Monday, January 29


There is a wonderful article on Mozart’s genius in the latest online issue of Books and Culture.

An alarming article in the Washington Post confirms what I have long feared: books are no long the primary business of our libraries.

OK. Just to prove that my appetite for peculiarities is more than a little odd--and that I’ll read just about anything that pertains to those odd peculiarities--there is my favorite Shave Blog. Yes, you read that right: it’s a shave blog!

And this just in: Obama smokes! It may be part of the reason for his recent stump successes, says this article in Slate. No, really.

And of course, you won’t want to miss the new King's Meadow Study Center newsletter on books, movies, and music.

Frozen Chosen

In Balea Lac, Romania, local artisans and parishoners have put the finishing touches on a church they built out of solid ice--igloo-style! The architectural wonder, located in the Faragras Mountains of Transylvania about 190 miles northwest of Bucharest was dedicated on Epiphany Day January 6.

The cruciform chapel is a part of an "ice complex," including an ice hotel and an ice restaurant. According to one Romanian travel site, the complex is "an emerging tourist destination, on par with similar ice ventures in Sweden, Canada and Japan." All the component parts of the complex--walls, corridors, pillars, decorations, and even the hotel's beds--are built entirely out of ice. The hotel boasts "a hip, moody ice bar, with drinks served in ice glasses, and adorned with sculpture models of works by famous Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi."

And I thought I was cold this Sunday morning!

Sunday, January 28

King's Meadow Newsletter

The new King's Meadow newsletter has arrived. It is our annual books, movies, and music issue. With reviews, surveys, and articles from Gene King, Amy Shore, Blair Sadler, Dave Ramond, and the always intrepid Greg Wilbur. Start 2007 right--read, watch, and listen with us!

Bending the Knee

He was supposedly the most powerful man on the face of the earth. He had armies at his command. Whole hosts of fierce warriors would hasten to his merest demand. Yet, Henry IV, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, found himself kneeling in the snow outside the walls of the Canossa Castle, shivering in the cold for three days begging for mercy. It was one of the coldest winters on record. From November through April the Rhine river was frozen solid. Despite this, Henry did not even think about any other alternative than this--much to the surprise of all who knew him. After all, he had never been known to bend his knee to anyone before.

Henry was only six years old when his father died and he was thrust into a position of almost unimaginable power and privilege. He had been spoiled as a boy and as a young man he lived a licentious life. When he came of age and began to rule in his own right, he was despotic and had little regard for justice or his subjects' welfare. He bribed priests to get their support and paid his soldiers from church funds. His mistresses were given jewels taken from the sacred vessels of the church. Virtually all of his subjects were horrified by such perverse defiance of basic Christian morality, but Henry was adamantly recalcitrant. Aware of such brazenness, the bishop of Rome urged his repentance, but Henry shrugged off his exhortations.

Henry, however, had met his match in this bishop. Pope Gregory VII, best known as Hildebrand, moved decisively to define and enforce the authority of the church and insisted that the see of St. Peter had preeminence over such spiritual concerns—even to the point of deposing wicked kings and emperors. He asserted that Jesus, the King of Glory, had given Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome, very tangible responsibilities in the affairs of the world. When Emperor Henry IV continued in his belligerence, Pope Gregory VII simply excommunicated him from the church and deposed him from his throne, absolving his subjects from all allegiance to the deposed ruler.

Henry suddenly realized this was no idle threat. Talk of rebellion began to rumble throughout Henry’s domains. Once loyal nobles began to question the security and stability of Henry’s reign. Sobered by this change in circumstances, Henry decided to placate the prelate. A few days before Christmas in 1076, Henry journeyed across the Alps with his wife and six year old son Conrad to seek the Pope. Once in Italy he climbed the steep hill to Canossa, a fortress where Gregory was staying. He arrived at the castle on January 21, 1077, but the Pope wanted to thoroughly humble him and would not receive him. Henry begged; he offered assurances of his repentance. It must have been quite a sight to behold.

Finally, on January 28 the Pope granted Henry's forgiveness and restored him to the church and to his throne. Henry's humiliation at Canossa was a triumph of the church over the moral corruptions of the state of the day, preserving the balance of power that was the heart and soul of medieval civilization.

Saturday, January 27

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Where Love Rejoices

Today is the Eastern Orthodox Feast Day of Saint John Chrysostom. It is a grand festival of great rejoicing in many quarters of the Orthodox world--much food, exuberant dancing, and an exultant worship service.

