Sunday, May 27

UK Hiatus

I'll be across the pond in the United Kingdom with my students for the next 10 days. Next year, hopefully we'll be able to conduct several tours so that we can bring lots of our other friends to some of our favorite haunts in England and Scotland. It's in gonna be fun. Lot's of books to find, lot's of sites and sights to see, and lot's of wonderful new discoveries to make.

Friday, May 25

Commencement Addresses

Jay Parini argues in the latest edition of Chronicle of Higher Education that graduation speeches really do matter. He makes note of what makes a good one--and what makes a poor one. Alas, when I wrote my speech for the Franklin Classical School graduation, I had not yet read Parini's comments and as a result was unable to heed his counsel.

Nevertheless, I am ready to plunge ahead, with only a little temerity, to give my speech this afternoon, come what may:

According to speech writing wiz Peggy Noonan, “The commencement address is the unique and exclusive province of the great American cliché.” Likewise, according to stump speech veteran Cal Thomas, “The real key to a good graduation talk is the creative use of one cliché after another.” Indeed, commencement speeches can all too easily fall prey to an almost Seinfeldian parody of rhetorical composition:

You are the leaders of tomorrow; This isn’t the end; it’s a new beginning; You came into this school as strangers and are leaving as friends; Cherish this moment; You’ll look back and say that these were the best days of your lives; You’re now turning an important page in the story of your lives; Now begins the next chapter; You’re going to step through these doors and into the real world; Today is the first day of the rest of your life; Be true to yourself; Reach for the stars; You can be anything you want to be; You can do anything you put your mind to do; You can be president someday, or usher in world peace, or end poverty, or maybe even end global warming and patch the hole in the ozone; So, wish upon a falling star; You only go round once in life so grab for all the gusto; You deserve a break today, so get up and get away; Plop, plop fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is; Somewhere over the rainbow; Twinkle-twinkle little star; Keep in touch, do good work, always say please and thank you, be strong, take heart, and standfast, remember to fasten your seat belt, eat a good breakfast, don’t play your iPod too loud; brush after every meal; and always, always, wear sunscreen; Yada, yada, yada.

Now, the thing about clichés is that they are perfectly satisfactory and perhaps in some strange way even satisfying as long as we don’t think about them too much. But, then you see, that is precisely the problem with trying to give a commencement speech to a group of FCS students—you think. Clichés, hackneyed phrases, pat answers, bromides, and truisms just won’t do—not here, not now, not with the likes of you in the crowd.

John Buchan once said, “Our greatest inheritance, the very foundation of our civilization, is a marvel to behold and consider. If I tried to describe its rich legacy with utmost brevity, I should take the Latin word humanitas. It represents in the widest sense, the accumulated harvest of the ages, the fine flower of a long discipline of Christian thought. It is the Western mind.”

At FCS, you have been brought again and again to consider, by various means, this great legacy. And when you first began to apprehend it, you were thereafter forever changed. Though you remain regular American teenagers, you have suddenly found that you can think. I mean, really think.

In other words, you have been ruined. Ruined in the sense that your pop-culture spam filters are now set on high—whether you like it or not. Now, if that is itself at risk of becoming clichéd—right up there with “ideas have consequences; worldviews matter; the right thing done in the wrong way will always result in disaster; if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly, etc, etc,” well, so be it. Some truisms really are true.

G.K. Chesterton once quipped that, “The great intellectual tradition that comes down to us from the past was never interrupted or lost through such trifles as the sack of Rome, the triumph of Attila, or all the barbarian invasions of the Dark Ages. It was lost after the introduction of printing, the discovery of America, the coming of the marvels of technology, the establishment of universal education, and all the enlightenment of the modern world. It was there, if anywhere, that there was lost or impatiently snapped the long thin delicate thread that had descended from distant antiquity; the thread of that unusual human hobby: the habit of thinking.”

At FCS you have learned to darn the frayed ends of that venerable old thread back together again. You’ve learned how to think. And that has made all the difference.

You have been given much: You’ve received an amazing inheritance of Art, Music, Literature, and Ideas, of Philosophy, of Science and of Mathematics. You’ve received a tradition of excellence. You’ve been taught what it means to have both passion and purity. You’ve learned of the essence of chivalry, valor, and godly servant-leadership.

