Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Did God set this boy up, or did the boy set God up?

One of my colleagues in ministry recently told me of a visit he had made to a mutual friend in Cape Town, South Africa. As they were enjoying the evening together, they heard a huge crash. It took them a few moments to locate its source, and when they went outside, they saw in the front of their drive­way a car that had been literally smashed off its undercarriage. Someone hurtling along at a high rate of speed had missed a turn and had run headlong into the parked car. The driver, however, had managed to speed off.

My friends noticed a huge puddle of water at the scene and deduced that the fleeing culprit must have damaged his radia­tor and could not have gone far. So they jumped into their car and drove a hundred yards to a street corner. As they rounded the corner, they saw a steaming vehicle on the side of the road, with two teenagers standing alongside, looking shaken and be­wildered and at a loss for what to do. It turned out that they had taken their dad's brand-new, high-priced vehicle without his knowledge. My friend Peter, a very successful businessman, as well as a very tenderhearted follower of Jesus Christ, pulled over next to the young men. Seeing them so shaken, Peter said, "May I pray with you and ask God to comfort you and see you through this ordeal?" The young men looked rather surprised but nodded their heads. Peter put his hands on their shoulders and prayed for them. No sooner had Peter said his "Amen" than one of the young fellows said, "If God loves me, why did he let this happen to me?"

Imagine the series of duplicitous acts that preceded that question, and you see the human heart for what it is. Did God set this boy up, or did the boy set God up? You see, when you understand that God determines the moral framework and that any violation of it is to usurp God, you learn that it is not God who has stacked the deck; the issue is our own desire to take God's place.

The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias

How to read a book

…the failure to carry instruction in reading beyond the elementary level. Most of our educational ingenuity, money, and effort is spent on reading instruction in the first six grades. Beyond that, little formal training is provided to carry students to higher and quite distinct levels of skill. That was true in 1939 when Professor James Mursell of Columbia University's Teachers College wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly entitled "The Failure of the Schools." What he said then, in two paragraphs that I am now going to quote, is still true.'

Do pupils in school learn to read their mother tongue effec­tively? Yes and no. Up to the fifth and sixth grade, reading, on the whole, is effectively taught and well learned. To that level we find a steady and general improvement, but beyond it the curves flatten out to a' dead level. This is not because a person arrives at his natural limit of efficiency when he reaches the sixth grade, for it has been shown again and again that with special tuition much older children, and also adults, can make enormous improvement. Nor does it mean that most sixth-graders read well enough for all practical purposes. A great many pupils do poorly in high school because of sheer, ineptitude in getting meaning from the printed page. They can improve; they need to improve; but they don't.

The average high-school graduate has done a great deal of reading, and if he goes on to college he will do a great deal more; butt he is likely to be a poor and incompetent reader. (Note that this holds true of the average student, not the person who is a subject for special remedial treatment.) He can follow a simple piece of fiction and enjoy it. But put him up against a closely written exposition, a carefully and economically stated argument, or a passage requiring critical consideration, and he is at a loss. It has been shown for instance, that the average high-school student is amazingly inept at indicating the central thought of a passage, or the levels of emphasis and subordination in an argument or exposition. To all intents and purposes he remains a sixth-grade reader till well along in college.

How to read a book by Moritmer J Adler and Charles Van Doren

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CS Lewis' conversion

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelled intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused be wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.

Surprised by Joy

Psalms 23

The Lord is my shepherd – that’s relationship!

I shall not be in want – that’s supply!

He makes me lie down in green pastures – that’s rest!

he leads me beside quiet waters – that’s refreshment!

he restores my soul – that’s healing!

He guides me in paths of righteousness – that’s guidance!

for his name's sake – that’s purpose!

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – that’s testing!

I will fear no evil – that’s protection!

for you are with me - that’s faithfulness!

your rod and your staff, they comfort me – that’s discipline!

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. – that’s hope!

You anoint my head with oil – that’s consecration!

my cup overflows - that’s abundance!

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life – that’s blessing!

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord – that’s security!

Forever – that’s eternity!

Author of elaborated material unknown

It is a thing most wonderful

It is a thing most wonderful,
Almost too wonderful to be,
That God’s own Son should come from Heav’n,
And die to save a child like me.

