Saturday, December 31, 2022

Emotional manipulation

I found that “'Finney with a Twist': Elder Jacob Knapp and the Origins of Baptist Revivalism" explained the origin of practices I experienced in "revival meetings" over many years: repeated exhortations to commit, come forward, and accept salvation — the "altar call." The implication here, I think, is that such practices aren't entirely consistent with "believer's baptism." Knapp explained “The Utility of Anxious-Seats":
... He explains how at multiple points in the service he would give an invitation for the members of the audience to take their seats in the pews at the front of the room dubbed “the anxious bench” or “the anxious seat.” For Knapp, this was the key to a successful revival. First, it challenged the sinner to take a stand. Second, it required a public committal, making it nearly impossible for the sinner to backtrack once he had taken the first step. As Knapp writes, “It is more dishonorable and more mortifying to go back than it is to go forward.” Hence, “The more obstacles that can be put in the way of receding the better. … All the barriers that can be put in the way of the anxious, to prevent their going back, should be piled up behind them.” Third, it was a convenient way of making a public acknowledgement of our need of Christ. Fourth, the effect of seeing others go forward encouraged others to follow. “Thus,” Knapp writes, “one can be the means of bringing others to a right decision by the force of example.” Fifth, by this means, ministers were able to immediately ascertain the success of their labors. All this and more can be accomplished by admonishing sinners to take specially designated seats in the front.

At the conclusion of the service, those seated in the “anxious seats,” would follow Knapp to an “inquiry meeting,” sometimes called the “anxious room.” (Knapp’s critics called them the “finishing-off-room.”) At this meeting, Knapp focused less on giving “instructions to the anxious” and more on urging an “immediate decision—an instantaneous repentance, and faith in the Lord Jesus.” He writes, “I get all on their knees, and set them to crying to God (both saints and sinners), till he sends down salvation.”

Not unlike Finney, for Knapp the “anxious room” was a place to urge sinners to immediately profess faith in Christ. Whereas “thirty-five or forty years ago,” Knapp wrote, “Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists would tell inquirers to go home, read their Bibles, reflect upon their condition, look within, dig deep, and be not deceived,” Finney had introduced a more effective technique. As Knapp reflected, such “methods of introspection” often failed to result in conversion. Instead, Knapp called for “an immediate surrender of their hearts to God” and insisted on “the exercise of faith and repentance on the spot” as a matter of obedience. ....

There’s no question that revivalism is alive and well in Baptist churches today. .... Knapp’s adaptation of and expansion upon Finney’s “new measures” had lasting implications on the religious life and practices of Baptists in America.

Pastors need to understand that a change occurred among American Baptists in the nineteenth century, one that continues apace to this day. This change has shaped our intuitions about conversion, membership, baptism, and what it means to practice regenerate church membership. We live in a world infused with revivalistic intuitions and institutional practices that unintentionally undermine what it even means to be a Baptist church. .... (I am responsible for the bold emphases above, JS)
Caleb Morell, “'Finney with a Twist': Elder Jacob Knapp and the Origins of Baptist Revivalism," 9Marks, June 14, 2022.

A prayer on New Year's Eve

Samuel Johnson on New Year's Eve, 1749/50:
ALMIGHTY GOD, by whose will I was created, and by whose Providence I have been sustained, by whose mercy I have been called to the knowledge of my Redeemer, and by whose Grace whatever I have thought or acted acceptable to Thee has been inspired and directed, grant, O Lord, that in reviewing my past life, I may recollect Thy mercies to my preservation, in whatever state Thou preparest for me, that in affliction I may remember how often I have been succoured, and in Prosperity may know and confess from whose hand the blessing is received. Let me, O Lord, so remember my sins, that I may abolish them by true repentance, and so improve the Year to which Thou hast graciously extended my life, and all the years which Thou shalt yet allow me, that I may hourly become purer in Thy sight; so that I may live in Thy fear, and die in Thy favour, and find mercy at the last day, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

My advocate

Benedict XVI:
Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life. Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer, for I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcomings, and is thus also my advocate, my "Paraclete." In light of the hour of judgement, the grace of being a Christian becomes all the more clear to me. It grants me knowledge, and indeed friendship, with the judge of my life, and thus allows me to pass confidently through the dark door of death.


One of my gifts to myself arrived in the mail just now. I've posted before about the pleasure I receive from Geoffrey Household's suspense novels, especially Watcher in the Shadows and Rogue Male. I have two film versions of the latter, Man Hunt (1941) and a BBC version for television, Rogue Male (1976), the closest to the book. There were rumors a couple of years ago that Benedict Cumberbatch wanted to film it, but so far as I know it didn't happen. The DVD that arrived today is of the 1976 version starring Peter O'Toole in the title role. That version has only been available in the US with very imperfect picture and sound. This one may be better. I'll find out tonight. It is a Blu-ray. I had to go to Britain to find it but fortunately I own a "region-free" Blu-ray player acquired when I realized there were films available abroad that weren't here.

The DVD description:
In early 1939 with war looming, English aristocrat Sir Robert Hunter (Peter O'Toole) embarks on a 'sporting stalk' of the deadliest of prey: Adolf Hitler. Captured by the Gestapo and left for dead. Sir Robert soon becomes the hunted on a chase from the Bavarian mountains to the wilds of the English countryside, where he will need all his sportsman's wit and guile to survive. Based on Geoffrey Household's cult 1930s thriller. Rogue Male is a suspenseful action adventure featuring an exceptional lead performance from O'Toole and a superb supporting cast, including Alastair Sim, Harold Pinter and John Standing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

"In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning"

Dec. 28, The Massacre of the Holy Innocents:
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. (Matt. 2:13-18 KJV)
The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, Gustave Dore

Monday, December 26, 2022

Wondrous love

Evil in the world comes of evil men and evil deeds

From The Spectator, Christmas 1940:
.... No confidence in the rightness of our cause is lacking, nor has doubt emerged about the ultimate issue of the struggle. What penetrates men’s souls today is not concern for their personal fate, or even for their country’s, but a sense, borne in on them with sombre force as this festival comes round, of the tragedy of the conflict in which millions of human beings are still locked on the day when the message of peace and good will to all mankind should be sounding from every pulpit and rung out by the bells of every steeple.

All that is part of the eternal problem of evil, taking immense and terrible shape before our eyes. We can no more profess to plumb the mystery of it than generations of thinkers in the past who have admitted that when all is said there remains a residuum of mystery still. But evil in the world comes of evil men and evil deeds, and we have no choice but to be resisting that evil today. ....

