Wednesday, May 31, 2023


Theodore Dalrymple laments the retiring of his butcher. I have felt the same about the retirements of those to whom I have become accustomed and come to trust, especially physicians. Dalrymple:
...[N]ostalgia generally has had a bad reputation, especially among intellectuals, who regard it both as a refusal to face reality head on and as a dishonest romanticisation of the past; but this seems to me quite wrong. A man who can reach a certain age—I cannot be precise as to what age—without experiencing nostalgia must have had a pretty wretched existence. He cannot recall the irrecoverable past with that mixture of pleasure and sorrow that is nostalgia; he can regret the passing of nothing good.

Such a man is so fixated on the present, or on the future, or on progress, that he has not noticed that deterioration really does take place in the world, or he ascribes to it no importance or significance whatever. In other words, he is still very young or callow—or both—and believes that all change must be for the better. He therefore seeks change for its own sake, irrespective of its actual effects.

Even small changes now disturb me. In my youth, I thought that routine was the worst of fates, the desire of persons without imagination; but now I find routine, at least in some things, reassuring. Perhaps it is the approach of death: routine gives the illusion of changelessness and permanence. By definition, illusion is false of course, above all the illusion of changelessness: but who can live entirely without it? .... (more)
Theodore Dalrymple, "The Duke and the Butcher," New English Review, June, 2023.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Getting in touch

I've never much liked unexpected phone calls. Perhaps paradoxically, as my cell phone has made phone calls easier to receive I have developed an increasing aversion to answering them. I seldom answer my phone. If I notice my brother calling, I will answer. If it is the door to my building, I will respond. If I notice the call is from a doctor or a medical facility, I may answer, but it is more likely I will return the call when so inclined. Otherwise I usually don't react to the ring tone. This is mainly because I dislike responding to someone else's initiative. I much prefer an email — assuming the correspondent has my email address — or a text. I don't initiate texts either, although I will likely respond to one so long as it isn't political. My response is more likely to be considered and will be at a time of my choosing. It is also true that I'm apt to forget to remove my phone from the charger in the morning and so simply don't notice efforts to get in touch until whenever I happen to think about it. I like my phone but mainly use it for things other than phone calls. So, if you find yourself frustrated by my non-responsiveness, email or text.

Monday, May 29, 2023


Amy A. Kass and Leon R. Kass in "Take Time to Remember":
.... Memorial Day, once called Decoration Day, is a post-Civil War holiday. It was first instituted by the Grand Army of the Republic on May 30, 1868, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.” If the Fourth of July renews the memory of the birth of the nation, Decoration Day renewed the memory of those who gave their lives “that that nation might live,” or again in Lincoln’s words, that this nation would have a new birth of freedom.

On Decoration Day, May 30, 1871, at Arlington National Cemetery, it was an ex-slave named Frederick Douglass who delivered the memorial address near the monument to the “Unknown Loyal Dead,” before a gathering that included President Grant, his cabinet, and many other distinguished people. “Dark and sad,” Douglass began, “will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors.” Giving eloquent expression to that homage, he concluded: “If today we have a country not boiling in the agony of blood, like France, if now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage...if the star-spangled banner floats only over free American citizens in every quarter of the land, and our country has before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty, and civilization, we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.”

On this occasion and for the rest of his life, Douglass was at pains to keep alive through speech the memory and meaning of the deeds of that noble army of men who gave their lives to preserve the Union. ....

After World War I, Decoration Day was expanded to commemorate the lives of all those who have died in service to our country. Later, the name of the holiday was changed to Memorial Day; later still, it lost its fixed date in the calendar, celebrated instead on the last Monday in May. ....
"Take Time to Remember" originally in The Weekly Standard

Sunday, May 28, 2023


Levi W. Bond
Robert Levi Bond

Levi W. Bond was brother to my Great-Grandfather. He joined the 15th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry (US) and was killed September 3, 1864, near Berryville, Virginia.

Robert Levi Bond, known to his friends as Levi, was my Mother's brother, the uncle I never had a chance to meet. He was in the 110th Infantry, 28th Div. and was killed on September 19, 1944 in Belgium.

Brer Rabbit

I only have a couple of DVDs that are probably pirated. One of them is Disney's "Song of the South." It is completely understandable why Disney now considers the film objectionable — happy plantation field workers. Unlikely. But the cartoons are pretty good and they can be found on YouTube.

