Monday, October 31, 2022

Memento mori

Another way to consider the macabre decorations that appear on neighborhood lawns this time of year:
.... Long before suburbanites started littering their lawns with plastic craniums every October, Christians were adorning their art, tombs, and places of worship with death imagery—especially skulls. These grim symbols that pervade the Christian tradition are strange, sobering, sometimes quite funny, and deeply theological. ....

Skulls in Christian art usually function as part of the memento mori tradition, a reminder that no matter what our station in life, death inevitably comes for us all. Puritan tombstones in New England provide some of the most memorable examples of this artform. In these colonial-era churchyards you’ll find, among other images, carvings of hour glasses symbolizing the unceasing passage of time, and the death’s head, an occasionally menacing but often goofy-looking skull with wings. While our modern sensibilities may find these depictions off-putting (outside of the month of October, of course), these symbols of mortality called the living to contemplate their end—not in order to cause fear and anxiety but to encourage wisdom, repentance, and faith in Jesus. ....

Far from being a celebration of death, these Halloween decorations are opportunities to reflect on the truth of the gospel: the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ has rendered our most feared foe the butt of the joke. They function like the Riddikulus spell in Harry Potter, turning our greatest fear into something laughable. Although we still suffer under the curse of death—and the suffering is indeed immense—through our tears we can defiantly, and with hope, join the Apostle Paul’s taunts, saying, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” .... (more)
Cort Gatliff, "Mocking Death," Mere Orthodoxy, Oct. 31, 2022.

All Hallows Eve

October 31st is Reformation Day and the day following is All Saints' Day: 

Reformation Day is the anniversary of the day Martin Luther issued his challenge to debate his 95 theses—not the beginning of the Reformation but an important point in it. Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day. Days were thought of as evening to evening so the eve was the beginning of the next day—think New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve. Although today most approach it as a secular holiday that wasn’t its origin and for Protestants, all believers are “saints” and All Saints’ Day is when we acknowledge “the great cloud of witnesses” who have passed on. So on Halloween, we can celebrate both the Protestant Reformation and all those believers who have gone before.
Therefore being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2 [KJV]

Friday, October 28, 2022

“One can't love humanity. One can only love people.”

Ministry of Fear (1944) is one of those films I re-watch with pleasure. It was directed by Fritz Lang, loosely based on the novel by Graham Greene. Criterion has produced, as is their wont, a superb Blu-ray DVD. Their description of the film:
Suffused with dread and paranoia, this Fritz Lang adaptation of a novel by Graham Greene is a plunge into the eerie shadows of a world turned upside down by war. En route to London after being released from a mental institution, Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) stops at a seemingly innocent village fair, after which he finds himself caught in the web of a sinister underworld with possible Nazi connections. Lang was among the most illustrious of the European émigré filmmakers working in Hollywood during World War II, and Ministry of Fear is one of his finest American productions, an unpredictable thriller with style to spare.
The quotation in the heading is from the Graham Greene thriller.

Ministry of Fear, directed by Fritz Lang, 1944.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

“He must increase, but I must decrease”

From Michael J. Kruger on "How Not To Become a Celebrity Pastor":
.... Most pastors don’t think they are in danger of becoming a “celebrity pastor” because they miss what a celebrity pastor actually is. They assume that celebrity pastors are, by definition, pastors of large churches or ministries. And since most churches are small-to-medium in size, most pastors figure they are immune.

Let me suggest, however, that this is a misunderstanding of the problem. The problem is not about the size of the church, but the culture of the church. Or, more to the point, it is not about the success of the pastor but the disposition of the pastor.

The celebrity pastor doesn’t actually have to be that exceptional in order to be treated as a celebrity. It doesn’t really matter if their church is 100 people or 1000. They merely have to be the big fish in their own little pond.

After all, athletes don’t have to wait to get to the professional leagues to get a cocky swagger about them. Even a player on the local high school football team can develop an enormous ego from the incessant praise of the little hometown crowd.

So, if becoming a celebrity pastor is a danger for all of us, we are going to need a framework for how to avoid it. And I think the person of John the Baptist provides just such a framework.

