Monday, November 27, 2023

Sacred names

Michael J. Kruger is a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity. He regularly teaches an elective, “The Origin and Authority of the New Testament Canon.” He writes "I think my students particularly enjoy a sub-module of that course where we study high-resolution photographs of early Christian manuscripts." I found this interesting:
...[W]e spend some time working through images of P66, one of our earliest (nearly complete) copies of John.

There’s lot to say about P66, and early manuscripts in general, but when students see a NT manuscript up close for the first time, they notice something rather peculiar and unexpected. They notice that the Greek words for “God,” “Lord,” Christ,” and “Jesus” are not written out in full. Instead, they are abbreviated.

To abbreviate these words, the scribe would typically take the first and last letter of the word and put a horizontal stroke over the top. As an example, below are two instances of such abbreviations, side by side. The first is the abbreviation for θεοῦ and the second for Ἰησοῦς.

 Scholars refer to this scribal phenomenon as the nomina sacra (“sacred names”). ....

Our earliest New Testament manuscripts, a number of which date from the second century, already utilize this feature as far back as we can see. As a result, the nomina sacra are now regarded by scholars as the primary way that we know a document is Christian. ....

The nomina sacra are designed to show reverence and devotion to the name(s) of God. Contrary to what the term “abbreviation” implies, the nomina sacra were not designed to save space. Instead, they were a way for the scribe (and, later, for the reader) to set apart the divine name. Thus, as strange as it might sound, they were a form of worship.

Of course, it should be noted that the earliest Christians didn’t show devotion merely to the words “God” or “Lord,” but also to the names “Jesus,” and “Christ.” Thus, the nomina sacra constitute one of earliest pieces of evidence for the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus. They demonstrate a remarkably high Christology, at least among these Christian scribes. ....

In sum, this oft-overlooked feature has tremendous significance for our understanding of early Christian culture. Not only did the earliest Christians care about books, and the careful copying of such books, but the nomina sacra demonstrate that they had a rather developed scribal infrastructure to make that happen.

Moreover, the scribes appeared to be fairly theologically astute. Through these abbreviations, they expressed a view that Jesus deserved honor and devotion right alongside God. The bundle of names—God, Lord, Jesus, Christ—showed that Jesus was not considered a new and separate divine being, but (somehow) shared the same divine identity as the God of the Old Testament. (more)

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Hitchcock's favorite

With very few exceptions, I really enjoy films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. One of my favorites is "Shadow of a Doubt." From "Hitchcock’s Tale of Small-Town Evil":
...Hitchcock always claimed to hold in special regard his 1943 drama of small-town life threatened by the presence of a killer, “Shadow of a Doubt.” Joseph Cotten starred as Uncle Charlie, a murderer whose preferred victims are affluent widows but who, like so many Hitchcock villains, manages to charmingly conceal his villainy—especially to his worshipful family. ....

Hitchcock efficiently establishes the character of Uncle Charlie, whose natural habitat is presented in the film’s opening: Under a false name, he occupies a run-down rented room in an ugly, uninviting urban environment. Charlie is first seen lying in bed, a cigar in his hand and cash by his side, while brooding over his next move. After learning that two men are on his tail, he makes a hasty exit and seeks refuge in the bosom of his adoring relations in Santa Rosa, Calif. We do not yet know the specifics of Charlie’s criminality, but we know he is up to no good.

In a masterstroke, Hitchcock presents Charlie not in the company of criminals but, to better draw a contrast, among his wholesome, innocent extended family: his excitable sister, Emma Newton (Patricia Collinge); her doddering husband, Joseph (Henry Travers); and their three well-adjusted children, especially their eldest daughter—nicknamed for her uncle by his sister—Charlie (Teresa Wright). In a delicious touch, Young Charlie—as she is credited in the film—is also introduced in a supine position: She, too, is seen brooding in bed. This Charlie is discontent with what she takes to be a dull, complacent existence. “We just sort of go along and nothing happens,” she tells her father...

