Wednesday, August 31, 2022

"The Rings of Power"

Ross Douthat has seen the first six episodes of House of the Dragon (HBO)—which I haven't, and probably won't, watch—and the first two episodes of The Rings of Power (Amazon Prime). The latter, based on Tolkien's pre-history of Middle Earth, interests me a lot. It begins Friday and I've been anticipating it with both hope and dread. Douthat reviews films and apparently received access to the series before the rest of us. From his response this morning to the initial episodes of The Rings of Power:
.... Great fantasy, to generalize, offers a conjunction of two storytelling modes: The mythic and metaphysical on the one hand and the political and historical on the other. At one level, the clash of good and evil, gods and heroes, the decline or return of magic, the specter of apocalypse. At another level, in the shadow of the greater conflicts, the struggles of kings and princesses and common folk, working themselves out with all the usual human confusions and shades of gray. ....

The Lord of the Rings is high-flown and sexless, certainly, but it is hardly short on shades-of-gray characters, dynastic detail or political intrigue. Many of its flawed and fallible figures — from Boromir and his father, Denethor, to Grima Wormtongue and his treacherous master, Saruman — would fit in easily in the landscapes of Westeros. So would more admirable but still complex characters like the shield maiden Eowyn. Tolkien celebrates and undermines hierarchy at the same time; his most important heroes are a man born to be king and a low-status servant from an unimportant backwater. And the drama of the One Ring itself is an acutely modern portrait of addiction and corruption; there is more harsh psychological realism in the arc of Smeagol/Gollum than in that of any Martin character. ....

By moving backward into Tolkien’s legendarium, [The Rings of Power is] set in a time that’s much more magical and mythic than the world of The Fellowship of the Ring or The Two Towers. The initial episodes excel at painting on that canvas; unlike with some CGI extravaganzas, you can see where all the money went. But the visual beauty of elf realms and dwarf kingdoms needs the contrast of mortal doings, personal and political, to humanize the myth, and the new show hasn’t found that footing yet.

Despite the best efforts of the actors playing young Galadriel and young Elrond, there’s only so much you can do with sonorous elf talk. (There’s a reason that elves are largely secondary characters in Tolkien’s novels.) The show’s humans and protohobbits, meanwhile, feel more like stock characters so far, avatars in a fantasy role-playing game, than successful vehicles for audience identification. ....

The Rings of Power needs more politics and personality and nonmagical conflict, and I’m hopeful that it can find them on the island of Numenor, the Atlantis-like kingdom that promises to loom large in the story but doesn’t appear in the initial episodes. ....
Ross Douthat, "With ‘House of the Dragon’ and ‘The Rings of Power,’ We’ve Entered the Age of Blockbuster TV," New York Times, August 31, 2022.

A lady vanishes

A list and description of favorite "locked room" mysteries by a mystery author  includes this one:
The Wheel Spins
by Ethel Lina White

My second favourite locked room mystery is The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White. You may not have heard of this book, or its author, but in her day Ethel was just as popular and successful as Agatha Christie. I think she is an amazing and underrated writer. A lot of people think she may have been forgotten because, like me, she was shy.

The Wheel Spins is about a girl called Iris who is returning to England by train after a somewhat underwhelming holiday. She finds herself in a carriage with a woman called Miss Froy. When Iris wakes up from a nap, Miss Froy is missing and everyone else on the train insists that she was never there in the first place!

I love this book so much, so did Alfred Hitchcock, so he turned it into a film called The Lady Vanishes. (The film is not as good as the book). The Wheel Spins was written in 1936, but it feels surprisingly contemporary when read today. If you enjoy my books I think you might enjoy this too.
The film is one of my favorites but I haven't read the book. Some time ago I downloaded it onto my Kindle. If it is better than the film I probably ought to give it a try.  The Hitchcock film, The Lady Vanishes, is available at Amazon for a very good price.

"Alice Feeney's Favorite Locked Room Mysteries," CrimeReads, August 30, 2022

Monday, August 29, 2022

When calamity strikes

From Joni Eareckson Tada's meditation on the hymn, Come, Ye Disconsolate:
Sometimes it's impossible to sing.

It happens, sooner or later, when you experience a bitter calamity. A lump where it's not expected. A child disappearing while at play. A car veering over the yellow line. A devastating diagnosis out of the blue. The slam of a door, then a loved one gone. When it occurs, it will feel bizarre, meaningless, and undeserved.

You won't perceive it as a test of faith or as the Lord's discipline. You won't view it as a blessing in disguise or as part of a wondrous plan engineered by a trustworthy God. Instead, the tragedy will attack every conviction you ever held about the goodness of your Lord. You know him to be gracious and kind 99.99 percent of the time, but, oh, that wretched .01 percent when all appears malicious, cruel, and unjust. ....
Come, ye disconsolate, where'er ye languish;
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrows that heaven cannot heal.
This is a song for the utterly inconsolable—a person whose sorrow runs so deep it can only be eased by the strong arm of all three persons of the Trinity. And that's exactly how God portrays himself in 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (KJV): "Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you." ....

So should sorrow make you feel vulnerable and emotionally raw, if you feel defenseless, remember that all three persons of the Trinity are for you. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are very familiar with sorrow and are ready to infuse you with all consolation, hope, and sustaining grace. It's something you can sing about and sleep on.

Come, ye disconsolate, where'er ye languish;
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrows that heaven cannot heal.
Joy of the desolate, light of the straying,
Hope of the penitent, fade-less and pure!
Here speaks the Comforter, in mercy saying,
"Earth has no sorrows that heaven cannot cure":
Here see the bread of life; see waters flowing
Forth from the throne of God, pure from above.
Come to the feast prepared; come, ever knowing
Earth has no sorrows but heaven can remove.

Thomas Moore (1816)

Joni Eareckson Tada, Songs of Suffering: 25 Hymns and Devotions for Weary Souls, Crossway, 2022.