From all we can tell, John was immensely gifted. So much so that many people thought he might himself be the Messiah. One could imagine how easy it might have been for John to think he was kind of a big deal. Maybe he deserved the limelight. Perhaps he should get special privileges.

But thankfully, that’s not how John reacted. Here’s some things we can learn from his life as recorded in John chapter 3. .... (more)
Michael J. Kruger, "How Not To Become a Celebrity Pastor," canon fodder, Oct. 25, 2022.

Monday, October 24, 2022


I taught required U.S. History classes every one of my thirty-six years as a public school teacher. My first teaching job was in the 1968-69 school year. I retired in 2005. Today FAIR published "How honest American history can cultivate gratitude." I agree with it.
Attending public schools in the 1970s and 80s, my teachers had no problem managing the dual task of celebrating what was great in American history and pointing out its moral failures. We were taught to appreciate the brilliance of the Founding Fathers, the courage of our fellow citizens, and America’s many contributions to the world. At the same time, our teachers pulled no punches on America’s moral failures. We learned about slavery, the Trail of Tears, the women’s suffrage movement, company stores, the Sacco and Vanzetti Trial, the Ku Klux Klan, Japanese Internment Camps, the Red Scare, Jim Crow—all by the end of ninth grade! ....

Today, however, many teachers stake out the opposite extreme, reducing American history to a zero-sum power struggle between “the oppressed” and “the oppressors.” Through this lens, the story of race relations in American history becomes simply white folks subjugating non-white folks. Very often, this is not presented as part of our story, but the essence of it. America is defined by various systems of oppression that, according to some, are a permanent fixture of our society.

This new narrative renders gratitude impossible and only feeds resentment and despair. Those who declared principles of freedom, fought for them, risked their lives for them, and even died for them—men and women of many races—are expurgated from our national memory. They are to be removed from places of honor when we find them deficient in some respect. And they will always be found deficient. Gratitude for the Founding Fathers becomes less than pedestrian; it is the honoring of contemptible people. ....

A different narrative, which appears more honest, accurate, critical, and helpful, is the same one that Martin Luther King Jr. embraced. With regard to race, he taught, “The American people are infected with racism—that is the peril. Paradoxically, they are also infected with democratic ideals—that is the hope. While doing wrong, they have the potential to do right.”

King had no trouble pointing out the failures of his fellow citizens, but he was also adept at recognizing their virtue. This was the balanced narrative I grew up with: imperfect people were slowly making progress in living up to the ideals they set for themselves. .... (more)
Jeffrey K. Mann, "How honest American history can cultivate gratitude," FAIR, Oct. 24, 2022.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

On a mission from God

I've been getting CSL:The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society since I was in graduate school. Invariably there is something interesting, often about books. This essay was about the few references to Jesus in That Hideous Strength:
.... Jesus is the subject of discussion in section three of chapter four, when Mark Studdock first encounters Reverend Straik, the "Mad Parson." Straik believes that the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.) is on a mission from God, and he supports that nefarious mission with apocalyptic fervor. He does not pretend that the revolution they are seeking will come about without violence. "It is no part of our witness," he explains, "to preserve that organisation of ordered sin which is called Society." When Mark objects that the preservation of society is crucial since there is no afterlife in which wrongs will be set right, he expects disagreement. But Straik's views on heaven leave him speechless:
I repudiate that damnable doctrine. That is precisely the subterfuge by which the World, the organisation and body of Death, has sidetracked and emasculated the teaching of Jesus, and turned into priestcraft and mysticism the plain demand of the Lord for righteousness and judgement here and now. The Kingdom of God is to be realised here in this world. And it will be. At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. In that name I dissociate myself completely from all the organised religion that has yet been seen in the world.
At this outburst, Mark awkwardly mumbles "something about his ignorance of theology." Yet he is mistaken if he thinks this will mollify Straik: "It's not theology I'm talking about, young man, but the Lord Jesus. Theology is talk eyewash a smoke screen a game for rich men." "It wasn't in lecture rooms I found the Lord Jesus," he says, but in the ordinary travails of life to be found "in the coal pits" and in solidarity with those who suffer.