And yet I know that it is true;
He chose a poor and humble lot,
And wept, and toiled, and mourned, and died,
For love of those who loved Him not.

I cannot tell how He could love
A child so weak and full of sin;
His love must be most wonderful,
If He could die my love to win.

I sometimes think about the cross,
And shut my eyes, and try to see
The cruel nails and crown of thorns,
And Jesus crucified for me.

But even could I see Him die,
I could but see a little part
Of that great love, which, like a fire,
Is always burning in His heart.

It is most wonderful to know
His love for me so free and sure;
But ’tis more wonderful to see
My love for Him so faint and poor.

And yet I want to love Thee, Lord;
Oh, light the flame within my heart,
And I will love Thee more and more,
Until I see Thee as Thou art.

William Walsham How

The Kingdom of God

O WORLD invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air--
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!--
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places--
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrang├Ęd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry--and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry--clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

Francis Thompson

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Napoleon on how Christ conquers

I was on the verge of quoting what Aleksander Solzhenitsyn once said, that the thin line between good and evil does not run through states or ideologies, but through the heart of every man and woman. ... It is ironic, I think, that the city of Moscow bears the scars of the brutality of both Nazism and Napoleon's exploits. There are reminders of what the Nazis did and markers of how far Napoleon came in his attempt to defeat Russia. Their names symbolize terror and war to the huge Soviet Empire. The still-vivid memories of their savageries make the Russian people ever skeptical of any power that threatens.

Yet, in an extraordinarily staggering statement about Jesus Christ, Napoleon said something that is almost unexcelled by any political leader. I quote it at length because of its incredible insight. ... Napoleon expressed these thoughts while he was exiled on the rock of St. Helena. There, the conqueror of civilized Europe had time to reflect on the measure of his accomplishments. He called Count Montholon to his side and asked him, "Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?" The count declined to respond. Napoleon countered:

"Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. ... I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man: none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than a man. ... I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me ... but to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lighted up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. ... Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man's creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ."
Whatever else one may say in response, it is difficult to explain this away as mere eloquence. In fact, it was to counter mere eloquence and such artificial power that Napoleon said what he did. With unbelievable insight, he saw how Jesus Christ conquered. It was not by force, but by winning the heart.

Napoleon understood Jesus better than Pilate did. Pilate probably had no clue what Jesus meant when He said, "My kingdom is not of this world," or how far into the future this Christ would conquer--and that, without the methods by which empires are normally expanded, of which Rome was a prime example.

Extracted from Ravi Zacharias' Jesus Among Other Gods

Malcolm Muggeridge 's 20 century man

"...it has become abundantly clear in the second half of the twentieth century that Western Man has decided to abolish himself. Having wearied of the struggle to be himself, he has created his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, his own vulnerability out of his own strength; himself blowing the trumpet that brings the walls of his own city tumbling down, and, in a process of auto-genocide, convincing himself that he is too numerous, and labouring accordingly with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer in order to be an easier prey for his enemies; until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keels over a weary, battered old brontosaurus and becomes extinct.”
- Malcolm Muggeridge, Seeing Through the Eye: Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith (p. 16)

The Opening of the Amercian Mind

Against the Murky and Pretentious Allan Bloom

Little is more surprising these days than the revival of blasphemy as a crime. A secular age had presumably relegated blasphemy - irreverence toward things sacred - to the realm of obsolete offenses.

No American has been convicted for blasphemy since Abner Kneeland in Massachusetts a century and a half ago (for what was deemed a ''scandalous, impious, obscene, blasphemous and profane libel of and concerning God''); and the last prosecution, in Maryland 20 years ago, was dismissed by an appellate court as a violation of the First Amendment.

But a secular age, when it creates its own absolutes, may well secularize blasphemy too. Consider the deplorable role the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag played in a recent Presidential campaign; or the cries of outrage provoked by the Supreme Court decision in Texas v. Johnson, holding that punishment for the political burning of an American flag breached the Constitution; or the demonstrations protesting the ''desecration'' of the flag at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The very word ''desecration'' implies that the American flag is sanctified, an object of worship. We are witnessing the rise of what Charles Fried, Ronald Reagan's Solicitor General, calls the ''doctrine of civil blasphemy.'' Whether religious or secular in guise, all forms of blasphemy have in common that there are things so sacred that they must be protected by the arm of the state from irreverence and challenge - that absolutes of truth and virtue exist and that those who scoff are to be punished.