I used to argue that most teaching was "translation," not from a foreign language, but into terms that students could understand. That is just as true of teaching from the pulpit. Frederick Buechner:
ENGLISH-SPEAKING TOURISTS abroad are inclined to believe that if only they speak English loudly and distinctly and slowly enough, the natives will know what's being said even though they don't understand a single word of the language.

Preachers often make the same mistake. They believe that if only they speak the ancient verities loudly and distinctly and slowly enough, their congregations will understand them.

Unfortunately, the only language people really understand is their own language, and unless preachers are prepared to translate the ancient verities into it, they might as well save their breath.
Frederick Buechner, Listening to your life, 1992.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

"Grace for every trial"

Today Amazon delivered Joni Eareckson Tada's Songs of Suffering. It is a beautifully produced book from Crossway. I've barely begun it. But I have read Joni's "Before You Begin":
My Song in Suffering

I have lived with quadriplegia for more than half a century and have wrestled with chronic pain for much of that time. I struggle with breathing problems and am in an ongoing battle against cancer. All this makes for a perfect storm for discouragement.

Yet when my hip and back are frozen in pain, or it's simply another weary day of plain paralysis, I strengthen myself with Jesus's example in the upper room. My suffering Savior has taught me to always choose a song—a song that fortifies my faith against discouragement and breathes hope into my heart. And so I daily take up my cross to the tune of a hymn.

But not just any tune or lyrics. The song must possess enough spiritual muscle to barge into my soul and shake awake a hopeful response. It must be a hymn whose lyrics raise me onto a different plane spiritually; it must summon in me the emotional wherewithal to remember my station in life so that I can rise above my circumstances. A well-crafted song of suffering—filled with truths about life and God—has power to do that. It grinds biblical truth into our souls, like a pestle grinding powder in a crucible.

Singing songs of suffering is not an option for Christ-followers. It is not a mere invitation. When Christians in Colossae were struggling to survive under the reign of the madman Nero, Paul ordered them, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly...singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Col. 3:16). When the Ephesians were being persecuted and threatened with torture, Paul commanded them to encourage "one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart" (Eph. 5:19). Paul himself takes his own advice when—bloodied, bruised, and shackled in jail—he boisterously sings a hymn at midnight, proving that spiritual songs can provide powerful ammunition for embattled Christians! (Acts 16:25).

Life is war. I wake up every morning feeling besieged by various afflictions. Nevertheless, I see myself in the choir of Levites who marched onto the battlefield in front of Jehoshaphat's troops, singing, "Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever" (2 Chron. 20:21-22).

In the morning, I tune my heart with a hymn. And at night when pain keeps me awake, when I cannot reposition myself and I don't want to bother my husband a third time, when my mind is so foggy I can barely put two sentences together in prayer, I lean on Scripture. But I also lean on stanzas of great hymns I've memorized over the years.
All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me on the living Bread.
When my weary soul may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo, a Spring of joy I see!
Joni Eareckson Tada, Songs of Suffering: 25 Hymns and Devotions for Weary Souls, Crossway, 2022.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Solid, comfortable ugliness

In 1946 Orwell described an ideal pub. If the thought appeals, you should read it all. A few excerpts:
If you are asked why you favour a particular public-house, it would seem natural to put the beer first, but the thing that most appeals to me about the Moon Under Water is what people call its ‘atmosphere’.

To begin with, its whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian. It has no glass-topped tables or other modern miseries, and, on the other hand, no sham roof-beams, ingle-nooks or plastic panels masquerading as oak. The grained woodwork, the ornamental mirrors behind the bar, the cast-iron fireplaces, the florid ceiling stained dark yellow by tobacco-smoke, the stuffed bull’s head over the mantelpiece — everything has the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century.

In winter there is generally a good fire burning in at least two of the bars, and the Victorian lay-out of the place gives one plenty of elbow-room. There are a public bar, a saloon bar, a ladies’ bar, a bottle-and-jug for those who are too bashful to buy their supper beer publicly, and, upstairs, a dining-room. ....

In the Moon Under Water it is always quiet enough to talk. ....

...[I]f anyone knows of a pub that has draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio, I should be glad to hear of it, even though its name were something as prosaic as the Red Lion or the Railway Arms. (more)
George Orwell, "The Moon Under Water," Evening Standard, Feb. 9, 1946.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Comfort, strength, and hope

Joni Eareckson Tada was born in 1949. As a consequence of a misjudged dive she has lived as a quadriplegic since she was 17. She is a Christian. Like most Americans I became aware of her when Joni: The Unforgettable Story of a Young Woman's Struggle Against Quadriplegia & Depression was published in 1976. Her newest book is Songs of Suffering: 25 Hymns and Devotions for Weary Souls. I learned of the book from a post by Challies and ordered it. Tim Challies:
Few people have a sweeter and kinder spirit than Joni Eareckson Tada. Few people have suffered longer and more consistently than Joni Eareckson Tada. These two things—sweetness and suffering—do not necessarily go together, but by God’s grace they can and often do. They most certainly do in Joni’s life which is one of the reasons so many of us admire and honor her.

One of the keys to Joni’s suffering is singing. As she suffers the effects of her paralysis, as she endures chronic pain, as she persists through illness, she sings. And it’s out of her singing-through-suffering that she brings a new book titled Songs of Suffering. This book is a series of devotionals based upon 25 hymns that have proven especially precious to her. ....