The faith Straik once had in the churches he now places in N.I.C.E., an "irresistible His hand." He sees himself as a prophet who "seeks the sign of His coming" and is eager to join together with all those ready "to sacrifice all merely human values.." Because they share "the tragic sense of life" which he could not find "amid all the nauseating cant of the organised religions," they will be among those who will "inherit the earth" and "judge angels." ....
"Imagine there's no heaven..."

Patrick Gray, "Cameo Appearance: A Note on Jesus in That Hideous Strength," The Bulletin of The New York C.S. Lewis Society, May/June, 2022.

Friday, October 21, 2022

A Civil War history

The Library of America has combined three Bruce Catton books in its The Army of the Potomac Trilogy. From Harold Holzer's "Echoes of the Battlefield" review:
Each volume of Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy appeared—and remains—a stand-alone, but together they offer a sweeping look at the war’s Eastern theater. Mr. Lincoln’s Army chronicled the origin of the first, all-volunteer Union fighting force, along with the rise and fall of its young, overcautious general, George B. McClellan. Catton reminded readers that McClellan and his commander in chief failed to click not only because their personalities clashed, but because McClellan failed to embrace Lincoln’s emancipation policy as a war goal. Catton excelled in character analysis, yet it was his breathtaking final section—a riveting account of the 1862 bloodbath at Antietam—that left 1951 readers yearning for more.

Glory Road continued the saga, taking the army through the mud of Fredericksburg, the lost opportunities of Chancellorsville and the hard-fought victory at Gettysburg, along with Lincoln’s sublime effort to consecrate the “great civil war” as “a new birth of freedom.” Finally, A Stillness at Appomattox introduced Grant into the story, tracing his slog toward Richmond during 1864 and 1865 and, ultimately, to the small Virginia town where Lee finally abandoned the struggle. It comes as little surprise that readers of the time—war buffs and literary critics alike—rejoiced in these volumes, with one reviewer hailing Stillness as “the best written and most interesting historical work about the Civil War I have ever read.” ....

The latter half of the 20th century saw an efflorescence of Civil War scholarship that later made bestsellers of the work of James M. McPherson and must-see TV of the landmark PBS series by Ken Burns. Mr. Gallagher implies, with good reason, that their roots lie in Catton’s commitments to historical accuracy and narrative verve. Modern historians may no longer cite Catton as a primary reference, but modern readers can—and should—derive much pleasure by reacquainting themselves with Catton’s brilliant technique and formidable grasp. ....
Harold Holzer, "Echoes of the Battlefield," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2022.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

"To proud to pray"

President Abraham Lincoln on March 30, 1863:
[W]hereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness. ....
Abraham Lincoln, "Proclamation Appointing a National Day of Fasting and Prayer," March 30, 1863.

Monday, October 17, 2022

"Lord of the Rings" and "Narnia"

Tolkien acknowledged that The Lord of the Rings would not have been completed without C.S. Lewis's encouragement. Lewis loved LOTR and published favorable reviews to promote it. But Tolkien disliked Lewis's Narnia books intensely. From "The Birth of Narnia and Why Tolkien Hated It":
Tolkien hated [The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe]. His criticism went beyond evaluation and suggestion to the level of insult. The idea of mixing Father Christmas with fauns repelled him, because these two figures come from different traditions separated by time and space. Tolkien was a purist on such matters. The Norsemen would never have included Father Christmas or fauns in their stories. When he heard that Lewis had shown the story to [Roger Lancelyn] Green, Tolkien turned on Green with vehemence and declared: “It really won’t do, you know! I mean to say: ‘Nymphs and their Ways, The Love-Life of a Faun’. Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about?” ....

