Tuesday, June 29

No Liberwocky Needed

Christopher Hitchens is one of those very rare birds in modern American culture: a genuine, honest-to-goodness Liberal. He doesn't play politically-correct games. He's not interested in the guise of liberwocky--that peculiar twisting of language that seems to be the stock-in-trade for most Liberals. He wants the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That means that he is often very much out of step with fellow travelers on the Left. His latest commentary in Slate, the online magazine edited by Michael Kinsley, is a case in point. Unfairenheit 9/11: The Lies of Michael Moore is astonishing in its clarity and integrity. This very insightful and entertaining article really is must reading. By the way, for all you grammar-checkers: yes, the spelling of Fahrenheit is deliberately--and quite cleverly--distorted in Hitchens' title.

Here's a brief excerpt, just to whet your appetite: "To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability.... To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of 'dissenting' bravery." Ouch!

Revelation Studies

The Micah Mandate Sunday School class has been working through the text of the book of Revelation for over a year now. Most of the recordings of those studies are now available online in three formats--RealAudio, WindowsMedia, and MP3 download--at both the Micah Mandate and the Christ Community websites.

Mac v. PC

Roger Ebert has never been one to shy away from expressing his opinions. With the unveiling of Apple's new OS X Tiger release this week in San Francisco, he has sounded off on the issue of which operating system really is best--but in the process he has commented on the whole of society as well: "Since any reasonable person would choose a Mac over a PC, Apple's market share provides us with an accurate reading of the percentage of reasonable people in our society." Hmmm.

Legislating Morality

“We simply can't legislate morality" is a mantra often heard these days. And admittedly, it is a truism that has the ring of truth--especially given the undeniable fact that we live in a pluralistic society and not a theocracy.

In point of fact, however, it is a logical absurdity of the most basic sort. Morality is actually the only thing we can legislate. That's what legislation is. It is the codification in law of some particular moral concern--generally so that the immorality of a few is not forcibly inflicted on all the rest of us.

Murder is against the law because we recognize that the premeditated killing of another human being is a violation of a very basic and fundamental moral principle--a moral principle that we all hold dear: the sanctity of human life. Theft is against the law because we recognize that taking someone else's belongings without permission is a breach of another one of our most basic and fundamental ethical standards: the inviolability of private property. The fact is, all law is some moral or ethical tenant raised up to social enforceability by the civil sphere.

Thus, the question is not "Should we legislate morality?" Rather, it is "Whose morality should we legislate?" The only real question we can ask is, "What moral standard will we use when we legislate?"

There was no ambivalence among founders of this nation on that question. The standard of morality that they unhesitatingly codified into law was the Bible. The Declaration of Independence was a document carefully informed by a Scriptural notion of life and law--indeed, it took the form of an Old Testament Covenant Lawsuit. The Articles of Confederation were likewise thoroughly entrenched in the Biblical worldview. The Constitution was undeniably influenced by Christian legal standards. The Federalist Papers were birthed of the great verities and profundities of liberty found only in the Bible. The Bill of Rights would have been inconceivable apart from the moral standard wrought by God in His Word. Indeed, every major document, every major consultation, and every major institution that the founding fathers forged from the fires of freedom to create and guide our remarkable legal system was a conscious affirmation and imitation of Biblical ideals, values, standards, ethics, and morals.

Now to be sure there were a number of other historical and philosophical influences that helped to shape the course of American law: Justinian's Roman Civil Law, Alfred the Great's English Common Law, Charlemagne's Rule of the Franks, William Blackstone's Commentaries, and John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government. However, each of these in turn was derived, at least in part, from the Biblical standard.

It is not necessary to deny religious freedom and societal pluralism in order to affirm the objective fact of America's essentially Christian moral foundations.

Robert Goguet, in his authoritative history of the development of judicial philosophy in this country, argued that the founding fathers' legislation of Biblical morality was more than simply a reflection of their personal faith or cultural inheritance; it was a matter of sober-headed practicality, "The more they meditated on the Biblical standards for civil morality, the more they perceived their wisdom and inspiration. Those standards alone have the inestimable advantage never to have undergone any of the revolutions common to all human laws, which have always demanded frequent amendments; sometimes changes, sometimes additions, sometimes the retrenching of superfluities. There has been nothing changed, nothing added, nothing retrenched from Biblical morality for above three thousand years."

