Saturday, April 30, 2022

A return to darkness?

An interesting, and somewhat disturbing essay at The Spectator explains "Why the Vikings are winning the culture war." For instance, how Alfred the Great is portrayed in some contemporary historical fiction.
.... Alfred is portrayed rather unsympathetically in [Bernard Cornwell's] The Last Kingdom, as is Saxon Christianity generally, the protagonist Uhtred more drawn to the Vikings who adopted him. Alfred is cold and somewhat devious, even a bit odd; life with the Vikings, in contrast, might be violent, but it’s also fun....

Alfred’s house is portrayed even less sympathetically in Vikings, his father and grandfather shown as double-crossing and hypocritical, interested only in their own gain, their religion empty and self-serving. This feels not so much a 21st century view of the 9th century as it is of the 19th, part of today’s culture war between two different visions of the world. ....

I suppose it would be pointless to pretend to be a neutral observer in this fight, because in all honesty Alfred the Great is more than just a historical figure to me. I have an almost Victorian reverence for his memory, as the father of our nation and people....

It was not just that he overcame great hardship, troubled by poor health and constant pain and facing an invasion of his country that at one point looked very bleak indeed. He rescued Wessex and England from foreign conquest and possible oblivion, raising men from across the shires to defeat the invaders. But he did more than that; he built cities, refounded London, and in commissioning the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle helped create the idea of England, as well as rescuing the country’s Latin Christian inheritance.

But he was also merciful to his enemies, returning hostages when in his place the Vikings would and did murder them — and that was precisely because he had a deep moral vision, stemming from his Christian faith. They were fighting a religious war and Alfred believed that when St Augustine and his Italian companions had arrived to convert his ancestors three centuries earlier, his people had been brought out of the darkness. ....

The new religion threatened to turn the Viking world upside down, Christianity offering what Chantal Delsol called a ‘normative inversion’, a moral revolution in attitudes to life, human dignity but most of all sex. For sex was the at the heart of this early medieval cultural war, as it is with ours. ....

The new faith prohibited polygamy and much else, part of a ‘revolution that Christianity had brought to the erotic’, in Tom Holland’s words: ‘The insistence of scripture that a man and a woman, whenever they took the marital bed, were joined as Christ and his Church were joined, becoming one flesh, gave to both a rare dignity. If the wife was instructed to submit to her husband, then so equally was the husband instructed to be faithful to his wife. Here, by the standards of the age into which Christianity had been born, was an obligation that demanded an almost heroic degree of self-denial.’

No longer, as in pagan Rome, would infidelity by men be accepted; instead for Christians ‘the double standards that for so long had been a feature of marital ethics had come to be sternly patrolled.’ The sexual use of female slaves, another reality of life shown in The Northman and the universal norm in pre-Christian Europe, was now a sin. .... (more)
Ed West, "Why the Vikings are winning the culture war," The Spectator, April 30, 2022.

"The God of the hills"


I am a native of West Virginia and although I didn't live there for more than a few months after I was born I did return every summer while I was growing up and periodically since then. My mother's family were early settlers in that part of Virginia that became West Virginia. My identification with the place is primarily familial and nostalgic and I have many friends with a less tenuous claim to familiarity. Nevertheless, when I come across some piece of history or literature related to the state I usually pay attention. Some years ago I discovered that one of the great American mystery writers was Melville Davisson Post, a West Virginian. I just downloaded several of his books from the Many Books site: Free ebooks by Melville Davisson Post. I noted that one of the stories in Dwellers in the Hills (1901) refers to Lost Creek, a West Virginia location familiar to me and to many of my Seventh Day Baptist friends. Many of Post's stories are set in the state. Post's most famous collection of mystery stories is Uncle Abner (1918) – about which I've posted before.

Joseph Bottum wrote
There is a case to be made that the Uncle Abner stories—the twenty-two tales of the Virginia hills written by Melville Davisson Post between 1911 and 1928—are among the finest mysteries ever written. .... [H]igh as Post's tales rank in general mystery fiction, they stand at the very top of the sub-genre of religious mysteries. In the deliberate tone of the stories and the matching of the writing's pitch to its subject, in the uniting of the religious element with the detective's action and the sense of good's battle against evil in the solution of a crime, only G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown belongs beside Melville Davisson Post's Uncle Abner. ....
Uncle Abner is another of Post's books available, free, as an e-book for Kindle and other electronic formats: Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries by Melville Davisson Post.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

"Longing for a better country..."

Russell Moore, good, as usual:
The language of exile is...part of the Christian story for those of us who are born into or grafted onto the house of Jacob. And the Bible applies that experience to us in an ongoing way, in the time between Christ’s ascension and his return.

Peter addressed the church as "God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces" (1 Pet. 1:1) and told them to "live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear" (v. 17). This was a recognition of how different the first-century church were to be. They were not to find their pattern of life in the "empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors" (v. 18).