It is this belief in absolutes, I would hazard, that is the great enemy today of the life of the mind. This may seem a rash proposition. The fashion of the time is to denounce relativism as the root of all evil. But history suggests that the damage done to humanity by the relativist is far less than the damage done by the absolutist - by the fellow who, as Mr. Dooley once put it, ''does what he thinks th' Lord wud do if He only knew th' facts in th' case.''

Let me not be misunderstood lest I be taken for a blasphemer myself and thereby subject to the usual dire penalties. I hold religion in high regard. As Chesterton once said, the trouble when people stop believing in God is not that they thereafter believe in nothing; it is that they thereafter believe in anything. I agree with Tocqueville that religion has an indispensable social function: ''How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed?'' I also sympathize with Tocqueville who, Andre Jardin, his most recent biographer, tells us, went to his death an unbeliever.

It would hardly seem necessary to insist on the perils of moral absolutism in our own tawdry age. By their fruits ye shall know them. It is as illogical to indict organized religion because of Jimmy Swaggart and the Bakkers as Paul Johnson is to indict the intelligentsia because of the messy private lives of selected intellectuals; but the moral absolutists who are presently applauding Paul Johnson's cheap book ''Intellectuals'' might well be invited to apply the same methodology to their own trade. As the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said, ''The worst corruption is a corrupt religion'' -and organized religion, like all powerful institutions, lends itself to corruption. Absolutism, whether in religious or secular form, becomes a haven for racketeers.

As a historian, I confess to a certain amusement when I hear the Judeo-Christian tradition praised as the source of our concern for human rights. In fact, the great religious ages were notable for their indifference to human rights in the contemporary sense. They were notorious not only for acquiescence in poverty, inequality, exploitation and oppression but for enthusiastic justifications of slavery, persecution, abandonment of small children, torture, genocide.

Religion enshrined and vindicated hierarchy, authority and inequality and had no compunction about murdering heretics and blasphemers. Till the end of the 18th century, torture was normal investigative procedure in the Roman Catholic church as well as in most European states. In Protestant America in the early 19th century, as Larry Hise points out in his book ''Pro-Slavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701-1840,'' men of the cloth ''wrote almost half of all the defenses of slavery published in America''; an appendix lists 275 ministers of the Gospel who piously proclaimed the Christian virtue of a system in which one man owned another as private property to be used as he pleased.

Human rights is not a religious idea. It is a secular idea, the product of the last four centuries of Western history.

It was the age of equality that brought about the disappearance of such religious appurtenances as the auto-da-fe and burning at the stake, the abolition of torture and of public executions, the emancipation of the slaves. Only later, as religion itself began to succumb to the humanitarian ethic and to view the Kingdom of God as attainable within history, could the claim be made that the Judeo-Christian tradition commanded the pursuit of happiness in this world. The basic human rights documents - the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man - were written by political, not by religious, leaders. And the revival of absolutism in the 20th century, whether in ecclesiastical or secular form, has brought with it the revival of torture, of slaughter and of other monstrous violations of human rights.

Take a look at the world around us today. Most of the organized killing now going on is the consequence of absolutism: Protestants and Catholics killing each other in Ireland; Muslims and Jews killing each other in the Middle East; Sunnites and Shiites killing each other in the Persian Gulf; Buddhists and Hindus killing each other in Ceylon; Hindus and Sikhs killing each other in India; Christians and Muslims killing each other in Armenia and Azerbaijan; Buddhists and Communists killing each other in Tibet. ''We have,'' as Swift said, ''just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love.'' The Santa Barbara Peace Resource Center, reporting on the 32 wars in progress around the planet in 1988, found that 25 had ''a significant ethnic, racial or religious dimension.'' And when religious religion is not the cause, then the totalitarian social religions of our age inspire mass slaughter.

