Tuesday, January 31, 2023


The newest issue of CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society arrived today. The lead essay introduces Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers by Chrystal Downing. It includes several references to the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Sayers. I have ordered the book.

Margaret Goodman, author of the extended review, begins by quoting from the first page of the book.
When Dorothy L. Sayers died in 1957, C.S. Lewis wept. Though she sometimes sharply criticized his opinions, Lewis delighted in Sayers's ability to communicate subversive perceptions in snappy, sometimes hilarious ways, even if at his expense. In fact, when asked near the end of his life to name authors that influenced his spiritual life, Lewis identified four: two specialists on mysticism, G.K. Chesterton, and Dorothy L. Sayers.
.... Like Martin Luther and William Tyndale, who did the first English translation of the Bible working directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts, Sayers's goal was to preserve the foundation of Christianity. Sayers was not concerned with what people thought of her; her commitment was to clarify what are the components of true Christian dogma, which Downing defines: "Dogma is the unchanging foundation — the orthodoxy — upon which the architecture of Christianity is solidly built, enabling it to accommodate renovations as culture changes." It was important to Sayers to separate her own opinion from the integrity of church doctrine: "Nothing would induce me to 'set down my religious beliefs and convictions.' Setting down what I understand to be the church's beliefs and convictions is a different matter." Clarity on this distinction was important when Sayers defined as heresies such beliefs as not believing that Jesus was fully God or the opposite — that he was not really human. This is not disagreement with HER beliefs; it is contrary to the beliefs of the church. ....

Sayers always freely admitted that she had a prejudice against emotional worship experiences because she could not relate to them. To C.S. Lewis she wrote, "All spiritual experience is a closed book to me; in that respect I have been tone-deaf from birth." She asserted that she could identify no moment of conversion, having believed in Christ's death and resurrection her whole life. "I am quite without the thing known as 'inner light' or 'spiritual experience': On the contrary, she defined her attraction to Christianity as intellectual. She used the expression "passionate intellect" to describe her love for the way that "Christian doctrine can explain not only the existence of good and evil, but also God's sacrificial love for humanity." Most of all, she believed Christian dogma to be TRUE!

Sayers rejected the idea that all believers are called upon to evangelize. On the contrary, in I Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians, St. Paul emphasizes that the church is made up of members with different gifts, only one of which is evangelism. Sayers believed that God had granted her the gift of teaching, which was important to her because she was appalled by intellectual sloppiness.
I haven't got a pastoral mind or a passion to convert people, but I hate having my intellect outraged by imbecile ignorance and by the monstrous distortions of fact which the average heathen accepts as being "Christianity" (and from which he mostly naturally revolts.)
Sayers gave lectures and radio talks, wrote newspaper and magazine articles, books, and plays in order to educate people about the facts of Christian doctrine. Though her stated goal is not to evangelize, she attracts people to faith by appealing to their intellects, not their emotions:
It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; It is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism.
That is only a small sample from the review. I very much look forward to the book. I've posted much both about and by Sayers on this blog.

Margaret Goodman, "An Introduction to Subversive by Chrystal Downing," CSL, November/December, 2022.

Those who have no master...

Spurgeon died on January 31 1892, aged only 57, after a long illness. From his final sermon the previous summer:
.... Those who have no master are slaves to themselves. Depend upon it, you will either serve Satan or Christ, either self or the Saviour. You will find sin, self, Satan, and the world to be hard masters; but if you wear the livery of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains.

There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in him. These forty years and more have I served him, blessed be his name! and I have had nothing but love from him. I would be glad to continue yet another forty years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God. help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus even this day! Amen.
"June 7, 1891: Charles Spurgeon Preaches His Last Sermon," Logos, June 7, 2012.

Monday, January 30, 2023

A really dumb scene

I do enjoy Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films (not so much his Hobbit trilogy). But there were several things Jackson got wrong. Alan Jacobs describes one of them.