The framers were heavily influenced by the writings of Thomas Hooker, founder of the city of Hartford in the Connecticut colony and learned Puritan divine, and thus they agreed wholeheartedly with his oft quoted maxim on the wellspring of law and order in society, "Of law there can be no less acknowledged, than that her seat is in the bosom of God, her voice in the harmony of the world. All things in heaven and on earth do her homage; the very least as doing her care, and the greatest as not exempt from her power. Both angels and men, and creatures of what condition , though each in a different sort of name, yet all with one uniform consent, admire her as the mother of their peace and joy."

John Jay was one of the most influential of the founding fathers and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He too affirmed the necessity of virtue for the proper maintenance of civil stability and order, "No human society has ever been able to maintain both order and freedom, both cohesiveness and liberty apart from the moral precepts of the Christian Religion applied and accepted by all the classes. Should our Republic ere forget this fundamental precept of governance, men are certain to shed their responsibilities for licentiousness and this great experiment will then surely be doomed."

James Madison, our fourth President, primary author of the Bill of Rights, and champion of liberty throughout the founding era echoed that sentiment, "We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, and to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

Again and again that same refrain was repeated. The men who framed our nation had a particular goal in mind: building a free society of responsible and morally upright men and women. They wanted to build a "city on a hill," a "light unto the nations," and a godly legacy. They were willing to give sacrificially--often giving their very lives and livelihoods--to achieve those ends.

Legislating morality is an inescapable concept. The first determination of any legislator is which ethical standards will be the basis for a given society's legislation. The American founders unashamedly and unabashedly chose to root their experiment in liberty in a peculiarly Christian morality. They legislated morality--however imperfectly--in accordance with a Christian world and life view.

As a result, America became a great nation. It became great because its character was rooted in an objective Christian morality. Thus, during his visit to the fledgling American republic in 1832, Alexis de Tocqueville reportedly observed, "America is great because America is good." But tellingly, the sage French nobleman went on to warn, "If America ever ceases to be good, it will cease to be great."

In light of all that has transpired since, that is a sobering thought indeed.

Wednesday, June 23

Philemon Sermons

Over the last two Sundays I worked through the little postcard epistle of Philemon. The audio files for both sermons are available in three formats--RealAudio, WindowsMedia, and MP3 download--at the Christ Community Church website. The site is very much under construction, but it is functional nevertheless. This next Sunday I will return to my exposition of the book of Revelation. I am hoping to actually complete that study before the end of the summer.

Wednesday, June 16

Covenant Renewal

The past week has been a doozie! My son was married, my daughter left for her new posting as an intern for a mission in Peru, my office had to be moved to two separate locations, I have had two intense board meetings with two more scheduled in the next couple of days, and I have been preaching through a challenging series on the postcard epistle of Philemon. I've also got a chapter due today for a book I'm working on and two articles are due tomorrow--and all the while I've been preparing for a very long, hot, and hilly race over the weekend (Bell Buckle's famous RC Cola-Moon Pie Festival 10 Miler). Whew!

The flurry of activity and the burden of responsibility has gotten me to thinking about my constant and pressing need for grace and renewal. I am not capable of dealing with all of this, doing all of this. My gifts and abilities are not sufficient. I cannot rely on my own competency. I am driven back to the Gospel hope.

Years ago, I wrote a short litany for a covenant renewal service based on the Advent "O Antiphons." In very hectic times like this I find myself reading and rereading the litany--with every iteration my heart swelling with a new confidence in the sufficiency of Christ, and Christ alone:

Leader: As His covenant people, the King, Judge, and Lawgiver has called us to visibly authenticate the work of grace within us by a faithful witness without us. He has called us to demonstrate to all the world a healthy model of mature discipleship—the possibility of actually living balanced lives of justice, mercy, and humility before God. In writing to the young Ephesian church, the Apostle Paul underscored the importance of manifesting that kind of discipleship:

Congregation: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Leader: The message comes through loud and clear: God saves us by grace. There is nothing we can do to merit His favor. We stand condemned under His judgment. His bequest of salvation is completely unearned, and undeserved. But we are not saved capriciously, for no reason and no purpose. On the contrary, "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works." We are "His own possession," set apart and purified to be "zealous for good deeds." We are to demonstrate the reality of God's grace before a watching world. We are to authenticate God's good providence in our lives:

Congregation: "He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

Leader: All too often though, our faith is composed of little more than mere words—words which we confess and profess all too easily. But He has called us to more than mere words. Clearly, it is not enough for us to merely believe the Bible. It is not enough for us to blithely assert that Jesus is Lord. We must authenticate and validate our claims. He has called us to live lives of justice:

Congregation: "This is what the Lord says: maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed" (Isaiah 56:1). "Therefore, let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream" (Amos 5:24).

Leader: Likewise, He has called us to live lives of mercy:

Congregation: "Whoever wishes to be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:27). “Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36).

Leader: Because God is sovereign, our lives must also be suffused with a holy fear and reverence of Him—to the point that everything is thereby affected:

Congregation: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7). "Therefore, hear O people of God the Good News: in the fear of the Lord is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to avoid the snares of death (Proverbs 14:26-27). “For God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may lift you up in due time, casting all your anxiety upon Him because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:5-7).

Leader: At various times throughout redemptive history, God calls His people to covenant renewal—led by Moses at Mount Sinai, or Joshua at Shechem, or Solomon at Moriah, or Josiah at Jerusalem, or Nehemiah at the Watergate, or by the living creatures and elders before the throne. A rehearsal of God’s attributes, His prerogatives, and His decrees, covenant renewal affirms our submission to all He is and all He has called us to. Covenant renewal is the heart and soul of genuine worship—worship in spirit and in truth. After the pattern of the early Scots Reformers, let us therefore enter into antiphonal canticles of covenant renewal—recalling that the word antiphon means to resonate fully with in faith.

Congregation: May it ever be so with us and with our households enabling us to live lives of justice, mercy, and humility before God.

Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your wisdom?

Congregation: O, Wisdom, which came out of the mouth of the Most High, and reaches from one end to another, sovereignly, mightily, and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of wisdom: of justice, mercy, and humility.

Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your deliverance?

Congregation: O, Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, Who appeared in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gave him the Law in Sinai: Come and deliver us with outstretched arm that we might then submit unto You.

Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your hope?

Congregation: O, Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel; That opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens: Come and bring the prisoner out of the prison-house, and him that dwells under the pall of the shadow of death.

Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your salvation?

Congregation: O, Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations, and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God, come that we might be Your own possession, given ever unto Your purposes.

Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your justice?

Congregation: O, King of the nations, and their Desire; The Cornerstone, Who makes both one: Come and save mankind, whom You formed of mere clay, establish Your own judgments upon the land that we might then uphold them.

Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your mercy?

Congregation: O, Dayspring, Brightness of Light everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten him that sits in darkness, and the shadow of death; let Your own compassions then reside in us as we shed abroad Good News.

Leader: Covenant people of God, how wilt thou yield humbly before God?

Congregation: O, God of all grace, we acknowledge our covenant fealty to you and you alone, Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, we yield unto You, our all in all: For You are worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing, forever. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!

Monday, June 14

Jumping on the Bandwagon

I have to admit that there were times when I found the media's covereage of the Reagan state funeral a little difficult to tolerate. But it wasn't because it was all too typically liberal, cynical, and bombastic. Au contraire. Time magazine called Ronald Reagan an "All-American." Dan Rather led the CBS News by saying, "Ronald Reagan, the Cold War crusader whose sunny optimism made a nation believe it was morning in America, dies at 93." The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Reagan's relentless optimism projected the sun." The Los Angeles Times said Reagan's "optimism was catching." Even John Kerry and Teddy Kennedy had nice things to say. Steady Teddy praised Reagan's "extraordinary ability to inspire the nation to live up to its high ideals." Meanwhile, Scary Kerry said, "He was our oldest president, but he made America young again."