This psychological drama is set against the richest sociological portrait Hitchcock ever attempted. Hitchcock uses the splendid setting of Santa Rosa—its tranquil neighborhoods, gracious front porches, patient policeman monitoring a street crossing—not just as atmosphere but to render Uncle Charlie a stranger in a strange land. He not only hails from a place geographically distant from Santa Rosa, but proves to be far slicker and more sardonic than his homespun kith and kin. Intuitively, Young Charlie says at one point that her uncle conceals an enigmatic inner self, but she is still startled when she first registers the reality that he is likely the sought-after “Merry Widow Murderer”—a jolt underlined by the rising in volume on the soundtrack of Franz Lehár’s “Merry Widow Waltz.” .... (more, but perhaps not available to non-subscribers)

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Sixty years on, not forgotten

A.N. Wilson, on C.S. Lewis sixty years after his death:
He died on the very day that President Kennedy was assassinated, Friday 22 November 1963, so it is not surprising that the event was overshadowed at the time. With the passage of 60 years, C.S. Lewis’s reputation is undiminished and the sheer range of his achievements as a writer and teacher appears ever more prodigious. For many, he is most beloved as the creator of the seven Narnia books: for others as the author of the science-fiction Space trilogy, which is not only a page-turner but horrifyingly and accurately prophetic.

For still others – and for a long time this would have included myself – the great work is his scholarly but always readable contribution to literary studies. I am thinking of the ever-accessible English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, or the wonderful account of how medieval humanity looked at the cosmos: The Discarded Image. ....

Another book I cannot recommend too highly is a short text he wrote in 1943, first given as lectures at the University of Durham, and published as The Abolition of Man. If I had absolute power, I would make every teenager, every teacher and every parent read this book. It would also be compulsory reading in all the philosophy departments of universities. The book is an analysis of what has happened since the 19th century to the picture of the world as drawn by clever people.

He was writing when Hitler was still in power and when, in order to defeat him, the western allies had embraced Stalin as an ally. But the powerful thing about the book is that he sees that the utter monstrosity of Hitler and Stalin’s worldviews derives from the Enlightenment and from the worldview of 19th-century agnostics, and that comparatively mild figures such as George Bernard Shaw or A.J. Ayer (not named in the text) have had a truly catastrophic effect on the way we think. ‘Many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany. “Traditional values are to be debunked” and mankind to be cut into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it. The belief that we can invent “ideologies” at pleasure, and the consequent treatment of mankind as mere specimens… begins to affect our very language – once we killed bad men: now we liquidate unsocial elements. ....

His fantasy of what the world will become as a result of the mild-mannered scientists and amateur philosophers is crudely but quite brilliantly painted in the third volume of the Space trilogy, That Hideous Strength. ....

He could be arrogant in debate and, like Samuel Johnson, he talked for victory, but he was a man of enormous humility. His Christian witness was perhaps most eloquent, not in his apologetics, but in the brokenness with which he tried to match ‘The Weight of Glory’ (the title of his best sermon) with all too human frailties. One thing is certain: he has not been forgotten. And there was a quality of greatness about him. Of all the writers of his generation, he is perhaps alone in being worthy himself of comparison to Dr Johnson. (more, perhaps behind a subscription wall)

Tuesday, November 21, 2023


For food that stays our hunger, 
For rest that brings us ease, 
For homes where memories linger, 
We give our thanks for these.

Monday, November 20, 2023

With grateful hearts

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

G Washington

Sunday, November 19, 2023


Lt. Gen. James Longstreet remains the Confederacy’s most controversial senior military leader. Born in 1821, the West Point graduate, like many of his future comrades in arms, served ably during the war with Mexico and on the Western frontier before resigning his commission in 1861 to join the Confederacy. ....

Longstreet commanded troops from brigade to corps level in the major battles of the war’s eastern theater and in 1863 scored a decisive victory at Chickamauga, the largest and bloodiest battle in the west. He opposed Lee’s ill-fated frontal attack—the famous Pickett’s Charge—at Gettysburg, and for this and other perceived failings, Lost Cause apologists and Lee acolytes have long blamed him for the Confederate defeat there, which, they argue, cost the South the war.

But Longstreet earned the lasting opprobrium of former Confederates less for his supposed failures at Gettysburg than for his rapid acceptance of Reconstruction and his early postwar membership in the Republican Party. He supported the integrationist policies of his friend President Ulysses S. Grant, advocated racial reconciliation, and rejected the Lost Cause mythology that absolved a saintlike Lee of any responsibility for Southern defeat.