...[I]n the movie of RotK, when Gandalf finally does confront [the Lord of the Nazgul], Peter Jackson makes one of his very worst mistakes by having the Boss Wraith instantly destroy Gandalf’s staff, thus demonstrating absolute dominance over the wizard. It’s impossible to imagine that Gandalf, who has returned from death to fulfill his role as the Enemy of Sauron, could be utterly helpless before one of Sauron’s servants. Jackson then compounds the error by having the Wraith distracted from Gandalf by events on the battlefield: he immediately flies away rather than pausing for the four seconds it would clearly take him to destroy the staffless wizard whom he knows to be the leader of the rebels against the Dark Lord. It’s such a dumb scene.
Alan Jacobs, The Homebound Symphony, Jan. 30. 2023.

“I am this dark world’s light..."

Jonathan Aigner, at his blog Ponder Anew, has been posting a "Hymn of the Day" series. Today the selection is "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say," one of my favorite hymns. A very good performance:

Saturday, January 28, 2023

“I’d bet they’re asleep in New York. I’d bet they’re asleep all over America…”

Casablanca is eighty years old. Why do I re-watch it? Because it's true?
The greatest works of art, the ones that transcend generations and enter our cultural canon, manage to capture timeless themes of human existence. They explore love, heartbreak, sacrifice, devotion to a higher cause, or the score of other emotions and experiences that fill life. It is for this reason that the world has turned to Casablanca over and over again for the last 80 years and will continue to until the last humans die off. It is timeless. It is human. ....

That Casablanca is true makes it a classic all on its own. That it is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and endlessly quotable is icing on the cake—“Round up the usual suspects,” “we’ll always have Paris,” here’s looking at you kid,” “this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” It should be noted too, that the singing of “La Marseillaise” may be the most moving scene in cinematic history.

Eighty years on and the world may have changed, but humans haven’t. Life is cliché. It’s still the same old story: A fight for love and glory, a case of do or die. The world will always welcome lovers, as time goes by.
Alec Dent, "A Defense of Clichés," The Dispatch, Jan 28, 2023.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Celebrities and the Church

Mike Cosper reviews Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church. Cosper did The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcasts. I found the entire review worthwhile.
.... Fame “is a by-product of virtue, the effect rather than the goal of living a virtuous life.… It is at its finest when it comes to those who are not seeking it.” Celebrity, on the other hand, is defined not by great deeds or virtue but rather by the “celebration” of an individual. “It’s similar to fame,” she writes, “but doesn’t require doing anything of particular importance, talent, or virtue.” ....

Beaty’s treatment of Billy Graham illustrates the care she takes to tell this story soberly and fairly. .... Graham didn’t want your money; he wanted to make sure you didn’t go to hell.

His ministry avoided most of the pitfalls that would sink future Christian celebrities ....

But she also notes important ways Graham distinguishes himself from much of the celebrity culture that followed. He worked with local churches, funneling converts into communities that could shepherd them. He formed a board that set his salary and committed to never exaggerate attendance or conversion numbers. And, perhaps most importantly, he invested in institutions “that didn’t need or depend on his gifts or charisma to succeed,” including the National Association of Evangelicals, Fuller Theological Seminary, and my own employer, Christianity Today.

“Graham saw with prescient wisdom how intoxicating it would be for leaders to believe they are so important they can evade the accountability they need,” Beaty writes, “even and perhaps especially when their work seems crucial for the kingdom.” ....

“Celebrity … is a worldly form of power and evaluation of human worth,” Beaty asserts. “It is not a spiritually neutral tool that can be picked up and put down, even for godly projects. The moment celebrity is adopted and adapted for otherwise noble purposes—sharing the good news and inviting others into rich kingdom life—it changes the project. And it changes us.” ....

As I reflected on Beaty’s book, I found very little to disagree with, but several ideas that I think need deeper consideration for the sake of the church.

One is the phenomenology of celebrity. Evangelical culture is weird in part because American culture is weird, and success in almost any work in the public sphere will result in some degree of celebrity. ....