Lewis was writing a fairy story for children who lived in Britain just after World War II. They lived with trains, airplanes, radios, and tourists. They read the tales of King Arthur and Hercules. Their culture had inherited the stories from around the world. Children are not professors of Anglo-Saxon. As much as Tolkien talked about the boundary between our world and the world of faerie, he did not write stories that involved crossing that boundary, but Lewis did. Tolkien worked hard at imitating a style of elevated language and duplicating a form of storytelling that predated the Norman invasion of 1066. As monumental an achievement as The Lord of the Rings may be, it is not a fairy story. By contrast, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fairy story for children in 1950 who inherited the global collection of stories of the fading British Empire. For them, Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, was the magical figure who remained in the modern world and helped form a bridge to the world of imagination. .... (more)
Excerpted from a passage in The Completion of C.S. Lewis: From War to Joy (1945–1963) by Harry Lee Poe

Harry Lee Poe, "The Birth of Narnia and Why Tolkien Hated It," Crossway, Oct. 13, 2022.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Providing an educational edge

Bryan Garner offers "A Dozen Ways to Boost a Child’s Education: Part 1":
.... Like almost all other parents, I was committed to doing what I could to give my children an educational edge. My approach was anything but desultory: I researched child development and tried purposefully to apply what I’d learned. The following pointers (six this time, six more next) result from both what I discovered through research and my own innovations.
  • From the day they’re born, speak maturely to them. The literature advising against baby talk is voluminous. Whether or not baby talk really stultifies, my approach was to talk to my children tenderly but professorially from the day they came home from the hospital. On the first day, I explained all that I could about the family they’d been born into and gave them a tour of the house. .... I don’t for a moment think they were absorbing my words. But they were hearing the language used decently enough, in complete sentences, with fully elaborated thoughts.
  • Read nursery rhymes — with great repetition. Does it really work? Here’s what Drs. Sally and Jonathan Shaywitz say in the 2020 edition of their book Overcoming Dyslexia: “Children’s familiarity with nursery rhymes turns out to be a strong predictor of their later success in reading. In England, researchers asked three-and four-year-olds, ‘Can you say “Humpty Dumpty” for me?’ Regardless of intelligence or family circumstances, the children who were most familiar with nursery rhymes were also top readers three years later. Conversely, children who demonstrate reading difficulties may show early signs of insensitivity to rhyme.”
  • Own plenty of books, for both children and adults. Reading specialists have adopted the initialism HLE to denote “home literacy environment,” which measures parental involvement in reading with the child and the quality of parent–child interactions. In one category of HLE, “book exposure,” homes are evaluated according to how many books are there. In some studies, the lowest score is given to households with 30 or fewer, and the highest to households with more than 200. Study after study has emphasized the importance of book exposure. With books around, you create opportunities to read. And you accustom children to the old-fashioned type of reading — with a codex in hand. .... (more)
Bryan Garner, "A Dozen Ways to Boost a Child’s Education: Part 1," National Review, Oct 13, 2022.

We've always done it that way

From Jonah Goldberg's newsletter at The Dispatch, "Hold Your Horses":
In the early days of World War II, Britain struggled to get on a war footing. It had to scrounge old equipment—and the old men who remembered how to use it. They de-mothballed some light field artillery that dated all the way back to the Boer War, fought at the turn of the 20th century. It required a five-man crew, and they found some old vets who remembered the routine. Three seconds before firing the thing, two of the men would move to the side and snap to attention until all was silent again. But no one could remember why they did that. It seemed like useless movement and detail. They finally brought in an old artillery colonel. He watched the exercise for a bit, and then suddenly the memory came to him. “I have it. They are holding the horses.”

Until that moment, it didn’t occur to anyone because the artillery had been towed out by truck. But back in the old days, you had to hold your horses lest they get scared away by the boom. ....
I first read about this story in one of my all-time favorite books, Robert Nisbet’s Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary .... “Persistence, fixity, and the clutching gratefully for habit and convention lie in all areas of thought and action,” Nisbet wrote. ....

“Habit and convention are so native to human beings, as to every other organism,” Robert Nisbet writes, “because all behavior is purposive and adaptive. It is aimed at the solution of problems which beset the person or organization from the environment or from within.” If something works for you, particularly if it keeps you alive, you get attached to it. For a long time in human history, “we’ve always done it this way” was a pithy encapsulation of a survival strategy. This is because an enormous number of traditions and customs were discovered to “work”—or work, without scare quotes—before anybody had a rational explanation for why they worked. Kashrut (Kosherism) is about more than safe eating practices, but the fact that if you stuck to the rules you had a better chance of avoiding bowel-stewing diseases probably helped it take root.