As we keep our war-time Christmas, and survey with sober fortitude the chances that the coming year may bring, we can take stock of our position without misgiving. As the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons last week, ‘some sense of composure and even satisfaction’ is justified, though the dangers that still impend are so obvious and so grave as to dispel all temptation to undue optimism. ....

But we must recognise how critical is the situation still. The promise of help from America is of such cardinal importance that if it comes in time it may properly be looked on as the guarantee of victory. But it is a race with time still. .... (more)
The Spectator, Christmas 1940, reprinted in that magazine, "Christmas after our darkest hour," Dec. 25, 2022.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

When Mary Met the Angel

"Just another Mary" From The Wall Street Journal this morning:
The first person ever to hear that Jesus is the Son of God was a low-income teenage girl in an obscure backwater of the Roman empire. She went by the most common name for Jewish women of her time and place: She was just another Mary. But then she claimed an angel had appeared to her and told her she would give birth to the Son of God. From the perspective of both Jews and Romans in the first century A.D., her story was completely unbelievable. How has it lasted for 2,000 years?

Today, Mary’s claim to have met an angel is part of what makes her story hard to believe. We imagine angels like the fairy on top of the Christmas tree, only bigger, so Mary’s story feels like a fairy tale. But angels in the Bible aren’t remotely fairylike. They’re terrifying messengers from God. ....
“Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end!” (Luke 1:30-33).
.... Doubtless Mary had a lot of questions for the angel, but she asked just one: “How will this be, since I’m a virgin?” Mary knew the facts of life. The title “Son of God” could technically just have meant the Messiah. Perhaps she thought that Joseph, her betrothed, would be the father of this longed-for King. But then the angel dropped another bomb:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
.... But why would God become a man? Why would he live in poverty and die in agony? Why would the King of all creation come not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many? According to the Christian story, it was because of love for every human being, rich or poor, weak or strong, enslaved or free. He paid the price for human sin—a word we may not choose to use but a reality we hit upon when we bewail injustice in this world and wonder why it seems so hard to fix. Christians believe that the Son of God was born to die, so that all who trust in him could live as sons and daughters of God—wrapped up more tightly in his love than the newborn Jesus was wrapped up by Mary in his swaddling clothes.

When Mary met the angel, she was a no-name girl from a disempowered people in a seemingly inconsequential place. Today, if you worry that you might be insignificant—unknown, unloved and unimportant in this world—perhaps this Christmas you will hear her message with fresh ears. If she was right about her son, then you are worth the birth and life and death and resurrection of the Son of God. (more)
Rebecca McLaughlin, "When Mary Met the Angel," The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 24, 2022.

Friday, December 23, 2022

"What think ye of Christ?"

From Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged":
.... What think ye of Christ? Before we adopt any of the unofficial solutions (some of which are indeed excessively dull)—before we dismiss Christ as a myth, an idealist, a demagogue, a liar or a lunatic—it will do no harm to find out what the creeds really say about Him. What does the Church think of Christ?

The Church's answer is categorical and uncompromising, and it is this: That Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the God "by Whom all things were made." His body and brain were those of a common man; His personality was the personality of God, so far as that personality could be expressed in human terms. He was not a kind of dæmon or fairy pretending to be human; He was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be "like God"—He was God.

Now, this is not just a pious commonplace; it is not commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things: that for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worth while. ....

Now, nobody is compelled to believe a single word of this remarkable story. God (says the Church) has created us perfectly free to disbelieve in Him as much as we choose. If we do disbelieve, then He and we must take the consequences in a world ruled by cause and effect. The Church says further, that man did, in fact, disbelieve, and that God did, in fact, take the consequences. All the same, if we are going to disbelieve a thing, it seems on the whole to be desirable that we should first find out what, exactly, we are disbelieving. Very well, then: "The right Faith is, that we believe that Jesus Christ is God and Man. Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Who although He be God and Man, yet is He not two, but one Christ." There is the essential doctrine, of which the whole elaborate structure of Christian faith and morals is only the logical consequence. ....
Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged," Creed or Chaos? 1938.

“The Grand Miracle”

C.S. Lewis on the Incarnation:
  • …the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. (God in the Dock)
  • The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. (Miracles)
  • In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down;…down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature he has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. (Miracles)
  • The Incarnation…illuminates and orders all other phenomena, explains both our laughter and our logic, our fear of the dead and our knowledge that it is somehow good to die, and which at one stroke covers what multitudes of separate theories will hardly cover for us if this is rejected. (Miracles)
  • But supposing God became man—suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person—then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God…. But we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man, That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all. (Mere Christianity)
  • Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” (Mere Christianity)

Thursday, December 22, 2022

"A close room, an easy chair, a large fire, and a smoaking dinner"

This morning Patrick Kurp quoted from a Samuel Johnson essay, "Variety necessary to happiness; a winter scene." Today where I live is a good day to "shrink our coverts."
.... The winter, therefore, is generally celebrated as the proper season for domestick merriment and gaiety. We are seldom invited by the votaries of pleasure to look abroad for any other purpose, than that we may shrink back with more satisfaction to our coverts, and when we have heard the howl of the tempest, and felt the gripe of the frost, congratulate each other with more gladness upon a close room, an easy chair, a large fire, and a smoaking dinner. ....

To the men of study and imagination the winter is generally the chief time of labour. Gloom and silence produce composure of mind, and concentration of ideas; and the privation of external pleasure naturally causes an effort to find entertainment within. This is the time in which those whom literature enables to find amusements for themselves, have more than common convictions of their own happiness. When they are condemned by the elements to retirement, and debarred from most of the diversions which are called in to assist the flight of time, they can find new subjects of inquiry, and preserve themselves from that weariness which hangs always flagging upon the vacant mind. ....

...[A]ny of my readers, who are contriving how to spend the dreary months before them, may consider which of their past amusements fills them now with the greatest satisfaction, and resolve to repeat those gratifications of which the pleasure is most durable.
Samuel Johnson, "No. 80. Variety necessary to happiness; a winter scene," Dec. 1750.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Just like the Trapp family

Aloise Buckley Heath, William F. Buckley's sister, was blessed with ten children. I have a collection of her stories, Will Mrs. Major Go to Hell? Annually during the Christmas season one of the stories is re-published by National Review. One of my favorites has always been "A Heath Christmas Carol Program" from 1966.
With all the gaiety and caroling that goes on in our house all year round, it is only natural that we plan, early every December, a Christmas carol program, to put it on tape after it is absolutely perfect and send it to the children’s grandmother as an absolutely unique, unprocurable-in-stores Christmas gift. ....