Thank you

The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines we honor on Memorial Day deserve glory, those embracing their folded flags deserve our gratitude, and those living physically or psychologically mutilated post-service lives deserve the best care we can provide.

From Normandy to Okinawa, from the oceans’ deeps to the mountain passes of Korea, we take a day to say “Thank you” to our sons who remain there still. Few are the men who wish to die for their country, but many accepted that death might call for them in service of country and continued under 80-pound packs in the jungles of Vietnam or along the ship’s prop shaft in the diesel pits. There they were, at their station, when the reaper arrived in the form of shell, shrapnel, or disease. ....

Memorial Day commemorates those who surrendered the right to the preservation of self, thereby guaranteeing the protection of the whole. Some died, others are living. The day is an accounting — who now remains to remember? .... (more)
Luther Ray Abel, "‘No, Thank God, Americans Don’t Say That’," National Review, May 28, 2023.

Saturday, May 27, 2023


On Thursday (June 1) PBS will broadcast a two-hour documentary called "Sabbath."

From The Washington Post:
In his book The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that Jews did not build great cathedrals into space. Their great accomplishment was a cathedral in time — the Shabbat, or 24-hour period of rest.

“Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time,” Heschel wrote.

That cathedral in time is part of the filmmaker Martin Doblmeier’s latest documentary, a two-part program called “Sabbath.” ....

As in his previous documentaries, Doblmeier has recruited an A-list of theologians, scholars and clergy to offer insights historical, theological and sociological. ....

The film consists of travels to various religious communities to illustrate their Sabbath practices. The places visited include the headquarters of Chabad, the Hasidic sect in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; a Seventh-day Adventist church in Loma Linda, Calif.; and the predominantly African American Eastern Star Church led by the Indianapolis pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson. .... (more, but probably requiring a subscription)

Friday, May 26, 2023

Elmore on film

I may take the advice from CrimeReads and watch a movie based on an Elmore Leonard book this weekend. There are several. One of my favorites:
Jackie Brown

It’s almost funny to think Tarantino only adapted Leonard once, the two artists are so (to my mind anyway) intertwined and in conversation. Here, Tarantino is adapting from Leonard’s South Florida yarn, Rum Punch, bringing, of course, his own preoccupations to the script and a few important changes to the titular character to accommodate the immense talents of Pam Grier. Jackie Brown brings the volatility inherent in all Leonard’s work to the fore. The set pieces are more dynamic and the encounters underlined with something bizarre and dangerous, and you’ve got good oddball turns from De Niro, Bridget Fonda, and Chris Tucker. But the heart of the story, and it’s a big heart, almost surprisingly so, is Robert Forster’s Max Cherry. He and Grier are undeniably electric.
Among the other recommendations: Get Shorty (1995), Out of Sight (1998), and, if I were inclined to commit a lot of time, (perhaps not this weekend),  Justified seasons 1–6 (2010 – 2015).

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Yet this I call to mind

"When the Therapeutic God Isn’t Sufficient" considers what we are taught by Lamentations
.... Sometimes Christians will try to use the Bible and pious truisms to avoid an acquaintance with grief. A pastor at my father’s funeral told my mother, “This is a celebration.” No, it’s not. My mother was a widow at the age of 47. Avoiding the grief, passing the mourning, always on a mountaintop with a smile on our face… this is psychologically unhealthy, spiritual malpractice, and not Biblical. Lamentations proves that. ....

The book of Lamentations is the fruit of finally realizing that they had totally misunderstood God. So, it is useful for us today in which many people who are loud and open about their faith, posting cute, pious thoughts about God on their Facebook pages, regular in church or watching their favorite preacher on YouTube, and yet the god they worship is a lot like the god the people of Jerusalem were counting on to save them from the Babylonians, the god whose protection we can procure with a little religion, who keeps us from being acquainted with grief. When that god fails, you’ll have lamentation. Today, we’ll be told to cheer up, look on the bright side, see the glass half full.

Sometimes you don’t need to cheer up. ....