Societies bound together by strong religious commitments survived better than ones that didn’t, all other things being equal. But that rational explanation for religion’s durability—one of many—doesn’t capture the full meaning or importance of religion. ....

...I think one of the reasons our culture is so unsettled these days is that too many people think that offering some superficially plausible explanation for why this or that tradition, custom, or phrase needs to go is enough cause to tear it down. ....

I’ve written about cultural path dependence many times and in many ways. One of my favorite examples is traffic lights. Making “red” mean stop wasn’t an arbitrary decision like railroad gauge widths. But even if it was, and even if you could convince me that we should have made “green” mean stop, it would be folly to change things now. Society has a huge interest in the status quo of traffic lights. Switching them would produce chaos and death. Announcing, almost overnight, that men can get pregnant and all that is the cultural equivalent of switching the color of traffic lights. And when you declare that anyone clinging to the old understandings is a bigot, you’re inviting a backlash far more harmful than the harms currently suffered by a handful of transgender people.

A little respect and humility for the cultural costs—replacement costs, sunk costs, etc.—of treating society like an Etch A Sketch is not merely prudent and not merely moral, but rational. Sometimes there’s a good reason to hold your horses. (more but probably behind a subscription wall)
Jonah Goldberg, "Hold Your Horses," The Dispatch, Oct. 14, 2022.

Friday, October 14, 2022

The need for roots

Andrew Wilson:
A few years ago I noticed how many of my favourite authors were writing during or immediately after World War II. ....

Their works are...marked by a deep awareness of radical evil, which is hardly surprising given the times in which they lived. It gives their essays an urgency, and their poetry and fiction a cosmic drama that few writers before or since have achieved: think of Big Brother and Room 101, Sauron and Saruman, Lord of the Flies, the White Witch, Animal Farm, and the role of sin and the devil in Graham Greene’s novels.

So it is fascinating how often their responses to radical evil involve an appeal to history. Sometimes this comes as a direct address to the reader, like James Baldwin’s writings on race, Hannah Arendt‘s on revolution, Leszek Kołakowski’s on communism, Isaiah Berlin’s on liberalism, or Dorothy Sayers’s Creed or Chaos. T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden do it through their numerous references and allusions. Greene and Flannery O’Connor draw on their Catholicism. C.S. Lewis makes the point through essays on why we should read old books, and by skewering chronological snobbery at every opportunity, from That Hideous Strength to the fates of Uncle Andrew and King Miraz in the Narnia stories.

J.R.R. Tolkien does it through his medieval language and setting, his complex prehistories, and his plot: remember Sam on the edge of Mount Doom, reminiscing about the Shire and reminding Frodo of the old stories long before totalitarian evil seized the world. Simone Weil’s greatest work is entitled L’Enracinement, usually translated The Need for Roots. Most powerfully of all, George Orwell creates worlds where nobody remembers the past, and where those in power, from the pigs in Animal Farm to the Party in 1984, are free to manipulate it for their own purposes, throwing unwanted recollections down the memory hole. “History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” All of these writers had witnessed the near-collapse of the West in recent memory, and they knew the dangers of losing their history, and the importance of not allowing it. .... (more)
Not a bad reading list.

Andrew Wilson, "The Need for Roots," Think, Oct. 12, 2022.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

"I believe..."

Our congregation once used the Seventh Day Baptist Statement of Belief, along with scripture and hymns appropriate to each affirmation, in our weekly worship service. We also sometimes repeated together the Apostles' Creed. Today I ran across a useful definition of "creed" included in "5 Things You Should Know about Creeds":
The word “creed” comes from the Latin word credo, which simply means “I believe.” The plural form is credimus, which means “we believe.” In short, when we recite a creed, we are simply making a statement concerning what we believe. What this means is that if you believe anything, you have a creed. What if you say, “I believe in no creed but Christ”? Well, then, that’s your creed. It’s a short creed, but it is a creed. When we understand that creeds are human statements of faith, it also helps us better understand the relationship between Scripture and creeds. Holy Scripture is inspired. The Greek word in 2 Timothy 3:16 is theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed.” Scripture is the inspired Word of God. Creeds are non-inspired words of men. In the Scriptures, we hear God saying, “Thus saith the Lord...” In the creeds, we respond, “We believe you...”
That is the first of the "5 Things." All five:
  1. The word “creed” comes from the Latin word credo, which simply means “I believe.”
  2. The Bible itself uses creed-like summaries.
  3. The Apostles did not write the Apostles’ Creed.
  4. The Nicene Creed was written in order to defend the biblical teaching concerning God against heretics.
  5. The use of creeds is not a slippery slope to Roman Catholicism.