She divides the book into three sections: Songs of Comfort, Songs of Strength, and Songs of Hope. .... (more)
From Amazon's description:
  • A Beautifully Designed Book from Joni Eareckson Tada: Includes 25 hymns with sheet music, devotionals, and photography
  • An Uplifting Call to Worship: Emphasizes the Bible’s command to sing and leads readers in hope-filled praise
The hymns:
Songs of Comfort Songs of Strength Songs of Hope
Be still my soul
Jesus, lover of my soul
Abide with me
It is well with my soul
Come, ye disconsolate
Wonderful peace
Whate'er my God ordains is right 
Jesus, I am resting, resting 

O church, arise
Immortal, invisible, God only wise
Dear refuge of my weary soul
Were you there (when they crucified my Lord)? 
Stricken, smitten, and afflicted
When I survey the wondrous cross
O sacred head, now wounded
Faith is the victory
O the deep, deep love of Jesus
I must tell Jesus
Come, thou long expected Jesus
Standing on the promises
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
For all the saints
Far from my heavenly home
Face to face with Christ, my Savior
When we all get to heaven

Tim Challies, "Joni’s Songs of Suffering," August 26, 2022.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

C.S. Lewis on educating the next generation

C.S. Lewis:
.... None can give to another what he does not possess himself. No generation can bequeath to its successor what it has not got. ...[I]f we are sceptical we shall teach only scepticism..., if fools only folly, if vulgar only vulgarity, if saints sanctity, if heroes heroism. .... We shall all admit that a man who knows no Greek himself cannot teach Greek...: but it is equally certain that a man whose mind was formed in a period of cynicism and disillusion, cannot teach hope or fortitude.

A society which is predominantly Christian will propagate Christianity....

What a society has, that, be sure, and nothing else, it will hand on to its young. The work is urgent, for men perish around us. But there is no need to be uneasy about the ultimate event. As long as Christians have children and non-Christians do not, one need have no anxiety for the next century. ....
C.S. Lewis in his Preface to B.G. Sandhurst, How Heathen is Britain? (1948) (pdf)

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

A locked room

The pleasure of reading "fair play" mysteries isn't the murder itself, but how it was done. About "locked room" mysteries:
The rules of fair play mysteries are clear: the reader must be just as able to solve the crime as the central sleuth. All the clues must be on the page, the how and who must be logical and rational, and the final explanation can’t involve any supernatural sleight of hand.

But even fair play mystery writers like to play around. And sometimes that takes a particular, fun form: the locked room mystery. Part of a category known as impossible crimes or sometimes miracle problems, these mysteries usually feature a dead body, clearly murdered, in a room or space that has been sealed from the inside. There’s no apparent way that a murderer could have gotten in or out, perhaps even no obvious weapon—so how was the crime committed?

The fun of locked room mysteries, of course, is that they are part of the fair play genre: the reader knows the clues are there, that the crime was committed by a real person. The seemingly impossible nature of the crime adds an extra challenge to our armchair sleuthing. ....

Agatha Christie wrote many famous impossible crimes, including Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) and And Then There Were None (1939). ....

But no one can talk about the locked room genre without mentioning John Dickson Carr. Carr was American writer, but he lived in Britain for many years and is often grouped with British Golden Age mystery writers. He began publishing in 1933 and wrote dozens of crime novels, many of them locked-room mysteries like The Plague Court Murders (1934) or The Problem of the Green Capsule (1939). Carr is often considered the master of the impossible crime, and a panel of mystery reviewers and writers once selected his 1935 mystery The Hollow Man as the best locked-room mystery of all time. ....
Katharine Schellman, "Almost Two Centuries of Impossible Crimes: Locked Rooms in Detective Fiction," CrimeReads, August 23, 2022.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

"Everybody we ever loved and lost"

From the reading for August 20, "Communion of Saints," in Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life:
AT THE ALTAR TABLE, the overweight parson is doing something or other with the bread as his assistant stands by with the wine. In the pews, the congregation sits more or less patiently waiting to get into the act. The church is quiet. Outside, a bird starts singing It's nothing special, only a handful of notes angling out in different directions. Then a pause. Then a trill or two. A chirp. it is just warming up for the business of the day, but it is enough.
The parson and his assistant and the usual scattering of senior citizens, parents, teenagers are not alone in whatever they think they're doing. Maybe that is what the bird is there to remind them. In its own slapdash way the bird has a part in it too. Not to mention "Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven" if the prayer book is to be believed. Maybe we should believe it. Angels and Archangels. Cherubim and seraphim. They are all in the act together. it must look a little like the great jeu de son et lumiere at Versailles when all the fountains are turned on at once and the night is ablaze with fireworks. It must sound a little like the last movement of Beethoven's Choral Symphony or the Atlantic in a gale.

And "all the company of heaven" means everybody we ever loved and lost, including the ones we didn't know we loved until we lost them or didn't love at all. It means people we never heard of. It means everybody who ever did—or at some unimaginable time in the future ever will—come together at something like this table in search of something like what is offered at it.

Whatever other reasons we have for coming to such a place, if we come also to give each other our love and to give God our love, then together with Gabriel and Michael, and the fat parson, and Sebastian pierced with arrows, and the old lady whose teeth don't fit, and Teresa in her ecstasy, we are the communion of saints.
Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, HarperCollins, 1992.

Friday, August 19, 2022

In the sure and certain hope...

I've fallen into the habit of reading the local obituaries and, too often, finding one for a friend. From Patrick Kurp's "The Ice Growing Thinner Below Our Feet":
[W]e have reached the age at which we start accumulating deaths, celebrated and obscure, and it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore them. ....

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) died at the impossibly young age of forty-four.... For years Stevenson had suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis or a related respiratory disease but managed to produce an enormous body of work, much of it excellent. In his essay “Aes Triplex,” Stevenson writes:
[A]fter a certain distance, every step we take in life we find the ice growing thinner below our feet, and all around us and behind us we see our contemporaries going through. By the time a man gets well into the seventies, his continued existence is a mere miracle; and when he lays his old bones in bed for the night, there is an overwhelming probability that he will never see the day.
That Stevenson quotation reminded me of this from Chesterton:
The greatest act of faith a man can perform is the act that we perform every night. We abandon our identity, we turn our soul and body into chaos and old night. We uncreate ourselves as if at the end of the world: for all practical purposes we become dead men, in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.
Patrick Kurp, "The Ice Growing Thinner Below Our Feet," Anecdotal Evidence, August 19, 2022, G.K. Chesterton, "The Meaning of Dreams," found in Lunacy and Letters, Sheed & Ward, 1958 (pdf).