Our carol program this year was to be not just Mother at the piano, John at the recorder, and nine children singing in unison. It was to include part singing, solos, duets, trios, and quartets, Buckley on the drums, ten-year-old Jennifer on the triangle, and a piano duet by Betsey and Alison, who are eleven and twelve and hate each other.

Our first difficulties I could see coming. Buckley played the drums, not with a gently medieval boom, or even with a gay 17th-century rat-a-tat, but as if he were soloing during a pause in a program by the Rolling Stones, which was impressive, to be sure, but reduced the singers to utter inaudibility. Jennifer ting’d on the triangle whenever it seemed to her that she had not tung for quite long enough, and Betsey and Alison, who have never entirely grasped the purpose of a duet, exchanged sidelong black-eyed glares and raced each other through “Jingle Bells,” Alison winning handily by a good two and a half measures. ....

Our repertoire was nearly finished when Pam addressed the group in less than a friendly tone.

“If anybody’s being funny around here, they just can just stop it right now.”

There was a blank silence. Long blue eyes met wide black eyes without the glimmer of a twinkle. Pam waited a minute, then she said: “Mother, let’s start over, and I’ll take the piano while you come out here and listen. There’s something peculiar going on. Now listen carefully.”

I listened carefully, and it was then I decided my children are either not quite bright enough to live, or else they are too gay to bear.

Do you know what “afforient” is? Neither did I till I heard Priscilla, who is 15 and who should know better, sweetly warble that the three kings afforient were, and I asked her. “Afforient,” if you are interested, is the state of being disoriented, or wandering, as one does over field and fountain, moor and mountain.

And has anybody ever wondered where the Ranger is on Christmas Eve? Has anyone, for that matter, ever given a single thought to the Ranger on Christmas Eve? Well, Betsey Heath has. “Away is the Ranger,” she will inform you, if you listen carefully. And obviously, he is away because there is no crib for his bed. ....

Have you ever wondered, in the long watches of the night, what Child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Well, it is the Child whom angels greet with Ann the Sweet, while shepherds’ watches keeping. Well, St. Ann was Mary’s mother, certainly sweet and probably dead, argued Alison. Why wouldn’t she be with the angels? As for the shepherds, what with their setting off for Bethlehem, well-known for its good and bad thieves, keeping their watches was a very friendly gesture on the part of the angels. Ann the Sweet probably thought of it. ....

Pam, even Pam, kept announcing in her clear, sweet contralto that God and sin are reconciled; but she realized immediately, when it was pointed out to her, that God was far more likely to reconcile Himself to sinners than to sin, even if the book hadn’t said so, which it had. 

Jim had to argue a little. He was the one who kept urging the shepherds to leave their “you’s” and leave their “am’s” and rise up, shepherds, and follow.

“What in Heaven’s name is this about you’s and am’s?” I asked him. 

“Oh-h-h, rejection of personality, denial of self,” said Jim grandly. “Practically the central thesis of Christian theology.”

“Of course, I don’t go to a Catholic college, but I think that’s Communist theory, not Christian theology,” I told him. “In any case, could you come down from those philosophic heights and join us shepherds down here with our ewes (female sheep) and rams (male sheep)?” ....

But I was too weary to go on. “Children,” I said. “Let’s just do one song absolutely perfectly. Let’s concentrate on ‘Silent Night,’ because that’s the one we know best anyway. ....

They lined up, looking very clean and handsome and holy, Jim and John at the back, Timothy and Janet on either side of Pam at the piano, and the middle echelon sensibly and unquarrelsomely distributed in the middle according to heights. Just like the Trapp Family, I thought to myself happily. Pam turned and gave them all a long and, I hoped, stern look, before she played the opening measures.

“Silent night, holy night,” nine young voices chanted softly, and I noticed Jennifer and Betsey beginning to break up in twinkles and dimples. “All is calm, all is bright,” they went on, John’s recorder piping low and clear. Buckley and Alison clapped their hands briefly over their mouths. “Round John Virgin, Mother and Child,” the chorus swelled sweetly, and I rapped hard on the piano. “Just who,” I asked, in my most restrained voice, “is Round John Virgin?”

“One of the twelve opossums,” the ten young voices answered promptly, and they collapsed over the piano, from the piano bench onto the floor, convulsed by their own delicate wit.

And that’s why we didn’t have this year’s Christmas carol program.

A story by the late Aloïse Buckley Heath is a NATIONAL REVIEW Christmas tradition. This, her last Christmas piece, was published two weeks before her death in January 1967.
Aloise Buckley Heath, "A Christmas Carol program," National Review, Dec. 27, 1966.

"Like a journal of my life"

From "We’re drowning in old books":
What to do with old books is a quandary that collectors, no matter what age, eventually face — or leave to their heirs who, truly, do not want the bulk of them. Old volumes are a problem for older Americans downsizing or facing mortality, with their reading life coming to a close. .... They’re a backache every time a collector moves. They’re a headache when collectors want to sell their homes....

Book lovers are known to practice semi-hoardish and anthropomorphic tendencies. They keep too many books for too long, despite dust, dirt, mold, cracked spines, torn dust jackets, warped pages, coffee stains and the daunting reality that most will never be reread. Age rarely enriches a book. ....

“Books represent a significant investment of time and intellectual effort in our lives,” Powell says. “They’re more like friends than objects. You’ve had a lot of conversations with the book. You want to remember the experience. They’re echoes of what you’ve read.” ....

Owners may experience relief from jettisoning old books. Not Coleman, 60, whose last move necessitated donating two-thirds of her books to the Goodwill in Swarthmore, Pa. “I regret it intensely. Those books were like a journal of my life,” she says. “Having those books surround me for all my adult life was a real source of pleasure.” ....
Karen Heller, "We’re drowning in old books. But getting rid of them is heartbreaking," Washington Post, Dec. 18, 2022.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

"It’s never too late to make amends"

From "How Dickens invented Christmas":
.... When Dickens sat down to write A Christmas Carol, Christmas was still a relatively low-key affair, and many of its festive trappings were conspicuous by their absence. It was merely the first day in a twelve-day holiday, which reached its climax on 5 January, the night before Epiphany, aka Twelfth Night.

