment seat of Christ, who will give an account, and who is commanded to personally believe the gospel and repent of sin (Rom. 10:9–17). As Jesus said to Nicodemus by night, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again" (John 3:3). .... (more)
Russell Moore, "Does Religious Freedom Send People to Hell?" January 13, 2022.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The highroad to reason

Quoted online today, Lincon in his 1842 "Temperance Address":
When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim, that a “drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one. On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel can be made, and though you throw it with more than Herculean force and precision, you shall be no more be able to pierce him, than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.
Abraham Lincoln, "Temperance Address," 1842.


On the anniversary of Roger Scruton's death in 2020, Patrick Kurp:
In England: An Elegy (2001), Sir Roger Scruton aligns himself with one of the summits of the English conservative tradition. If such a tradition were a church, Johnson would number among its saints. ....

Johnson’s life represents a mingling of poverty-induced bohemianism (“the shabbiest of English eccentrics”) and a dignified respect for traditional norms. Scruton identifies an “anti-bohemian respectability” strain among such modern writers as T.S. Eliot, Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, and such composers as Vaughan Williams and Edmund Rubbra:
—all of them respectable citizens, often with conservative, even reactionary, opinions, upholders of the moral order, and unassuming members of the long-suffering middle class. This anti-bohemian respectability was not a novel feature of the national culture. The leading artistic spirits among Englishmen have almost always been prepared not only to belong to the respectable classes, but also to defend the values which make respectability respectable.
"The Values Which Make Respectability Respectable," Anecdotal Evidence, January 12, 2022.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

"I am this dark world's light"

Posted before, a perfect performance of a great hymn with music by Ralph Vaughan Williams: "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say"

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one, lay down
thy head upon my breast."
I came to Jesus as I was,
weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live."
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"I am this dark world's light;
look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
and all thy day be bright."
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I'll walk
till traveling days are done.

Words: Horatio Bonar, 1846, Music: Kingsfold, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

Oremus Hymnal: I heard the voice of Jesus say

Monday, January 3, 2022

Deliberate discipleship

From "In 2022, Let’s Take T.S. Eliot’s Advice":
.... “The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without,” Eliot said. So, how are we building? ....

In this state of communal disrepair, Eliot advised, “The good man is the builder, if he build what is good.” His words echo James 2’s contention that faith without works is dead (v. 26), that it’s possible to have right beliefs without acting in service to God and others. Eliot warns us against relying on the work of past generations and doing nothing to shore it up.

Eliot says we can learn to build well from “things that are now being done, / And some of the things that were long ago done,” and from “the work of the humble.” ....

As for things “long ago done,” church history is a wealth of wisdom and warning. One hopeful evangelical trend is renewed interest in the liturgical calendar. ....

Other things built long ago that would aid our building: formalized catechism, memorization of Scripture, and habits of Sabbath. With so many other claims on our attention, we can’t expect to “be made new in the attitude of [our] minds” by social osmosis (Eph. 4:23). We need to dust off these tools of deliberate discipleship for new use. .... (more)
"In 2022, Let’s Take T.S. Eliot’s Advice," Christianity Today, Nov. 22, 2021.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

"Wicked men like the rest of us"

A Facebook friend today quoted a passage attributed to C.S. Lewis. It is the sort of thing he likely wrote but I haven't found the source yet. It did set me searching online and I came across this quotation from a 1945 essay: “Membership” (collected in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses).
I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows.

That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple, to have been as much a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast.... But since we have learned sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that “all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The only remedy has been to take away the powers and substitute a legal fiction of equality. The authority of Father and Husband has been rightly abolished on the legal plane, not because this authority is in itself bad (on the contrary, it is, I hold, divine in origin) but because Fathers and Husbands are bad. Theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us. Even the authority of man over beast has had to be interfered with because it is constantly abused. ....

Do not misunderstand me. I am not in the least belittling the value of this egalitarian fiction which is our only defence against one another's cruelty. ....
C.S. Lewis, "Membership," The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses Macmillan, pp. 113-114.

The essay can also be found in this pdf of C.S. Lewis, Transposition, and other Addresses.