The exile of which Peter spoke did not mean that the believers lacked belonging but that they had a different belonging: to "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (2:9). Like Daniel in Babylon, such exile means that the objective is not to remove Nebuchadnezzar from his throne or to govern the Babylonian Empire. Quite the contrary, the goal was for the exiles to avoid becoming like the Babylonians.

In urging the church to be "foreigners and exiles," then, Peter wanted them to see that their real problem was not the emperor or the surrounding culture. They could still show honor to everyone, including the emperor. Rather, the issue was to "abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul" (2:11). ....

...[T]he point of exile language is exactly the opposite of the idea that Western Christians should lament or resent losing a "Christian culture." The point is that in every place and culture, from the first to the second comings of Jesus, every Christian community is to consider themselves "foreigners and exiles." ....

Exile language does away with both our sense of entitlement and a siege mentality. We don’t attempt to merge into whatever seems "normal" in the society around us—and we don’t rage whenever we’re not accommodated there. Instead, we see our normal situation as a pilgrimage of faith.

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth," the writer of Hebrews told us.

"People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one" (Heb. 11:13–16). ....

An exilic identity does not say, "Oh no, we’re being marginalized! How can we fix this?" Rather, it asks, "Why am I not more marginalized? Have I adapted to my own appetites such that I can’t feel a longing to dive deeper.... (more)
Russell Moore, "Biblical Exile," Christianity Today, April 28, 2022.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

"You’ll be a Man, my son!"

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you...

Kipling, "If"

David French:
.... Ever since I’ve been alive, our culture has been in a conversation about male emotions. My entire adult life there have been voices urging men to “open up,” to be more emotional—to avoid the “toxic” male trait of emotional restraint. ....

In moments of crisis or trouble, do you look to the people who are losing their minds? Or do you find yourself immediately gravitating to those who remain calm? ....

In the furious battle over masculinity, both sides have won in the worst way. The emotionalists have triumphed, but so have the aggressors. In other words, all too many modern men have indulged both their aggression and their emotion, and the result is our modern discourse, a discourse plagued by hysteria, threats, and malice.

This is the cardinal characteristic of much of the culture of the new right. It is considered a sign of strength to be constantly turning the volume to 11, constantly forecasting doom, and constantly chasing the latest fads to “fight back.” ....

But don’t for a moment think aggressive emotional hysteria is confined to the men of the new right. It’s a standard form of discourse in deep woke America. The only real distinction is that it’s not defended as distinctly masculine, but it’s present nonetheless. ....

And when we survey the American political and cultural landscape—a landscape that is awash with male emotion and male aggression—perhaps it’s time to rediscover a dash of male stoicism. Keep your head, strive for the proportionate response, and don’t let anyone blame you for refusing to lose your calm. .... (more)
David French, "Stoics Needed: Can’t we repress our emotions just a tiny bit?" The Dispatch, April 26, 2022.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Oxford and the Inklings

Every once in a while I check the "Popular Posts" section in the right hand column to see what visitors to the blog have been reading (I can't identify who), and am sometimes reminded of a favorite. This is one of them, slightly modified, dating from 2014:

In 1988 two of my closest friends, Norman and Faith Burdick, were living in England with their then young daughter, Flannery, and I took advantage of that circumstance to make my first visit to the United Kingdom. I was there for three weeks and for one of them they were my hosts — the kindest and most generous of hosts. They took me many places I might not otherwise have visited. One of those places was Oxford. Each of us had read Lewis and Tolkien and were admirers. I took no pictures but they did and after my return I received a packet of them. I just happened across them after thinking they were lost. These are most of the ones that were related to the Inklings.

Magdalen College - where C.S. Lewis taught while at Oxford
Magdalen College Tower
Cloisters - Magdalen College
New Building, Magdalen College - where Lewis's rooms were located
Norman and me in front of the New Building
The location of the rooms that C.S. Lewis had while at Magdalen are just to the right of the entry on what the English call the first floor (we, the second). These are the rooms where the Inklings would gather in the evening to hear Lewis, or Tolkien, or one of the others, read from a work in progress.

Magdalen College Deer Park - behind the New Building
Entry gate to Addison's Walk
Pond at the end of Addison's Walk (with Flannery)
Tolkien's house
The pond on the grounds of The Kilns - Lewis's home in Headington
Holy Trinity Church, Headington - where Lewis worshiped and is buried
The grave of C.S. Lewis and his brother W.H. Lewis
Norman and me at the grave

Calvin's wisdom

Originally posted in 2012:

Edd McCracken gives us "Sixteen Things Calvin and Hobbes Said Better Than Anyone Else" (I added the cartoon). For instance:
On expectations
Calvin: Everybody seeks happiness! Not me, though! That’s the difference between me and the rest of the world. Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!

On the tragedy of hipsters
Calvin: The world bores you when you’re cool.