Pardon me? Are you kidding? No really. Aren't these the same folks who vilified Reagan all throughout his career and are even now vilifying his heirs and all those who would dare uphold his legacy? Aren't these the same talking heads who have been falling all over themselves to praise Michael Moore's latest X-Files-style mockumentary? What am I missing here?

I don't know about you, but I find all this bandwagon eulogizing to be more than a little disingenuous and patronizing. At least the Boston Globe had the courage to stick by their convictions by bashing Reagan and all he stood for--so, maybe there really are a few real ideological liberals left out there who refuse to be confused by the facts and still faithfully cling to Marx's grand-glorious vision. I've got to believe the rest are just opportunistic poseurs.

Reagan's Legacy

Ushered into the presidency by a roiling discontent with the course of modern liberalism, Ronald Reagan initiated a remarkable new era of conservatism in American political life. His first inauguration was a celebration of the original intentions of the Founders: small, limited, and accountable civil prerogatives. Although his administration’s domestic successes were actually rather limited at first--particularly in reigning in the size and cost of government--the moral resolve manifested in his inaugural speech ultimately resulted in the transformation of American politics and one of the greatest foreign policy victories in our nation’s storied history: the collapse of Communism’s “Evil Empire.” In all respects, there can be little doubt that this manifesto of optimism ultimately set the stage for the political debate through the end of the century. Ronald Reagan’s “revolution” changed the world and changed America. Indeed, as many commentators have already noted, the upcoming election is in many ways a referendum on Reagan’s vision--George W. Bush is his chief heir and proponent; John Kerry is his vision’s chief antagonist and opponent. If people recognize that when they head to the polls in November, Bush will win by a substantial margin--as the outpouring of sadness, honor, and remembrance this past week has indicated.

Regardless, here is the speech that really launched it all--his Morning in America first inaugural:

These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift and crushes the struggling young and the fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people. Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, human misery and personal indignity. Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity. But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public spending. For decades we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children’s future for the temporary convenience of the present.

To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political and economic upheavals. You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but for only a limited period of time. Why then should we think that collectively, as a nation, we are not bound by that same limitation? We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding—we’re going to begin to act beginning today.

The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we as Americans have the capacity now, as we have had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.

From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of government himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

All of us together-in and out of government-must beat the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable with no one group singled out to pay a higher price. We hear much of special interest groups. Well our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries, or ethnic and racial divisions and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and factories, teach our children, keep our homes and heal us when we’re sick. Professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies and truck drivers. They are, in short, “We the people.” This breed called Americans.

Well, this Administration’s objective will be a healthy, vigorous, growing economy that provides equal opportunities for all Americans with no barriers born of bigotry or discrimination. Putting America back to work means putting all Americans back to work. Ending inflation means freeing all Americans from the terror of runaway living costs. All must share in the productive work of this “new beginning “ and all must share in the bounty of a revived economy.

With the idealism and fair play which are the core of our system and our strength, we can have a strong, prosperous America at peace with itself and the world. So as we begin, let us take inventory.

We are a nation that has a government--not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the earth.

Our Government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the states or to the people.

All of us--all of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the states; the states created the Federal Government. Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work--work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.

If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before.

Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.

It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of Government.

It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We’re not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline; I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.

So, with all the creative energy at our command let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope. We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Your dreams, your hopes, your goals are going to be the dreams, the hopes and the goals of this Administration, so help me God.

We shall reflect the compassion that is so much a part of your makeup. How can we love our country and not love our countrymen? And loving them reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they’re sick and provide opportunity to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?

Can we solve the problems confronting us? Well the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic yes. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I did not take the oath I’ve just taken with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world’s strongest economy.

In the days ahead I will propose removing the roadblocks that have slowed our economy and reduced productivity. Steps will be taken aimed at restoring the balance between the various levels of government. Progress may be slow—measured in inches and feet, not miles—but we will progress. It is time to reawaken this industrial giant, to get government back within its means and to lighten our punitive tax burden.

And these will be our first priorities, and on these principles there will be no compromise. I believe we the Americans of today are ready to act worthy of ourselves, ready to do what must be done to insure happiness and liberty for ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

And as we renew ourselves here in our own land we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.