The marginal significance of Christmas was reflected in Anglican liturgy. Advent was an austere affair, a time of quiet contemplation rather than celebration. Christmas (Christ’s Mass) wasn’t an important feast day in the Anglican calendar. ....

However, by the time Dickens embarked on A Christmas Carol, such attitudes were changing. The new Oxford Movement had begun to agitate for a less Puritanical C of E. Christmas Trees (introduced by George III’s German wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg, and popularised by another German consort, Prince Albert) were becoming increasingly prominent, partly due to German immigrants to Britain’s industrial cities. In December 1843, the same month that A Christmas Carol was published, the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Sir Henry Cole, sent the first recorded Christmas Card. ....

Always a hands-on author, with an instinctive flair for marketing, Dickens oversaw the design of A Christmas Carol, and he made sure that it was specifically promoted as the ideal Christmas present. With a burgundy cover, embossed in gold, and hand-painted colour illustrations, it was an instant hit, selling six thousand copies in the first few days after publication. ....

Happily, Dickens’ book is still widely read ... but its biggest impact in recent times has been on screen and stage. The screen adaptations are almost too numerous to count, cementing Scrooge as one of the landmark roles for male actors of a certain age. .... From where I’m sitting (on a saggy sofa strewn with Quality Street wrappers and other Christmas detritus) the 1951 film, starring Alistair Sim, remains the definitive dramatisation. ....

But why? .... A Christmas Carol provides the respite of a happy ending, but it doesn’t shy away from suffering. Its depictions of illness, grief and poverty are painfully real (as in all his greatest fiction, Dickens mined the hardship of his early life to fuel this fable – like Scrooge, he had a sister who died in childhood, of tuberculosis).

Yet I reckon there’s also a deeper reason, and the clue is in the title. As its name suggests, A Christmas Carol has a profound religious subtext, rooted in the Christian creed of repentance and forgiveness. The moral of A Christmas Carol is that it’s never too late to make amends. The proliferation of Christmas carols indicates that, while we may be losing our appetite for churchgoing, we haven’t yet lost our appetite for the Good News of the Gospels. .... (more)
William Cook, "How Dickens invented Christmas," The Spectator, Dec. 18, 2022.

Thursday, December 15, 2022


Ian Rankin is the author of at least twenty-four novels about the investigations of Edinburgh DI John Rebus. I have read many of them. I also enjoyed the television series, especially the one with Ken Stott in the role. From The Telegraph's interview with Rankin:
His Rebus has always cut a truculent figure, prone to seeing the world in terms of moral absolutes, even while himself sometimes wandering between the lines of the law. “He’s very much an Old Testament character. If you’ve done a bad thing he’s not going to forgive you for it,” says Rankin. “That’s where we differ. Sometimes in the books I’m having a conversation with him in which I try to tell him that sometimes the world isn’t quite as polarised or fixed as he thinks.” ....

.... “I didn’t find a way to bring him back,” he tells me of his return to writing about Rebus in 2012, following a five-year break after “retiring” him in 2007’s Exit Music. “He found a way.”

Still, Rankin has had to relinquish that creative relationship to the playwright Gregory Burke for Rebus’s long-awaited return to the TV screen, announced last week by the Nordic streaming service Viaplay. It will see Rebus as a forty-something divorcée navigating contemporary Edinburgh across various six-episode-long stories. No details regarding casting or scheduling are yet available.

In a way, it’s a surprise: Rebus’s relationship with the small screen has been unhappy. .... “The problem is that they distilled an entire novel into 60 minutes, because they assumed audiences’ attention spans were becoming too short.” He became so disgruntled that he wrestled back the TV rights and has been looking for new partnerships ever since. ....

Rankin is now 62, although with his Britpop hair and lanky frame, he still has the look and gait of a 1990s indie musician. He wrote the first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses (1987), while in his twenties....
Claire Allfree, "Ian Rankin: ‘After Sarah Everard, crime writers are starting to think: are the cops the good guys?’," The Telegraph, Nov. 13, 2022.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A Christmas Carol

Christmastide at 600 College St. when I was young: candles in every street-facing window, a wreath on the front door and a festooned evergreen in the front window (first real, then later, artificial), large-format Christmas Ideals on the coffee table, Christmas cards taped to the kitchen wall by Mom, and more. Records came out, too. We had a recording of A Child's Christmas in Wales read by Dylan Thomas himself. The record I remember best was a 45rpm of Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge in Dickens' Christmas Carol. He had performed that role year after year on the radio in the 40s and 50s. Listening to the record was one of our family Christmas traditions. I transferred the recording to CD years ago and just found it among my collection of Christmas music. The original record sleeve:

 And this, provided by YouTube, is the recording:

Monday, December 12, 2022

A creepy fantasy

Nick Catoggio​ finds political relevance in a 1961 Twilight Zone episode:
...[I]t’s the shrewdest commentary on tyranny in the Twilight Zone catalog.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. A vindictive child with superpowers demands that the adults around him indulge his every desire. If they refuse, he can wish them away into oblivion with an unkind thought. That leaves the adults trapped in a hostage crisis without an endgame, where the only way to survive is to keep humoring and flattering the captor they despise while waiting for something to change. Maybe the child will die, maybe he’ll mature, maybe he’ll get bored and move on to something else in life. But until fate intervenes to liberate them, they’re at his mercy.

Imagine a political party being so dysfunctional as to replicate a Twilight Zone plot arc. ....
Nick Catoggio, "Is Never Trump Forever?," The Dispatch, Dec. 12, 2022.

"Keep the main thing the main thing"

Kevin DeYoung's advice to pastors this season:
.... Don’t get cute at Christmas. Your people need regular meat and potatoes, not the newest eggnog recipe. Stay away from props and video clips. Put to death the Star Wars tie-in you’ve been really excited about. Don’t worry about preaching the same truths and the same themes. They don’t remember last year’s sermon anyway. Go ahead and tell them the old, old story one more time.

That means the Christmas Eve service should not be about the evils of shopping or the dangers of busyness. We can leave behind clever cliches like “Wise Men Still Seek Him” or “Have Yourself a Mary Christmas.” There’s no need to focus for 40 minutes on what exactly was the Star of Bethlehem, and if you are going to talk about the Magi, don’t make it an academic lecture on Persian astrology. Let’s spare our people the usual harangue about how Protestants have ignored Mary for too long (even though, I’ve heard that sermon and read those articles every year since I was a kid). Let’s not get caught up in the dating of Christmas or debunking the supposed parallels with Mithras.