On looking yourself in the mirror
Hobbes: So the secret to good self-esteem is to lower your expectations to the point where they’re already met?
James Q. Wilson in 1995 wrote "'Calvin and Hobbes' and the Moral Sense," from which:
Occasionally Calvin ponders what character may mean. As Christmas approaches, he knows he must be good for Santa Claus to deliver the countless presents (including a heat-seeking guided missile) that he covets. But, he wonders aloud, can he be thought truly good if he is good only to get the presents? "I mean, really, all I'm doing is saying that I can be bribed. Is that good enough, or do I have to be good in my heart and spirit?" But this brief insight quickly vanishes: "OK," he asks of Hobbes, "so exactly how good do you think I have to act?"
Sixteen Things Calvin and Hobbes Said Better Than Anyone Else, "Calvin and Hobbes and the Moral Sense," The Weekly Standard

Friday, April 22, 2022

Thoughts about Christian worship

Sometime in early adulthood I was introduced to Campus Crusade's "Four Spritual Laws" and remember being impressed with its conclusion, from which: 
".... The Christian lives by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word. This train diagram illustrates the relationship among fact (God and His Word), faith (our trust in God and His Word), and feeling (the result of our faith and obedience). (Read John 14:21.)
"The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be useless to attempt to pull the train by the caboose. In the same way, as Christians we do not depend on feelings or emotions, but we place our faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God and the promises of His Word."
That view affected my convictions about Christian worship and that was reinforced by Paul Manuel's teaching to our church. Worship, he taught, is distinct from teaching, i.e. the sermon, and is at least as important. Paul: "The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) states, 'Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.' Indeed, worship is the most important thing we do, individually and collectively. ...." and ".... Worship is not about you; it is about Him. Therefore, you should not limit it to when you are emotionally disposed. Worship is mainly a matter of will; it is what you decide to do even when it is not what you desire to do. ...."

C.S. Lewis:
EVERY SERVICE IS a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like it, it "works" best—when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be the one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. (emphasis added)
Yesterday, from Ponder Anew:
I get comments like this all the time.
The article misses the main point. In the big picture, the question is where is our heart at when worshiping and much less about form.
Talking about the “heart” this way is a common trope in discussions about worship, particularly when questions of form and style arise. Usually, it’s intended to give carte blanche for anything anyone ever wants to do in corporate worship. After all, if someone is worshiping from the heart, with earnestness, pure motives, and full attention, that must be all that matters. ....

.... None of us have hearts that are right with God, save the intermediation of Jesus Christ. We cannot worship, on our own, at our own initiative, with thoroughly pure motives and hearts that are in the right position. That’s why liturgy is a big deal in the first place. By praying right and true things steeped in Holy Scripture, by receiving the Word rightly preached, and by consuming the gifts of bread and wine, we are formed more into Christ’s likeness.

What is required seems to be approaching worship as we do the gospel. We must be ready to admit that we are helpless, and that our hearts are in desperate need of redemption and renewal. We bring nothing to Christ. We have nothing of value to offer. Our works are utterly useless. This little bit of Romans 4 should both haunt us and overwhelm us with joy:
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Until [we] recognize this, there is not much hope for us. Approaching worship with the idea that our hearts are in good enough shape to do so worthily would seem more than a bit audacious....

When we tailor our forms in accordance with what we think will resonate with people instead of what frames the liturgy with beauty and dignity, we are crowning the people lords of their own hearts. That’s why the rule of prayer, not the rule of pop culture, should govern our worship.

This all turns the “It’s about the heart!” argument completely upside down. In reality, it IS about the heart, and ours is not able to love God as we ought.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

"Hope is not optimism"

After she died, it was as if I had broken my arm. A part of me ached all the time, and something that had been functional was now useless, and everything about my daily routine needed to be navigated differently. It was difficult, for instance, to stand in line at the post office or buy groceries or make dinner. Nothing seemed to matter anymore.
Amy Julia Becker, writing about the death of her mother-in-law and the profound difference between optimism and hope.
When Penny first received her diagnosis—primary liver cancer—we were optimistic. Perhaps surgery would eradicate the disease. Perhaps she would live to know her grandchildren. Perhaps she would retire and travel to Italy again. We thought it might all work out. But then came the pathology report, the news that the cancer had gotten into her bloodstream. Those optimistic thoughts were no longer readily available. Optimism failed.

But hope is not optimism, and neither is it false piety. Once Penny died, it was tempting to ignore the sadness and focus upon the promise of eternal life. It was tempting to bypass grief. But I cringed when someone offered, “I guess God needed another angel in heaven.” In thinking only of the future, of heaven, that statement skips over the real loss in the present. It implies that God is needy, snatching people away to fill some cosmic void. It implies that it is acceptable for a fifty-five-year old woman to die a grueling death. Statements about God’s purpose in death can be used as a cudgel, a way to berate believers into pretending that the loss is not profound, devastating. “Pie in the sky by and by” is no consolation. False piety skips past grief altogether, and, like optimism, it ultimately fails. ....