You’ve also been the beneficiaries of an extraordinary web of relationships. You’ve begun to understand that classical education is more about a culture than it is about a curriculum. It’s more about a way of life than it is a way of doing. It’s more a vision of what God’s called you to than it is a mechanical set of prescriptives that are to be implemented in your life. It is about accountability, about community, about the rich covenant into which you have been grafted by God’s good providence.

Arthur Quiller-Couch, the mentor of a host of literary luminaries including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Dorothy Sayers once described what you’ve received in this fashion, “You are indeed the heirs of a remarkable legacy--a legacy that has passed into your hands after no little tumult and travail; a legacy that is the happy result of sacrificial human relations, no less than of stupendous human achievements; a legacy that demands of you a lifetime of vigilance and diligence so that you may in turn pass the fruits of Christian civilization on to succeeding generations. This is the essence of the biblical view, the covenantal view, and the classical view of education. This is the great legacy of truth of which you are now the chief beneficiaries.”

Therein lies your ruination. And it is a glorious ruining indeed. We are a blessed people in a blessed community. And that is no cliché. This truism is true. Let us therefore give thanks to the Giver of every good and perfect gift: thanks be to our Sovereign Lord!

I do indeed give Him thanks. For you and for your ruination!

Thursday, May 24

British Jihadists

Despite his tired atheistic cliches and his boorish ideoloogical bromides, Christopher Hitchens is still by turns funny, insightful, and poignant. It is difficult to see that in his four-part debate with Douglas Wilson in the online pages of Christianity Today. But, it is on full display in his essay on Londinistan in the current Vanity Fair. Hitchens asks how Britain moved from cricket and fish-and-chips to burkas and shoe-bombers in a single generation? Great question. Disturbing answer.

Bomb Iran?

Reduce Tehran to rubble? Norman Podhoretz makes a compelling argument for it in the current Commentary Magazine. Compelling, but not altogether convincing. There is little doubt that we live in perilous times and that Islamofascism is at the heart of our current peril. But, bomb Iran? Podhoretz and his kin will have to make a better case than to simply bang the drums of war or sound the whoops of xen.

Wednesday, May 23

The Pope and the Atheist

The renowned atheist, A.N. Wilson has written a rather astonishing review of Pope Benedict's recently released book, Jesus of Nazareth in the London Sunday Times. The book is every bit as surprising as Wilson says. But, what is really surprising in the review is not the Pope or his views or his intellect or his humility, rather it is that the Pope and his views and his intellect and his humility so profoundly penetrated Wilson's own hardened recalcitrance--and that Wilson is courageous enough, gracious enough, and honest enough to say as much.

Shelf Analysis

David McKie confesses his obsession with book spines in a fascinating piece in the London Guardian. OK. I'll admit it. I'm guilty of the same bookish vice. Indeed, whatever bookish vices exist--and McKie seems to identify quite a few of them in his essay--of them all, I seem to be duly, justly, roundly guilty. Worst of all, I have no intentions whatsoever of reforming my habits or changing my ways. I fear I'm an inveterate, unrepentant logogogue.

Tuesday, May 22

Nothing But the Truth

Truth is both unchanging and universal and written on every man, woman, and child’s conscience. We never have to apologize for the truth. It is able to withstand every charge. It is able to bear up under every challenge. It is sufficient unto itself. In due course, it will prove its own value and veracity. The dumb certainties of experience will attest to its surety. As Shakespeare once quipped, “In the end the truth will out.”

The truth is not merely a moral construct. It is not a subjective application of some man-made ethical system. It is a reflection of the way things actually are. It is a part of the very warp and woof of reality. So, to veer away from the truth is to swerve into the realm of the fantastic. If we don’t live in light of the truth we are simply not being honest with ourselves and those around us. It is a dangerous form of denial. It is not too much to say therefore, that to deliberately and perpetually reject the truth is nothing short of a kind of insanity.

Truth is objective. It is consistent. It is balanced. It is both beautiful and practical. It is both good and helpful. It is accessible, knowable, and comprehendible. It is dependable, predictable, and unchangeable. Truth is believable—because it squares with the world as it is and with us as we are.