Are any of these things wrong in themselves? Of course not. I’ve touched on these themes in a number of messages over the years. But let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

There will be unbelievers at your Christmas Eve service. And struggling saints. And weary souls. And wayward sinners. And stragglers who have ventured into a church for the first time in a long time. They need to hear about Jesus, about the Word made flesh, about the only begotten Son sent from the Father, about the one who fulfilled ancient prophecy, about the one who came to save his people from their sins. ....
Kevin DeYoung, "Pastor, Don’t Get Cute this Christmas," December 12, 2022.

Still explains a lot

Re-posted from 2011.

James Taranto notes a study:
"Rude People Can Be Perceived as Powerful," according to a Scientific American headline. The magazine reports on a new study in which subjects read about "a person who, without asking, helped himself to a cup of coffee from another person's pot" and "a bookkeeper [who] consciously ignored a financial error," as well as "scrupulous coffee drinkers and bookkeepers." The subjects reckoned that the bad-behaving ones were "more in-control and leaderlike":
In another test, being publicly rude also seemed to engender a perceived sense of power. A hundred twenty-six subjects watched one of two videos. One of a man sitting in a sidewalk café and acting courteously, the other of the same man stretching his legs out on a chair next to him, tossing his cigarette ashes wherever, and barking orders at the cafe staff. Subjects thought the crude man was more likely to be a decision-maker and get his way than the same man behaving himself.

So next time you think someone is important, remember: They [sic] may simply be a jerk.
And a comment at Scientific American suspects that may explain another behavior pattern:
That might also explain some of the appeal of "bad boys" to certain women, as they're unconsciously perceived as being more socially dominant....
I Timothy 3:1-3 suggests that Christian leaders should exemplifly other qualities:
If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome.... (ESV)
'Don't You Know Who I Am?' -, Rude People Can Be Perceived as Powerful: Scientific American Podcast

Saturday, December 10, 2022

A Christmas watchlist

Movies have always been an enjoyable part of my approach to Christmas. At some point before the holiday I'll watch It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas in Connecticut, A Christmas Carol (1951 with Alastair Sim), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and, of course, Die Hard. I was reminded today of The Bishop's Wife (1947):
.... Featuring some of the biggest stars in Hollywood history—Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven all in the same film!—and receiving almost universally positive reviews, this heartwarming, anti-materialist, for-the-whole-family Christmas flick fell short of financial expectations because it was explicitly religious.

Niven plays the bishop, Henry Brougham, and Young plays his wife, Julia. The Broughams’ marriage has been on the rocks since Henry was promoted to bishop and turned his attention to fundraising for a new cathedral. Henry prays for help—expecting that help to be for the cathedral—and God sends an angel in the form of Dudley (Cary Grant). Dudley is handsome and charming and much more interested in repairing the state of the Broughams’ relationship than in helping Henry persuade the wealthy widow Mrs. Agnes Hamilton (Gladys Cooper) to donate to the cathedral fund. Hijinks occur, lessons are learned, and a merry Christmas is had by all. An atheist even converts! ....

Christmas classics become classics only through repetition. .... Without a strong round of initial viewers to seek it out or a copyright-lapse snafu that led to it being aired on television annually à la It’s a Wonderful Life, The Bishop’s Wife has lingered, unfairly, just below public consciousness, known only to Golden-Age-of-Hollywood movie buffs and viewers of a certain age.

What a shame. Grant, Young, and Niven are among the greatest stars to grace the silver screen and they effortlessly charm their way through a story full of warmth and laughter and friendly eccentrics. There’s Sylvester (James Gleason), a taxi driver who just loves love. There’s Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley), a cynical academic who can’t get himself to sit down and write. Perhaps most adorable of them all is Debby, the Broughams’ young daughter who struggles to find friends and is played by Karolyn Grimes, famous for her role as Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life just a year prior. (In a twist of fate, It’s a Wonderful Life’s other most prominent child actor also wound up in The Bishop’s Wife in a bit role as a neighborhood kid: Bobby Anderson, who played young George Bailey.) Beneath all the shenanigans, the film features serious meditations on charity, work/life balance, and how God’s priorities often differ from our own. .... (more)
Alec Dent, "Have You Heard About Cary and the Bishop’s Wife?," The Dispatch, Dec. 10, 2022.

Not a saint

I have quoted G.K. Chesterton many times on this blog. A review of the posts that I have tagged with his name finds much quoted that I like and nothing that I don't.  Some have advocated that Catholics ought to canonize him as a saint but after investigation the Bishop of Northampton "announced that things would be taken no further: there was too much evidence of antisemitism and, surprisingly, too little of ‘a pattern of personal spirituality’ in G.K.’s life." That quotation comes from a review of The Sins of G.K. Chesterton and from that review I've learned a lot that I didn't know and might have wished not to. My opinion of Hilaire Belloc (never high) and Chesterton's brother Cecil ("a stinker by all accounts") is certainly lower today than before. Nevertheless, I won't stop quoting GKC. He said too many true things well. From the book review:
.... Everyone who knew G.K. loved him for his kindliness and jollity, as well as the dazzling turns of phrase and the forensic psychology of the Father Brown stories. Chesterton adapted his detective’s talent for noticing the deceptiveness of the taken-for-granted in his defences of Christian belief in a secular world. ....

[Chesterton] took part in a number of nasty instances of journalistic intimidation...all of them a result of trailing along after his pugnacious brother and their mentor, Hilaire Belloc. After Auden discerned the pair’s ‘pernicious influence’ in his 1970 selection of Chesterton’s prose, biographers and commentators have discovered how much the resentful obsession with rich Jews and Liberal politicians was primarily Belloc and Cecil’s. Ingrams supplies detail about just how nasty the pair were to G.K., too. The witty debater and brilliant controversialist was, in private, incapable of resisting Cecil’s tests of his family loyalty or Belloc’s bullying demands for a pulpit. ....

G.K. fell under the power of both men. ‘It was the hero in Mr Belloc that captured Mr Chesterton’s heart,’ rued A.G. Gardiner, his editor at the Daily News, as he watched his protégé being drawn into Belloc’s orbit. ‘For Mr Chesterton is the boy who refused to grow up. The world is forever filled with knights and dragons and Dulcineas in horrid dungeons ... he watches his volcanic leader flashing into the lists and he winds his mighty horn to cheer him on.’ ....