Jesus did not ignore the reality of pain. Rather, he engaged it, even as he knew it would be overcome. He knew, for instance, that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet he mourned. He knew God would be faithful, and yet he shed tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus had hope in the midst of grief, without denying the reality of suffering and loss. His life permits us to forgo false piety and admit that suffering and separation are an offense to God.

And yet, that Easter morning also reminded me that God has triumphed over death. Christian hope hinges on the fact that God has the power to give life to the dead, starting with Jesus, and one day, extending to us all. Hope is a place of tension, tethered between the Cross and the Resurrection, engaging pain and suffering while simultaneously looking ahead to restoration. .... (read it all)
The Reality of Hope | First Things

An Easter prayer

Brightness of God's glory and exact image of God's person, whom death could not conquer nor the tomb imprison, as you have shared our frailty in human flesh, help us to share your immortality in the Spirit. Let no shadow of the grave terrify us and no fear of darkness turn our hearts from you. Reveal yourself to us this day and all our days, as the first and the last, the living one, our immortal Savior and Lord. Amen.

Triumphant gladness

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Saturday faith

.... Martin Luther said himself that Saturday was the day that God himself lay cold in the grave. Friday was death, Sunday was hope, but Saturday was that seemingly ignored middle day between them when God occupied a dirty grave in a little garden outside Jerusalem. Saturday is about waiting, about uncertainty, about not knowing what’ll happen. ....

So much of Christian faith is Saturday faith. ....

A medieval theologian, Anselm, once described the kind of faith that comes with Saturday—fides quaerens intellectum: “faith seeking understanding.” By that, he meant that faith isn’t something that arises after moments of understanding. Rather, faith is something that you cling to when understanding and reason lay dead. We don’t believe once we understand it—we believe in order to understand it. Saturday’s like that: offering a day of waiting, a day of ambiguity, a day when God is sovereign even if our ideas and theologies and expectations about him are not. It is the day that our ignorance is our witness and our proclamation. Truth is, our intellect will always be one step behind in our love of God. We don’t love God once we understand him; we love God in order to understand him. ....

At times, we are all like the two disciples on their way to Emmaus who were really close to Jesus but didn’t always know it. In Luke 24, two disciples walked away from Jerusalem, where they’d just seen their Lord and Master die on the cross. Leaving, dejected, upset, hopeless, and broken, to find the next stage in their lives and careers. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus had been resurrected and was actually walking alongside them on their way to Emmaus. The hope of Sunday hadn’t dawned on them yet. The Gospels tell us that, on their way to Emmaus, the disciples were “downcast.”

That experience is the kind of experience Saturday is all about. .... (more)
This is from A.J. Swoboda's A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience, excerpted in Christianity Today.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Far from home

Kathryn Jean Lopez provides a quotation from Richard John Neuhaus's Death on a Friday Afternoon:
Do not rush to the conquest. Stay a while with this day. Let your heart be broken by the unspeakably bad of this Friday we call good. .... [L]et your present moment stay with this day. Stay a while in the eclipse of the light, stay a while with the conquered One. There is time enough for Easter. ....

This is the axis mundi, the enter upon which the cosmos turns. In the derelict who cries from the cross is, or so Christians say, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The life of all on this day died. Stay a while with that dying.

Every human life, conceived from eternity and destined to eternity, here finds its story truly told. In this killing that some call senseless we are truly brought to our senses. Here we find out who we most truly are, because here is the One who is what we are called to be. The derelict cries, “Come, follow me.” Follow him there? We recoil. We close our ears. We hurry on to Easter. But we will not know what to do with Easter’s light if we shun the friendship of the darkness that is wisdom’s way to light....

Good Friday brings us to our senses. Our senses come to us as we sense that in this life and in this death is our life and our death. The truth about the crucified Lord is the truth about ourselves. “Know yourself,” the ancient philosophers admonish us, for in knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom. To which the Psalmist declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The beginning of wisdom is to come to our senses and know the fearful truth about ourselves, that we have wandered and wasted our days in a distant country far from home. We know ourselves most truly in knowing Christ, for in him is our true self. Or so Christians say. His cross is the way home to the waiting Father. “If you would come to your senses,” he says, “come, follow me.” ....
Kathryn Jean Lopez, "Death on a Friday Afternoon — Stay with the Passion and Death Before Rushing to Easter," NRO, April 15, 2022.