It is natural enough, I suppose, if you believe you have privileged access to absolute truth, to want to rid the world of those who insist on divergent truths of their own. But I am not sure that it is a useful principle on which to build a society. Yet, as I noted earlier, the prevailing fashion is, or was a year or two ago, to hold relativism responsible for the ills of our age. A key document, of course, is Allan Bloom's best seller of a couple of years back, ''The Closing of the American Mind.'' Indeed, one cannot but regard the very popularity of that murky and pretentious book as the best evidence for Mr. Bloom's argument about the degradation of American culture. It is another of those half-read best sellers, like Charles Reich's murky and pretentious ''Greening of America'' 17 years before, that plucks a momentary nerve, materializes fashionably on coffee tables, is rarely read all the way through and is soon forgotten.

Now one may easily share Mr. Bloom's impatience with many features of higher education in the United States. I too lament the incoherence in the curriculums, the proliferation of idiotic courses, the shameful capitulation to factional demands and requisitions, the decay of intellectual standards. For better or for worse, in my view, we inherit an American experience, as America inherits a Western experience; and solid learning must begin with our own origins and traditions. The bonds of cohesion in our society are sufficiently fragile, or so it seems to me, that we should not strain them by excessive worship at artificial shrines of ethnicity, bilingualism, global cultural base-touching and the like. Let us take pride in our own distinctive inheritance as other countries take pride in their distinctive inheritances; and let us understand that no culture can hope to ingest other cultures all at once, certainly not before it ingests its own.

But a belief in solid learning, rigorous standards, intellectual coherence, the virtue of elites is a different thing from a faith in absolutes. It is odd that Professor Bloom spends 400 pages laying down the law about the American mind and never once mentions the two greatest and most characteristic American thinkers, Emerson and William James. Once can see why he declined the confrontation: it is because he would have had to concede the fact that the American mind is by nature and tradition skeptical, irreverent, pluralistic and relativistic.

Nor does relativism necessarily regard all claims to truth as equal or believe that judgment is no more than the expression of personal preference. For our relative values are not matters of whim and happenstance. History has given them to us. They are anchored in our national experience, in our great national documents, in our national heroes, in our folkways, traditions, standards. Some of these values seem to us so self-evident that even relativists think they have, or ought to have, universal application: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for example; the duty to treat persons as ends in themselves; the prohibition of slavery, torture, genocide. People with a different history will have different values. But we believe that our own are better for us. They work for us; and, for that reason, we live and die by them.

At least this is what great Americans have always believed. ''Deep-seated preferences,'' as Justice Holmes put it, ''cannot be argued about . . . and therefore, when differences are sufficiently far-reaching, we try to kill the other man rather than let him have his way. But that is perfectly consistent with admitting that, so far as it appears, his grounds are just as good as ours.''

Once Justice Holmes and Judge Learned Hand discussed these questions on a long train ride. Learned Hand gave as his view that ''opinions are at best provisional hypotheses, incompletely tested. The more they are tested . . . the more assurance we may assume, but they are never absolutes. So we must be tolerant of opposite opinions.'' Holmes wondered whether Hand might not be carrying his tolerance to dangerous lengths. ''You say,'' Hand wrote Holmes later, ''that I strike at the sacred right to kill the other fellow when he disagrees. The horrible possibility silenced me when you said it. Now, I say, 'Not at all, kill him for the love of Christ and in the name of God, but always remember that he may be the saint and you the devil.' ''

These ''deep-seated preferences'' are what Holmes called his ''Can't Helps'' - ''When I say that a thing is true, I mean that I cannot help believing it. . . . But . . . I do not venture to assume that my inabilities in the way of thought are inabilities of the universe. I therefore define truth as the system of my limitations, and leave absolute truth for those who are better equipped.'' He adds: ''Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cock-sure of many things that were not so.''

Absolutism is abstract, monistic, deductive, ahistorical, solemn, and it is intimately bound up with deference to authority. Relativism is concrete, pluralistic, inductive, historical, skeptical and intimately bound up with deference to experience. Absolutism teaches by rote; relativism by experiment. ''I respect faith,'' that forgotten wit Wilson Mizener once said, ''but doubt is what gets you an education.''