Joan of Arc's new pronouns

From today's post at Common Sense by Nellie Bowles:
Strong women cannot possibly have been women
: In the new gender belief system, female-ness and male-ness are feelings, removed from the physical body. So what is femaleness, then? It is a sense of weakness, receptivity, softness, and submission. Duh.

And so it makes sense that a powerful, dominant uterus-haver in, say, 15th-century France, could not possibly have identified as a woman, not if she (they?) knew what we know now. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is putting on a play about the life of Joan of Arc, and in it she is not a she at all. How could she be? Joan is strong and independent! So Joan is recast as a nonbinary hero and goes by they/them. From the Globe’s website announcing the show: “Joan finds their power and their belief spreads like fire.” (Spreads like see Joan was burned at the stake, so they’re doing a metaphor with that.)

You know who else was nonbinary, according to the new academic experts? Elizabeth I! Yes, all through history powerful people who thought they were women were, in fact, total dudes or at least dude-adjacent. All of them, from Cleopatra to Sojourner Truth—they were never women. That was just us imposing the gender-binary on all these super awesome people of indeterminate identity.

The way to know that this is sexism is to imagine something similar being done to a historical man. Like: this historical man was really submissive and quiet, so our play now re-imagines him as a woman, which we think he was.
Nellie Bowles, Common Sense, August 19, 2022.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

To justify rather than inform

Steven Hayward writes:
...I hear from parents who say they have a child interested in studying history, and can I recommend a college with a good department. After Hillsdale and one or two other places, the answer is: No, there are none. Don’t do it. Academic history is now worse than a waste of time nearly everywhere.
And quotes from "Is History History?" by a University of Wisconsin professor, James H. Sweet:
.... If history is only those stories from the past that confirm current political positions, all manner of political hacks can claim historical expertise...

The present has been creeping up on our discipline for a long time. Doing history with integrity requires us to interpret elements of the past not through the optics of the present but within the worlds of our historical actors. Historical questions often emanate out of present concerns, but the past interrupts, challenges, and contradicts the present in unpredictable ways. History is not a heuristic tool for the articulation of an ideal imagined future. Rather, it is a way to study the messy, uneven process of change over time. When we foreshorten or shape history to justify rather than inform contemporary political positions, we not only undermine the discipline but threaten its very integrity. ....
Steven Hayward, "Is History History?" PowerLine, August 18, 2022James H. Sweet, "Is History History?" Perspectives on History, August 17, 2022.

"Your life is trying to tell you something"

Russell Moore on his books by Frederick Buechner:
.... For years, I had heard those stories [the parables] preached just like the Pauline Epistles. The pastor would break them down for us—point by subpoint by sub-subpoint—telling us the interpretation and application of each part.

But Buechner had more to say. “If we think the purpose of Jesus’ stories is essentially to make a point as extractable as the moral at the end of a fable,” he wrote, “then the inevitable conclusion is that once you get the point, you can throw the story itself away like the rind of an orange when you have squeezed out the juice.”

That’s not how stories work, Buechner taught us. They’re meant to involve us—not just with our minds but with our affections and emotions and intuitions too. And all that points us to Jesus himself, who is the Truth, “the whole story of him.”....

I never say “Christ” without also saying the word “Jesus.” That’s because Buechner knew the phrase “Christ saves” wouldn’t make us nearly as uncomfortable as the phrase “Jesus saves” would.

“The words ‘Christ saves’ … have a kind of objective, theological ring to them,” he penned, “whereas ‘Jesus’ saves seems cringingly, painfully personal—somebody named Jesus, of all names, saving somebody named whatever your name happens to be.” The personal name Jesus reminds us that what we accept or reject is not an abstraction but a Person.

On down the shelf is Wishful Thinking, which, like so many of these books, prompted readers to reflect on how Jesus, that living Story, makes sense of all the other true stories—including the existence of God.

Unlike many evangelical apologists, Buechner did not turn to logic or other evidence to attempt to prove that God exists. “It is as impossible for man to demonstrate the existence of God as it would be for even Sherlock Holmes to demonstrate the existence of Arthur Conan Doyle,” he said. God is not data we can manage, he seemed to say, but is living and personal and the One who is writing the story in which we live and move.

A few spaces down on the bookshelf is Buechner’s The Alphabet of Grace, which even now startles me into paying attention to the miracle of the ordinary:
You get married, a child is born or not born, in the middle of the night there is a knocking at the door, on the way home through the park you see a man feeding pigeons, all the tests come in negative and the doctor gives you back your life again: incident follows incident helter-skelter leading apparently nowhere, but then once in a while there is the suggestion of purpose, meaning, direction, the suggestion of plot, the suggestion that, however clumsily, your life is trying to tell you something, take you somewhere. ....
Moore suggests where to start if you want to read Buechner:
I suggest getting a copy of the devotional called Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner (Harper). Now, devotionals like this will often chop an author’s work into day-sized nuggets that are out of context—and the result is usually awful. But this one is helpful because you can sample various sections, organized by topic. When you find something that really speaks to you, it’s just a matter of checking the source list at the end to see what book it comes from and going from there. (more)
Russell Moore, "Frederick Buechner Helped Keep Me Christian," Moore to the Point, August 18, 2022.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Frederick Buechner, RIP

Frederick Buechner died on Monday at age 96. His books are a favorite of my pastor, often quoted. I've read, and profited from, and enjoyed, his work, too.

Prufrock quotes from an account about how Beuchner became a Christian:
.... Buechner had been baptized in his grandmother’s church as a boy and had hardly set foot in a church after that, but he began to worship at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. One Sunday George Buttrick, the renowned minister of the church, preached a sermon in which he compared the recent coronation of Queen Elizabeth to Jesus’ refusal of a crown from Satan. Buttrick noted that Jesus is a king nonetheless because he is “crowned in the heart of the people who believe in him” and that coronation takes place “among confession, and tears, and great laughter.”