Knowing the truth—and living in accord with the truth—is not just sensible and sane, it is remarkably fruitful and productive. When men discover the truth it is as if the lights suddenly come on in their minds, hearts, and lives. Progress is made. Justice is served. Hope is satisfied. Trust is established. Love is confirmed. And freedom is safeguarded. Truth is just as surely a benefit to the scientist as it is to the philosopher. It is just as critical for a physician as it is for a husband. It is just as essential in the work of the artist as it is in the work of the lawyer.

In the midst of this poor fallen world where evil is pitted against love for the hearts, minds, and affections of all men everywhere, truth is an essential weapon in the arsenal of the good. Integrity, honor, and courage depend upon it. Indeed, apart from it, a civil society cannot long survive.

Men who deny the fact that there is any such thing as objective truth crop up in every generation. But, they are always in the minority—clamoring for attention on college campuses, on Hollywood back lots, or on late night talk shows. But their ideas seldom make it out of such enclaves into the real world. For most of us, the truth is rather obvious. At the very least, we are able to see the truth in hindsight.

Unfortunately, we don’t always live like it. The fact is we are not naturally inclined to affirm the truth even when we are perfectly well aware of that truth. On the contrary, our first impulse is generally to recoil from it. We try to avoid it. We try to ignore it. We try to side step it. Or we try to deny it. We might admire the truth, but rarely do we really want to hear it. We prefer a sugar-coated version of life, the universe, and everything. We are unabashedly partial to perspectives slanted in our favor.

That is why, throughout history, sages have been persecuted, statesmen have been rejected, and saints have been vilified. Think of all the great men and women across the ages who were rejected by their own people in their own day simply because the truth they told was unpopular. Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah were beaten, imprisoned, and sent into exile. Scientists like Galileo were silenced as dangerous heretics. Educators like Boethius were mocked as impractical mystics. Adventurers like Columbus were dismissed as idle dreamers.

During the past century or so we have been particularly rough on those who proclaimed the truth. Teddy Roosevelt was considered too volatile to hold high elective office. Winston Churchill was voted out of office after winning the Second World War. Booker T. Washington was dismissed as an ineffective compromiser.

The reason for this is simply that the truth can sometimes be uncomfortable. It can cut across the grain of our preferences and prejudices. It tells us of the way things have always been, they way they are now, and how they ought to be in days ahead. Thus, sometimes the truth can really hurt. Sometimes, in fact, it can be down right offensive.

Even when a perfect truth is offered perfectly by a perfect messenger, it can ruffle our feathers and raise our hackles. The renowned English preacher of the last generation, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones once remarked, “The great effect of our Lord's preaching was to make everybody feel condemned, and nobody likes that.”

On almost every page of the New Testament, we find Jesus offending someone. When He wasn't confronting the Scribes and the Pharisees, He was rebuking the promiscuous and the perverse. When He wasn't alienating the Saducees and the Herodians, He was reproving the tax-collectors and the prostitutes. He even had a knack for estranging His own disciples with His “hard sayings” and “dark parables.”

Jesus “meek and mild” was rarely meek or mild when it came to telling the truth. He pulled no punches. As philosopher and theologian Michael Bauman has commented, “At various times, and when the situation demanded, Jesus publicly denounced sinners as snakes, dogs, foxes, hypocrites, fouled tombs, and dirty dishes. He actually referred to one of His chief disciples as Satan. So that His hearers would not miss the point, He sometimes referred to the objects of his most intense ridicule both by name and by position, and often face to face. . . . Christ did not affirm sinners; He affirmed the repentant. Others He often addressed with the most withering invective. God incarnate did not avoid using words and tactics that His listeners found deeply offensive. He well understood that sometimes it is wrong to be nice.”

He was an equal opportunity offender. But His message was never intended to be popular; it was intended to be true. His was a message of Good News, not nice news. And that is simply not a popular notion. Not now. Not ever. Thus, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” (John 1:11).

None of us like to hear that we are wrong, that we have to make changes in our lives, that we have to adjust our way of thinking, or that we have to admit our faults. We are loathe to confess that are in need of repentance, forgiveness, or forbearance. And we persist in our pride even when we know the truth.

The truth demands something of us. It may or may not demand something of us as dramatic as what it demanded of the passengers of Flight 93. Though the truth ultimately sets us free, it does so at some cost.