We’re not in denial. We’re not pretending the diagnosis hasn’t been delivered, that we didn’t put our loved one in the ground, that we’re not unemployed and unsure of where the next check is coming from, that that child who seems to be throwing his or her life away isn’t doing it; we are tasting the wormwood and the gall, the bitter. But...just here after 20 verses of lamenting the catastrophe, when it’s gone from the darkest to pitch black, the only glimmer of hope in all of Lamentations:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness!
.... Google this verse and you’ll find lots of pictures of the text imposed over a sunrise or flowers, maybe with hearts, full of cheeriness. But that gives the wrong impression. That makes it seem that these words are just another attempt to dodge walking with sorrow. It would be better to see these words superimposed on a smoldering pile of rubble where the Lord’s temple used to be, the burned out houses of the people of Jerusalem, the dead bodies of priests, the living skeletons of starving children; maybe today, see them over the tombstone of your dear mother, on your cancer diagnosis, on the divorce decree a court serves you, on the dead body of your premature daughter with blood everywhere, over that see the words, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end,” even when it feels like you are about to; “they are new every morning,” even when it feels like you might not make it to the morning. “Great is Your faithfulness!”

Saying (or singing) those words is easy at a glorious sunrise, at the birth of a child, a clean biopsy, a wedding. But that’s not how they were inspired. The prophet recounts the catastrophe; asks God to remember the wormwood and the gall he’s tasted and then, “But I call this to mind,” my confidence. My hope is not perished after all because God’s covenant loyalty, His commitment to be merciful to me, never ends. He is faithful. That is our confidence. .... (more)
May each of us rest in that confidence.

John Carpenter, "When the Therapeutic God Isn’t Sufficient," Mere Orthodoxy, May 22, 2023.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

"Not Dark Yet"

Scott Johnson at PowerLine recognises Bob Dylan's 82nd birthday this coming Wednesday with two posts, "Not Dark Yet," and "Not Dark Yet, Cont'd." Johnson writes:
In my estimation Dylan is first and foremost a songwriter. .... Dylan somehow absorbed the folk, rock, country, and blues traditions as a precocious young man growing up in Hibbing and then recapitulated them in his own voice many times over while adding a twist of modernist poetry to the mix. ....
And so, rather than Dylan's recordings, everything in these two blog posts are covers of Dylan songs, in all about forty. If you have found Dylan's singing voice difficult, you can gain appreciation for him as a songwriter by listening to others sing his songs. A few of the choices Johnson made:

Saturday, May 20, 2023


From an interview with one of my favorite historical novelists, Bernard Cornwell:
Cornwell worked as an editor in television news before falling in love in the 1970s with an American woman called Judy – now his wife of 43 years. He followed her to the States and, lacking a Green Card and so unable to get a job, he wrote his first novel, Sharpe’s Eagle (1981). His 50-plus adventure yarns – at their best, as unputdownable as C S Forester’s – have now sold more than 25 million copies. ....

.... He admits to being “utterly shameless about changing history when it’s necessary to my story, although I always confess my sins in a note at the end of the book”. The 23rd Sharpe novel, Sharpe’s Command, will be out later this year. ....

Cornwell remains a devoted fan of the Sharpe television series (1993-2008), which catapulted Sean Bean to superstardom. ....

In the meantime, yet another new Cornwell-derived TV series – The Winter King, an Arthurian tale based on the trilogy he published in the 1990s – will be on ITVX later this year. And although Cornwell says he’s “too old to start another series [of novels]”, he’ll continue with standalone novels, plus filling in the gaps in the Sharpe saga. “My only real ambition is to keep going till the bitter end.” ....
Jake Kerridge, "Bernard Cornwell: ‘I don’t mind if people accuse Sharpe of toxic masculinity’," The Telegraph, May 19, 2023.

On the Day of the Lord...

By Tim Keller, quoted in another tribute to his ministry:
On the Day of the Lord—the day that God makes everything right, the day that everything sad comes untrue—on that day the same thing will happen to your own hurts and sadness. You will find that the worst things that have ever happened to you will in the end only enhance your eternal delight. On that day, all of it will be turned inside out and you will know joy beyond the walls of the world. The joy of your glory will be that much greater for every scar you bear. So live in the light of the resurrection and renewal of this world, and of yourself, in a glorious, never-ending, joyful dance of grace.
Timothy J. Keller, "Tim Keller on Jesus' Death and Resurrection," Relevant, April 15, 2022.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Utterly joyful

Rev. Tim Keller died today. If you were to search this blog for references to him, his books, interviews with him, incidental references, etc. you would find many — far more than I expected when I did so this afternoon. I haven't read most of his books, but I have read The Reason for God (2009), certainly one of the best modern apologetics.