Longstreet’s long and troubled postwar life (he lived until 1904) included duty as the commander of the interracial New Orleans police and Louisiana state militia, which he led in defense of the Republican state government against an attempted violent coup by white supremacists in 1874. Longstreet also served as United States minister to the Ottoman Empire. And for years he expended much energy waging literary war with Jubal Early and other Confederate veterans who sought to scapegoat him for the South’s defeat. ....

Saturday, November 18, 2023

“There are no lost causes..."

About a book I first read in the '60s:
By reason of longevity alone, The Conservative Mind, as of 2023 a septuagenarian, is a classic. But “maturity” is more than a chronological marker. It describes a quality of mind, a force of habit, a disposition and refinement of what Kirk, following Burke, would not have been too shy to call “prejudice.” By that standard, The Conservative Mind is like some lexical Athena. It was born mature, fully-armed and ready for battle. ....

The philosopher Roger Scruton once observed that Kirk showed that conservatism is fundamentally not an economic but a cultural outlook, and that conservatism “would have no future if reduced merely to the philosophy of profit. Put bluntly,” Scruton said, “conservatism is not about profit but about loss: it survives and flourishes because people are in the habit of mourning their losses, and resolving to safeguard against them.” I think that is correct. ....

Kirk’s book helped restore conservatism’s patent of intellectual respectability. A brief introduction outlines the six touchstones of Kirk’s conservative vision: “belief in a transcendent order”; “affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence”; a commitment to ordered liberty; a recognition that “freedom and property are closely linked”; faith in prescription against the putative expertise of the “sophisters, calculators, and economists” that Burke memorably anathematized in Reflections on the Revolution in France; and the understanding that change is not synonymous with improvement (Kirk would have liked Lord Falkland’s observation that “when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change”). ....

Kirk was almost Chestertonian in his fondness for paradox. One of my favorite Kirkian observations is that he was a conservative because he was a liberal. What goes under the banner of “liberalism” today has so thoroughly cut itself off from such traditional animating liberal imperatives as free speech, disinterested inquiry, and advancement according to merit that it is easy to regard Kirk’s declaration as merely paradoxical. But it was not paradoxical so much as it was admonitory, recalling us to springs of freedom that only an embrace of tradition can nourish. .... (more)

Friday, November 17, 2023

"What matters is not where you start but where you end up"

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's account of her recent conversion to Christianity has been criticized by many non-believers but also by some Christians. Alan Jacobs has a different take:
Freddie (like many people, it seems) is critical of the reasons Ayaan Hirsi Ali has cited for her conversion to Christianity. I’m not. My view is that everyone has to start somewhere — she’s very forthright about being a newcomer to all this — and what matters is not where you start but where you end up. One person may seek a bulwark against relativism; another may seek architectural or linguistic or musical beauty; another may crave community. Christian life is a house with many entrances. I became a Christian because I fell head-over-heels for a Christian girl who wouldn’t date me otherwise, so how could I judge anyone else’s reasons for converting? As Rebecca West said, “There’s no such thing as an unmixed motive”; and God, as I understand things, is not the judge but the transformer of motives. It’s a how-it-started, how-it’s-going thing, but often in a good way. Or so my experience suggests.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

"He loved anything that Lewis wrote"

I've read several books by Thomas Howard, Chance or the Dance?, Splendor in the Ordinary, Christ the Tiger, and some of the essays collected in The Night is Far Spent. Today I found an interview with the editor of another collection of Howard essays, Pondering the Permanent Things: Reflections on Faith, Art, and Culture. From that interview:
Tom Howard was in the South. He was enlisted (in the military). He was a chaplain’s assistant. He stayed back in the office while the chaplain was out in the field. Tom would just clean up the office, empty trash cans, and kind of keep the chapel clean. He said he was usually done by about 11 o’clock. The rest of the day he would read books that people had sent him. At some point, someone sent him a copy of The Lord of the Rings—and he loved The Lord of the Rings, and he didn’t know why! For some reason—he doesn’t remember why he did it—he wrote a fan letter to C.S. Lewis and Lewis wrote back. ....