Known as John of Constantinople during his life, he was later named Chrysostom which means "golden-tongued" in reference to his great powers of preaching, rhetoric, and oratory. He died in exile--having offended the emperor and his consort by preaching too frankly on the prevailing sins of the court--on this day in 407.

This Sunday, as I continue to work through the Gospel of John, I will be preaching on the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2:1-12). It was one of Chrysostom's particular favorites--we still have three of his sermons on the passage. Of the story he quipped, "Ubi caritas gaudet, ibi est festivitas," literally, "Where love rejoices, there is festivity."

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Wednesday, January 24

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Elizabethan age produced a number of the greatest stylists of the English language including of William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, and of course, John Donne. When the venerable poet was born in London on this day in 1573, Queen Elizabeth was in the middle of her long and glorious reign and Donne was able to partake of all the benefits the age afforded. Indeed, as a young man John Donne was quite attracted to the extravagance of English Renaissance life.

During England's war with Spain in the 1590's, Donne sailed as a gentleman adventurer. He took a government position as secretary to the Keeper of the Great Seal—a position he ultimately lost when he secretly married his employer's daughter. In 1609 he applied for the secretaryship of the new colony of Virginia, but he failed to get the job.

It was Donne's marriage that brought about in him a dramatic transformation. The deepening love of his faithful wife provoked him to grow in the love of God. Eventually, his piety entirely replaced his earlier flamboyance--and it was evident to everyone who knew him. King James encouraged Donne to enter the ministry, and though he felt very unworthy, Donne consented. With a great sense of his own sinfulness and God's forgiveness, Donne was eager to preach God's forgiveness to others. In 1621 he was appointed dean of St. Paul's in London and became one of the most prominent and eloquent preachers of his day--or of any day, for that matter.

Donne was a man of immense scholarship and learning, yet he preached that "all knowledge that begins not with His glory is but a giddy, but a vertiginous circle, but an elaborate and exquisite ignorance."

The death of his wife in 1617 brought about another profound change in Donne. She was 33 and died of exhaustion one week after giving birth to her twelfth child. Her death brought home to Donne the fleeting nature of earthly happiness, and he saw his whole life as God's wooing of him. He gained strong convictions about the providence and goodness of God and the coming resurrection in the face of certain death.

In his many poems and sermons Donne often challenged his people to ready themselves for death, "All our life is but a going out to the place of execution, to death. Now was there ever any man sent to sleep in the cart?" His famous lines "No man is an Island, entire in itself" and "For whom does the bell toll? It tolls for thee," have become almost commonplaces in the English language. When the death-bell tolled for Donne in 1631, his trust in God enabled him to tell a friend, "I am full of inexpressible joy and I shall die in peace."

Monday, January 22

Roe v. Wade

In perhaps its most divisive and controversial decision since Dred Scott, the Supreme Court overturned the infanticide and homicide laws in abortion cases in all fifty states by legalizing abortion procedures from the moment of conception until just before the moment of birth. Delivered on January 22, 1973 the Roe v. Wade decision sent shock waves throughout the nation—the effects of which are still felt. In a remarkably argued majority opinion, Associate Justice Blackmun introduced several creative constitutional innovations—including a heretofore unrecognized “right to privacy.” Like the Dred Scott decision before it, this case actually only exacerbated the debate the court set out to resolve.

Sunday, January 21

Father of the Fathers

It is a cruel irony of history that Cotton Mather (1663-1728) is generally pictured unsympathetically as the archetype of a narrow and severe intolerance, who proved his mettle by prosecuting the Salem witch debacle of 1692. In fact, he never attended the trials--he lived in the distant town of Boston--and actually denounced them once he saw the tenor they had taken.

And as for his Puritanism, it was of the most enlightened sort. Mather was a man of vast learning, prodigious talent, and expansive interests. He owned the largest personal library in the New World--consisting of some 4000 volumes ranging across the whole spectrum of classical learning. He was also the most prolific writer of his day, producing some 450 books on religion, science, history, medicine, philosophy, biography, and poetry. His greatest work Magnalia Christi Americana, dripping with allusions to classical and modern sources, was published on this day in 1702.