Good Friday

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” (Mark 15:22-26)

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44-46)
O MERCIFUL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that Thou hast made, nor desirest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; Have mercy upon all who know Thee not as Thou art revealed in the Gospel of Thy Son. Take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of Thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to Thy fold, that they may be made one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen. (BCP)

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The lost

I am entirely ignorant of Hebrew and Greek, the biblical languages, and a bit leery of interpretations by those with only a superficial knowledge. I do appreciate learning from those who seem qualified. From Philip Jenkins in "Save Us, Lord, We Are Perishing!" on apollumi:
.... I want to focus on one particular Greek word that points to a critical and under-appreciated theme in the earliest Christian message. This is the verb, apollumi, to destroy (or be destroyed) utterly, to perish, or be entirely lost. In its various forms, it appears very frequently indeed throughout the New Testament – an impressive 92 instances, in fact – but a non-Greek speaker will miss those repetitions and echoes. ....

We...see that when the original authors used the same word or root time after time, they were not being shoddy wordsmiths, who did not know how to diversify their vocabulary in an interesting or creative way. Rather, they were trying very successfully to produce an inexorable drumbeat, in which even the slowest listener would discern the theme being presented. ....

Jesus warns his followers it is better that one of their limbs should perish (apoletai) rather than they go into hellfire (Matt 5.30). The disciples are to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (apololota: Matt 10.6). He who takes up the sword will perish (apolountai) by the sword (Matt.26.52). In Luke 13, Jesus warns his listeners that unless they repent, they will perish (apoleisthe). The Pharisees plot how they might destroy Jesus (apolesosin: Mark 3.6). The priests and scribes plot to destroy (apolesosin) him (Mark 11.18). In John 3.16, the one who believes in the Son shall not perish (apoletai) but have eternal life. Luke alone uses the word 28 times in its various manifestations.

When the gospels translate “lost,” you can usually assume that the Greek original is a variant of apollumi. ....

In the Greek text, that verb occurs very frequently in the Gospels, and then in the epistles, ten times in the two letters to the Corinthians alone. So frequent is it, in fact, that we might be hearing almost a code-word or slogan of that early faith, just as “the Way” denotes the correct path of Jesus’s followers. In contrast, this word for perishing – apollumi – summarizes the path of the evildoers, those who fall from the Way. They are the lost, the perishing, and Jesus’s followers plead that they do not perish thus. They plead that they might not be lost. This is the fate from which Jesus’s followers seek to be saved. And saved is the direct antithesis of “lost.” Jesus tells his followers that “whoever would save [sosai] his life will lose [apolesei] it; and whoever loses [apolesei] his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save [sosei] it.” (Mark 8.35).

We might even propose that nobody should be allowed to talk about being saved in Christianity (or use the words Savior or Salvation) without offering some inkling of what we are supposed to be saved from. ....

As so often, this early Christian language builds explicitly on the Semitic original. When Christians used apollumi, they were recalling a common Hebrew verb, which was abad, to perish or destroy. That word in turn is the root of Abaddon, Destruction. In later books of the canonical Old Testament, Abaddon is linked with Sheol, in the sense of “Hell and Destruction.” (Job 26.6; 28. 22; Proverbs 15.11, Ps. 88.11). .... (more)
Philip Jenkins in "Save Us, Lord, We Are Perishing!" April 14, 2022.

A new commandment


Various Christian denominations place greater or lesser emphasis on what is known as the Christian Year. I grew up in a church that emphasized only Christmas and Easter, and observed Lent because the local ministers' council cooperated in a Lenten series of services. Kevin DeYoung helpfully defined Maundy Thursday, observed today in many traditions:
.... If you've never heard the term, it's not Monday-Thursday (which always confused me as a kid), but Maundy Thursday, as in Mandatum Thursday. Mandatum is the Latin word for "command" or "mandate", and the day is called Maundy Thursday because on the night before his death Jesus gave his disciples a new command. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34).

At first it seems strange that Christ would call this a new command. After all, the Old Testament instructed God's people to love their neighbors and Christ himself summarized the law as love for God and love for others. So what's new about love? What makes the command new is that because of Jesus' passion there is a new standard, a new examplar of love.

There was never any love like the dying love of Jesus. It is tender and sweet (John 13:33). It serves (John 13:2-17). It loves even unto death (John 13:1). Jesus had nothing to gain from us by loving us. There was nothing in us to draw us to him. But he loved us still, while we were yet sinners. .... (more)
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Maundy Thursday

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

"Amazingly, something changed..."

Michael Kruger on "One of the Most Overlooked Arguments for the Resurrection":
.... It is an often overlooked fact that provides the necessary context for the discussion. That fact is simply this: the earliest Christians came to believe, against all odds and against all expectations, that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead.

Notice the distinctive nature of this claim. The claim is not that Jesus rose from the dead (though, I think he did). The claim is that the earliest followers of Jesus came to believe—and very strongly believe— that he did. And that is a wholly other matter.

Why? Because it is a historical fact that is not disputed. And it is a historical fact that requires a substantive explanation. ....

Now, some might postulate that it wouldn’t take much to convince Jesus’ followers that he had risen from the dead. After all, it might argued, followers of would-be messiahs might be inclined to think their guy might just do something miraculous. Maybe they were expecting Jesus to rise, and they just saw what they wanted to see.