Sometimes it is not so much our resistance to change that blinds us to the truth as it is our insistence on change. We moderns are enamored of progress. We live at a time when things shiny and new are prized far above things old and time-worn. For most of us, any truth confirmed by wisdom and experience across the ages is automatically suspect. We tend to look on such ancient and universal truths as little more than evidence of quirky primitivism or nostalgic sentimentalism. Such things are hardly more than the droning, monotonous succession of obsolete notions, anachronous ideals, and antiquarian habits—sound and fury, signifying nothing. As philosopher Richard Weaver has argued, “Since the time of Bacon the world has been running away from, rather than toward, first principles, so that, on the verbal level, we see fact substituted for truth.”

It is no less ludicrous to assert that something may have been true at ten minutes before the hour but cannot be at ten minutes after the hour than to assert that something may have been true ten centuries ago but cannot be ten centuries hence. If something is true, the hands of the clock are of little relevance.

In our pride, we think we know better than all those who went before us. According to Paul Johnson, this odd approach to denying long-held truths has actually been institutionalized as a part of the peculiar culture of modernity, “With the decline of clerical power in the nineteenth century, a new kind of mentor emerged to fill the vacuum and capture the ear of society. The secular intellectual might be deist, skeptic, or atheist. But he was just as ready as any pontiff or presbyter to tell mankind how to conduct its affairs.”
This new breed of prophet, priest, and king brought a tragic compulsion to his task of unmaking truth—and thereby remaking the world in which he lived, “He proclaimed from the start, a special devotion to the interests of humanity and an evangelical duty to advance them by his teaching. He brought to this self-appointed task a far more radical approach than his clerical predecessors. He felt himself bound by no corpus of revealed religion. The collective wisdom of the past, the legacy of tradition, the prescriptive codes of ancestral experience existed to be selectively followed or wholly rejected entirely as his own good sense might decide. For the first time in human history, and with growing confidence and audacity, men arose to assert that they could diagnose the ills of society and cure them with their own unaided intellects: more, that they could devise formulae whereby not merely the structure of society but the fundamental habits of human beings could be transformed for the better. Unlike their sacerdotal predecessors, they were not servants and interpreters of the gods but substitutes. Their hero was Prometheus, who stole celestial fire and brought it to earth.”

As a result, this motley band of social engineers marshaled little more than their wits in their attempts at annulling old truths and thus reinventing humankind—a task no less arduous and no less fantastic than trying to annul gravity and reinvent the wheel. The result was predictably deleterious. Ultimately the self-appointed prophets, priests, and kings had their vaunted ideals dashed against the hard reality of history. The sad experience of the twentieth century—two devastating world wars, unnumbered holocausts and genocides, the fierce tyrannies of communism’s evil empire, and the embarrassing foibles of liberalism’s welfare state—ultimately exposed their high flying dreams as the noisome eccentricities that they are.

Despite history’s stern rebuke though, there are still a few die-hard devotees of this ever-hopeful worldview at work in our society. Their cant is rather ragged and shop-worn but their influence has not yet altogether disappeared. According to historian William Gairdner they are intent on making one last ditch effort to usher in their man-made utopia of man-made truths, “The legions of well-intentioned but smug, educated elites have agreed in advance to reject thousands of years of inherited wisdom, values, habit, custom, and insight and replace this heritage with their official utopian vision of the perfect society. They are the progressives, and they can be found in every political party. Trained as scientific, or logical rationalists, these social utopians haughtily treat all social or moral traditions and conventions as arbitrary, rather than as venerable repositories of indispensable social, family, and religious values. They despise natural authority, especially of a local or family variety, and they want to replace it with a sufficiently homogenous state power to bring about their coercive social dreamland. So with a government wage or grant in one hand and a policy whip in the other, they set about forcibly aligning individuals and customs with their dangerously narrow vision, then clamor after ever greater funding and ever more progressive legislation for the education or socialization of the people.”

But many of the wisest of men and women of our day were never fooled by this Tower of Babel-like effort. They recognized that a comprehension of the truth is a foundation upon which all genuine advancement must be built—that it is in fact, the prerequisite to all real progress. As G. K. Chesterton quipped, “Weak things must boast of being new, like so many new German philosophies. But strong things can boast of being old. Strong things can boast of being moribund.”