He was the pastor of the most prominent church in New England--Boston's North Church. He was active in politics and civic affairs, serving as an advisor to governors, princes, and kings. He taught at Harvard and was instrumental in the establishment of Yale. He was the first native-born American to become a member of the scientific elite in the Royal Society. And he was a pioneer in the universal distribution and inoculation of the small pox vaccine.

His father, Increase Mather, was the president of Harvard, a gifted writer, a noted pastor, and an influential force in the establishment and maintenance of the second Massachusetts Charter. In his day he was thought to be the most powerful man in New England--in fact, he was elected to represent the colonies before the throne of Charles II in London. But according to many historians, his obvious talents and influence actually pale in comparison to his son's.

Likewise, both of Cotton Mather's grandfathers were powerful and respected men. His paternal grandfather, Richard Mather, helped draw up the Cambridge Platform which provided a constitutional base for the Congregational churches of New England. And with John Eliot and Thomas Weld, he prepared the Bay Psalm Book which was the first text published in America, achieved world-wide renown, and remains a classic of ecclesiastical literature to this day. His maternal grandfather was John Cotton who wrote the important Puritan catechism for children, Milk for Babes, as well as drawing up the Charter Template with John Winthrop as a practical guide for the governance of the new Massachusetts Colony. The city of Boston was so named in order to honor him--his former parish work in England was at St. Botolph's Boston.

According to historian George Harper, together these men laid the foundations for a lasting "spiritual dynasty" in America. Even so, according to his life-long admirer, Benjamin Franklin, "Cotton Mater clearly out-shone them all. Though he was spun from a bright constellation, his light was brighter still." And according to George Washington, “He was undoubtedly the Spiritual Father of America’s Founding Fathers.”


"A Christian should follow his occupation with contentment. Is your business here clogged with any difficulties and inconveniences? Contentment under those difficulties is no little part of your homage to that King who hath placed you where you are by His call." Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

Saturday, January 20

What You'll Be

"What you do when you don’t have to, determines what you will be when you can no longer help it." Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Great Nations

"The strength and glory of a land does not depend upon its wealth, its defenses, its great houses, its powerful armaments; but on the number of its gracious, serious, kind, and wise citizens." Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Friday, January 19

Tiny Pushes

"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along not by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker." Helen Keller (1880-1968)

A Basketful of "Rubbish"

It was only after years of tenacity and longsuffering that Konstantin von Tischendorf was able to discover one of the oldest complete copies of the New Testament and thus transform Biblical scholarship for the modern era. Born in Saxony on January 18, 1815 he became a Bible scholar who decided to search for old Bible manuscripts so he could produce an edition of the Bible which was as close to the original manuscripts as possible.

In 1843, he visited Italy looking for Bible manuscripts, and in 1844 he traveled throughout Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, and the Middle East. In May of 1844 he was staying in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai, which had been founded by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. He noticed in the hall of the monastery a large basket filled with old and tattered parchments. The librarian said they were to be burned as rubbish and two other similar basketfuls had already been burned. Tischendorf looked through the basket and found 129 leaves of a manuscript of the Old Testament in Greek. He enthusiasm was visibly stirred, for this manuscript was the oldest Biblical text he had ever seen, probably dating from the 4th century.

The monks became very suspicious and began carefully guarding the fragments. Tischendorf was not able to see the manuscripts again until he revisited the monastery in 1859. On this day—the last day of his visit—the steward pulled down an old manuscript of the Greek New Testament from a shelf filled with old coffee cups. It was like the pages once seen in the trash bin. Tischendorf persuaded the monastery to give the manuscript to the Tsar of Russia, the sponsor of Tischendorf's travels and a former benefactor of the monastery.

The ancient book became known as Codex Sinaiticus. It includes a large section of the Old Testament and the earliest complete manuscript of the New Testament. When the Communists took over Russia in 1917, they had no interest in the manuscript so it was sold to the British Museum on Christmas Day, 1933.

Tuesday, January 16

The Parenting Paradox

Edward, Duke of Windsor, once said, "The thing that impresses me the most about America is the way parents obey their children." Of course, he had no children himself.

Monday, January 15

Salem Witch Trials

Though the Puritan clergy of Massachusetts had unanimously opposed the Salem witch trials, the episode was seen by them all as a terrible example of misdirected zeal. Thus, in December, 1696, they resolved among themselves to call for a general fast day to be held on January 15, 1697, "That so all of God's people may offer up fervent supplications unto him, that all iniquity may be put away, which hath stirred God's holy jealousy against this land; that He would show us what we know not, and help us, wherein we have done amiss, to do so no more." Judge Samuel Sewell and the jury of the trials all confessed their error and implored God's forgiveness and further direction. Though modern skeptics love to point to the Salem witch trials as a special blight on the church's character, rarely is the end of the story told in full.