To those neighbors and allies who share our freedom, we will strengthen our historic ties and assure them of our support and firm commitment. We will match loyalty with loyalty. We will strive for mutually beneficial relations. We will not use our friendship to impose on their sovereignty, for our own sovereignty is not for sale.

As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it, we will not surrender for it—now or ever.

Our forbearance should never be misunderstood. Our reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure of will. When action is required to preserve our national security we will act. We will maintain sufficient strength to prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so we have the best chance of never having to use that strength. Above all we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors.

God bless you all. And God bless the United States of America.

Favorite Reagan Quotes

Reagan was never at a loss for words. He was indeed, the Great Communicator. His jokes were nearly always apt, his analysis was nearly always clear-headed, and his policies were nearly always principled. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

“Mr. Gorbachev, if you genuinely seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate ... open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

“Government is not the solution, it's the problem.”

“Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

“A friend of mine was asked to a costume ball a short time ago. He slapped some egg on his face and went as a liberal economist.”

“When you see all that rhetorical smoke billowing up from the Democrats, well, ladies and gentlemen, I'd follow the example of their nominee: don't inhale.”

“I’ve noticed that everybody who is for abortion has already been born.”

“How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin.”

“I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written.”

“We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.”

“Margaret Thatcher is the best man in England.”

Zarafa Online Tutorials

Been hoping for creative writing instruction in a Christian context? Well, there is good news. Very good news, indeed. Doug Jones (of Credenda/Agenda, Canon Press, and New St. Andrews College as well as the author of three wonderful adventure novels) is opening a live online creative writing program at Zarafa Tutorials. The program provides workshops for students (11 and up) to hone their skills in poetry, short stories, playwriting, and nonfiction prose style. Zarafa also offers courses in literary analysis to help older students learn to read fiction in a Christian fashion. Workshops are limited in size so that students will work closely, each week, with Doug. Classes begin at the end of August, and Zarafa Tutorials is now accepting applications. Visit the Zarafa Tutorial site for more information. This is an opportunity that aspiring writers, homeschool students, and wannabe-literatis like me just ought not pass up.

Tuesday, June 8

Lazy, Hazy Reading Days of Summer

I have a peculiarly Medieval love for lists. I love lists of names and dates, lists of baseball statistics, and lists of projects and plans. I love to make lists and read other people's lists. But of course, my greatest list making/list reading joys always have to do with books. That is why I was so delighted when my friend and frequent book-correspondent, Ben House, sent me his summer reading list. I think you'll be delighted too:

C. S. Lewis recalled a favorite childhood memory by saying, “On a Saturday afternoon in winter, when nose and fingers might be pinched enough to give an added relish to the anticipation of tea and fireside, and the whole weekend’s reading lay ahead, I suppose I reached as much happiness as is ever reached on earth. And especially if there were some new, long-coveted book awaiting me.”

My experiences are different, but not necessarily better. For the past decade, Saturday afternoons meant sermon or Sunday school preparation. Any reading was done in short snatches. Summer, for me, has been a better reading time, though not needing the fireside and having the tea served cold.

There have been some unforgettable summers. Way back there was the summer that I read Loraine Boettner’s Studies in Theology and The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. That shifted the direction of my life quite a bit. I consciously became a Trinitarian and later a Calvinist.

Some years later, I set out to march from Fort Sumter to Appomattox with Shelby Foote by reading all three massive volumes during the summer. Only got through one and a half. I wore out and went AWOL, but later returned to duty and finished the trilogy.

During a bad summer many years ago, each day was ended with a Sherlock Holmes story.

Summer is great for fat books, for hefty classics, for light reading, for humor, for serious studies, for biography, history, and theology. It is hard to find a category of books that does not blend well with some aspect of summer.

In past summers I have read biographies of President John Adams, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Southern poet and literary critic Donald Davidson, New England poet Robert Frost, and the father of Bluegrass music Bill Monroe.

Sometimes the quietness of summer days is disrupted by the clash of arms of wars gone by. Past summers included reading Kevin Philips’ Cousins’ Wars, which covered the English Civil War, the American War for Independence, and the War Between the States, and Winston Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War.

There is nothing quite like discovering for the first time a classic that has been around for a while. Last summer’s reading of Anna Karenina was such an experience. And wasn’t it in summer that I discovered both Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon?