I would even hazard the proposition that relativism comports far more than absolutism with the deepest and darkest teachings of religion. For what we have learned from Augustine, from Calvin, from Jonathan Edwards, is not man's capacity to grasp the absolute but quite the contrary: the frailty of man, the estrangement of man from God, the absolute distance between mortals and divinity - and the arrogance of those who suppose they are doing what the Lord would do if He only knew the facts in the case. That is why Reinhold Niebuhr acknowledged such an affinity with William James - far more, I would warrant, than he would have found with Allan Bloom.

When it came to worldly affairs, Niebuhr was a relativist, not because he disbelieved in the absolute, but precisely because he believed in the absoluteness of the absolute - because he recognized that for finite mortals the infinite thinker was inaccessible, unfathomable, unattainable. Nothing was more dangerous, in Niebuhr's view, than for frail and erring humans to forget the inevitable ''contradiction between divine and human purposes.'' ''Religion,'' he wrote, ''is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous to democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values.'' He particularly detested ''the fanaticism of all good men, who do not know that they are not as good as they esteem themselves,'' and he warned against ''the depth of evil to which individuals and communities may sink . . . when they try to play the role of God to history.''

Niebuhr accepted, as James did, ''the limits of all human striving, the fragmentariness of all human wisdom, the precariousness of all historic configurations of power, and the mixture of good and evil in all human virtue.'' His outlook is as far away from Mr. Bloom's simple-minded absolutism as one can imagine. It represents, in my view, the real power of religious insight as well as the far more faithful expression of the American mind.

I would summon one more American, the greatest of them all, as a last witness in the case for relativism against absolutes. In his Second Inaugural, Lincoln noted that both sides in the Civil War ''read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. . . . the prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.'' Replying thereafter to a congratulatory letter from Thurlow Weed, Lincoln doubted that such sentiments would be ''immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world.''

The Almighty has His own purposes: this is the reverberant answer to those who tell us that we must live by absolutes. Relativism is the American way. As that most quintessential of American historians, George Bancroft, wrote in another connection, ''The feud between the capitalist and laborer, the house of Have and the house of Want, is as old as social union, and can never be entirely quieted; but he who will act with moderation, prefer fact to theory, and remember that every thing in this world is relative and not absolute, will see that the violence of the contest may be stilled.''

The mystic prophets of the absolute cannot save us. Sustained by our history and traditions, we must save ourselves, at whatever risk of heresy or blasphemy. We can find solace in the memorable representation of the human struggle against the absolute in the finest scene in the greatest of American novels. I refer of course to the scene when Huckleberry Finn decides that the ''plain hand of Providence'' requires him to tell Miss Watson where her runaway slave Jim is to be found. Huck writes his letter of betrayal to Miss Watson and feels ''all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now.'' He sits there for a while thinking ''how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell.''

Then Huck begins to think about Jim and the rush of the great river and the talking and the singing and the laughing and friendship. ''Then I happened to look around and see that paper. . . . I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll go to hell' - and tore it up.''

That, if I may say so, is what America is all about. This essay has been adapted from a lecture given at Brown University on the occasion of Vartan Gregorian's inauguration as president.

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded‏

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

Lyrics (J.W. Alexander's version, 1830)

The hymn is based on a long medieval Latin poem, Salve mundi salutare, with stanzas addressing the various parts of Christ's body hanging on the Cross. The last part of the poem, from which the hymn is taken, is addressed to Christ's head, and begins "Salve caput cruentatum." The poem is often attributed to Bernard of Cairvaux (1091-1153), but it first appears in the 14th century.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I Poison All My Lovers

Back in the 60's, folk singer Anna Russell wrote about the world in which we live:

I went to my psychiatrist to be psychoanalyzed

To find out why I killed the cat and blacked my husband's eyes.

He laid me on a downy couch to see what he could find,

And here is what he dredged up from my subconscious mind:

When I was one, my mommie hid my dollie in a trunk,

And so it follows naturally that I am always drunk.

When I was two, I saw my father kiss the maid one day,

And that is why I suffer now from kleptomania.

At three, I had the feeling of ambivalence toward my brothers,

And so it follows naturally I poison all my lovers.

But I am happy; now I've learned the lesson this has taught;

That everything I do that's wrong is someone else's fault.