Years ago Mike Potemra wrote about his visit to Redeemer Presbyterian Church, the church Keller started in NYC and pastored for many years. Potemra was greatly impressed:
Not enough good things can be said about the ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. The senior pastor, Tim Keller, is justly acclaimed for his Biblical preaching, which is both (unostentatiously) learned and deeply moving. And thousands of people, mostly young professionals, are attracted there every Sunday. ...I went to the evening service at Redeemer and was rewarded with one of the most spiritually affecting services I have ever encountered. The music at the evening services is provided by a six-piece jazz combo. .... The band was simply great, its uptempo songs almost danceable; and now listen to some of the lyrics: “Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget the wormwood and the gall...”

The convicting message of sin and depravity — wormwood and gall! — could not be clearer in these lyrics. And yet the music is, at the very same time, utterly joyful. This is the Christian message in miniature: Suffering, failure, and heartbreak exist, they are — at least in this world — not abolished; but they are transfigured into something beautiful. This is the Christian understanding of joy: laughter and beauty in the full awareness and experience of tears.

The Rev. Keller’s sermon was terrific, relating God’s presence in the burning bush to the “FIRE” that blazed in the mystical experience in 1654 of Blaise Pascal. But the band had the final word, doing a splendid job with the instrumental postlude, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” by Joe Zawinul. .... I strongly encourage visitors to NYC to give Redeemer a try....
Mike Potemra, "The Gospel in Miniature," National Review Online, Nov. 22, 2010.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

We've been here before

A test for just how badly everything is going:
The test is from a 2018 commentary by Irish essayist Fintan O’Toole. He calls it “the Yeats test.” He wrote, “The proposition is simple: the more quotable Yeats seems to commentators and politicians, the worse things are.”

Specifically, O’Toole references William Butler Yeats’s “magnificently doom-laden” 1919 poem “The Second Coming.” You may have heard many parts of this poem all your life without realizing it: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Yeats wrote this poem at a time when it indeed seemed, as his poem says, that “mere anarchy” had been unleashed on the world—with the seismic catastrophes of the 1918 flu pandemic and, of course, World War I. O’Toole argues that when speeches repeatedly cite this poem or when Google searches magnify looking for its phrases, times often feel especially chaotic.

The reverse is true, he says, if we see a spike in quotations from another Irish poet, Seamus Heaney—such as his phrase “hope and history rhyme.” When we hear leaders use lines like that, times may feel more stable. ....

Even so, O’Toole argues, in all its bleakness, “The Second Coming” is kind of a sign of hope.

“It reminds us that we’ve been here before, that the current sense of profound unsettlement is not unique in modern history,” he writes. “Perhaps especially on social media, where everything exists in a continuous, frantic present tense, the insertion of Yeats might do something to provoke a wider reflection on the big things that are happening around us and where they might lead.” ....

Regardless, even when it seems the “center cannot hold,” we can remember, as the hymn teaches us, “In every high and stormy gale / My anchor holds within the veil.” Things fall apart, yes. But Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). (more)
Russell Moore, "The Dwight Schrute Theory of American Culture," Christianity Today, May 19, 2023.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The enemy within

Alan Jacobs, who reads a lot and seems to remember it all, quotes from an 1897 speech by William James. I was unfamiliar with the speech but not its subject, Robert Gould Shaw. A portion Jacobs quotes may seem especially applicable today:
The deadliest enemies of nations are not their foreign foes; they always dwell within their borders. And from these internal enemies civilization is always in need of being saved. The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks. ....
Alan Jacobs, "From William James’s speech at the dedication of a memorial in Boston to a soldier named Robert Gould Shaw (1887)," May 16, 2023.

In spite of "the will of the people"

Elon Musk, champion of free speech, defended limiting speech in Turkey (and China?): "By ‘free speech,’ I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes beyond the law." From Kevin Williamson's "open letter to the owner of Twitter":
...[T]here is no such thing as “censorship that goes beyond the law.” Censorship is the lawful suppression of speech. There are lots of horrifying things that are, or were, lawful: American slavery was lawful; the Nazis went to great lengths to legally codify their racial superstitions; the suppression and mutilation of women in Saudi Arabia is lawful. If free speech “simply means that which matches the law”—U.S. law, Saudi law, Chinese law—then the words “free speech” do not mean anything at all. ....