But here it might be helpful to know that Jesus was not the first would-be messiah to be killed by the Romans. In fact, even in the same era, there were two other potential messiahs: Simon bar-Giora (AD 66-70), and Simeon bar Kochba (AD 132-135). After they both were killed by the Romans, the same thing happened: their messianic movement came to an abrupt and tragic end.

In other words, the historical record shows that the death of would-be Messiahs is so counter-intuitive to the Messianic expectations of the day that movements can never recover from it. In the minds of first-century Jews, the death of the would-be Messiah shows that he was definitely not the Messiah.

In fact, even Jesus’s own disciples seemed to understand this. When Jesus died, they didn’t think, “Well, maybe he’s the messiah after all.” No, they were utterly defeated, hiding in shame.

But then, amazingly, something changed. .... (more)
Michael J. Kruger, "One of the Most Overlooked Arguments for the Resurrection," canon fodder, April 13, 2022.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

No won battles...

From Barton Swaim's review of Matthew Continetti"s The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism:
.... The conservative movement was always a motley assemblage of free-marketeers, neoconservative reformists, apocalyptic paleoconservatives, populist reactionaries, Catholic intellectuals, Evangelical campaigners, and a variety of weirdos and visionaries (Ayn Rand, Robert Welch Jr., L. Brent Bozell Jr.) who eventually found themselves alienated or expelled from the movement. Mr. Continetti puts it this way: “There is not one American Right; there are several.”

His chronicle follows both the intellectuals and party elites, on the one hand, and ordinary conservative voters and activists, on the other. ....

The essential thing to understand about American conservatism is that it is a minority persuasion, and always has been. Hence the term “the conservative movement”; nobody talks of a “liberal movement” in American politics, for the excellent reason that liberals dominated the universities, the media and the entertainment industry long before Bill Buckley thought to start a magazine. Mr. Continetti captures beautifully the ad hoc, rearguard nature of American conservatism. Not until the end of the book does he make explicit what becomes clearer as the narrative moves forward: “Over the course of the past century, conservatism has risen up to defend the essential moderation of the American political system against liberal excess. Conservatism has been there to save liberalism from weakness, woolly-headedness, and radicalism.”

American conservatism exists, if I could put it in my own words, to clean up the messes created by the country’s dominant class of liberal elites.  ....
Barton Swaim, "Grumbles Left and Right: Two Books on the Past and Future of Conservatism ," The Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2022

Sunday, April 10, 2022


Re-posted as I re-visit some of my early enthusiasms:

I have been re-reading the John Buchan thriller from which I took my blogging pseudonym, Mr. Standfast (it was only after I had done so that I recalled Pilgrim's Progress). It is the third of four "Richard Hannay" adventures written during and just after the First World War and set in that period. I enjoy them all. I was in high school when I read The Thirty-Nine Steps — the first and shortest of the Hannay books — and I have read it every few years since. I hadn't read Mr. Standfast recently. In it, Hannay is up against a very dangerous German spy whose efforts may prolong the war for years, or even lead to German victory in the spring of 1918.

At one point Buchan puts these words in the mouth of one of his characters, a man named Wake, speaking to Hannay:
.... I hate more than I love. All we humanitarians and pacifists have hatred as our mainspring. Odd, isn't it, for people who preach brotherly love? But it's the truth. We're full of hate towards everything that jars our ladylike nerves. Fellows like you are so in love with their cause that they've no time or inclination to detest what thwarts them. We've no cause – only negatives, and that means hatred, and self-torture, and a beastly jaundice of soul. ....
This reminded me of Chesterton's poem in which he wrote of how:
I learned with little labour
The way to love my fellow-man
And hate my next-door neighbour.
Buchan's thrillers are better written than similar efforts from that period, and, although one reads them for the pure enjoyment of the adventure — often a lonely hero being pursued by both villains and the forces of law and order — there is rather more to them than just that, as that quotation from Mr. Standfast may indicate.

Buchan was a good story-teller. One of his fans was C.S. Lewis, who particularly liked Buchan's ability to describe the safe and homely — if only temporary — havens from danger that his heroes would discover. Scotland is a frequent setting for his stories — both the thrillers and various historical novels.

Buchan's protagonists often express the bigotries common then. That can be unsettling to today's reader and may require a certain mental editing if the books are to be enjoyed. Or they can simply be accepted as an artifact of the time when the stories were authored. His characters also often exemplify virtues like loyalty, courage, steadfastness, patriotism — some of which may begin to seem like artifacts of a different time.