The Apostle's Creed from "Morning Prayer" in The Book of Common Prayer, 1559:

Sunday, October 9, 2022

A daring book for girls

This morning I read about The Daring Book for Girls (2007). About fifteen years ago I bought The Dangerous Book for Boys. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I just noticed that there is a more recent The Double Dangerous Book for Boys (2019).  I thought the book for girls  sounded pretty good, too:
.... While it certainly doesn’t contain everything, this book is packed with enough wisdom and fun to keep a reader busy for hours. Want to build a scooter? They’ve got a template for you. Curious about the rules of softball? That’s covered. Need to know the Latin or Greek root of a word? Look no further. Building a fire, pressing flowers, poetry, camping — there’s something for every type of girl, in every mood, and on every occasion.

While the craft projects were more in line with my early interests, it’s my memory of the biographies scattered throughout the pages that stands out. More than for any activity, I pulled out this book to learn about Boadicea, Florence Baker, Ginnie and Lottie Moon, and many others whose lives are detailed here. Powerful women from ancient civilizations aren’t forgotten, and neither are female Olympians, inventors, and explorers. ....

Among the many topics that are handled wonderfully in this book, however, is the page (and there’s only one, mind you) on boys. Short and clear, this section is a practical guide for dealing with the other sex. The authors finish it with the perfect summary:
Overall, the truth is that there’s no great big mystery about boys. Boys are people. And like all people they are complicated. And that’s what makes being friends with other people interesting: you get to learn about how other people think and act, and, in the process, learn a little bit more about yourself.
Besides the fun, there’s also the practical. CPR basics, the Periodic Table, basic French phrases, reading tide charts, and negotiating a salary are all detailed here. The book avoids dry lists or flowery excitement, giving history, advice, and maybe a story to make the information come alive. .... (more)
There is also The Double Daring Book for Girls (2019). I haven't read reviews of either of the more recent books.

Sarah Schutte, "Marvelous Deeds of Derring-do," NRO, Oct. 9, 2022.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

An intellectual polemicist

Patrick Kurp's son, a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, has been reading G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy.
Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving the vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who are walking about.
.... Chesterton is not a systematic thinker; more of an intellectual polemicist. He revels in paradox and writes aphoristically. Like his hero, Dr. Johnson, he is eminently quotable, and Orthodoxy is rich in memorable sentences, like this:
Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If in your bold creative way you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe.
.... Chesterton is no saint, though some admirers have called for his beatification. His occasional anti-Semitism cannot be pardoned. The late Terry Teachout described it as “the only blot of any significance on the character of the man George Bernard Shaw described as ‘friendly, easy-going, unaffected, gentle, magnanimous, and genuinely democratic.’” ....

Getting back to the centrality of tradition to his thinking, Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy: “It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record.”
Patrick Kurp, "The Most Obscure of All Classes," Anecdotal Evidence, Oct. 8, 2022.

Friday, October 7, 2022

The Lamb and Flag

A pub in Oxford:
I’ve just bought Tolkien’s pub in Oxford. Well, to be more precise, I and more than 300 fellow drinkers have bought the Lamb and Flag, the 400-year-old Oxford pub where the Inklings group of writers – including J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis – drank.

Like so many pubs across the country, the Lamb and Flag closed, in January last year, thanks to the pandemic trading slump. Across the road, the Eagle and Child pub also closed, in 2020, because of Covid. Tolkien and Lewis drank there, too – they called it ‘the Bird and Baby’. It remains shut.

What rare survival stories these two pubs are – or were. The Eagle and Child, owned by St John’s College, opened in 1650. The Lamb and Flag, also owned by St John’s, opened in 1613....