In the essay, he doesn’t remember why [he wrote Lewis rather than Tolkien]. Maybe it was because they were in the same circle or he was associating them because they drank together in the same pub or something like that, but a couple of years later he wound up in Oxford, and he had a friend there who arranged for him to meet with Lewis.

So he followed Lewis’ directions and took a bus and met him at Lewis’ home at the Kilns. They had a nice visit. He didn’t see any of the other people that you associate with C.S. Lewis—his brother Warren or anybody like that. It was just Tom and C.S. Lewis. He said Lewis smoked cigarette after cigarette. He was just like you hear him described. He was a very avuncular, cheerful man. He told stories. Tom Howard didn’t want to press his luck. So he stayed for about 45 minutes and then left, but he had a wonderful visit with Lewis.

He loved the Narnia stories. He loved anything that Lewis wrote. Some people, in fact, compared (them). He’s thought of as an extension of C.S. Lewis. Tom Howard wrote elegantly and insightfully and picked up on a lot of Lewis’ thoughts. He went through great pains to read what C.S. Lewis wrote—whether it was unpublished letters or published letters, any little bit of ephemera, anything he could get his hands on. He adored Lewis.

Again, he loved Tolkien. He felt that a great Christian cosmology was wrapped up in The Lord of the Rings—and, particularly, a Catholic cosmology. He loved the writing, the story, and the vastness of it. It was a big story that pulled you in. It was wholesome, too. He appreciated that. He also tried to find everything he could that Tolkien wrote. He relished it. ....

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

"Revolution becomes fond celebration"

Based on several very favorable reviews I just ordered "Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert." From a review in The Spectator: "This recreation of Dylan’s Free Trade Hall concert is supremely good":
In May 1966, Bob Dylan toured the UK with The Band, minus drummer Levon Helm, and abrasively pulled the plug on any lingering notions of his being a mere folk singer. Playing two sets every night – the first acoustic, the second electric – even the solo numbers were wild, lysergic, unraveled. The electric ones whipped through the tweed and tradition like the howl of a strange new language. The crowds booed and one chap famously cried ‘Judas!’ (though presumably many of those present also enjoyed it). Dylan muttered and swore and was unbowed. ....

Last November, American singer Chan Marshall, who performs as Cat Power, recreated the entire Free Trade Hall concert – at the Royal Albert Hall. In other words, her aim was to engage with the mythology of the show as much as the music. A year later, that performance of a performance is being released as an album. ....

This album is on the one hand simply a souvenir of a historic recreation. The same songs played in the same order; even the same cry of ‘Judas!’ ringing out from the audience, this time to guffaws rather than uproar. ‘Jesus,’ Marshall responds.

But it is also an act of creative reimagination. Marshall possesses the same still, stoned, mesmeric quality in her presence as Dylan (sometimes) did at the time, but she also brings a deep devotional energy to the songs that wholly changes them. Her phrasing is as idiosyncratic as Dylan’s, only more nuanced. She has great musicians backing her – on acoustic guitar and harmonica in the first half, and a full electric band on the second half.

The acoustic set is slow and beautiful, a reminder of how deeply strange and yet brilliantly crafted songs such as ‘Desolation Row’ and ‘Visions of Johanna’ are. If this part feels as though Marshall is trying to tiptoe back inside venerated history, the second set is more raucous and good-hearted. It lacks any whiff of the rancour of the 1966 show, which means the original play is shorn of much of its contemporary drama. That piledriving rock’n’roll swirl – new and shocking at the time – long ago became the cultural default. Revolution becomes fond celebration. ....

Saturday, November 11, 2023

John Ford

I have twelve films in my DVD collection directed by John Ford. Hitchcock is the only director with more. About Ford at Wikipedia:
He received six Academy Awards including a record four wins for Best Director for The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), and The Quiet Man (1952). He is renowned for Westerns such as Stagecoach (1939), My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
I have all of those except The Informer. Others I have and enjoy include Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), Mr. Roberts (1955), Rio Grand (1950), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Young Mr. Lincoln (1939).