Buechner recalled, “At the phrase great laughter, for reasons that I have never satisfactorily understood, the great Wall of China crumbled and Atlantis rose up out of the sea. Tears leapt from my eyes as though I had been struck across the face.... It was not so much that a door opened as that I suddenly found that a door had been open all along, which I had only just then stumbled upon.” ....
About Buechner at RNS:
While Buechner was ordained in a progressive mainline Protestant denomination, his fans also included Catholics and conservative evangelicals.

Russell Moore, the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission who recently was named editor in chief of Christianity Today, credited Buechner’s writing with making him a better evangelical in a 2017 commentary for the magazine.

“J. Gresham Machen and Carl F.H. Henry taught me that I needn’t put my mind in a blind trust in order to follow Jesus. Buechner taught me the same about my imagination,” Moore wrote.
A Buechner quotation I found in a blog comment today:
OF THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.
Some Buechner quotations.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Gervase Fen

From an appreciation of the mysteries by Bruce Montgomery writing as Edmund Crispin:
...Montgomery made Gervase Fen, the man who was to become his series detective, Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford.

Gervase Fen quickly became one of the outstanding gentleman amateur detectives of English detective fiction, comfortably rubbing sophisticated shoulders with the likes of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion. In contrast with these two Crime Queens (and Ngaio Marsh, whose detective Roderick Alleyn, though a policeman, is of the same breed), Montgomery did not make Fen’s love life a focal point, but confined the love stuff to secondary characters.... Fen himself is not really romantic leading man material. He can be vain, faddish and alarmingly blunt and his most prominent physical feature is his “dark hair, ineffectually plastered down with water,” that is “stuck out in spikes from the back of his head” (Holy Disorders). ....

Such is Crispin’s penchant for madcap humor that at times the humorous interludes rather overwhelm the mystery plot. This happens most obviously in the two novels which followed The Case of the Gilded Fly: Holy Disorders (1945) and The Moving Toyshop (1946). Of the latter novel, in modern times routinely pronounced (by Julian Symons and P.D. James for example) Crispin’s masterpiece, a reader for Crispin’s British publisher Gollancz presciently noted that it had “a thin plot....but nobody cares.” ....

In the late 1940s Bruce Montgomery, still in his twenties, was unquestionably in the prime of his creative life. In 1947, the year his fourth detective novel appeared, he was invited to join England’s Detection Club, a social organization of the country’s finest writers of detective fiction, including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and John Dickson Carr. Fittingly, Montgomery was proposed for membership by his idol John Dickson Carr. ....

Buried for Pleasure achieves the comic heights of Holy Disorders and The Moving Toyshop, yet it also offers a more controlled mystery plot—a winning combination, in my view. The last two Edmund Crispin novels from the 1944-51 period, Frequent Hearses (published as Sudden Vengeance in the United States) and The Long Divorce, show signs of further artistic development in a serious direction. In particular, The Long Divorce offers the best of Crispin mystery plots along with an interesting, seriously presented female protagonist. ....

While I love the manic high spirits of some of the earlier Crispin tales, I find that Frequent Hearses and The Long Divorce have more than adequate compensations, namely strong plots ladled with rich dollops of humor (if not quite of the madcap sort). Frequent Hearses has amusing satire of the film world (with which Crispin had become familiar though his highly lucrative film score work), but my personal favorite of the two is The Long Divorce. ....

In so highly praising the fair play plotting of The Long Divorce, I do not mean to suggest that Crispin eschews humor in the novel. To the contrary, there are numerous amusing sections. Lavender’s anti-Martian mania is absolutely inspired, for example, and Colonel Babington’s efforts to quit smoking are quite funny. Crispin also gets in some droll satirical jabs at Continental intellectuals, in the form of the Swiss educationalist Peter Rubi:
“It is good for the children,” [Rubi] observed benevolently, “to destroy things sometimes. If they are allowed to do that, they grow up to be saner people.” He looked politely to Mr. Datchery [Gervase Fen] in confirmation of his doubtful thesis. “Is that not so, sir?”
“No,” said Mr. Datchery.
In my view, both Fen and his creator unequivocally triumph in The Long Divorce. Unfortunately it would prove something of a last hurrah for both Crispin and Fen. ..... (more)
The post includes biographical material about Montgomery (Crispin) that is ultimately very sad.

I read the books with much pleasure. The copies I had were paperbacks and I find that I have them no longer. I expect the paper had deteriorated beyond being even decent reading copies. The books are, though, still in print.

Curtis Evans, "The Creative Life and Death of Bruce Montgomery, aka Edmund Crispin," CrimeReads, August 12, 2022.

Thursday, August 11, 2022


From The Spectator:
.... Nice
, as in “a nice cup of tea,” was a word loathed by my schoolmistresses, like got. Their cue may have been Jane Austen. “This is a very nice day,” remarked Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey, “and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! — it does for everything.” Yet the oddest thing about nice was its change of meaning from “ignorant, foolish” to a bundle of senses bigger than Jane Austen suggested. For nice in English came from the classical Latin nescius, which spawned words in Romance language such as necio in Spanish meaning “blockhead.”

More surprising than nice in the sense of “pleasant” being applicable to days, walks or ladies, were its concurrent quite contrasting meanings. “It has been a damned nice thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life,” said the Duke of Wellington to Thomas Creevey about the Battle of Waterloo. ....

It could mean “punctilious in conduct,” too, as it still did when P.G. Wodehouse’s hero declared: “Bertram Wooster in his dealings with the opposite sex invariably shows himself a man of the nicest chivalry.” ....