We reopen our pub at 6 p.m. on Thursday 6 October 2022, which is possibly, or exactly, 111 years to the day that J.R.R. Tolkien arrived in Oxford.

As Tolkienologists will know, the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, opens with Bilbo Baggins’s 111th birthday – or his eleventy-first birthday, as Bilbo put it. ....

The Lamb and Flag will have a renovated snug, celebrating the original Inklings in the spot where they liked to drink. The Georgian front room has been returned to its original dimensions, with an ugly 30-year-old bar removed. Events will be held in this room for the public, including talks by scientists, politicians and Oxford dons, and book launches.

It’s easy to mythologise pubs and never go near one. I certainly don’t drink in pubs nearly as much as I did at university, because it’s so much more expensive now. And some pubs aren’t really very nice, with unbearably loud music and other unwelcome additions. Tolkien and Lewis moved their pint glasses from the Eagle and Child to the Lamb and Flag when the landlady installed a dartboard – you can imagine their reaction to today’s modernising horrors.

But a good pub – particularly a really old one with these unique literary connections – is irreplaceable. Thank God the Lamb and Flag hasn’t been replaced. (more)
Harry Mount, "Fellowship of the Lamb: how we’re saving Tolkien’s pub," The Spectator, Oct. 8, 2022.


I came across the illustration below on the right this morning and consequently went looking for posts here about the Trinity. From among those I found I select two:
In 2002 Fred Sanders was interviewed by Biola Connections about the doctrine of the Trinity.
Q. What are common analogies people use to explain the Trinity that are misleading?

A. Almost all analogies for the Trinity end up being misleading. Usually they each have one point of helpfulness and that’s it. Legend has it that when Saint Patrick was explaining the Christian faith to the barbarians of Ireland and got to the part about the Trinity, they said, ‘How can that possibly be true?’ And he picked up a shamrock and converted the whole nation of Ireland. So, it was good enough to get an incredible piece of evangelistic work done. But if you continue thinking about a shamrock, it gets less and less like the Trinity. It would be similar to using the analogy of a pizza that is cut into three pieces (like the three shamrock leaves). God the Father is not a third of God. Each person of the Trinity is fully God.

Another common analogy is water. It can exist in three forms: liquid, ice or steam. The major problem is you can’t have the same piece of water being liquid, solid and gaseous at the same time. But the Bible shows the three Persons of the Godhead existing simultaneously.

Q. What is the simplest way to accurately explain the Trinity?

A. As soon as you use an analogy to explain the Trinity, you introduce complexity. It’s ironic, but the simplest way to explain the Trinity is to tell the story of Jesus Christ. Jesus is sent by the Father to earth where He is empowered by the Holy Spirit. When he ascends to the right hand of the Father, he sends the Holy Spirit to us.

A good analogy can be helpful sometimes, but can’t possibly please God when the word ‘Trinity’ makes us think primarily about ice cubes and shamrocks rather than the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit.

Q. What is a common misconception people have about the Trinity?

A. Probably the most common misconception is the fear that it really doesn’t make sense. That somehow we became Christians and that committed us to believe in certain things and, unfortunately, one of those things is rationally impossible.

But the Trinity is not irrational in any direct sense. I think the main intellectual problem with the Trinity is that it’s so dense. When we say ‘the Trinity,’ we are really saying all the basic elements of the gospel at once. So it’s a very dense formula, sort of like e=mc2 is difficult to understand — not because it’s logically contradictory, but because there’s so much information packed into it.