If evangelicalism is to experience renewal in the years to come, it will have to reckon with the ways it has been enculturated and oriented around celebrity, and Beaty’s book is an essential contribution to the conversation that needs to happen. .... (more)
Mike Cosper, "The Cult of Celebrity in the Church of Christ," Jan 23.2023.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Burns Night

Tomorrow, January 25th, is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns and is celebrated by many Scots in the evening as Burns Night. I recently learned from a DNA analysis that my own ancestry is about 40% Scot and that reinforces my inclination to celebrate a land I have visited and a culture I have enjoyed.

A collection of Burns poems can be found here. A Robert Burns poem from 1789:

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.
Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.
My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.
My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.

The second verse reminded me of a book by another Scot. Several of my favorite authors were Scots.

Shedding green blood

From The Napoleon of Notting Hill:
.... Tolstoy and the Humanitarians said that the world was growing more merciful, and therefore no one would ever desire to kill. And Mr. Mick not only became a vegetarian, but at length declared vegetarianism doomed (‘shedding,’ as he called it finely, ‘the green blood of the silent animals’), and predicted that men in a better age would live on nothing but salt. And then came the pamphlet from Oregon (where the thing was tried), the pamphlet called ‘Why should Salt suffer?’ and there was more trouble. ....
G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

Monday, January 23, 2023

"Enjoyment, amusement, and delight"

Prufrock quotes passages from a review of Before Austen Comes Aesop: The Children’s Great Books and How to Experience Them:
.... Children, as every parent knows, are decidedly not utilitarians. When they walk, they are as interested in the bugs on the ground as in arriving at the destination; eating and getting dressed are alike games. Reading, similarly, is never for something else. In their natural state, children do not read to gather information for a test or to build up their debate skills. Instead they approach books with a “negative capability” that few adults possess. They do not mind—and even enjoy—the mysteries, the circuitous routes, the nonsense words, and the inconsistencies. ....

Gibbon, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and even the arch-utilitarian himself, Jeremy Bentham, all had habits of “desultory reading,” which meant that at young ages they read widely in sources that were probably much too advanced for them. Nowadays such an endeavor would be difficult, both because adults are so keen to curate children’s reading and because so much more is written for young readers. But these famous eighteenth-century child readers apprehended the infinite, the whole of things, even before they could understand, categorize, or classify .... Something like this is the adventure that Blomquist advocates for children and teenagers and, indirectly, for their parents too: Read widely in works that are delightful and strange, ancient and modern. Enjoy the text and pictures of Maurice Sendak and Arnold Lobel, Beatrix Potter and Tomie dePaola. Think of it all not as another burdensome project to be completed but as an activity characterized by enjoyment, amusement, and delight.
Micah Mattix, "Childlike Reading," Prufrock, Jan. 23, 2023.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Ace of spies

I've read one biography of Sidney Reilly and probably won't also read this one, but a review of that book reminds me how very much I enjoyed a very good television series starring Sam Neill loosely based on Reilly's life.
'James Bond is just a piece of nonsense I dreamt up,’ the former naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming once said. ‘He’s not a Sidney Reilly you know.’ ....

...Reilly’s colourful life was spent against the changing backdrop of Shanghai, Tokyo, Manila, Rio, Paris, London and various parts of Russia, although little feeling for these glamorous locations is evoked in Benny Morris’s book. But there is plenty of action. For starters, Reilly may have murdered several men. He certainly oiled the wheels of the war industry trade between Russia, Germany and Britain, making a fortune on the side, and chalking up a string of significant intelligence successes involving émigré Russian revolutionaries, German armaments producers and the Tsarist army and navy.

What Reilly failed to do, but had a good stab at, was overthrow the Bolshevik regime. If they were not executed immediately, Reilly favoured parading Lenin and Trotsky through the Moscow streets ‘with their nether garments missing’. As he would discover some years later, when a midlife crisis contributed to send him back to Russia, their plans for him would not be so forgiving. ....

...[M]ost characters in this book have significant agency, and what a cast there is. Remarkable intelligence officers Bruce Lockhart and Boris Savinov; Trotsky – who may have been related to Reilly; and MI6’s ‘C’, Mansfield Cumming, are just a few of those who play significant roles. Walk-on parts go to, among others, Winston Churchill at the Paris Peace conference, the author and spy Somerset Maugham, and Lenin’s would-be assassin Fanny Kaplan, ‘leaning her chin upon her hand… apparently resigned to her fate’. ....
Reilly Ace of Spies can be watched streaming at Amazon Prime (PBS Masterpiece) and perhaps elsewhere. It can also be found on DVD, although rather expensive.