In that year of 1598, John Florio in his English-Italian dictionary A Worlde of Wordes exemplified nice in the phrase “an effeminate, nice, milkesop, puling fellow.” Robert Cawdrey in his English dictionary A Table Alphabeticall (1604) listed nice as “slow, laysie.” In marshaling such different meanings simultaneously, English speakers exercised a nice judgment.
Dot Wordsworth "The not-so-sweet roots of ‘nice’," The Spectator, August, 2022.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Monday, August 8, 2022

"Liberty is a good to be improved, and not an evil to be lessened"


…. The extreme of liberty (which is its abstract perfection, but its real fault) obtains nowhere, nor ought to obtain anywhere. Because extremes, as we all know, in every point which relates either to our duties or satisfactions in life, are destructive both to virtue and enjoyment. Liberty too must be limited in order to be possessed. The degree of restraint is impossible in any case to settle precisely. But it ought to be the constant aim of every wise, publick council, to find out by cautious experiments, and rational, cool endeavours, with how little, not how much of this restraint, the community can subsist. For liberty is a good to be improved, and not an evil to be lessened. It is not only a private blessing of the first order, but the vital spring and energy of the state itself, which has just so much life and vigour as there is liberty in it. But whether liberty be advantageous or not (for I know it is a fashion to decry the very principle), none will dispute that peace is a blessing; and peace must in the course of human affairs be frequently bought by some indulgence and toleration at least to liberty. ….

Recovering and restoring

.... In this unsettled age, conservatism is the work of recovering and restoring a home in this world—a place of consolation, a sanctified somewhere that connects us to the dead, the unborn, and our neighbors through love, memory, and sacrifice. This work can never be done perfectly, not only because we ourselves are fallible, but because this world is not our final home. We take up the work because we want to provide for our children. And our faults in this work become a burden for them. They in turn must repair and improve on what we did, at first appalled by our faults but, we hope, eventually inspired by our successes too. The sum of this process is a national tradition, falling into disrepair and then renewing itself across generations.

This attempt at making a home—a place where no one is merely useful, and no one is merely familiar—implants in us a longing for the true home that can never be destroyed. We put in our labors to preserve freedom, decency, and our culture, so that our children receive this somewhere as a place prepared for them by their fathers.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Online commentary

Sitting idly outside, I started thinking about those online commentators I regularly read and with whom I frequently agree. I spend way too much time online at the expense of other reading but these are not time wasted.

Even when I disagree, I profit from reading them. There are others (some in the right-hand column), but these are the ones that came immediately to mind.

Conserving liberalism

The terms we use to identify political tendencies in American politics — liberal, conservative, radical, right-wing, etc. — are imprecise and often used in ways those who identify with them don't recognize. I for instance, would describe myself as a conservative, but many hearing that would think immediately of followers of Trump, and I am emphatically not one of those. When I use the term I'm thinking more of Burke, or Madison, say, or the political movement associated with National Review and Ronald Reagan. Friday, in a review of a book about John Locke's influence on the Founders and American politics since, Bartain Swaim begins with what "liberalism" (small "l") means and the role of American conservatives in conserving that meaning.
One way to sum up postwar American politics is to say that conservatives try to stop liberals from breaking the liberals’ own rules. The “rules” in this formulation are those of liberalism in the broadest sense: constitutional principles, the rule of law, rights-based protections.

“Liberal” regimes aren’t supposed to impose a particular understanding of the Good on their citizens; they’re meant to ensure local and individual freedoms and enable citizens to figure out what the Good is for themselves. But some liberals—typically the highly educated and privileged sort—tend to forget they are liberals and try to define righteousness for everybody. They do this by reallocating citizens’ wealth according to their own ideals, regulating private economic behavior, dictating to local communities how they should govern themselves, imposing protean codes of correct speech and behavior on everybody else, and so on. Conservatives, in this admittedly biased way of putting it, are there to stop liberals from indulging these illiberal impulses; to remind them, in other words, that they are liberals, not potentates.

Not everyone considered themselves good liberals, of course. On the left, communists, socialists and other radicals of the 20th century rejected liberalism as an invention of capitalism and Cold War ideology. On the right, a confederation of Catholic intellectuals in the 1960s and ’70s sought to burst the bands of liberalism and establish a more overtly moral political order. More recently, the progressive left has largely given up on the idea that everyone, including people whose opinions and customs progressives find loathsome, deserves legal protections. Among conservatives, a group of “postliberal” intellectuals, resolutely traditionalist in religious outlook, have proposed scrapping liberalism altogether by regulating markets and expanding state power in ways that shore up “communitarian” values: i.e., by doing what the political left has been doing for 70 years but in a “conservative” way. .... (Burke in my previous post here)
Barton Swaim, "‘America’s Philosopher’ Review: The Key to John Locke," Wall Street Journal, August 5, 2022.

Friday, August 5, 2022

"Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither is safe"

Received Edmund Burke and the Perennial Battle, 1789-1797 this afternoon, an edited collection of Burke's writings. The following is from the first entry, a "Letter to Charles-Jean-Francois Depont" (November, 1789):
You hope, sir, that I think the French deserving of liberty. I certainly do. I certainly think that all men who desire it, deserve it. It is not the reward of our merit, or the acquisition of our industry. It is our inheritance. It is the birthright of our species.

Permit tell you what the freedom is that I love, and that to which I think all men entitled. This is the more necessary, because, of all the loose terms in the world, liberty is the most indefinite. It is not solitary, unconnected, individual, selfish liberty, as if every man was to regulate the whole of his conduct by his own will. The liberty I mean is social freedom. It is that state of things in which liberty is secured by the equality of restraint. A constitution of things in which the liberty of no one man, and no body of men, and no number of men, can find means to trespass on the liberty of any person, or any description of persons, in the society. This kind of liberty is, indeed, but another name for justice; ascertained by wise laws, and secured by well-constructed institutions. I am sure that liberty, so incorporated, and in a manner identified with justice, must be infinitely dear to every one who is capable of conceiving what it is. But whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither is, in my opinion, safe. I do not believe that men ever did submit, certain I am that they never ought to have submitted, to the arbitrary pleasure of one man; but, under circumstances in which the arbitrary pleasure of many persons in the community pressed with an intolerable hardship upon the just and equal rights of their fellows, such a choice might be made, as among evils. The moment will is set above reason and justice, in any community, a great question may arise in sober minds, in what part or portion of the community that dangerous dominion of will may be the least mischievously placed. ....