Summer usually begins with a plan and a system, but it quickly ‘gink oft awry.’ The plan alternates, modulates, and conglomerates. Planned reads get started, unplanned reads intrude, some books are lapped up like homemade ice cream, some trudge along like a slow walk on an August afternoon.

Whatever the case, I love summer reading, especially the morning reading time. There are few things nicer than waking up without an alarm, but an inner call saying, “Bible, coffee, books!”

I generally dip into two or three books each morning, after Bible reading. Usually there is the “I need to read this” book that calls for morning alertness, lots of caffeine, and a ready mind and pen for notes. When that book is closed and while I am still breathing hard from intellectual calisthenics, then there is the next level: The book that delights as well as informs, that feeds the soul and pleases the mind. While it is often hard to finish reading the first book, the second is never long enough. If there is a third reading session in the morning, it involves skimming or previewing a new or unread book, or one read and marked some years before.

Summer days provide little time for reading. Even though school is out, there is work for the administrator at school or yard and housework at home or errands to run. A few pages are quickly consumed here or there like fast food. But the better reading time is the late hours of the night.

Late summer nights are the time for a classic or a good history or biography. The main criteria for this reading time are personal interest and mood. This reading time is like desert with extra helpings.

Since my summer schedule is flexible, I am usually free to read until I am too sleepy to make out the print. Sometimes my own reading is delayed by parental duty--reading to the children. How nice that they are now old enough for me to read some of the great books I never read in childhood.

I have quite a few books that were started over the course of the school year but did not finish because my assigned readings were so all consuming. The first pages or early chapters of these books beckoned me back in the winter or early spring. The interest never flagged, just the energy. In most cases, I read at least a hundred pages into a book (there is something magical about reaching page 100). These books whisper, “Finish me” when I walk by. Yes, something of the context is lost, and sometimes I have to start the book over, but usually I just pick up where I left off.

Out of Revolution by Eugene Rosenstock-Huessy is one such book and is high on the list to be finished. Rosenstock-Huessy is a highly regarded intellectual thinker and historian. His admirers include the late Dr. R.J. Rushdoony, who quoted Rosenstock-Huessy often, James Jordan, an author and theologian who highly recommends him, and Matthew Smallwood, who likes to read Germans. So, who am I to lag behind these men?

In April I boldly ventured off into reading Philip Schaff’s 8-volume History of the Christian Church. On this journey of about 6000 to 7000 pages, I am 250 pages into the first volume. Schaff begins his history of the Christian Church with basically a historical commentary on the New Testament. Schaff, the father of American Church history, is a model of scholarship, evangelical zeal, and readability. My hope is to get through several volumes of his eight-volume work this year.

Two theological heavy weights I did not finish are N.T. Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said and Jeff Meyer’s The Lord’s Service (a book about worship). Wright is a leading Pauline scholar. His arguments are tight and revealing. I am increasingly aware of how little I know about Paul and his writing. Meyer’s study is a detailed examination of worship. Personally, I like John Frame’s book on worship better, but Meyer has already blown a few of my flimsy mental gaskets. A few weeks ago, I started reading Fydor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot. I was supposed to save it for the summer, but jumped on in and read about a third of it before Virgil demanded that I finish The Aeneid first. Dostoevsky proved too heavy for the heaviness of May and the end of school. In other words, I am too close to being an idiot in May to read a book with that title.

Summer seems to beckon a great Russian novel or two. I expect my brain will allow a return to The Idiot soon and then I may tackle another Russian work or two. I am really thinking of War and Peace, which is a good combination of literature and history.

Along with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, summer is a great time for such Southern writers as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Caroline Gordon.

I desperately need to read something by Walker Percy.

We read from two theological classics of Saint Augustine this past year in Humanities. We read about two thirds of Confessions and the first quarter of On Christian Teaching, and I hope to finish both. I have read and taught through On Christian Teaching before and hope to teach from St. Augustine more in the future.

A few weeks ago, I started Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People. I am considering using it for the American Studies Humanities program next year. Paul Johnson’s perspective--British, independent, conservative, bold--always challenges, always delights. His massive Art: A History calls for much more than the mere glances I have given it so far.