Clare Mulley, "Sidney Reilly, Ace of Spies, remains an enigma," The Spectator, Jan. 21, 2023.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

"Born nakedly to shiver"

In "Whatever Happened to Light Verse?" I enjoyed Phyllis McGinley's "Lament for a Wavering Viewpoint":
I want to be a Tory
And with the Tories stand,
Elect and bound for glory
With a proud congenial band.   
Or in the leftist hallways
I gladly would abide,
But from my youth I always
Could see the other side.
But all my views are plastic,
With neither form nor pride.
They stretch like new elastic
Around the Other Side;
And I grow lean and haggard
With searching out the taint
Of hero in the Blackguard
Of villain in the saint.
How comfortable to rest with
The safe and armored folk
Congenitally blessed with
Opinions stout as oak.
Assured that every question
One single answer hath,
They keep a good digestion
And whistle in their bath.
Ah, snug lie those that slumber
Beneath Conviction’s roof.
Their floors are sturdy lumber,
Their windows, weatherproof.
But I sleep cold forever
And cold sleep all my kind,
Born nakedly to shiver
In the draft of an open mind.

Friday, January 20, 2023

The courage to quit

Chris Stirewalt:
“I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility,” [New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda] Ardern said in her announcement. “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”

Jair Bolsonaro, Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin are among those leaders who could not summon the courage to quit at the right time. A country too weak to survive without one specific leader in charge is dead already and leaders who stay too long bring weakness, not strength. Turmoil may follow, as it did the departure of George Washington, but a nation that can be governed only by one man is not really a nation at all but a cult.
Chris Stirewalt, "In Favor of Quitting Loud," The Dispatch, Jan. 20, 2023.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Bible and slavery

From Paul Gutacker, "Tradition, the Bible, and America’s Debate over Slavery":
...[S]cripture was at the center of the theological argument over slavery. Many American Christians—especially groups such as the Churches of Christ, but also Baptists and Methodists—claimed to rely solely on scripture. These evangelicals prided themselves on reading the Bible without help from other authorities, untethered from human tradition.

In reality, however, when American Protestants disagreed about the meaning of scripture, they did turn to other sources. Everyone interprets Scripture in a historic context. ....

The question of slavery in Christian history took on new urgency in the 1840s, when the three largest Protestant denominations faced schism. As pro- and antislavery Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists failed to win ecclesiastical arguments via scripture, many turned to tradition. Antislavery ministers argued that the teaching of the early church and the “spirit” of Christianity throughout the centuries supported church discipline against slaveholders.

Proslavery clergy countered that the very same church fathers permitted slavery. It was radical abolitionists who were departing from the norms of traditional Christianity. ....

What do we make of this dismal slide toward the Civil War? First, whatever else “biblicism” means, it did not entail ignorance of history, nor disregard of tradition. Even as they claimed to rely solely on the Bible, evangelical Protestants frequently turned to the Christian past to bolster their interpretations. Their disagreements over slavery show that an era sometimes portrayed as ahistorical and anti-traditional in fact saw extensive engagement with the history of Christianity. These evangelicals never read, nor argued over, the Bible “alone.”

Second, using history did not solve much. The antebellum theological crisis was not due to pro- and antislavery theologians ignoring the Christian past but rather was furthered by their use of the past to make conflicting arguments. The histories constructed by each side only strengthened the conviction that theirs was a holy cause. Certain that the Bible endorsed their respective positions, pro- and antislavery Christians believed they were on the right side of church history. ....

In other words, the past failures of American Christians shouldn’t make us more suspicious of the Bible, but more suspicious of ourselves. We can use anything to justify what we want: scripture, history, precedent, and/or tradition. The Bible isn’t the problem—we are. (more)
I've posted about my denomination's reckoning with slavery here, here, and here.

Paul Gutacker, "Tradition, the Bible, and America’s Debate over Slavery," TGC, Jan. 18, 2023.