A positively vicious and abusive government ought to be changed—and, if necessary, by violence—if it cannot be (as sometimes it is the case) reformed. But when the question is concerning the more or the less perfection in the organization of a government, the allowance to means is not of so much latitude. There is, by the essential fundamental constitution of things, a radical infirmity in all human contrivances; and the weakness is often so attached to the very perfection of our political mechanism, that some defect in it—something that stops short of its principle, something that controls, that mitigates, that moderates it—becomes a necessary corrective to the evils that the theoretic perfection would produce. I am pretty sure it often is so; and this truth may be exemplified abundantly.

[P]rudence...will lead us rather to acquiesce in some qualified plan, that does not come up to the full perfection of the abstract idea, than to push for the more perfect, which cannot be attained without tearing to pieces the whole contexture of the commonwealth, and creating a heart-ache in a thousand worthy bosoms. ....
Daniel B. Klein, Dominic Pino, editors, Edmund Burke and the Perennial Battle, 1789-1797, CL Press, 2022.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Summer holiday reading

Writers for The Spectator on their summer holiday reading. In articles like these I almost always find someone with whom I am in enthusiastic agreement:
Tishomingo Blues
by Elmore Leonard is so absorbing there is only one problem: you might get so absorbed in it that you forget where you are and then your expensive holiday is somewhat wasted. I always take a stash of crime fiction and thrillers to read in bed at night on holiday as I’m not a big socialiser. This one had me absolutely transfixed in a gîte in the Lot. I have been reading everything I can find by Leonard ever since. If you like books which give you a window into another world, and where the characters become your best friends, try also Maximum Bob and Stick – glorious summer reads.
LOTR, of course. I haven't read Lee Child but I enjoyed the online series based on one of the Reacher books.
Ignore the snoots about J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: it’s the best adventure ever written, and helpfully lugs around a pile of massive themes – good and evil, love and death, loyalty and courage, and of course talking trees. I first read it on holiday in a villa on Poros and it was so immersive I failed to notice our most glamorous friend had embarked on a passionate affair with the coach of the Greek Navy’s rowing team who lived next door. Tolkien is that good. Lee Child’s Killing Floor is the first of the Jack Reacher books – and the best. Like a lot of once good things, the Reacher franchise has got too big and gone on too long (Pizza Express anyone?), but this is thrilling and unputdownable.
"What Spectator writers read on their summer holidays," The Spectator, August 3, 2022.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

"A poem is speech raised to the level of song"

A fairly long post quoting from a substantially longer, and worthwhile,  article: Dana Gioia on "Christianity and Poetry":
It is impossible to understand the full glory of Christianity without understanding its poetry.

Why should anyone believe such a claim? Let’s start with Scripture, the universal foundation of Christianity. No believer can ignore the curious fact that one-third of the Bible is written in verse. Sacred poetry is not confined to the Psalms, the Song of Songs, and Lamentations. The prophetic books are written mostly in verse. The wisdom books—­Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes—are all poems, each in a different genre. There are also poetic passages in the five books of Moses and the later histories. ....

There are no books of verse in the New Testament, but poetry is woven into the fabric of both the Gospels and the Epistles. What are the Beatitudes but a poem carefully shaped in the tradition of prophetic verse? The Book of Apocalypse (or Revelation in the Protestant Bible) is a prose poem, full of sound and symbol. Some scholars believe that the original Aramaic version of the Lord’s Prayer was in verse. ....

Poetry is the most concise, expressive, and memorable way of using words. It is a special way of speaking that shapes the sound and rhythm of words. In the ancient world, most poems were sung or chanted. That musical identity remains central to the art. A poem is speech raised to the level of song; it casts a momentary spell over the listener. People hear it differently from ordinary talk. ....

For Christian poetry, however, it is possible to assign its emergence to a specific moment: Mary’s announcement of the Incarnation. Christian poetry begins—quite literally—at the first moment in which Christ is announced to humanity. That origin demonstrates the supreme and inextricable importance of poetry to Christian experience. In Scripture, verse is the idiom for the revelation of mystery. ....

...Christian authors tend to see the world in characteristic ways. This is especially true of the Anglo-­Catholic traditions that have been the mainstream of English religious poetry. Christian poets see humanity struggling in a fallen world. They recognize humanity’s imperfection and the temptations of both the flesh and the spirit. Mankind is in need of grace and redemption. Evil exists, but the physical world is not evil. All creation is charged with divine glory, though God himself remains invisible. Jesus has redeemed humanity through his incarnation, death, and resurrection. Salvation is available to all who follow Christ’s way. The individual life finds meaning in its journey toward death and eternity. Finally, these poets have a double sense of reality; behind the material world, they feel another realm of existence—invisible, eternal, and divine—to which they also belong. One purpose of religious poetry is to make that hidden world tangible. ....

The seventeenth century is the greatest period of religious poetry in English. Indeed, it equals any period of Christian verse in any language. The explosive intellectual energy of the Protestant Reformation found expression in the English poetic imagination. The measure of its spiritual stature is demonstrated not only by the quality and diversity of its major poets—John Donne, George ­Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Andrew ­Marvell, John Milton, and John Dryden (as well as English-born Anne Bradstreet); it is also evident in their passionate interest in spiritual matters. ....

Vaughan required no elaborate rhetoric to report the vision afforded by his prayers.
I saw Eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driven by the spheres
Like a vast shadow moved...
.... The three greatest hymnists of English literature appeared in quick succession: Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and William Cowper. Although their ­theology was consistent with that of Herbert and Vaughan, their style was radically different. They were not concerned with articulating their private sensibilities; they sought to voice the common aspirations of Christians gathered in worship.