The Sins of G.K. Chesterton is primarily aimed at the fan club who mistook unworldliness and a habit of avoidance for heavenly-mindedness. ‘He never shirked an intellectual issue,’ a former employee of G.K.’s Weekly complained to Maisie Ward after the paper collapsed, ‘but in a practical crisis he was inclined to slide out.’ .... (more)
"I may not practice what I preach but God forbid I should preach what I practice" GKC

"The moment on which all of history turned"

From Tom Holland on "The myth of ‘pagan’ Christmas":
In AD 932 the most powerful ruler in Britain spent Christmas on the edge of Salisbury Plain. ....

...[T]he festival we call Christmas — Cristes Maessan, as it came to be known in the 11th century — would have been described by Athelstan and his courtiers simply as Midne Winter: Midwinter. They knew perfectly well that pagans in the benighted times before the coming of Christ had marked the darkest time of the year, just as they did, with great celebrations. Bede, a scholar who had lived two centuries previously, and whose works were much valued by Athelstan and his dynasty, recorded that prior to the conversion of the Angles and Saxons their most important annual festival had been held on 24 December. Whether or not this information was accurate, it caused Bede himself no concern or perplexity. To note the echoes of pagan practise in the Christian year signalled, not a surrender to relativism, but its rout.

Bede, more clearly than any Christian scholar before him, had recognised that there was only the one fixed point amid the great sweep of the aeons, only the single pivot. Drawing on calendrical tables compiled some two centuries earlier, he had fixed on the Incarnation, the entry of the divine into the womb of the Virgin Mary, as the moment on which all of history turned. Years, by Bede’s reckoning, were properly measured according to whether they were before Christ or anno Domini: in the year of the Lord. The effect was to render the calendar itself as Christian. The great drama of Christ’s incarnation and birth stood at the very centre of both the turning of the year and the passage of the millennia. The fact that pagans too had staged midwinter festivities presented no threat to this conceptualisation, but quite the opposite. Dimly, inadequately, gropingly, they had anticipated the supreme miracle: the coming into darkness of the true Light, by which every man who comes into the world is lit. ....

The divine had become flesh. The Son of God had descended to earth and been born amid straw and the stench of the barnyard. The mystery of it was at once beyond the comprehension of even the greatest scholars, and a cause of wonder that even the least educated could feel. To a king it served as a summons to remember the needy, the homeless, the poor. And so Athelstan, conscious that in time he would be called to answer for himself before the throne of his Maker, did his best to keep them in his mind, and to care for them.

The foundational story of Christmas, that of the birth of the Son of God amid poverty and danger, gives to the festival its own very particular flavour. The feasting, the gifts, the brief liberation from their sufferings of those ground down by poverty, or oppression or war: all, in the case of Christmas, are endowed with a very culturally distinctive resonance. It is a resonance that derives, not from timeless and universal archetypes, but rather from a specifically Christian narrative. All the other myths and narratives that, over the course of the centuries, have become a part of the festive fabric, from Santa Claus to Scrooge, from football matches in no man's land to the Grinch, endure because they go with its grain. .... (more)
Tom Holland, "The myth of ‘pagan’ Christmas," UnHerd, Dec. 25, 2021.

Friday, December 9, 2022

"I am part of the tribe and I know the rules."

Bari Weiss has converted and expanded her blog into The Free Press: For Free People. It will, I think, serve the interests of the none-woke among us. From her introductory post:
Each one of us has a tiny computer in our pocket with, basically, the sum total of human knowledge. We have never had access to more information, or more ways to share it. 

At the same time, it seems we understand our world less and less. 

As the gap between what we’re allowed to say in public and how we talk in private grows, so does our distrust—in power, in the press, and in one another. ....

At some point, maybe you noticed that rather than conveying complexity—even if it was inconvenient or uncomfortable—the press was in the business of giving their readers, their viewers, and their listeners confirmation. Confirmation that they were right, confirmation that their political opponents were wrong. ....

The Free Press is a media company built on the ideals that were once the bedrock of journalistic enterprises: honesty, doggedness, and fierce independence. We publish investigative stories and provocative commentary about the world as it actually is—with the quality once expected from the legacy press, but with the fearlessness of the new.

We place a special emphasis on subjects and stories that others ignore or misrepresent. We always aim to highlight multiple perspectives on complicated subjects. And we don’t allow ideology to stand in the way of searching for the truth. .... (more)
I've appreciated Weiss's personal blog, and this site looks very promising. I've subscribed. Much is already there, some carried over from Bari Weiss's Common Sense blog (If you subscribed to Common Sense, you are already subscribed to The Free Press.) From an early entry, "Why Everyone Wants the Same Things":
I recently read an email from an NPR employee in which the signature was the most intriguing part. After his name and pronouns (he/him) was the question: “Why are there pronouns in my signature?” I clicked the link. 

It led me to a six-page Google document called the NPR Pronoun Guide. “We act to create an inclusive environment in which individuals of all identities feel valued,” it stated. This was followed by a lengthy glossary of terms. I read it all, but the fundamental question in his signature was left unanswered: Why are there pronouns there? 

Only a few years ago, it would have seemed bizarre to have your pronouns in your emails. I’ve asked people who include their pronouns in emails (and elsewhere) why they do so. They offer versions of the same answer: That it’s a long overdue recognition of the complexities of gender, or that they are making a small gesture that improves the world. 

I believe this new phenomenon is an illustration of a deeper, hidden social force. That is the relentless, often unconscious, need for humans to reassure themselves they are in sync with their group. Displaying pronouns signals: I am part of the tribe and I know the rules. .... (more)
Also on the site right now:
And more. You, too, can subscribe.

The Free Press

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The British thriller

I'm always pleased when CrimeReads posts an essay about a genre I have particularly enjoyed. Today they did: "Thrilled and Intrigued: An Appreciation on Classic British Thrillers." Two of the authors discussed are favorites of mine, authors I've read and re-read, Eric Ambler and Geoffrey Household.
The British thriller is a big tent, covering everything from the old-school imperial adventures of John Buchan to the cinematic derring-do of Alistair MacLean, and I’ve devoured them all. ....

There’s no better example than Eric Ambler, who in a series of books he wrote in the 1930s revolutionized the spy novel, rejecting cloak-and-dagger melodrama for the nuts-and-bolts realism of how espionage was actually practiced. His account in A Coffin for Dimitrios of the patient cultivation, by a spy working for the Italians, of a Yugoslav government clerk in order to obtain a copy of a map of naval minefields is a textbook example of spycraft. But it’s only an anecdote in the story of a British novelist gathering material on a notorious Greek criminal, purely for research. What drives the novel is the writer’s quest for the truth about Dimitrios, which takes him from Istanbul to Sofia, Geneva and finally Paris, where he gets more than he bargained for. There are spies at every turn, but the protagonist is a mild-mannered and ultimately overmatched writer of frivolous mystery stories.

