Wednesday, February 18

Muhammad and Jesus


"Wherever you find the infidels, kill them, for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection. Know that paradise is under the shade of the swords." Muhammad of Mecca

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Jesus of Nazareth

Saturday, February 14

Umberto Eco: My Favorite Quotes


With the news that Umberto Eco's newest novel is at last being prepared for publication in the US, I thought I'd assemble a few of my favorite quotes from his earlier books:


“We live for books.”

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

“When men stop believing in God, it isn't that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.”

“I love the smell of book ink in the morning.”

“The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.”

“Absence is to love as wind is to fire: it extinguishes the little flame, it fans the big.”

“Books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.”

"Because learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do.”

“All poets write bad poetry. Bad poets publish them, good poets burn them.”

“To survive, you must tell stories.”

“Love is wiser than wisdom.”

“For every complex problem there’s a simple solution, and it’s wrong.”

“Any fact becomes important when it's connected to another.”

Friday, February 13

Petty Tyrannies


There are two wonderful quotes about the omnipresent governmental busybodies that have become the bane of modern living. Alas, these epigrams are often conflated or misattributed or misquoted. For the record, here they are as originally composed, one from Ronald Reagan and the other from C.S. Lewis.

The one from Lewis in his anthology of essays, God in the Dock: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”


The one from Reagan in his Collected Speeches: "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.”

And, There They Go Again


“The electoral victory of the Neo-Communist Syriza Party in Greece, led by Alexis Tsipras, has been described in the mainstream media of Britain and America as a ‘sweep to power.’ However, Syriza’s victory, though perfectly legitimate in the constitutional sense, was far from triumphant or overwhelming. It received votes from only 23 per cent of registered Greek voters--hardly an overwhelming victory. So, while the media reports have not exactly been outright lies, they have hardly represented the facts of the matter: rather they have offered only partial truths, as are so many truths in the field of politics. As the old proverb avers: A change of rulers is the joy of fools; in other words the next lot will be as bad as the last.” Theodore Dalrymple


Tuesday, January 13

Lord of Creation Reign


Hymn #443 in the 1875 Wesley Hymnal (or #431 in the Collected Works of John and Charles Wesley) is a remarkable call for faithful evangelism and intercession in the Muslim world:

1. Sun of unclouded righteousness,
With healing in Thy wings arise
A sad, benighted world to bless,
Which now in sin and error lies,
Wrapped in Egyptian night profound,
With chains of hellish darkness bound.

2. The smoke of the infernal cave,
Which half the Christian world o'erspread,
Disperse, Thou heavenly Light, and save
The souls by that impostor led,
That Arab-thief, as Satan bold,
Who quite destroyed Thy Asian fold.

3. O might the blood of sprinkling cry
For those who spurn the sprinkled blood!
Assert Thy glorious Deity,
Stretch out Thine arm, Thou triune God,
The Unitarian fiend expel,
And chase his doctrine back to Hell!

4. Come, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Thou Three in One, and One in Three,
Resume Thine own for ages lost,
Finish the dire apostasy;
Thine universal claim maintain,
And Lord of the creation reign.

Saturday, December 27

The Coventry Carol: A Pro-Life Hymn

The Coventry Carol is a 14th-16th century English Christmas Carol. It is the second of three songs in a traditional Nativity Pageant, a lament sung by the women of Bethlehem, immediately after Joseph is warned by an angel to take his family to Egypt—now, they face the specter of a horrific slaughter:

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
Bye bye, lully, lullay?

Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.

Very appropriately, the carol is now often sung at Childermas (also known as Kindermord or the Feast of the Innocents) when Christians traditionally solemnizes the slaughter of the children of Judea by Herod (Matthew 2:1-18). It provides focus for the Christian Community’s calling and commitment to protect and preserve the sanctity of all human life--and thus in some ways the Coventry Carol is one of the church's earliest pro-life hymns.

Friday, December 26

The Spirit of the Age

"This day,
In sadness borne,
We must confess:
The Spirit of the Age
Has crushed
The infant in the cradle.

And yet:
O glorious yet,
One day, in gladness shown,
We must profess:
The infant from the manger
Has crushed
The Spirit of the Age." 
Tristan Gylberd

Friday, December 19

Meaning It, Believing It, and Living It


It is one of the great ironies of our day that Christians can pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” and not actually mean anything by it. Indeed, it is a stunning paradox that we can live as if such a prayer could not be answered. Even worse, we can live as if such a prayer probably should not be answered.