The Trinity would be irrational if it were self-contradictory — for example, if it said that there are three persons in God and yet only one person. Or if it said that God is one being and God is three beings. But for God to be one Being who is three Persons in no way contradicts the laws of logic. Now, it may be beyond our understanding in some way because we don’t know of any other being like that. It’s a mystery, but a mystery is not an excuse to stop thinking. A mystery is something that is bigger than our minds can take in and invites us to a lifetime of intellectual wrestling.
And also this:
The term "Trinity" doesn't appear in the Scriptures but Kenneth Samples contends that there is certainly a Biblical basis for the doctrine:
  1. There is only one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; John 17:3; Galatians 3:20).
  2. The Father is called or referred to as God (Psalm 89:26; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:2–3; 2 Peter 1:17).
  3. The Son (Jesus Christ) is called or referred to as God (John 1:1; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13).
  4. The Holy Spirit is called or referred to (or granted the status) as God (Genesis 1:2; John 14:26; Acts 13:2, 4; Romans 8:11).
  5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons and can be distinguished from one another (the Father is not the Son; the Father is not the Holy Spirit; and the Son is not the Holy Spirit) (Matthew 28:19; Luke 3:22; John 15:26; 16:13–15; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
  6. The three persons (Father or God; and Son or Christ or Lord; and Holy Spirit or Spirit) are frequently listed together in a triadic pattern of unity and equality (Romans 15:16, 30; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 1:21–22; Galatians 4:6).
The Scriptorium: For Saint Patrick: Two Cheers for Trinity Analogies, The Trinity’s Biblical Basis | Reflections

Sunday, October 2, 2022


The quotation in the last post reminded of Annie Dillard. I once owned and read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I looked online for quotations from her work. Some of what I found:
  • I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand.
  • Those of us who read carried around with us like martyrs a secret knowledge, a secret joy, and a secret hope: There is a life worth living where history is still taking place; there are ideas worth dying for, and circumstances where courage is still prized.
  • I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.
  • As soon as beauty is sought not from religion and love, but for pleasure, it degrades the seeker.
  • There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.
  • On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?
  • I've been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But — and this is the point — who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.


Chesterton wrote that “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” I came across this on Twitter this morning:
Annie Dillard on worshiping in her small Northwest town with awkward preaching, embarrassing singing, and experiencing the presence of Christ. Good reminder for today:
A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since the year one. In two thousand years, we have not worked out the kinks. We positively glorify them. Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter. Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens. Week after week Christ washes the disciples' dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, It is all right—believe it or not—to be people. Who can believe it?
That is not to say that we shouldn't really try to do it well

Saturday, October 1, 2022


Peter Meilaender recalls a story I remember and then reflects on the meaning of loyalty:
.... Based on a true story, Greyfriars Bobby tells of a Skye terrier, Bobby, whose master, a poor shepherd named Auld Jock, was released from work and went to the city of Edinburgh, where he quickly fell ill and died. The grieving Bobby then snuck into Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Auld Jock was buried, to watch over the grave. Despite one challenge after another—attempts to reclaim him by his actual owner, the farmer for whom Auld Jock had worked; repeated efforts to expel him from the kirkyard, where no dogs are allowed; a mean-spirited plan to seize him for not having a proper license; and even getting locked inside the grounds of Edinburgh Castle one night, high above the city on Castle Rock—the faithful Bobby returns night after night.

The handsome and good-tempered terrier is happy enough to play with the poor children of the city’s tenements, whose hearts he quickly wins, and to be fed by the kind and sagacious innkeeper, Mr. Traill. But Bobby is unwilling to sleep anywhere but on Auld Jock’s grave. Eventually his loyalty is rewarded when the city’s Lord Provost gives him a license, a collar, and the run of the city, and Lady Burdett-Coutts erects a statue in his honor across from Greyfriars. ....

Loyalty is, by and large, a good thing, but we do not always admire it. One can be loyal to wicked people or false gods, can wrong one person out of loyalty to another, can fail to see when loyalty is leading one astray. In order to admire acts of loyalty, we want them to be combined with a certain kind of good judgment. Indeed, this might make it even more puzzling that we would admire the loyalty of a dog, which is incapable of such judgment. .... The dog’s loyalty really is blind. ....

If we sense that a pure and unreserved loyalty seems to belong to another and better world, so too do we sense that only those capable of loyalty will ever attain to that world. Committing one’s self in love and fidelity involves a risk, a risk of getting things wrong. But without that commitment, Bobby’s perfect loyalty, for which we long, remains out of reach. ....
When in Edinburgh I visited that graveyard and the statue.

Peter C. Meilaender, "Man’s Best Friend: Lessons in Loyalty from Greyfriars Bobby," The Dispatch, Oct. 1, 2022.