Monday, January 16, 2023

"Exceeding happy beyond compare"

From Jonathan Edwards, "Nothing Upon Earth Can Represent the Glories of Heaven (1724)":
Although all things upon earth are insufficient to represent to us these glories, nor are we capable of conceiving of it, yet God condescends, when he speaks of these things, to our way of apprehension, and because we are most apt to [be] affected by those things which we have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears, and had experience of. Therefore God has taken his similitudes, by which he would shadow forth heaven to us, from those things which, although they are but faint shadows, have yet an analogy and, in those things wherein they are compared, a likeness; and the thing resembled differs no otherwise from the similitudes, in no more degrees, than as they are more excellent and glorious. ....

Thus we have taken notice of some of those similitudes by which God has been pleased to shadow forth the glories of heaven, even all the most glorious [that] can be found in the aspectable world. We are come, therefore, to show that none are sufficient to represent to us, or to give us an idea of, the glories of the blessed. Although perhaps they give us as bright a picture and image of it—or would do, if fully understood—as we are capable of receiving in this life, yet 'tis but a very faint shadow.' 'Tis but a glimpse, and a small glimpse too; they are things that are quite beyond our conception. Nothing that we see upon earth will serve to give us a notion; those things are so much more excellent, so much more pure, more refined, noble and exalted, we have never yet seen anything with our eyes, or heard anything with our ears, like it. 1 Corinthians 2:9, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him." ....

Reason tells us that man was created to be happy in the enjoyment of God's love, and therefore that those that enjoy this happiness must be inconceivably happy. We have showed already that it must needs be that God created the world only from goodness, and that the rational part of the world are the ultimate objects of all this goodness. Wherefore it follows that God created the whole world for the manifestation of his love and goodness to the rational part of the world. Therefore there will doubtless be a time wherein God will fully manifest his love to good men, to those that answer the end of their creation.

But reason tells us that they that fully enjoy the love of God must be exceeding happy beyond compare: for how happy are men sometimes in the love one of another. How much more happy, then, must they necessarily be in the enjoyment of the love of him who is infinitely greater, better and more excellent than any creature. ....

How much greater is the Christian's reward than the Christian's troubles. All the troubles of this [world] are truly worthy to be despised in comparison of the glories of the future....
Jonathan Edwards, "Nothing Upon Earth Can Represent the Glories of Heaven," 1724.

Sunday, January 15, 2023


Although important to my daily existence, coffee is probably not so in the great scheme of things. At National Review a consideration of "the best coffee cup in conservatism":
There are many subjects on which conservatives differ. Foreign policy. Trade deficits. Landlords from Queens. Soccer communism. But perhaps the matter of greatest significance is the coffee bean. ....

...[T]hat beautiful brown liquid is...an essential part of American life. As such, the problematic bean juice deserves to be poured into the best possible vessel. Thus commences the second annual conservative mug showdown, in which the best mugs of conservatism duke it out. This year’s contestants are Commentary, Law & Liberty, the Manhattan Institute, the Morning Dispatch, and, of course, National Review. ....

The study shall assess the mugs on the basis of three categories: Appearance, Function, and Heat Retention. ....
The "study" can be found here. Alas, my cup didn't win. It is wrong that they all (including mine) were made in China.

My cup:
Morning Dispatch
  • It still holds coffee
    Design If the Morning Dispatch mug strikes you as a self-consciously slightly taller and broader version of the National Review offering (with a dash of the Weekly Standard’s color palette, R.I.P.), you’d not be alone. The tass*, tall and white, reminds the author of himself. It is the least visually interesting of the five.
  • Comfort The added height allows the handle to house all four fingers, giving the user a passable set of brass (ceramic) knuckles — a fitting secondary application for a mug hailing from a publication that houses the pugilistic quills of Kevin D. Williamson, Jonah Goldberg, Allahpundit, and until very recently, David French.
  • Lettering The lettering is single-sided, favoring the user, with a red box containing the Morning Dispatch’s title. Given the outlet’s origins as a newsletter, the box is a cool homage to the format. Unfortunately, the youthfulness of the publication is noticeable in the finished product, as the coloring of the letters is noticeably smudged ("hand wash preferred"). Also, a cheeky note on the mug’s bottom reads “Worth Your Time” to an onlooker, but owing to the body’s single-sided decal, only blank ceramic meets the eye of said onlooker. I’m confident the mug’s second draft will correct these issues.
  • Durability The finish is glossy, similar to NR’s and L&L’s. The extra space allows for mixing Irish coffee without precious fluids slopping out.
  • Warning Mug can cause the growth of gray scruff in those over forty and, conversely, the absence of facial hair in those under thirty-five.
  • Origin China
*A word I had to look up: "tass is a drinking cup or bowl. Middle French tasse, from Arabic ṭass, ṭassah, from Persian tast"