Last night on YouTube I came across an excellent TCM documentary about Ford's films with interviews of actors he directed, contemporary directors appreciating his style, Ford himself, with many excerpts from his films, narrated by Orson Welles, and written and directed by Peter Bogdanovich. If you have ever enjoyed a Ford film I think you will like this, too. It motivates me to want to revisit several of the movies. Today is Veterans' Day, maybe Mr. Roberts.

For those who have served


Thursday, November 9, 2023

"Who did you steal all that success from?"

Bari Weiss, well before many of us, identified a pernicious ideology:
What I saw was a worldview that replaced basic ideas of good and evil with a new rubric: the powerless (good) and the powerful (bad). It replaced lots of things. Color blindness with race obsession. Ideas with identity. Debate with denunciation. Persuasion with public shaming. The rule of law with the fury of the mob.

People were to be given authority in this new order not in recognition of their gifts, hard work, accomplishments, or contributions to society, but in inverse proportion to the disadvantages their group had suffered, as defined by radical ideologues. ....

Over the past two decades, I saw this inverted worldview swallow all of the crucial sense-making institutions of American life. It started with the universities. Then it moved on to cultural institutions—including some I knew well, like The New York Times—as well as every major museum, philanthropy, and media company. Then on to our medical schools and our law schools. It’s taken root at nearly every major corporation. It’s inside our high schools and even our elementary schools. The takeover is so comprehensive that it’s now almost hard to notice it—because it is everywhere. ....

For Jews, there are obvious and glaring dangers in a worldview that measures fairness by equality of outcome rather than opportunity. If underrepresentation is the inevitable outcome of systemic bias, then overrepresentation—and Jews are two percent of the American population—suggests not talent or hard work, but unearned privilege. This conspiratorial conclusion is not that far removed from the hateful portrait of a small group of Jews divvying up the ill-gotten spoils of an exploited world.

It isn’t only Jews who suffer from the suggestion that merit and excellence are dirty words. It is strivers of every race, ethnicity, and class. That is why Asian American success, for example, is suspicious. The percentages are off. The scores are too high. Who did you steal all that success from? ....

And the movement that is gathering all this power does not like America or liberalism. It does not believe that America is a good country—at least no better than China or Iran. It calls itself progressive, but it does not believe in progress; it is explicitly anti-growth. It claims to promote “equity,” but its answer to the challenge of teaching math or reading to disadvantaged children is to eliminate math and reading tests. It demonizes hard work, merit, family, and the dignity of the individual.

An ideology that pathologizes these fundamental human virtues is one that seeks to undermine what makes America exceptional.

It is time to end DEI for good. No more standing by as people are encouraged to segregate themselves. No more forced declarations that you will prioritize identity over excellence. No more compelled speech. No more going along with little lies for the sake of being polite. ....

Tuesday, November 7, 2023


I'm looking forward to "Lawmen: Bass Reeves" (Paramount+). From The Wall Street Journal review:
The real Bass Reeves (played by David Oyelowo) is a great story and the miniseries—the first in a proposed string of biographical adventures called “Lawmen”—is a sturdy, moralistic, traditionalist’s western, in which a conflicted hero guns his way through an entire population of frontier felons. .... Reeves...was born into slavery and became America’s first black deputy marshal west of the Mississippi. Reeves may not be as famous as, say, Wyatt Earp, but he has been a recurring presence in Wild West folklore. “Lawmen” sticks pretty firmly to the truth as it is known, though not everything is known. ....

How Bass Reeves becomes Bass Reeves, and why he comes to the attention of Isaac Parker (Donald Sutherland), the real-life federal judge for what was known as the Indian Territory, involves Bass’s time among the Choctaw. There, he learns their language and becomes a lethal marksman as well as something of a diplomat. Parker admits to Bass that he wanted a black man for the marshal’s job—to better deal with the Native American areas from which he’d have to extract fugitives. But Parker also wanted Bass, and the exchanges between Messrs. Sutherland and Oyelowo are composed of some of the better acting in the series. ....

“Lawmen: Bass Reeves” is an action series that applies moral questions to its action. This doesn’t make the gunplay any less enjoyable, but it does make it seem more intelligent. And if this reviewer seems to be rationalizing, it probably says something about the show’s entertainment value, and the solid performance by Mr. Oyelowo, from whom no black American biopic is safe....