And espionage was not always the premise: Ambler’s The Light of Day, which was filmed as Topkapi, was basically a caper novel, featuring the roguish Arthur Abdel Simpson, a half-British, half-Egyptian con man. Other Ambler protagonists include a Philadelphia lawyer sent to Europe to untangle a complicated inheritance case that has unexpected ramifications in Balkan politics, a professional ghostwriter blackmailed into editing a terrorist’s memoirs and a doctor on a Caribbean island roped into a revolutionary plot. What all Ambler novels have in common is a nicely evoked foreign setting, a protagonist who would just as soon not be involved, and Ambler’s witty, knowing take on the way the world works.

Writing at roughly the same time as Ambler was Geoffrey Household. His breakout novel was Rogue Male, published in 1939, on the eve of war. It has a remarkable premise: an English gentleman hunter, tramping through the Bavarian Alps in search of “boar and bear,” finds himself unexpectedly within rifle range of Hitler’s mountain retreat, and just out of curiosity, settles in to watch the terrace, rifle with telescopic scope in hand. He is, of course, discovered. Interrogated, severely beaten, he is tossed over a cliff. (The opening line of the book is his laconic observation “I cannot blame them.”) Miraculously he survives and manages to crawl away and make his way back to England, where he goes to earth, hunted across the landscape by pursuing Nazis. It is basically an extended hunting yarn, with the first-person narrator the prey, and it is relentlessly compelling.

The hunting theme was a favorite of Household’s, fugitives fleeing pursuit across the charming English countryside made sinister by unseen stalkers. .... His heroes are urbane, unflappable, cool in a crisis, comfortable with horses, dogs and guns, equally at home indoors and out. His narrative voice was witty, understated, ironic. His best novels are the simplest in form: X is on the run, pursued by Y, and he has to use everything in his bag of tricks to stay alive. Besides Rogue Male I’d recommend Fellow Passenger, Watcher in the Shadows and A Time to Kill. .... (more)
Dominic Martell, "Thrilled and Intrigued: An Appreciation on Classic British Thrillers," CrimeReads, Dec. 7, 2022.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Christmas is coming

The editors of First Things offer an Advent and Christmas playlist (Spotify, about two hours):
Advent is upon us! As St. Augustine supposedly said, “Singing is praying twice.” We are happy to offer you this compilation of the First Things staff’s favorite advent hymns and songs to help stir up your heart as we await Christ’s coming. These songs anticipate both the flight of St. Nick and the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ—with a heavy emphasis on the latter. The playlist features a hearty helping of choral performances as well as contemporary pieces, with a smattering of compositions by Palestrina, Mendelssohn, Sufjan Stevens, Handel, and Straight No Chaser.

We hope you enjoy!
The Spotify links I placed in this post seem to lead to "forbidden." Sorry. If you subscribe to Spotify, you may be able to find the playlist.

Monday, December 5, 2022

A kind of puritanism

Every year the BBC sponsors a Reith Lecture, but in 2022 there will be four: "this series is called The Four Freedoms and it’s named after a speech given by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941, just months before America entered the Second World War. And in it, he set out what he deemed to be the 'fundamental pillars of democratic society: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.'” The first speech, delivered by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, was the one about freedom of speech (pdf). Excerpts:
When I was growing up in the 1980s on the campus of the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, I was a very curious child keen to hear every story, especially those that were no business of mine. And so, as a result, I sharpened very early on in life the skill of eavesdropping, a pastime at which I am still quite adept.

I noticed that each time my parents’ friends visited, they would sit in the living room talking loudly, except for when they criticised the military government. ...[T]hey were so attuned to a punitive authoritarian government that they instinctively lowered their voices, saying words they dared not say in public.

We would not expect this whispering in a democracy. Freedom of expression is after all, the bedrock of open societies. But there are many people in Western democracies today who will not speak loudly about issues they care about because they are afraid of what I will call, “social censure,” vicious retaliation, not from the government, but from other citizens. ....

...[T]his moral stridency is in fact, always punitive. We now live in broad settled ideological tribes. We no longer need to have real discussions because our positions are already assumed, based on our tribal affiliation. Our tribes demand from us a devotion to orthodoxy and they abide not reason, but faith....

One cannot help but wonder in this epidemic of self-censorship, what are we losing and what have we lost? We are all familiar with stories of people who have said or written something and then, faced a terrible online backlash. There is a difference between valid criticism, which should be part of free expression, and this kind of backlash, ugly personal insults, putting addresses of homes and children’s schools online, trying to make people lose their jobs.

To anyone who thinks, “Well, some people who have said terrible things, deserve it,” no. Nobody deserves it. It is unconscionable barbarism. It is a virtual vigilante action whose aim is not just to silence the person who has spoken but to create a vengeful atmosphere that deters others from speaking. ...[T]his new social censure demands consensus while being wilfully blind to its own tyranny. I think it portends the death of curiosity, the death of learning and the death of creativity. ....

In this age of mounting disinformation all over the world, when it is easy to dress up a lie so nicely that it starts to take on the glow of truth, the solution is not to hide the lie but to expose it, and scrub from it, its false glow. When we censor the purveyors of bad ideas, we risk making them martyrs, and the battle with a martyr can never be won. ....

A troubling assumption underlying the idea of censorship for the sake of tolerance is that good people don’t need free speech, as they cannot possibly want to say anything hurtful to anyone. Free speech is therefore for the bad people who want it as a cover to say bad things. The culture of social censure today has, at its center, a kind of puritanism that expects us to be free of all flaws, like angels, and angels do not need free speech. ....

The biggest threat to speech today is not legal or political, but social. This is not a new idea, even if its present manifestation is modern. That famed chronicler of American life, Alexis de Tocqueville, believed that the greatest dangers to liberty were not legal or political, but social. And when John Stuart Mill warned against the “tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling,” it reads as though he foresaw the threat that orthodoxy poses today. The solution to this threat can only be collective action. Social censure creates not just a climate of fear but also a reluctance to acknowledge this fear. It is only human to fear a mob, but I would fear less if I knew my neighbor would not stay silent were I to be pilloried. We fear the mob but the mob is us. ....
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "Freedom of Speech" (pdf), BBC, Nov. 30, 2022.