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution famously begins with “We the People,” but, more important, it sets explicit limits on what the people can do to a person. We have freedom of speech in the United States...not because of the will of the people but in spite of it. We have freedom of speech if 100 percent of the people want it, if 95 percent of the people want it, if 51 percent of the people want it, if 2 percent of the people want it, and even if, at any given moment or context, 0.00 percent of the people want it.

The same holds true for freedom of religion, for the right to keep and bear arms, and the other items detailed in the Bill of Rights. The same holds true for the prohibition of slavery. We put those issues beyond the reach of the ordinary democratic process precisely because the will of the people is inconstant, fickle, fearful, easily manipulated, vindictive, etc. ....
Kevin D. Williamson, "Elon, You Have Much To Learn About Free Speech," The Dispatch, May 17, 2023.

Monday, May 15, 2023

A slippery slope

From "The Week" by National Review's editors:
In 2016 legal suicide was introduced into Canada, and now that country has one of the most destructively persuasive euthanasia regimes in the world. Of all deaths in Canada, 3.3 percent are now caused by doctors who practice “medical assistance in dying.” The public appears all too enthusiastic. According to polls by Research Co., over a quarter of Canadians believe that their fellow citizens should have access to legal euthanasia because of poverty. Twenty-eight percent believe that an acceptable reason to request a medically assessed death is homelessness. The numbers rise to 43 percent for mental illness, 50 percent for disability, and 51 percent for inability to receive treatment. Progressive societies used to pride themselves on social services and welfare. Should it not trouble the relatively wealthy Canadian nation and its government that state services are now seen as so inadequate that a publicly accepted alternative is death itself?
"The Week," National Review, May 11, 2023.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

A white carnation

The custom of wearing carnations on Mother's Day dated to the beginning of the observance. Anna Jarvis's mother's favorite flower was the carnation. Florists were responsible for the distinction between red and white carnations — red if your mother is living, white if she has been "promoted to glory" — because of a shortage of white carnations. If I were wearing one today it would be white.

Friday, May 12, 2023


A CrimeReads essay, "7 Criminally Under-Rated Heist Films That Deserve Another Watch," includes Charley Varrick (1973), a film I have appreciated for a long time:
When it comes to Walter Matthau, most people remember him for his collaborations with Jack Lemmon in fan favorites like The Odd Couple and Grumpy Old Men or as the drunk little league coach in Bad News Bears. For me, I always associate him with two heist movies, the first being the excellent The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The second is the vastly unappreciated Charley Varrick, where Matthau plays the title character, a down on his luck crop duster who tries robbing a small town bank. The film opens on the heist, which is technically a success since they get away with $750k, though two members of the crew end up getting shot and killed, one of them being Charley’s wife. To make matters worse, the money stolen is from a mob bank, meaning hard prison time is best-case-scenario, as the Mafia will stop at nothing to kill the people who ripped them off. The film is gritty and tense with plenty of surprises, and features one of Matthau’s most dramatic performances, showcasing how versatile an actor he really was.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three referred to above came out in 1974, also starring Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, and Jerry Stiller, among others. It is eminently re-watchable and, in my opinion, much better than the 2009 re-make. Charley Varrick also stars Joe Don Baker, Andy Robinson (if you've seen Dirty Harry, you'll recognize him), Norman Fell, and John Vernon.

Tyler Schwanke, "7 Criminally Under-Rated Heist Films That Deserve Another Watch," CrimeReads, May 12, 2023.

Monday, May 8, 2023


An appreciation of one of the most important books of our time:
Today the word “gulag” is often used figuratively, but in the Soviet Union the Gulag—an acronym designating the system of forced labor camps—was all too real. Millions of people lived and died in the Gulag’s many “islands,” the camps scattered over the vast country. The worst were located in the Kolyma region in northeastern Siberia, where prisoners labored at 50, 60, even 70 degrees below zero and were given insufficient calories to sustain life. ....

The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, published 50 years ago, was much more than a detailed account compiled from the testimonies of hundreds of people; it was also arguably the 20th century’s greatest piece of nonfiction prose.