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Dick Francis

Dick Francis was one of my favorite mystery/thriller writers. I read his books one after another in a summer in the late 70s, and then bought as many as I could find. Today Five Books published an interview with his son, Felix, about his selection for the "best" five Dick Francis books. The interview is as much about his father, Dick Francis, as about the books. Felix Francis:
.... My father didn’t start being a jockey until he was twenty-six, because he’d spent six years in the Royal Air Force during the war. He started off as an airframe fitter and was sent out to the Western desert in Egypt. Then, he was trained as a pilot. He flew Spitfires, Wellington bombers, and Lancasters. He flew Wellingtons off a little-known Northamptonshire airfield called RAF Silverstone, which they then converted into the Grand Prix circuit.

He always said that riding horses over Becher’s Brook in the Grand National was quite dangerous, but at least no one was shooting at him. The danger of flying Wellington bombers over Germany on bombing raids was infinitely greater. ....

Sid Halley makes his first appearance in Odds Against. He was never intended to be a recurring character. My father had no intention of writing about him again, but Yorkshire Television did a series in the late 70s called The Racing Game, and they used Sid Halley as the character. My father suddenly felt that he had to write another Sid Halley book to come out when the TV series aired, so he set about writing Whip Hand. Sid became the first character to have been in two books. ....

In a lot of my father’s (and my) books, you have an investigator who’s an amateur, a reluctant investigator. Sid was a champion jockey, but his hand was very badly injured when a horse landed on it. The horse’s trainer had saved a bit of money by reusing racing plates and that had led to the damage to Sid’s hand. He had to stop riding and didn’t know what to do. He’s offered a job as an advisor at a private detective agency which has a racing section, but Sid doesn’t do much. He sits around the office.

Before long, Sid finds himself involved in an investigation. I love the first line of Odds Against:

“I was never particularly keen on my job before the day I got shot and nearly lost it, along with my life.” Always grab the reader on the first line! People in bookshops read the first page —don’t let them put the book back on the shelf. ....

“The Earl of October drove into my life in a light blue Holden that had seen better days, and danger and death tagged along for the ride.” That’s the first line of For Kicks.

The main character is Daniel Roke. He’s English but he moved to Australia. There is something going on at the Jockey Club (nowadays called the British Horseracing Authority) and they want to bring over someone they know is not involved to investigate. ....

For Kicks was the first book I read of the Dick Francis novels. I was twelve when it was published. I only went back and read the earlier books, like Dead Cert (1962), afterwards. I started with For Kicks, and, as they say, you never forget your first time. .... (more)
The five books are:
  1. Bonecrack
  2. Odds Against
  3. Banker
  4. For Kicks
  5. Forfeit

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Heroes and Saints

From a sermon preached on All Saints' in 2019 by Ben Dueholm:
People naturally get defensive and indignant when their heroes are shown to have had feet of clay. This can take the form of saying that we judge people in the past by an unfair standard. But there’s really only one standard where cruelty and viciousness are concerned, whether it’s in the 1970s, the 1860’s, or the first century A.D. ....

It’s hard to look at the full picture of a prominent, influential person because we want them to represent something for us. The mixture of good and evil, insight and foolishness, courage and villainy that can be found in almost every human life needs to be boiled down to something simpler in order to be useful, in order to be worthy of an admiration we need to feel toward someone. ....

In the end, that’s the difference between a hero and a saint: The saint does not need to be defended because the saint is the person who will take God’s side against him or herself. The saint does not need to be justified because the saint relies entirely on God’s righteousness. The saint does not validate us. The saint validates God. The saint does not need our admiration, because the saint is exactly the person who would rather be cursed or slandered or forgotten by all the world than to lose God. The saint does not need our pedestals, because the saint has been fully rewarded already. No one can give them anything or take anything away from them.