Unhampered and unfettered truth is the only ground upon which honest, open, and free relationships may be built—whether in families and communities or among societies and nations. Wisdom, as it has been expressed through all the ages has always welcomed the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

In order to advance the cause of life and liberty in these dark and difficult days, we will have to recover what we have lost at the hands of the prophets, priests, and kings of modernity—we must learn the lessons of history. But we will also have to overcome our aversion to the truth when it makes us uncomfortable or when it offends us.

Truth can stand the debate test. Poke it. Probe it. Explore it. Expose it. Turn it upside down. Turn it inside out. Put it under the microscope. Place it under the harshest of conditions. The truth will endure. It will always show itself to be true. On that we can surely and safely rely.

The American experiment in liberty was rooted in that kind of confidence. And if the experiment is to continue in the days ahead—benefiting our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren—then we must take care to follow in their footsteps.

There is no need for us to attempt to reinvent the wheel. The battle for truth has been fought again and again and again. Successfully. We need not cast about for direction. We need not grope in the dark for strategies, programs, and agendas. We need not manufacture new ideas, new priorities, or new tactics. We already have a tested and proven formula for victory. We already have a winning legacy. We simply need to reclaim it. We simply need to recover what is rightfully ours. Whatever the cost, we need only to rely upon the truth.

The infamous skeptic Friedrich Nietzsche once confessed, “We all fear truth.” Why would he say that? Because, as the great Spanish author asserted, “Truth may be stretched but it cannot be broken, and always gets above falsehood, as oil does above water.” And that is a fearsome thing to doubters. On the other hand, it is a great relief to all the rest of us. After all, it is the truth that will ultimately set us free.

Monday, May 21

Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer, the most famous artist of Reformation Germany, was born in Nürnberg on this day in 1471. Renowned as a painter, engraver (possibly the inventor of etching), and author of a host of theoretical aesthetic writings on everything from public monuments to domestic architecture, he has had a profound impact on other artists across the ages. He was a voracious learner, interested in understanding geometry and mathematical proportions, theology proper and practical physics, astronomy and classic literature. These richly diverse interests and his ability to observe nature all contributed to the quality of his work. A champion of the Reformation, Dürer was astonishingly accomplished.

His remarkably detailed etchings are perhaps his best-known works--and for good reason:

But, as wonderful as the etchings are, my own favorites are Dürer's watercolors:

KMSC Newsletter

The latest King's Meadow Study Center newsletter has been posted on our website. This month staff, students, and friends (including that ever elusive Tristan Gylberd) have selected some of their favorite short poems and excerpts from longer poems. Enjoy this delightful little anthology.

Glimpses of a Community

Thursday, May 17

The Adams Legacy

"Statesmen may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand." John Adams

"The only sure and permanent foundation of virtue is religion. Let this important truth be engraven upon your heart." Abigail Adams

"The highest glory of the American Revolution was this; it connected in one indissoluble bond, the principles of the civil government with the principles of Christianity. From the day of the Declaration the American people were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the Gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledged as the rules of their conduct." John Quincy Adams

Wednesday, May 16

Faint Praise

Who would have ever thought? A tribute to Jerry Falwell from Howard Fineman! But, that's the feature editorial on the Newsweek website. Of course, it is a tribute of only faint praise laced with the obligatory caveats. But, still. To have said anything akin to kindness is a giant leap forward for both Fineman and Newsweek.

Tuesday, May 15

Daily Dose of G.K. Chesterton

"An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered."

"Weak things must boast of being new, like so many new German philosophies. But strong things can boast of being old. Strong things can boast of being moribund."

"The Modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; but their truth is pitiless. And thus some humanitarians care only for pity; but their pity--I am sorry to say--is often untruthful."

"The great intellectual tradition that comes down to us from the past was never interrupted or lost through such trifles as the sack of Rome, the triumph of Attila, or all the barbarian invasions of the Dark Ages. It was lost after the introduction of printing, the discovery of America, the founding of the Royal Society, and all the enlightenment of the Renaissance and the modern world. It was there, if anywhere, that there was lost or impatiently snapped the long thin delicate thread that had descended from distant antiquity; the thread of that unusual human hobby: the habit of thinking."

"If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the church; but if the church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world."

"You cannot escape the revelation of the identical by taking refuge in the illusion of the multiple."

Monday, May 14

Not Quite Kipple

The past week, the International Herald-Tribune had a fascinating retrospective review of Philip K. Dick's wildly cinematic novels now that a handful of the Sci-Fi blockbusters will be reissued in the Library of America's classic Hall of Fame format: full cloth binding, tasseled bookmark, acid-free, Bible-thin paper.