Luther Ray Abel, "The Second Annual Best Coffee Cup in Conservatism Contest," National Review, Jan. 15, 2023.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Five classic mysteries

Last night I once again watched the Granada/Masterpiece Theater version of The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Jeremy Brett. It is the most faithful—and best—film version of the book. Today Five Books included the book in their list of "The Best Classic Crime Fiction."
  1. The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins
  2. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. The ABC Murders (1936) by Agatha Christie
  4. Brat Farrar (1949) by Josephine Tey
  5. The Talented Mr Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith
The Hound of the Baskervilles:
...is a short book, easily read in an afternoon. I first heard of it when I was about seven and a picture and short summary featured in a diary I was given. It was already enough to send shivers down my spine. The book opens in London, in Baker Street, with the usual back-and-forth between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they deduce what kind of man has left behind his walking stick. The plot quickly draws you in with its combination of a family curse, the unforgettable setting of the bleak, Devon moors and the hellish, spectral hound that haunts them. Sir Charles Baskerville feared his own death and duly died—will the last of the Baskervilles, Sir Henry, fresh back from the colonies, also fall victim if he returns to Baskerville Hall? It’s very, very cleverly done.
And The ABC Murders:
I can’t remember which was the first Agatha Christie I came across, but I’ve tried to read all of her crime novels. It’s primarily about the plots. Only rarely does the twist in a contemporary mystery book give me the satisfaction that Agatha Christie does. I suppose it’s also the familiarity: with each book I know I’m going to get the same thing and yet cleverly different. The ABC Murders features her Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, before she got really fed up [with] him. The story is mainly told through the eyes of his old friend, Captain Hastings, who comes back from South America to find Poirot dying his hair. Poirot has received an anonymous letter signed A.B.C., challenging him about a mystery which he won’t be able to solve. The plot revolves around the ABC Rail Guide—the train timetable book that was widely used at that time—and is one of her cleverest.
Sophie Roell, "The Best Classic Crime Fiction," Five Books, Jan 13, 2023.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Through a glass darkly

Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times: From the Twenties to the Nineties, and some forty other books, has died at the age of 94. Steven Hayward writes that he wrote "analytical narrative." I've enjoyed reading his books and essays. From one of the essays at The Spectator, "Why I Believe in God":
...[I]n prayer, however insignificant and lowly a creature we may be, we address privately but directly and intimately the most powerful creature in existence, the architect of the entire universe. Prayer, I believe — and this is what I practise — is a direct contact with God, which makes all the spine-tingling immensities of space completely irrelevant. We can talk to God, directly, secretly and whenever we wish, and on whatever topic which causes us concern. We can use whatever words or tone of voice we choose, but we do not need words at all, merely to articulate or just convey our thoughts. This ability to communicate with God is a reflection of the fact, and to me it is a fact, that in some indefinable but definite way we are created in his image, and thus can share our concerns with him. We know that he hears, registers and records, and that what we say in prayer has consequences, even though we do not, strictly speaking, conduct a dialogue with God, for we are more in the nature of petitioners than interlocutors. For God to speak to us is exceptional, though by no means unknown. ....