One of my favorite critical appreciations of Buchan is to be found in Gertrude Himmelfarb's Victorian Minds: A Study of Intellectuals in Crisis and Ideologies in Transition,  which takes into full account the racism and anti-Semitism which appear, to a greater or lesser extent, in each of the books. (The Himmelfarb Buchan essay can also be found here as a pdf.) She concludes her essay:
Buchan — Calvinist in religion, Tory in politics, and romantic in sensibility — is obviously the antithesis of the liberal. It is no accident that he was addicted to a genre, the romantic tale of adventure, which is itself alien to the liberal temper. For what kind of romance would it be that feared to characterize or categorize, to indulge the sense of evil, violence, and apocalypse? It is no accident, either, that the predominance of liberal values has meant the degeneration of a literary form so congenial to the Tory imagination.
Buchan's first Hannay book, The Thirty-Nine Steps, was, with significant modification, made into a very good film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Note: Some revision on Sunday, 4/13/2022.

Friday, April 8, 2022

"Start him off to the house of Shaws..."

Re-reading Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson:
I will begin the story of my adventures with a certain morning early in the month of June, the year of grace 1751, when I took the key for the last time out of the door of my father’s house. The sun began to shine upon the summit of the hills as I went down the road; and by the time I had come as far as the manse, the blackbirds were whistling in the garden lilacs, and the mist that hung around the valley in the time of the dawn was beginning to arise and die away.

Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, was waiting for me by the garden gate, good man! He asked me if I had breakfasted; and hearing that I lacked for nothing, he took my hand in both of his and clapped it kindly under his arm.

“Well, Davie, lad,” said he, “I will go with you as far as the ford, to set you on the way.” And we began to walk forward in silence.

“Are ye sorry to leave Essendean?” said he, after awhile.

“Why, sir,” said I, “if I knew where I was going, or what was likely to become of me, I would tell you candidly. Essendean is a good place indeed, and I have been very happy there; but then I have never been anywhere else. My father and mother, since they are both dead, I shall be no nearer to in Essendean than in the Kingdom of Hungary, and, to speak truth, if I thought I had a chance to better myself where I was going I would go with a good will.”

“Ay?” said Mr. Campbell. “Very well, Davie. Then it behoves me to tell your fortune; or so far as I may. When your mother was gone, and your father (the worthy, Christian man) began to sicken for his end, he gave me in charge a certain letter, which he said was your inheritance. ‘So soon,’ says he, ‘as I am gone, and the house is redd up and the gear disposed of’ (all which, Davie, hath been done), ‘give my boy this letter into his hand, and start him off to the house of Shaws, not far from Cramond. That is the place I came from,’ he said, ‘and it’s where it befits that my boy should return. He is a steady lad,’ your father said, ‘and a canny goer; and I doubt not he will come safe, and be well lived where he goes.’”

“The house of Shaws!” I cried. “What had my poor father to do with the house of Shaws?”

“Nay,” said Mr. Campbell, “who can tell that for a surety? But the name of that family, Davie, boy, is the name you bear—Balfours of Shaws: an ancient, honest, reputable house, peradventure in these latter days decayed. Your father, too, was a man of learning as befitted his position; no man more plausibly conducted school; nor had he the manner or the speech of a common dominie; but (as ye will yourself remember) I took aye a pleasure to have him to the manse to meet the gentry; and those of my own house, Campbell of Kilrennet, Campbell of Dunswire, Campbell of Minch, and others, all well-kenned gentlemen, had pleasure in his society. Lastly, to put all the elements of this affair before you, here is the testamentary letter itself, superscrived by the own hand of our departed brother.”

He gave me the letter, which was addressed in these words: “To the hands of Ebenezer Balfour, Esquire, of Shaws, in his house of Shaws, these will be delivered by my son, David Balfour.” My heart was beating hard at this great prospect now suddenly opening before a lad of seventeen years of age, the son of a poor country dominie in the Forest of Ettrick.

“Mr. Campbell,” I stammered, “and if you were in my shoes, would you go?”

“Of a surety,” said the minister, “that would I, and without pause. A pretty lad like you should get to Cramond (which is near in by Edinburgh) in two days of walk. If the worst came to the worst, and your high relations (as I cannot but suppose them to be somewhat of your blood) should put you to the door, ye can but walk the two days back again and risp at the manse door. But I would rather hope that ye shall be well received, as your poor father forecast for you, and for anything that I ken come to be a great man in time. And here, Davie, laddie,” he resumed, “it lies near upon my conscience to improve this parting, and set you on the right guard against the dangers of the world.”

Here he cast about for a comfortable seat, lighted on a big boulder under a birch by the trackside, sate down upon it with a very long, serious upper lip, and the sun now shining in upon us between two peaks, put his pocket-handkerchief over his cocked hat to shelter him. There, then, with uplifted forefinger, he first put me on my guard against a considerable number of heresies, to which I had no temptation, and urged upon me to be instant in my prayers and reading of the Bible. That done, he drew a picture of the great house that I was bound to, and how I should conduct myself with its inhabitants. ....