The Peace of Jerusalem

It was on this day in 1948 that the independent state of Israel was proclaimed in Tel Aviv and British rule in Palestine came to an end. Immediately, all of its Arab neighbors declared war and vowed to destroy the nation altogether. Arab troops greatly outnumbered the entire Jewish population, but of the 85,000 Jews in Palestine, 30,000 took up arms to defend their fledgling nation. When overt hostilities ceased, the Arabs managed only to retain possession of the old quarter of Jerusalem and the West Bank territories and Israel had a nation again—after 1,878 years of exile.

The last time I was in Israel, I thought of the tortured lives of all the residents of this remarkable land ever since the conclusion of the war that began that day in 1948. I remember looking out as the sun rose over the Kidron Valley in deep shades of scarlet. From my hotel window I could see the Old City begin to come to life, its austere enchantment scarred and fluted with the trampled paths of the aeons.

Below me I saw a small cluster of tourists—an all too uncommon sight in these dire days of Intifada strikes, terrorist attacks, and suicide bombings. They began to walk toward the Jaffa Gate very slowly, as if savoring every precious morsel of time and space. An air of sanctity clothed them. They seemed hushed by awe. It is deep in man to love the place where Divinity has walked. To pray there. To tread these streets and to touch these stones. It offers us a momentary communion. And so the holy sites multiply under our fervor, however tenuous their roots in history.

A few blocks from where the tourists walked, a quiet procession made its way toward the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Monks with long gnarled beards and cloaked in fraying robes held their tapers before them, cherishing their heritage as a fountain in the emptiness. The sweet fragrance of their censers and the haunting refrains of their chants anointing.

Still deeper into the city, beyond the ancient battlements of Suleiman, the Hasidim were gathering for prayer at the Western Wall. They were clearly people in the ebbtide of tradition. A few of the men wore startling robes of fawn, belted at the waist like dressing gowns, but most of them were veiled entirely in dusty black—thin, long coats and wide, perched hats. Their unbarbered beards gushed in all directions. Their sun-gingered ringlets either curled around their ears or dangled like guilt-cords in the sanctuary. Their faces were gaunt with the tautness of the ghetto. With their prayer shawls unfurled, they cried out to Jehovah both together and separately—the irony of which is the essence of the Judaic community and its worship.

And above them, on the wraith of Herod’s Temple—the paved loneliness of a mountain plateau—a ragged line of the Umma walked silently into the shrine of Muhammad’s mysterious transport. Under its vast, empty dome, the pious souls went through their actions carefully. They stood, they touched their foreheads to the ground in prayer, they clasped their hands on their stomachs, and they patted their knees. There was nothing self-conscious in their gestures. Their humility was genuine—expressed in a formal and dignified service unchanged by the passing of centuries.

I saw all this from the vantage of my window and was struck with wonder. Deep within I heard an echo of the ancient cantor’s plea, "Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together, where all the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord, to the testimony of the Covenant, to give thanks to the Name of the Lord. Therefore thrones are set there for judgment, even the thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:3-6).

But as I turned form the casement, I realized that the peace of Jerusalem would never—and could never—be realized out of the cacophony of either human ambition or devotion. It would not—and could not—be achieved by the desperate souls below me. Waging peace is always a more treacherous affair than waging war.

In fact, it can only be realized by fealty to Christ, "Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and rulers take council together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the Heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.’ ‘I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”’ Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him” (Psalm 2:1-12).

Tuesday, May 8

New HEM Music

Liberty Mutual has begun airing a new television ad in their "Why Responsibility?" campaign. As in their previous award-winning spots in the series, the new ad features a soundtrack performed by the phenom Americana ensemble, HEM. If you've never listened to HEM before, you are in for an extraordinary treat. The song in this latest ad, "The Part Where You Let Go," will be included on Home Again, Home Again, a soon-to-be-released, much-anticipated EP. You can view and hear three different versions of the ad's pass-it-on morality tale on the Liberty Mutual site--or, of course, on TV.

Ken and Walt

Ken Auletta is one of the most influential media writers working today. Walt Mossberg is one of the most influential personal technology writers working today. Both have the ability to tackle their often complex and confusing subjects with cogent, clear, and concise prose--and are invariably entertaining and informative in the process. In the most recent issue of The New Yorker readers get a goodly dose of both men in a profile of Mossberg by Auletta.