Good grief!

An appropriate recognition:
A century after his birth and two decades after his death, the Peanuts characters remain beloved American icons. What American doesn’t know Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, or Lucy? The Peanuts Christmas special, made in 1965, remains a holiday tradition. The Peanuts Movie, released in 2015, made a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide. The U.S. Postal Service is honoring the centennial with stamps of the Peanuts characters — but not of Schulz himself, who always insisted that he should be known only through his comics. ....

Watterson, who has written that Schulz “blazed the wide trail that most every cartoonist since has tried to follow,” is the first to acknowledge his debt to the melancholy Minnesotan. Schulz expanded the whole idea of what a comic strip could be about, and he did so without ever depicting an adult. ....

.... More than anyone else in the popular culture of the day, the sensitive and cerebral Schulz grasped something important about childhood: that it is a time not only of play but of anxiety, insecurity, social uncertainty, and the struggle to forge an identity and place in the world. The Peanuts gang knows only unrequited love and endless frustration, except when Snoopy is disappearing into his Walter Mitty fantasy lives. Schulz also understood that portraying these feelings in children would resonate with adults, because so many adults still carried those emotional scars, as he did for his entire life. Peanuts could be clever or wickedly funny at times, but it was the pang of emotional recognition that bound audiences to its characters. .... (more)
Dan McLaughlin, "Charles Schultz at 100," NRO, Dec 1, 2022.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Irrelevant subjects

From Patrick Kurp's blog post today, on the value of a liberal education:
At the library I found a posthumously published collection of essays and articles by Roger Scruton, Against the Tide (ed. Mark Dooley, Bloomsbury, 2022). Included is a column Scruton wrote in 1983 for The Times, “The Virtue of Irrelevance.” It’s a bracing assault on the ongoing trivialization of education, now underway for more than half a century. Universities have turned into nursery/vocational schools. Scruton is ever the genteel contrarian in his defense of the humanities:
The more irrelevant a subject, the more lasting is the benefit that it confers. Irrelevant subjects bring understanding of the human condition, by forcing the student to stand back from it. They also enhance the appetite for life, by providing material for thought and conversation. This is the secret which civilisation has guarded: that power and influence come through the acquisition of useless knowledge.
Scruton dismisses such fashionable silliness as “women’s studies” and concludes:
The value of such a subject is precisely that it destroys education. It keeps the student's mind so narrowly focused on his random and transient political convictions that, when he ceases to be obsessed with them, he will lack the education through which to discover what to put in their place.
Patrick Kurp, "The Acquisition of Useless Knowledge," Anecdotal Evidence, Dec. 2, 2022.

Intimations of mortality

I liked "The Glory of Church Graveyards," from which:
Every couple of months, I go for a walk around our church graveyard. I have called it a cemetery for the longest time, but it’s actually a graveyard. Graveyards are connected to a church. Cemeteries are not. ....

The fact is, we in America rarely think of our own mortality, especially if we are young. We kind of know in the back of our minds that we will die someday, but it’s still a long way off, right? Wrong. .... So every day when I see that graveyard, I am reminded I will die and that causes me to consider my life and value what is important. It causes me to make my life about the right things and not waste it. ....
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
The church graveyard is that cloud of witnesses. .... The church graveyard is a cloud of witnesses telling those in Christ that are still living to keep going. ....

Church graveyards are not a sign the church is dying. There is much glory in them. (more)
The picture is of the churchyard of the Salem, WV, Seventh Day Baptist Church.

Aaron Frasier, "The Glory of Church Graveyards," For the Church, Nov. 29, 2022.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The importance of listening

I enjoy reading about 19th century history. Today, about Lord Palmerston, who was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, including during the American Civil War. He dominated British foreign policy from 1830 until his death in 1865. Today Dan McLaughlin quoted the Duke of Argyll about how members of his government handled him.
His first impulse was always to move fleets and to threaten our opponents, sometimes on trivial occasions, on the details of which he had not fully informed himself by careful reading. Then, on finding his proposals combated, he was candid in listening and in inquiring and if he found the objections reasonable, he could give way to them with the most perfect good humour. This was a great quality in a man so impulsive and so strong-headed as he was, and so prone to violent action. It made him a much less dangerous man than he was supposed to be. But I made it an all-important matter that he should have colleagues who understood him and were not afraid of him.
John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, Duke of Argyll, Viscount Palmerston, 1892.

Watson's vocation

Tomorrow, December 2, is the anniversary of the first time a Sherlock Holmes story appeared in print. Michael Dirda explained how they came to be written, why Conan Doyle didn't believe they were his most important work, and how, nevertheless, they and the subsequent stories made his characters famous and enduring.
.... A Study in Scarlet was turned down by one publisher after another, until it was finally accepted by Ward, Lock, and Co., who offered to buy the British copyright for a derisory twenty-five pounds. Out of desperation, Conan Doyle took the paltry sum, then still had to wait a year before his short novel came out in Beeton’s Christmas Annual for 1887. Today, that annual may be the most valuable magazine in the world. Only thirty-three copies are known to exist and many are tattered or incomplete. If a truly fine copy were to appear on the market today, it might bring a quarter of a million dollars or more.

The 1887 Beeton’s containing A Study in Scarlet sold moderately well, and the novel was later republished as a book, with rather crude illustrations by Conan Doyle’s artist father. And that was all. There was no great hoopla, no recognition of a new star in the nascent detective story firmament.

Yet from the first page, Conan Doyle’s storytelling mastery—the genial narrative voice, the fast-moving action—sweeps the reader along. In short order we learn that John H. Watson has been an army doctor, was grievously wounded at the battle of Maiwand in the Second Afghan War, and now, broken in health, has wearily returned to England. One day he encounters an old acquaintance who tells him about a chap looking for someone to share digs with in Baker Street.

Watson and Holmes meet at St. Bart’s hospital, where Holmes’ first recorded words are “I’ve found it!”—that is, the English for “Eureka,” exclaimed by Archimedes when he grasped the displacement of liquids as he sat in his bath. A Study in Scarlet also provides the first appearance of the original Baker Street Irregulars, the London street urchins who can go anywhere and overhear anyone, and who serve the detective as a city-wide surveillance system. Most important of all, Watson discovers his own new vocation: Near the story’s end, he tells Holmes, “You should publish an account of the case,” and then adds, “If you won’t, I will for you.” The detective shrugs. “You may do what you like, Doctor.” .... (more)