I was glad to get my bundle on my staff’s end and set out over the ford and up the hill upon the farther side; till, just as I came on the green drove-road running wide through the heather, I took my last look of Kirk Essendean, the trees about the manse, and the big rowans in the kirkyard where my father and my mother lay. ..... (read the book at
Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped (1886)

Monday, April 4, 2022


Kevin DeYoung:
.... The great privilege of growing up in relative peace and prosperity—whether narrowly in a healthy family or more broadly in a nation guided by the rule of law and rooted in God-given rights—is that the world seems more or less safe and it kind of makes sense. Let us give thanks for this experience wherever it exists. The danger, however, is that we begin to think it always has existed and always will exist. When our Founding Fathers spoke of securing “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” they used the word “blessings” for a reason. They knew that liberty was not the normal condition of human society. They understood that freedom was a divine gift and a fragile accomplishment. The thing about civilizations is that persons and peoples aren’t always civilized. ....

The prosperity and freedoms we take for granted had to be won in days past, which means they can be lost in the days ahead. ...[T]he life most of us enjoy today is not normal—not normal in history and not normal for millions of people around the world. The more we recognize its abnormality (and our blessing), the better equipped we are to preserve this civilizational inheritance for ourselves and pass it on to our posterity. If we fail at this task, future generations will never know these blessings. (more)
Kevin DeYoung, "A Civilization, if You Can Keep it," April 3, 2022.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Good reads

Ben Shapiro argues "that if you want boys to read, you have to give them material that excites them, that fascinates them, that rivets them" and offers "11 Books Every Boy Should Read" (girls, too, I should think). Shapiro gives reasons for the choices at the site, but you may have to subscribe to read them.
  • The Three Musketeers, by Alexander Dumas
  • Shane, by Jack Schaeffer
  • 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
  • The Man Who Would Be King, by Rudyard Kipling
  • Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  • Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis
  • The Once and Future King, by TH White
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  • I am somewhat envious of those who read books like these for the first time.

    Ben Shapiro, "11 Books Every Boy Should Read," The Daily Wire

    Saturday, April 2, 2022

    He was one of them

    From John Gray's review of Stalin’s Library: A Dictator and His Books, "The cult of Stalin the intellectual":
    .... Aspects of Stalin’s personality that were observed by his contemporaries are edited out from the self-effacing, book-loving figure Roberts presents. Stalin’s contemporaries were familiar with his taste for cruelty. His taunting of guests at late-night drinking sessions is well attested, as is his prolonging standing ovations to the point where his terrified audiences were sore-handed, exhausted and fainting. The manner in which he orchestrated the execution of Nikolai Bukharin is revealing. Before his show trial, in which he was accused of plotting to assassinate Lenin and Stalin, Bukharin wrote to Stalin begging to be executed by poison rather than by a bullet in the back of the head. In response, according to a report by a former secret service officer cited by one of Bukharin’s biographers, he was given a chair so he could sit and watch as 17 of his co-defendants were shot, one by one, until his time came. Bukharin’s fear and horror were multiplied many times over. There can be no doubt that the proceedings were scripted by Stalin. ....

    Why so many intellectuals glorified Stalin is a nice question. Part of the reason must be that Stalin was himself an intellectual. During the Second World War he enjoyed mass popularity in Britain, where he was feted as “good old Joe”. But the cult of Stalin in the West was the work of intellectuals who saw in him what they would like to be themselves: leaders with the power to reconstruct society on the basis of their ideas. HG Wells, Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and others revered Stalin for this reason. Writing in the Thirties, the French poet and essayist Paul Valéry observed that “the mere notion that the life of men could be organised on a collective plan is enough to give birth to the idea of dictatorship”. More than communism, it was the dream of overseeing a social order they had constructed that attracted intellectuals to Stalin.

    Among Stalin’s admirers is Vladimir Putin. ....

    As Roberts shows in this flawed but valuable book, Stalin demolished Russia in an attempt to rebuild it on rationalist foundations. That is why Western intellectuals celebrated him: under his gruff exterior, he was one of them. .... (more)
    John Gray, "The cult of Stalin the intellectual," The New Statesman, March 30, 2022.

    Friday, April 1, 2022

    "Once you are Real..."

    Undiscovered until I was an adult, "The Velveteen Rabbit Turns 100":
    .... “There was once a velveteen rabbit,” the story begins, “and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen.” This pristine condition will not last.

    Within a few sentences, readers are swept into a plaything’s capricious world: “For at least two hours the Boy loved him, and then Aunts and Uncles came to dinner, and there was a great rustling of tissue paper and unwrapping of parcels, and in the excitement of looking at all the new presents the Velveteen Rabbit was forgotten.” ....

    ...[I]f a child loves a toy enough, it will become real. “By the time you are Real,” [the Skin Horse] prophesies, “most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” So it goes for the Velveteen Rabbit, who’s plucked from nursery obscurity by the boy’s nursemaid and becomes the child’s boon companion. ....
    Meghan Cox Gurdon, "Children’s Books: Margery Williams’s ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ Turns 100," Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2022.