What deters most sensitive and intelligent people from believing in God, or undermines the faith of those who once did, is their inability to vindicate the notion of divine providence in a world full of evil. An innocent child dying in agony is a potent argument for atheism. Life teems with triumphant monsters, unpunished crimes crying to heaven, cynical success stories. .... My own humble answer is that none of us, with our enormous, rapidly expanding but still minute knowledge measured against the mysteries of the universe, can have the temerity to question God’s wisdom. Divine providence is a colossal fact which is indefinable, immeasurable, and beyond our powers even to conceive in its potency. We cannot set our puny selves against it. We accept countless complexities of nature, and the increasing achievements of mechanistic science, having learned to trust human wisdom and its power constructs up to a point. Why, then, should we distrust divine wisdom, which is so infinitely more profound? I am content to go to my grave with many mysteries unsolved. Indeed I am not unhappy with mysteries, confident we now see through a glass darkly but ultimately will be face to face with the truth of all things. The most valuable of virtues, I increasingly feel, is patience. ....
Paul Johnson, "Why I believe in God," The Spectator, Dec., 2012.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Simply listen

Joseph Ratzinger, teacher, understood a truth about a good lecture (or sermon, for that matter):
Before he was a pope, before he was a prefect or a cardinal or an archbishop, Joseph Ratzinger was a professor. In those years, Ratzinger would rivet crowded lecture halls in German universities with his theological acumen, his clarity of expression, and his grasp of the faith’s implications for the modern world. The professor aimed not just to inform the mind but also to warm the heart. His biographer, Peter Seewald, recounts Ratzinger’s words to his friend Alfred Läpple: “When you give a lecture, the students should lay down their pencils and simply listen to you. As long as they keep writing it down, you have not really got to them. But when they put down their pencils and look at you while you are speaking, then perhaps you have touched their hearts.”
And if not their hearts, perhaps their minds.

R. Lukas Stamps, "In Memoriam: Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI," Mere Fidelity, Jan. 2, 2023.

"If the world's as dull a place as you say"

A tweet by someone about to begin a class called "C.S. Lewis and the Dark Enchantment of Modernity" reminded me of this:

The Silver Chair is one of my favorites among the Narnia series and the chapter titled "The Queen of Underland" is one of the reasons. That queen, using a familiar kind of argument and a dulling enchantment, is trying to convince Eustace Scrubb, Jill Pole, Prince Rilian, and one of my favorites among Lewis's creations, Puddleglum, that their memories of Narnia are all wish fulfillment:
The Witch shook her head. "I see," she said, "that we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You've seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it's to be called a lion. Well, 'tis a pretty make-believe, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my lord Prince, that art a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed of such toys? Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan. And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But, first, to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams."

The Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half closed; the strength all gone from them; the enchantment almost complete. But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing. He knew it wouldn't hurt him quite as much as it would hurt a human; for his feet (which were bare) were webbed and hard and cold-blooded like a duck's. But he knew it would hurt him badly enough; and so it did. With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. And three things happened at once.

First, the sweet, heavy smell grew very much less. For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good bit of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone's brain far clearer. The Prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes.

Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice, utterly different from all the sweet tones she had been using up till now, called out, "What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I'll turn the blood to fire inside your veins."

Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum's head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himse1f. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."
C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, 1953

Friday, January 6, 2023


"The star, which they saw in the east, went before them..."
The term Epiphany is taken from the Greek word for “manifestation” and is a date to celebrate the incarnation of Christ. In some denominations, the day is also known as Three Kings’ Day since it commemorates the “twelfth day of Christmas,” or twelve days after Jesus’ birth, when according to tradition the magi visited Mary, Joseph, and their child. (In the Bible, neither the number of “wise men” nor the date they arrived is specified.) ....
9 Things You Should Know About the Christian Calendar

Monday, January 2, 2023

All things work together

The Heidelberg Catechism, Question One

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own,
but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to Him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for Him.

Sunday, January 1, 2023


"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
 Ephesians 2:8-9

New Year's Day, 2023, marks the 250th anniversary of John Newton's great hymn, Amazing Grace.
The hymn was written in the town by curate—and former slave ship captain—the Reverend John Newton, for his sermon at St Peter and St Paul Church on 1 January 1773.
The familiar tune we sing today is much more recent, dating from the early 19th century.