He Giveth More Grace

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father's full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow'r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

Annie Johnson Flint

Monday, February 9, 2009


He was the meekest and lowliest of all the sons of men,

yet he spoke of coming on

the clouds of heaven in the glory of God.

He was so austere that evil spirits

and demons cried out in terror at his coming,

yet so gentle, winsome and approachable

that the little children would run up to Him and nestle in His arms.

His presence at the innocence of the village wedding

was like the presence of sunshine.

No one was half so kind or compassionate to sinners,

yet no one spoke such red hot scorching words about sin.

A bruised reed He would not break, His whole life was love,

yet on one occasion He demanded of the Pharisees

how they were expecting to escape the damnation of hell.

He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions,

yet for purposes of realism He has

all of the self proclaimed realists soundly beaten.

He was a servant of all washing the disciples feet,

yet masterfully he strode into the temple

and all of the hucksters and the money changers fell over one

another in their mad rush to get out of the way of the fire

they saw blazing in His eyes.

He saved others, but at last and in the end himself He did not save.

There is nothing in all of history that confronts us

like the union of contrast presented in the gospels.

The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality.

Extracted from The Strong Name by James Stewart

What does secularization really mean?

What does secularization really mean? With a touch of humor and an edge of sarcasm, the following lines summarize this new reigning worldview:

"First dentistry was painless.
Then bicycles were chainless,
Carriages were horseless,
And many laws enforceless.

Next cookery was fireless,
Telegraphy was wireless,
Cigars were nicotineless,
And coffee caffeineless.

Soon oranges were seedless,
The putting green was weedless,
The college boy was hatless,
The proper diet fatless.

New motor roads are dustless,
The latest steel is rustless,
Our tennis courts are sodless,
Our new religion--godless."
(Arthur Guiterman, "Gaily the Troubadour")

Is Man basically good?

Much that we take for granted in a civilized society is based upon the assumption of human sin. Nearly all legislation has grown up because human beings cannot be trusted to settle their own disputes with justice and without self-interest. A promise is not enough; we need a contract. Doors are not enough; we have to lock and bolt them. The payment of fares is not enough; tickets have to be issued, inspected and collected. Law and order are not enough; we need the police to enforce them. All this is due to man's sin. We cannot trust each other. We need protection against one another. It is a terrible indictment of human nature.

John Stott in Basic Christianity

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Natural gifts

Natural gifts. We all have them, I suppose, some of us having more than others. They can carry young men and women for a long distance. They certainly carried me.

Natural gifts such as personal charisma, mental brightness, emotional strength, and organizational ability can impress and motivate people for a long time. Sometimes they can be mistaken for spiritual vitality and depth. Sadly, we do not have a Christian culture today that easily discriminates between a person of spiritual depth and a person of raw talent. Like the wheat and the tares of Jesus' parable, they can be difficult to distinguish. The result is that more than a few people can be fooled into thinking they are being influenced by a spiritual giant when in fact they are being manipulated by a dwarf.

We must always be aware that there are leaders who can build great organizations (including churches) on natural gifts. Say the right words, be smart enough to do the right things, be insightful enough to connect with the right people, and one can go a long way before anyone ever discovers that the inner life is close to empty.

Extracted from Gordon MacDonald's Ordering Your Private World.

Why not?

For many years Admiral Hyman Rickover was the head of United States Nuclear Navy. His admirers and his critics held strongly opposing views about the stern and demanding admiral. For many years every officer abroad a nuclear submarine was personally interviewed and approved by Rickover. Those who went through those interviews usually came out shaking in fear, anger, or total intimidation. Among them was ex-President Jimmy Carter, who, years ago, applied for service under Rickover. This is his account of a Rickover interview:

I had applied for the nuclear submarine program, and Admiral Rickover was interviewing me for the job. It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover, and we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss. Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time - current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery - and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty. In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen.

He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with cold sweat.

Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself. He said, "How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?" Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a plebe, I had done very well, and I swelled my chest with pride and answered, "Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!" I sat back to wait for the congratulations - which never came. Instead, the question: "Did you do your best?" I started to say, "Yes, sir," but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, "No, sir, I didn't always do my best.