Back in March or April, I got the Shorter Writings of J. Gresham Machen, and have since read about a dozen or so of the writings, generally choosing the most inviting titles. Machen appeals to the Calvinist, the Presbyterian, the Southern Agrarian, the conservative, the libertarian, and the classical educator--in me.

There are always a host of classics and older books clamoring to get read. Doggone it, new and great books keep rolling off the presses.

Since I will be teaching American history and literature next year, I am anxious to tackle some books on Colonial America. In particular, I would like to read George Marsden’s new biography of Puritan pastor Jonathan Edwards. If I am a real man, I will finally pull down David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed. I don’t yet have, but am badly wanting his new book Washington’s Crossing.

If I am a true Calvinist, I will start reading from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi America. This book is described both as a daunting, laborious tome and as a delightful first Christian history of America.

The Revolutionary War is yet another incurable interest of mine. The Fourth of July always calls for a short campaign with the Continental Army. Prior to the Fourth of July is the Third of July--the date of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. The War Between the States has been off my reading lists lately, but I have lots of unread books, both first hand accounts and recent books on that great conflict.

If I can get hooked on the War again, then perhaps I revise, update, and drastically expand Beyond Appomattox: A Guide to Rethinking the War Between the States. I would like to have it for use in my class next year.

The two World Wars continue to spawn a good number of books. On World War One, I have wanted to read Robert Massie’s Castles of Steel, which deals with Britain and Germany’s naval conflicts in WWI. His book Nicholas and Alexandra is an all time favorite.
This week I hope to finish
A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud. This is a wonderful and saddening history of a Polish air unit that fought in the Royal Air Force in World War II. They are forgotten heroes, and their story reminds us of the bitter plight of so many men and countries caught between the Nazis and the Communists.

Since it is a political year, a political reading or two might be fun. I recently bought a new and huge biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Now I know that it is heretical for ‘one of us’ to read about FDR unless the book is one of the FDR-bashing books. I know the man, his many faults, his failed legacy, but I am still fascinated by him as a political leader. And I have a big book of Ronald Reagan’s letters to read as an antidote for the FDR contagion.

I just remembered that I need to read Russell Kirk’s The Roots of American Order all the way through, I need to tackle de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America for next year. This is a highly regarded classic that all educated people in America have read thoroughly. So in case I ever run into one of them, I need to read it.

And then there are all those great authors that continually delight. Every G.K Chesterton book and C.S. Lewis book that I have ever read deserves a rereading. Plus, I have not even read all their books.

Now if only summer could last for a really long time--especially the early mornings and late nights.

Sunday, June 6

Mysteries and THE Mystery

The Rule of Four and The Da Vinci Code are currently number one and number two on the New York Times hardback fiction bestseller list. Both are erudite thrillers set in the exotic world of high art and even higher academia. One deals with the translation of an arcane medieval manuscript, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili—a mysterious text encrypted in elaborate codes and written in a hodgepodge of Latin, Greek, Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean and Egyptian hieroglyphics. The other deals with Caravaggio, an albino monk, the curator of the Louvre, Leonardo’s most famous drawing, Vitruvian Man, Fibonacci’s famous mathematical puzzles, and a bandwagon-load of silly, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about anti-matter, the Illuminati, the Gospel story, the Big Bang theory, and the Vatican. Both of these unlikely bestsellers seem to attempt to out-anagram, out-acrostic, out-chiastic, out-palindrome, and out-cipher-text each other. Millions of summer-reading lists are sure to include these heart-thumping, page-turning, and murder-solving brainy thrillers.

It is important to remember though that they’re just stories. Novels. Imaginative yarns. Speculative tales. Lies told for fun and profit. Fiction. They are artful artiface.

All this has gotten me to thinking. Indeed, the blockbuster popularity of these two tantalizing mega-myths has made me so bold as to attempt an exposition of a similarly ancient mystery. The intellectual puzzle I am particularly fascinated with is actually a New Testament postcard epistle—perhaps the most neglected text in the Pauline corpus. It is a text no less intriguing, no less literary, and no less complex than one of these fat summer brainteasers. It is the little letter to Philemon.