Dedicated to “all those who did not live” to tell their story, The Gulag Archipelago demonstrates a nadir of humanity with nearly unfathomable cruelty. ....

Those who had admitted some of the horrors often blamed them entirely on Stalin, as if Lenin would not have done such things, but, Solzhenitsyn demonstrates, Lenin set up the system of terror and the Gulag while making clear that both were to be permanent features of the new regime. To those Westerners who imagine that this bizarre system of punishment could not happen in their country, Solzhenitsyn cautions: “Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth.” ....

How was such evil possible? Shakespeare and Schiller clearly did not grasp evil, Solzhenitsyn instructs, because their villains “recognize themselves as evildoers, and they know their souls are black,” but those who commit the greatest harm think of themselves as good. Before interrogators could torture prisoners they knew were innocent, they had to discover a justification for their actions. Shakespeare’s villains stopped at a few corpses “because they had no ideology,” nothing to compare with Marxism-Leninism’s “scientific” and infallible explanations of life and ethics. “Ideology—that is the evil-doer the necessary steadfastness and determination...the social theory which helps to make his acts seem his own and others’ eyes.” ....

Those accepting Soviet ethics laughed at the very idea of “conscience.” “Right” was whatever aided the Communist Party. In this view, there were no higher values, no absolute good and evil, and the only thing that counted in any action was its result. On the contrary, Solzhenitsyn decided; what matters most is not the result but one’s soul. ....

...[I]n prison Solzhenitsyn gradually realized the fundamental falsity of ideological thinking: the idea that evil results from bad people, and it is only necessary to rid ourselves of them. Not at all. “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.” Having grasped this truth, Solzhenitsyn arrived at another—“the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being).” ....
Gary Saul Morson, "‘The Gulag Archipelago’: An Epic of True Evil," The Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2023.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Not our home

Carl Trueman:
Last year, in a conversation with my friend Rod Dreher, a journalist and Orthodox Christian, I commented on the bleak outlook of much of his writing and alluded to him as pessimistic. He laughingly rejected the adjective. “I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic,” he said, “but I am hopeful.” And hope, of course, is not optimism. Pollyanna was an optimist, as was Mr. Micawber. Optimism is the belief that everything will be fine if everyone just sits tight and waits.

Christian hope, however, is realistic. It understands that this world is a vale of tears, that things here are not as they should be, and that, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, all life death does end. This world is not the Christian’s home, and so we shouldn’t expect it to provide us with home comforts. That is not to say we shouldn’t be grateful for the good things we do have here and now. I thank God that I still live in a country with greater freedoms than, say, China. I thank God that I live in a time and a place where I have access to good healthcare, that I have a job I enjoy, and that I have a loving family. I pray that such things will continue for me and also be the same for others.

But I’m also aware that the world is fallen, that the gospel doesn’t promise me the life of ease and comfort I currently have, and that my calling (and the calling of all Christians) is to live faithfully in the time and place I’ve been set. When things in this world go awry, or when I’m faced with changes that bring suffering to me or to my loved ones or to society at large, I must not despair, I must work to the best of my ability to right such wrongs, and I must also remember that the real meaning of my life (and others’ lives) is not found in the here and now but in the hereafter. Suffering here and now may at times be terrible, even unbearable, but it’s never meaningless. No, it finds its meaning in the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Carl Trueman, "6 Ways Christians Can Respond to Our Strange New World," TGC, July 11, 2022.

Lincoln's faith

From Barton Swaim's review of Lincoln's God:
.... Since his early 20s—that is, after he left home in 1831 and was no longer under his father’s care—Lincoln had committed to memory many passages of the King James Bible. Not until the trial of his presidency, though, did he begin to treat scriptural language as a source of hope and moral guidance in the way a believer would. The Civil War was going badly, Lincoln’s critics were growing more numerous and more vicious, and in February 1862 his son Willie drank contaminated water and died an excruciating death.

Now, Mr. Zeitz argues, Lincoln began to embrace a quiet but genuine form of Christian belief. Of course, this isn’t strictly knowable, inasmuch as the president, a reticent man at all times, never made any explicit attestation of faith. His widow, Mary, recalled to Herndon that “he read the Bible a good deal in 1864. He felt religious more than ever about the time he went to Gettysburg”—that is, in November 1863. The president more often accompanied his wife to church in last three years of his life.