A hymn is no less poetic than a sonnet, but it avoids complex soliloquy. If poetry is language raised to the level of song, a hymn is a poem to be sung in chorus. Great hymns are rarer than great poems because their transparent simplicity reveals any flaw. They must be direct in both meaning and emotion and yet deliver musical and memorable language. Hymns are not meant to survive as texts alone; they live in their musical settings. Nonetheless a few make a joyful noise even on the silent page:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Mystical poets seek to extinguish their individual consciousness by merging with the divine. Few manage this difficult ascent. Hymnists allow the members of a congregation to merge their separate souls into a united body of the gathered church. ....

Christianity has survived into the twenty-first century, but it has not come through unscathed. It has kept its head and its heart—the clarity of its beliefs and its compassionate mission. The problem is that it has lost its senses, all five of them. ....

These things matter because we are incarnate beings. We see the shape and feel the texture of things. We instinctively know that the form of a thing is part of its meaning. We are drawn to beauty, not logic. Our experience of the divine is not primarily intellectual. We feel it with our bodies. We picture it in our imaginations. We hear it as a voice inside us. We are grateful for an explanation, but we crave inspiration, communion, rapture, epiphany. .... (more)
Dana Gioia, "Christianity and Poetry," First Things, August, 2022.

Monday, August 1, 2022

"Worth dying for, but not worth living for"

This morning's post from Alan Jacobs sent me looking for C.S. Lewis's "Learning in War-time" (pdf). Lewis was a trench veteran of World War I and was here delivering a sermon to university students in late 1939 soon after the beginning of the Second World War in Europe. Does war make every other human activity, including learning, unimportant?
.... Now it seems to me that we shall not be able to answer these questions until we have put them by the side of certain other questions which every Christian ought to have asked himself in peace-time. I spoke just now of fiddling while Rome bums. But to a Christian the true tragedy of Nero must be not that he fiddled while the city was on fire but that he fiddled on the brink of hell. You must forgive me for the crude monosyllable—I know that many wiser and better Christians than I in these days do not like to mention heaven and hell even in a pulpit. I know, too, that nearly all the references to this subject in the New Testament come from a single source. But then that source is Our Lord Himself. People will tell you it is St Paul, but that is untrue. These overwhelming doctrines are dominicaL They are not really removable from the teaching of Christ or of His Church. If we do not believe them, our presence in this church is great tomfoolery. If we do, we must sometime overcome our spiritual prudery and mention them. ....

.... For that reason I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with "normal life" Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. ....

...[E]very duty is a religious duty, and our obligation to perform every duty is therefore absolute. Thus we may have a duty to rescue a drowning man, and perhaps, if we live on a dangerous coast, to learn life-saving so as to be ready for any drowning man when he turns up. It may be our duty to lose our own lives in saving him. But if anyone devoted himself to life-saving in the sense of giving it his total attention—so that he thought and spoke of nothing else and demanded the cessation of all other human activities until everyone had learned to swim—he would be a monomaniac. The rescue of drowning men is, then, a duty worth dying for, but not worth living for. It seems to me that all political duties (among which I include military duties) are of this kind. A man may have to die for our country: but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country. He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself. ....

...[W]ar does do something to death. It forces us to remember it. The only reason why the cancer at sixty or the paralysis at seventy-five do not bother us is that we forget them. War makes death real to us: and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right. All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centred in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realize it. Now the stupidest of us knows. We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy here-after, we can think so still. (the essay as pdf)
C.S. Lewis, "Learning in War-time," 1939 (pdf). The sermon is also collected in C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 1962.

“Evil days may well come”

Alan Jacobs refers us to his post from a few years ago, responding to one of Rod Dreher's pessimistic takes on the state of Christianity in America. Jacobs argued that we should not expect to live in a world that is hospitable to our Faith:
.... How would God’s call upon your life differ depending on whether Rod’s reading of the signs of the times is correct?

I’m going to argue that it shouldn’t be different at all, in any respect whatsoever. For the Christian, genuine faithfulness always makes the same demand: the whole of your life. As Bonhoeffer says, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” He does not say, “When Christ calls a man in Nazi Germany, he bids him come and die.” Indeed, in a society that is comfortably Christian, this call may be harder to hear than in a society where Christian faith and practice are under assault — this is indeed the foundational insight of Kierkegaard’s work, from beginning to end. Jesus wants the people who hear his teachings to “read the signs of the times,” but what he means by that is: Understand that your Lord is among you — which is something that it’s difficult for all of us truly to apprehend.

Further, I want to suggest that “reading the signs of the times” in a more familiar sense of those words has always been the chief bane of the Church. Christians have often looked about them and seen a world that seemed fundamentally hospitable to the Gospel, a world in which Christians can be at home, and that interpretation of their environment has led them to neglect the formation of their children and the strengthening of the bonds of community in their local church, leading to “the total collapse of the faith within our own families and communities.” We would do better to ignore the so-called signs of the times in order to focus on what Jesus demands of every Christian everywhere, without exception. Evil days may well come; but “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

In the third book of The Lord of the Rings — otherwise known as the first part of The Two Towers — when the Riders of Rohan meet Aragorn and Gimli and Legolas, Eomer is confused. “It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?” And Aragorn’s answer is: “As he ever has judged. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”

There is great wisdom here, I think. It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis says in his sermon on “Learning in Wartime,” in which he reminds his hearers that in one important sense war doesn’t change anything: in time of perfect peace we have not one more breath of life guaranteed to us than the one we currently take in. I think Karl Barth had something similar in mind when, in his glorious commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says that there has only ever been one crisis (Krisis) — one uniquely decisive moment — in history, and that came when the Second Person of the Trinity became human for our sake. .... (more)
Alan Jacobs, “Lord, make me an idiot,” Snakes and Ladders, April 11, 2019.