Religious Freedom Day

President Bush has asked Americans to observe "Religious Freedom Day" tomorrow, January 16. It was on this day in 1786 that the Virginia legislature passed the Ordinance of Religious Freedom, which disestablished the Anglican Church as the state church--but it simultaneously guaranteed that no person would be discriminated against or molested for his or her religious beliefs. The law gave Virginia complete religious freedom and was the model for the guarantees of religious freedom written into the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights.

The law was largely the fruit of the labors of Thomas Jefferson--he had worked for seven years to get the Virginia legislature to pass it. In the process, he often allied himself with Baptists and Presbyterians, who had endured much hardship from the lack of religious freedom in colonial Virginia. Jefferson was very proud of his role in this piece of legislation. Indeed, the three accomplishments he wanted carved on his tombstone were "Author of the Declaration of Independence, Founder of the University of Virginia, and Author of the Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom."

Friday, January 12

Lewis on Courage

"Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful until it became risky." C.S. Lewis

Real Valor

Edmund Burke, the British statesman, philosopher, and father of modern Conservatism was born on this day in 1729. His strong defense of liberty, including the right of American colonists to throw off the shackles of Parliament, was epitomized in his resounding call to action, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." It was of Burke that Sir Walter Scott made his famous observation, "Real valor consists not in being insensible to danger, but in being prompt to confront and disarm it."

Wednesday, January 10

Sola Cultura

John Yates is the faithful and courageous Rector of Falls Church, one of the prominent and historic congregations that separated from the Episcopal Chruch this past month. In an article co-written with Os Guiness for the Washington Post, he offered this rather remarkable observations:

"The sola scriptura (by the Scriptures alone) doctrine of the Reformation Church has been abandoned for the sola cultura (by the culture alone) way of the Modern Church. No longer under authority, the Episcopal Church today is either its own authority or finds its authority in the shifting winds of intellectual and social fashion--which is to say it has no authority."

That is so apt, so true, so tragic--and so repeatable.

Tuesday, January 9

Religion in Shoes

Birmingham, Alabama was a wild and untamed mining town in the heart of the reconstructed South when James Alexander Bryan came to pastor the Third Presbyterian Church there on this day in 1888. When he died in 1941, Birmingham had become a vibrant industrial center. In the years between, Brother Bryan—as he was affectionately called—won the hearts of generation after generation of her citizens. He was an unlikely hero for the bustling town though. For one thing, he was noticeably inept as a pulpiteer. His sermons were often halting, rambling, and inarticulate. Though entirely committed to the authority of the Scriptures and the centrality of preaching, he simply was not a skilled orator.

He was also a poor administrator. Though perpetually busy, he was easily distracted and rarely kept up with his workload. He didn't even maintain a particularly winsome appearance. He was more often than not disheveled, shabbily dressed, and hastily groomed. In a day when manliness and imposing presence was especially esteemed, he was shy, soft-spoken, and had a slight stutter.

Nevertheless, he was practically a cultural icon in the city. Near the end of his life, he was honored by local dignitaries in a city-wide celebration. The president of the City Commission said: "No man in Birmingham is better known or better loved than Brother Bryan. There is one man in this city about whom we are all agreed, and he is Brother Bryan." The editor of the city newspaper agreed: "Brother Bryan is the only man, whom we have ever known, whose motives have never been questioned. He is the one man for whom we are all unanimous." The city erected a statue of the humble pastor at one of her busiest intersections near downtown. It portrayed him in a posture of prayer and proclaimed him "the patron saint of Birmingham."

How had this seemingly inept pastor won over an entire city so completely? How had this painfully ordinary man accomplished a feat so extraordinary as this? Very simply, Brother Bryan was a common man who proved to be an uncommon example of the Christian mandate of loving his neighbor. He made it a habit to make a circuit every morning just before dawn to all the factories, shops, fire and police stations, schools, and offices downtown to pray with as many common working men and women as he could. He would simply announce himself, drop to his knees wherever he was, and begin to intercede for each of them. The words most often on his lips were, "Let us pray."