The content of Lincoln’s late public addresses, Mr. Zeitz observes furthermore, is so richly biblical that the supposition of a newfound acknowledgment of God is impossible to ignore. “Neither before nor since,” Mr. Zeitz writes of the Second Inaugural Address, “has a United States president so openly infused a public speech with religious sentiment and phrasing.” ....
But Swaim also writes:
Appealing thesis aside, Lincoln’s God is not a good book. It bears the marks of haphazard research, hasty writing and sloppy editing.

This material is new to Mr. Zeitz, and it shows. One problem is terminological. Again and again he uses the word “mainline” to describe mid-19th century evangelical churches, but that term dates from the middle of the 20th century and typically means the opposite of evangelical. He defines a “deist” as one who believes “vaguely in a controlling influence that guided human events,” literally the opposite of what a deist is. .... [and the review notes many more similar errors]

Mr. Zeitz would have been better advised to spend another year or two on research before he began writing this book. ....
Barton Swaim, "Lincoln’s God Review: Abe’s Ambitious Religious Creed," Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2023.

Friday, May 5, 2023

The past was another country

My introduction to history was historical fiction. After reading my way through the children's section of the college library, I started reading through the adult fiction stacks. I still read such books and enjoy films and series that use historical settings. As I learned more about history I became particularly annoyed when the fictional versions got things unnecessarily wrong. In "Disquiet on the Western Front" Alan Rome considers the most recent film version of All Quiet on the Western Front and finds it lacking. On historical fiction in general:
Historical fiction is a dialogue between past and present that necessarily reveals as much about our own society as it does about the past. This dialogue must be genuine if it is to work, but the genre is increasingly struggling to evoke a plausible past even as it reaches unprecedented heights of popularity. ....

...[H]istorical fiction has a particular responsibility towards the truth, not only because it has a moral obligation to respect the dignity and autonomy of the real people or societies that it explores but also because it claims a truth-like status for itself. It compels us by the thought that something like this could once have happened, that this was an actual way of life. It is this very compulsion that distinguishes it from a genre like fantasy, where the attraction lies more in an escapist imagining of the impossible, whether for wish-fulfilment or nightmare catharsis. ....

[Natalie Zemon] Davis has cautioned that, “Although there is an inevitable dialogue between the past and the present, the historian wants first and foremost to let the past be the past, strange before it is familiar, particular before it is universal.” Or as the novelist Mary Renault put it, “People in the past were not just like us. To pretend so is an evasion and a betrayal, turning our back on them so as to be easy among familiar things.” This is the great failure of much recent historical fiction: the unwillingness or inability to grant legitimacy to past peoples’ voices and alternate ways of life. ....

Historical fiction can, ultimately, be a vehicle for genuine historical thinking and knowledge, so long as we do not expect the same things of it as we do of traditional historiography. The value of historical representations ultimately depends on whether or not they can open up our understanding of the wholeness of life. Historical fiction at its best can be an art that subverts our complacencies, that teaches us that terrible suffering has occurred and will continue to occur, but that truth and beauty and goodness are also available in all times and places. At its rarest heights, it can be an art that makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar in the hope that we may reach beyond ourselves to a fuller intimation of being. (more)
Alan S. Rome, "Disquiet on the Western Front," Quillette, May 4, 2023.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

A manual of spiritual disipline

Alan Jacobs referred today to this interesting post by a Church of England vicar:
The Book of Common Prayer is enjoying a revival in the Church of England, despite the best efforts of some modernists to mothball it. Over the past two years, more and more churchgoers have asked me about a return to Thomas Cranmer’s exquisite language, essentially unaltered since 1662, for church services and private devotions. Other vicars tell me they have had a similar increase in interest. ....

What’s interesting is that the C of E’s Book of Common Prayer revival is overwhelmingly led by millennials. What the 1960s ecclesiastical revolutionaries wrote off, a younger generation is embracing. Brandon LeTourneau, 27, a convert from Judaism and soon to be ordained ministry intern, is hardly a young fogey. He wears Dr Martens and is covered in tattoos. He jokes that from what he can see no one under 40 is joining a church that doesn’t focus on tradition and rigour. ‘Why should I bother with a church that doesn’t challenge me spiritually or a liturgy that doesn’t demand more of me?’ Though he started his Christian life being baptised in a Californian megachurch swimming pool, he found himself longing for something more exacting. ....