Thomas Chalmers, the great nineteenth century pastor, reformer, and educator asserted that, “Pessimism about the real, palpable, and demonstrable transforming power of the Gospel in history ultimately engenders doubt in the whole of the culture. It is a doubt that has its naissance in over-spiritualizing the church but that has its renaissance in under-spiritualizing the society.”

If Christians have come to believe—contrary to all our creeds, confessions, and prayers—that the will of God is irrelevant to our culture, is it any wonder then that our culture has accepted that proposition with all the zeal of a new convert? Is it possible that our recalcitrance has led to their irreverence; that our passivity has led to their lasciviousness; that our subjective approach to obedience has led to their objective approach to disobedience; that our pessimism has led to their atheism?

This bizarre twist of fate is the result of an even more bizarre twist of faith. The disconnect between Christianity and civilization is the fruit of a woefully deficient theology of the covenant—which has in turn produced a woefully deficient practice of the covenant. Without covenantal orthodoxy and orthopraxy, it is inevitable that the church—and in turn, the wider culture—will plunge into a pool of concupiscence.

At the root of this covenantal unfaithfulness is our misconception of God’s redemptive purposes in history. Our dreadful pessimism is clear evidence of the fact that we have simply misconstrued the Gospel itself.
Jesus explained to His disciples just how the principles of the curse, with its inherent destructiveness, and grace, with its inherent constructiveness, are manifested throughout history. He said:

“The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprang up and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. And the slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ And the slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them.’ Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:24-30).

Explaining this parable later, He said:

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:37-43).

Essentially what Jesus was saying was that as history moves along, the basic principles of wickedness and righteousness are worked out more and more consistently. Evil matures and becomes ever more evil, ever more distinctive. Likewise godliness matures and becomes ever more godly, ever more distinctive. Tare-maturation will evidence itself in horrid debauchery and unimaginable abomination. As time moves along and men become more and more self-consciously tare-like, more and more self-consciously anti-Christ, the curse becomes more and more evident. They persist in their rebellion to the end, gnawing their tongues, and calling for the rocks to fall on them (Revelation 6:16).

If we knew nothing more than this, perhaps there might be warrant for our persistent pessimism. But we do know more than this. The Biblical perspective of increasing and encroaching wickedness in history comes with a very clear and forthright caveat:

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self- control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on my various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected as regards the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, as also that of those two came to be” (2 Timothy 3:1-9).

As history draws toward consummation, evil will become ever more consistently evil. The tares will mature. But notice the adamant caveat: “They will not make further progress” (2 Timothy 3:9).

Why will they not make further progress? Because just as the tares continue to mature, so does the wheat. The church becomes more and more consistent as history proceeds. She becomes more and more self-consciously Christ-like as covenantal faithfulness is worked out more and more consistently. The truth of the Gospel actually becomes clearer and clearer as time goes on. The steadfast reality of the Good News of Jesus Christ becomes more and more of a contrast with the vain fantasy of the philosophies of the world as history unfolds. Christianity in culture ultimately makes a real and tangible difference—both for the good and for good.

May it be that in days to come we will never be able to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” without actually meaning it, believing it, and living it.

Tuesday, December 2

Kippered


The great Swiss church historian, Merle d'Aubigné, visited Thomas Chalmers and his family in Edinburgh during the winter of 1840. Mrs. Chalmers served kippered herring for breakfast. Dr. d'Aubigné, unfamiliar with the dish asked, "What does kippered mean?" She replied, "It means kept or preserved." Later, as he was taking his leave, d'Aubigné prayed a blessing on the household and concluded with a petition that the Lord would "kipper" Chalmers.

Thankfully, d'Aubigné had a better grasp of history than he did of English grammar or Scottish cuisine.

Sunday, November 30

The Battle of Franklin

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Union and Confederate forces clashed for five bloody hours on the fields in and around Franklin, Tennessee. It would be, though they didn't know it at the time, the last significant pitched battle of the terribly uncivil Civil War.

Confederate troops, under the command of General John Bell Hood, had skirmished with Union troops, under the command of Major General John Schofield, for several days from the Tennessee River at the Alabama border, through the towns of Columbia and Spring Hill. And then, with Scofield's men dug into breastworks along the southwest edge of Franklin, Hood ordered an ill-advised charge down Winstead Hill.

More ferocious, more protracted, and more deadly than even Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, the assault continued long after dark amidst freezing rain and withering fire.  The slaughter was horrific. There were more than 7,000 casualties.  The Confederates lost 55 regimental commanders and 6 generals.

Though they technically won the battle, the losses were so great that their capacity to continue the war was effectively ended.