Over the next two Sundays, I will explore the mysteries of Onesimus, Archippus, Apphia, and the congregation at Laodicea. I will attempt to unravel the odd riddle of the letter’s chiastic structures. And I will attempt to derive essential, practical, and usable lessons for us today.

The best part about all this, of course, is the fact that this text is not simply true; it is Truth. It is not simply non-fiction; it is the very Word of God. Unlike the novels of Dan Brown, Ian Caldwell, and Dustin Thomason, this mystery is no tall tale; it is Gospel Revelation. And that makes all the difference.

Saturday, June 5

Ronald Reagan

All this week my contributions to the blogosphere--such as they are--have been interrupted by the tyranny of the urgent: I've been moving my office. It is one of my least favorite things to do. Moving my books--and there are lots and lots of them--is quite a task. Even if I am only moving my office books rather than the whole library, we're looking at a Herculean undertaking.

But in the midst of all the loading and shuffling this afternoon, I got word of the death of former president Ronald Reagan. I wasn't surprised, of course. I had read only this morning that his health was failing rapidly. Nevertheless, I was taken aback. Reagan helped to change this country. He helped to change the world. He helped to change me.

This spring I began reading the marvelous collection, Reagan: A Life in Letters, edited by Kiron Skinner, Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson (Free Press). It is a massive compendium of letters written by Reagan throughout his life and career. The first is dated November 21, 1922 when he was just 11 years old. The last is dated November 14, 1994 when he was already suffering the effects of Alzheimer's disease. In between are hundreds of letters demonstrating the kindness, wisdom, strength of character, and wit that he exemplified throughout his public life and made him the "great communicator"--only here we see that the man was never posing, never posturing, never faking it; he was the genuine article.

Already, talk TV is droning on and on about Ronald Reagan, the man and the legacy. My recommendation is that you read the man himself. Read his letters. Read his autobiography. Read the scripts of his radio addresses. Read the love letters he wrote to his wife, Nancy. Then you will have a far better estimate of this remarkable American hero.

A wonderful tribute to Ronald Reagan may be found at Rod Martin's always helpful website, The Vanguard.

Local Yokel

Today, our local newspaper ran a little profile on me. It was all very nice--and for that I am grateful; I've had plenty of the other kind through the years! There were a few factual errors, of course. My wife Karen was most disturbed to discover, for instance, that I was married to someone named Jennifer!

Tuesday, June 1

Scary Kerry

John Kerry honored in a Vietnam war museum in Ho Chi Minh City? Are you kidding? No way! Alas, it is true. According to Jeffrey Epstein--spokesman for Vietnam Vets for the Truth, a group opposing Kerry's campaign for the presidency--the Communist dictatorship's official government museum features a display that honors prominent American Vietnam war protesters. And the most prominent of them all is of course the presumptive Democratic nominee. The museum features a photograph of Senator John Kerry being warmly greeted by the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Comrade Do Muoi. Unbelievable! Read the story at WorldNet Daily website or see the photo at the KerryLied website. Kerry gets more and more scary with every successive revelation.

Running Team

The King's Meadow-Servant Group running team had another successful run yesterday--at the Memorial Day Dash 5K in Nashville. The team is committed to sponsored runs aimed at raising funds for our exciting school projects in Iraq. But a secondary benefit is the opportunity to meet non-Christians or disaffected Christians in a non-threatening environment (some folks think I'm pretty intimidating in conversation or from a podium, but no one thinks I'm intimidating when they see me run)! This is such a wonderful new mission field.

We've got another little warm up 5K this Saturday in Nashville, but our next big race is the annual RC Coa-Moon Pie 10 Miler on June 19th. It promises to be a real challenge, especially for us wounded-knee runners. The course is laid out over the continuously rolling hills in the countryside surrounding the quaint Tennessee town of Bell Buckle. But what fun! This race is reputed to be about as country-fried Southern as they get. Moon Pies at the finish instead of Power Bars! I can hardly wait!

If you would like to join us in this ministry by becoming one of our runners or a team sponsor, contact Joanna at our office for more details. Let's run toward the roar together for His glory.