It would be a mistake to misinterpret renewed interest in the Prayer Book as a purely aesthetic enterprise, a sort of religious Classic FM. What is clear is that the appeal is not just about Shakespearean language, beautiful though it evidently is. The Prayer Book is theology at its best. It is a manual of spiritual discipline that is as far removed from modern, cringe-inducing ‘wellness’ gobbledygook as can be. Its uncompromising opening, ‘We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts’, is a brick through the window to many facets of modern living including narcissism, egotism and the crocodile tears of identity politics. ....
I have a few editions of The Book of Common Prayer. One of the most interesting, the one I've gone to most often recently, is The 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition published by InterVarsity Press ($24.49 at Amazon).

Daniel French, "Why millennial men are turning to the Book of Common Prayer," The Spectator, May 2, 2023.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Don't know much about History

The article suggests that the pandemic bears responsibility for this. But the decline has been going on much longer.
The results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released Wednesday show that about 40% of eighth graders scored below the basic level in U.S. history in 2022, compared to 34% in 2018.
  • Just 13% of students performed at or above the "proficient" level in U.S. history.
  • Eighth graders' average civic scores decreased by 2-points compared to 2018, the NAEP results show. They're comparable to results from 1998, which is the first assessment year for civics under the current framework.
  • The civics assessment tests knowledge of aspects of American democracy and the U.S. political system and other topics related to citizenship, per NAEP.
"Far too many of our students are struggling to understand and explain the importance of civic participation, how American government functions, and the historical significance of events," Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the Education Department, said in a press release.
Erin Doherty, "U.S. history scores hit stunning lows among 8th graders," AXIOS, May 3, 2023.

Monday, May 1, 2023

When the King Returns

Alan Jacobs, having just finished teaching a book that caused him to reflect on the meaning of "the Reurn of the King," considers eschatology:
Among the most neglected biblical images — neglected in comparison to its importance — is that of the Return of the King. When your King has gone on progress, or for some other reason has left the kingdom or left the capital city, then you patiently but attentively await his return. You look for his appearance on the horizon and while you are waiting, you prepare the way of the Lord. You make a highway for him in the wilderness; you make the crooked places straight and the rough places plain; and then when you see him in the distance, you come out to meet him and escort him home. That’s how it’s done.

A failure to understand this essential practice is the primary cause of the wholly mistaken idea of the Rapture. Paul tells the Thessalonian church: “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” The assumption of Rapture theology is that when believers go up to meet the Lord in the air, he immediately does a 180 and heads back to heaven, taking them with him. But that’s not what the text says, because it wouldn’t make any sense. Why would he come halfway between heaven and earth only in order to turn around? He could just summon them to heaven if that’s where they’re meant to be going. But the faithful, patient believers are not meeting the Lord in the air so that they can then go to heaven with Him. They’re meeting the Lord in the air so they can escort him into his Kingdom, what will become the New Earth, with its capital the New Jerusalem, where he shall reign for ever and ever.

It’s in response to this story that N.T. Wright wrote a delightful little essay, “Jesus Is Coming – Plant a Tree!” You plant a tree because every tree that you plant is a token of faith in the New Creation, and a means of preparing for the New Earth. Christians don’t often think that way because they assume that the idea of the New Creation means that everything that currently exists will simply be destroyed and then God will start all over from scratch. But that can’t be the case, because the first fruit of the New Creation is the resurrected Lord Himself, and His resurrected body bears upon it the marks of his crucifixion. Therefore his resurrection body is a glorified body, yes, but continuous with the body that was born into this world, and that left this world by means of crucifixion. Indeed, a different body might be glorious, but not glorified.

When you look at matters in that light, then, if you are a Christian, you have a very specific reason to practice repair. Every act of repair is a means of preparing the way of the Lord. Every act of repair is a preparation for and a contribution to the New Creation. Every act of repair is a step towards the renewal of this broken world. And that’s what God intends to do — make all things new, not simply erase them, not simply delete them and start over ab initio. Make them new. ....
Alan Jacobs, "the Return of the King," The Homebound Symphony, April 29, 2023.