He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget – or to answer. He said, "Why not?" I sat there for a while, shaken, and then slowly left the room.

That encounter became the thought-starter for Carter's book Why Not the Best? And it is a worthwhile story to ponder. Does not the man or woman who claims to walk with Christ owe the Creator excellence in terms of thought?

Extracted from Gordon MacDonald's Ordering Your Private World.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Atheists Creed

We believe in Marx, freud and darwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don't hurt anyone
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and
after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything's getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there's something in horoscopes
UFO's and bent spoons.
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,
Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher though we think
His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same-
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation,
sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens
they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then its
compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps
Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn

We believe in Masters and Johnson
What's selected is average.
What's average is normal.
What's normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and
Americans should beat their guns into tractors .
And the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It's only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that
is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth
that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,
And the flowering of individual thought.

If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky
and when you hear

State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

--Steve Turner

On the modern man

"In case the point is not clear, an historic example may illustrate it. The French Revolution was really a heroic and decisive thing, because the Jacobins willed something definite and limited. They desired the freedoms of democracy, but also all the vetoes of democracy. They wished to have votes and not to have titles. Republicanism had an ascetic side in Franklin or Robespierre as well as an expansive side in Danton or Wilkes. Therefore they have created something with a solid substance and shape, the square social equality and peasant wealth of France. But since then the revolutionary or speculative mind of Europe has been weakened by shrinking from any proposal because of the limits of that proposal. Liberalism has been degraded into liberality. Men have tried to turn "revolutionize" from a transitive to an intransitive verb. The Jacobin could tell you not only the system he would rebel against, but (what was more important) the system he would not rebel against, the system he would trust. But the new rebel is a Skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything."

GK Chesterton – Orthodoxy

The State of Modern Thought

Ours is an age where ethics have become obsolete: they are superseded by science, deleted by psychology, and dismissed as emotive by philosophy. They drown in compassion, evaporate into aesthetics, and retreat before relativism. The usual moral distinctions between good and bad are simply drowned in a maudlin emotion in which we feel more sympathy for the murderer than the murdered, the adulterer than the betrayed, and where we have actually come to believe that the true guilty party - the one who caused it all is somehow the victim and not the perpetrator of the crime.

Robert Fitch in Christianity in Crisis.

David Puttnam

David Puttnam, producer of Chariots of Fire, profoundly said this of Hollywood and of the cinema:

"Far more than any other influence, more than school, more even than home, my attitudes, dreams, preconceptions and preconditions for life have been irreversibly shaped five and half thousand miles away in a place called Hollywood. I labour over all of this in order to explain exactly where my passion for cinema stems from, exactly why it hurts me that the movies so frequently sell themselves short, unable and unwilling to step up to the creative and ethical standards that the audience is entitled to expect of them.

The medium is too powerful and too important an influence on the way we live, and the way we see ourselves to be left solely to the tyranny of the box office or reduced to the sum of the lowest common denominator or public taste. This public taste or appetite being conditioned by a diet capable only of producing mental and emotional malnutrition. Movies are powerful, good or bad, they tinker around inside your brain. They steal up on you in the darkness of the cinema to form or confirm social attitudes. They can help to create a healthy, informed, concerned, and inquisitive society, or in the alternative, a negative, apathetic, ignorant one merely a short step away from nihilism and despair.

In short: Cinema is Propaganda. Benign or Malign, social or antisocial, the factual nature of its responsibility cannot be avoided. To an almost alarming degree, our political and emotional responses, rest for their health, in the quality and integrity of the present and future generation of film and television creators”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hobart Mowrer

Hobart Mowrer, psychologist from Harvard and Yale, and once upon a time president of the American Psychological Association, who ended up committing suicide himself, said:

For several decades, we psychologists looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus, and acclaimed our liberation from it as epoch-making. But at length we have discovered that to be free from sin is also to have the excuse of being sick, rather than being sinful. [We are in] danger of becoming lost. This danger is, I believe, betokened by the widespread interest in existentialism, which we are presently witnessing. In becoming amoral, ethically neutral, and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity, and with neurotics themselves find ourselves asking, "Who am I? What is my deepest destiny?"