He also distinguished himself with his selfless service to the poor, the needy, the brokenhearted, and the sick. His indefatigable efforts to encourage the distressed, led him to establish several city outreaches to the homeless, to orphans and widows, and to the victims of war and pestilence overseas. More than any rich philanthropist, he demonstrated the power and effect of merciful service on the fabric of a community. Though he violated all the rules of success, he seemed to incarnate the essence of the Christian faith. He was, as many called him, "religion in shoes."

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Monday, January 8

41-14! Oh My!

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Tomorrow evening, a new primetime sitcom will air on the national Canadian network, CBC. Little Mosque on the Prairie is a new comedy series about a small community of Muslims living in rural Saskatchewan. The show's creator, Zarqa Nawaz, says she hopes the cheeky send-up of stereotypes and the clash of cultures will show Muslims in a new light.

This sort of thing is already part and parcel of the cultural scene in Europe. But, this is a first for North America. Expect plenty more.

Saturday, January 6


The celebration of Epiphany is the culmination of what is traditionally called the "Twelve Days of Christmas." The word literally means “revelation” or “sudden unveiling” or “manifestation.”

The day, which historically has been celebrated with as much joy as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, commemorates the day when wise men from the East were conducted by a miraculous star to the nativity in Bethlehem. The Magi were thus the first to comprehend that Jesus was not merely the prophetic fulfillment of Jewish aspirations since the beginning of time. Instead, He was the hope of the world, the light of the world, and the joy of every man’s desiring. They beheld the very glory of God that day--for in the city of David, the Savior was born.

As a result, Epiphany is the celebration of the ultimate proclamation of good news. Good news, indeed.

Friday, January 5

The Old Lion

When Theodore Roosevelt went to bed on the evening of January 5, 1919 at his home on Long Island, he was suffering from a particularly nasty bout of Malaria that had lingered throughout the holiday season. Nevertheless, he had put in a full day's work and was feeling better than he had in weeks. Late that night however, his breathing became particularly labored, aggravating the chronic Inflammatory Rheumatism that had plagued him since his great Amazon adventure four years earlier. By the early morning it was evident that he was in serious distress. Before the sun rose, he fell into unconsciousness, never to awaken.

His family wired the news, "The old lion is dead."

The world was stunned. He was not yet 61 years old but he was able to accomplish in those few years what most men could hardly expect to squeeze into a half dozen lifetimes. He seemed almost super-human in his energy and exploits.

He had served as a New York State Legislator, the Under-Secretary of the Navy, Police Commissioner for the City of New York, US. Civil Service Commissioner, the Governor of the State of New York, the vice-president under William McKinley, a Colonel in the US. Army, and two terms as the President of the United States. In addition, he had run a cattle ranch in the Dakota Territories, served as a reporter and editor for several journals, newspapers, and magazines, and conducted scientific expeditions on four continents. During his career he was hailed by supporters and rivals alike as the greatest man of the age--perhaps one of the greatest of all ages.

His passing was, not surprisingly, mourned all around the world.

Wednesday, January 3

An Epiphany Hymn

Incarnational hope hastens hence
on bud, breeze, and blossom
grieving rynds banished in lilac scents.

Hark, the Epiphany Hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place.

A lavish breach of winter's curt hard sword
an ardent repudiation of death's dark pall
the out-veining sun of the Christus Lord.

Hark, the Epiphany hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place.

At the refectory of your loving-care
the transfiguration clarion sounds a call
that didactae could ne're convey nor spare.

Hark, the Epiphany hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place.

Thus, Gospel comes ensconced in Word and Deed
and the evidence is your shimmering touch:
Christus Victor, shown in a life's sown seed.

Hark, the Epiphany hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place.

Monday, January 1

With Loudest Voice

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point." Martin Luther

Dr. Kennedy Health Update

D. James Kennedy remains hospitalized following a major heart attack on Thursday, however he has made very encouraging progress in the last day or so. He is now off life support and has been sitting up and speaking with his family. Please continue to pray for his full and quick recovery.

Pray for Dr. Kennedy

D. James Kennedy, one of the great champions of the Gospel in our generation, suffered a major heart attack on Thursday evening. Though his prognosis appeared to be quite grave when he first arrived at the Fort Lauderdale hospital near his home, he improved considerably over the weekend. Even so, his condition remains serious. Please pray for his full and quick recovery.