The hope of our faith, here in the readings today, is that in the end God will be all in all. Just as God was in the beginning, but with company. And in that company will be many we do not expect to see. There will be many lost and forgotten by the world who were held and treasured by God. There will be the veterans of struggles that looked final and hopeless. There will be the world of our own failures, our own inadequacies, our own inconstant following, made good only for the sake of Jesus Christ and his love for those who set out to hear him. And those who led us there, with their words and deeds, with their presence and love, with their continual prayers, will be overjoyed to be just part of the great cloud. (more)

Thursday, November 2, 2023

A "nationalist" cult

Russell Moore in "Springtime for Hitler" reminds us of the 1930s and '40s perversion of the faith called "German Christianity":
.... These leaders called for a kind of masculinity that contrasted a warrior Christ with such “feminine,” “bourgeois,” or “pietistic” views of Jesus that were seen as weak. Ultimately, that came to include a gradual erasure of such biblical titles as “Lamb of God” and of the emphasis on weak-sounding phrases such as “turn the other cheek.”

German Christianity, its advocates said, would restore the fighting spirit to a church too long at the mercy of its culture. They derided the Confessing Church as, in Bergen’s description, “a holdout of womanly, weak piety.” The detractors were pictured as self-righteous, as “divisive,” as upsetting the “unity of the church,” and as aiding the enemies of the church—those who wished to advocate Communism, sexual anarchy, and family breakdown.

People responded, they said, to appeals to nationalism and race-love for the fatherland—natural affections that they assured were created by God. Passages such as Galatians 3:28 were explained away. The antisemitism led first to a de-emphasis on the Old Testament and ultimately to an almost total rejection of it altogether.

In constructing what they said was necessary to protect the freedom of the church, they surrendered the lordship of Christ and placed themselves in submission to the Führer. As Bergen puts it, “they created a cult based on blood membership and dressed it in the ritual clothing of their Christian tradition.” ....

When we see a generation that knows not Bonhoeffer, we should pay attention. And when we're asked to start seeing the existence of Jews as the source of a problem, we should know what to say: Nein.
Russell Moore, "Campus Antisemitism and the Lessons of a Nazi-Occupied Church," Christianity Today, November 2, 2023.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

All Saints'

A hymn most appropriate for All Saints' Day sung to Ralph Vaughan Williams's SINE NOMINE ("without name"):

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to God, the Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

A belief in justice and truth

.... Among Christians, she is best known as a colleague of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and others in the Inklings writers circle in Oxford. Sayers wrote poetry, theological essays and theatrical works for the stage and BBC Radio. She was gifted in multiple languages and spent the final years of her life translating Dante’s The Divine Comedy into English.

Sayers is also known for a 1947 Oxford presentation — “The Lost Tools of Learning” — that has influenced generations of classical education leaders in the United States, England and elsewhere. As a child, she was educated by her father, an Anglican vicar, who taught choral music and Latin at Oxford. ....

The Lord Peter Wimsey tales emerged during the golden age of British detective fiction, after World War I — the “war to end all wars” — had rocked the moral and cultural foundations of Europe. The popular, and profitable, mystery novels in this era offered complex, logical puzzle plots with detectives using evidence that included chemistry, medicine, physics and psychology.

Some British intellectuals were attempting to restore shaken public faith that good could defeat evil. Sayers, Chesterton and other masters of detective fiction truly believed that the great mysteries of their troubled age “were solvable,” said Williams in one of her lectures.

“I don't think that we're in a golden age of mystery now. I think part of that is, you have to have a belief that there is a truth that can be known,” she said. Thus, a yearning for absolutes could be “one of the reasons why people like mystery novels. They are kind of self-contained. You can trust the author to do certain things. ... There is justice here and you have to have a belief in justice, you have to have a belief in truth to do that kind of mystery.”

In a 1957 eulogy for Sayers, Lewis stressed that his friend didn’t want to preach. She was striving to communicate clearly to a broader audience.
“There is in reality no cleavage between the detective stories and her other works,” wrote Lewis. “In them, as in it, she is first and foremost the craftsman, the professional. She always saw herself as one who has learned a trade, and respects it, and demands respect for it from others. We who loved her may (among ourselves) largely admit that this attitude was sometimes almost comically emphatic. … As the detective stories do not stand quite apart, so neither do the explicitly religious works. She never sank the artist and entertainer in the evangelist.”
Here is a link to Sayers' essay "The Lost Tools of Learning" (pdf)