Put Up Your Dukes

Douglas Wilson’s new book from American Vision, Letter from a Christian Citizen is a very abbreviated but iron-clad argument for Biblical Theism. It may well prove to be classic of modern apologetics. It is also laugh-out-loud funny.

The new book by Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, is not nearly as iron-clad though no less provocative. What he lacks in logic he more than makes up for in rhetoric. And he offers up more than a few hoots, guffaws, cackles, and snorts of his own.

So, what do you get when you throw these two fellows into the same cyber-room with a matching set of keyboards? Well, the always adventurous editors at Christianity Today decided to find out. Throughout the month of May, Wilson and Hitchens will trade barbs--and pokes and jabs and yelps--in an online debate. The first installment debuts today at the Christianity Today website.

Brace yourself. This could be an even better matchup than De LaHoya v. Merriweather. It is certainly going to be more edifying and entertaining than Obama v. Hillary.

The Great Debate

Monday, May 7

Wilson-Hitchens Debate

Hear ye! Hear ye! Two of the wittiest and most controversial wordsmiths working today will conduct an online debate later this week hosted by Christianity Today magazine.

CT's recipe for excitement is simple: "Put two contrarians together and shake well." Douglas Wilson is the author of a new book, Letter from a Christian Citizen. He is best known as one of the fathers of the modern Classical Schools movement. He serves as senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College and minister at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. He is also the editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine and has written a raft of provocative books.

Christopher Hitchens has also just released a book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a visiting professor of liberal studies at the New School. He is the author of numerous other books--all of which have caused a stir of one sort or another.

Wilson has been called a "modern day Chesterton." Hitchens has been called a "modern day Mencken." The former is invariably jolly, but with a jagged, serated edge. The latter is invariably grumpy, but with a twinkle, a wink, and a nod. Both are brilliant, hilarious, and wickedly adept with those proverbial pens mightier than swords.

This should be more than a little fun. For more information visit the Christianity Today blog.

Hungry Like a Wolfe

Trevor Butterworth has written a wide-ranging profile of one of my favorite contemporary authors, Tom Wolfe, for the Financial Times. In it, Wolfe very deliberately launches the latest salvo in his ongoing war of words with the New York Review of Books by arguing--rather convincingly--that George W. Bush is actually better read and more literate than Bob Silvers, the vaunted editor of the Review. Zounds! That's likely to send the glittering-literati into yet another frenzy. That's par for the course for the always provocative, contrarian, and voracious Wolfe--and a goodly part of what makes his writing so stimulating, attractive, and relevant.

Thursday, May 3

What I'm Reading

The Road to Serfdom

In 1944, a little known Austrian academic wrote an abbreviated manifesto attacking central economic planning and defending individual liberty. It was hardly the sort of screed folks in those days were lining up at bookstores to buy. But amazingly, Friedrich Hayek's little book, The Road to Serfdom, sold tens of thousands of copies, was quickly translated into more than twenty languages, and helped to launch the modern Conservative movement. Roger Kimbell tells the remarkable story of Hayek and his little book in the current issue of The New Criterion. It is a story worth retelling and remembering--even as the University of Chicago Press releases a new "definitive" edition of Hayek's gretest work.

Tuesday, May 1

May Day Counter-Blast

In a scathing editorial for the Foreign Policy journal, Alvaro Vargas Llosa declares that "the idiots are back." He is, of course, referring to those Latin American populist leaders who are madly waving their Marxist banners, railing against foreign imperialists, and promising to deliver their people from poverty--despite the fact that history, economics, and the dumb certainties of experience declare with solemn unanimity that such posturing can only defer the hope of freedom and prosperity throughout that beleaguered continent yet again. This is brilliant stuff--as always--from the son of novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and the leading Peruvian intellectual working today. He has offered up a very suitable May Day counter-blast.

Federal Vision Report

The 34th PCA General Assembly appointed an ad interim committee to study the soteriology of the Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue theologies. The committee was asked to determine whether these viewpoints "are in conformity with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, whether they are hostile to or strike at the vitals of religion, and to present a declaration or statement regarding the issues raised by these viewpoints in light of our Confessional Standards." During the last year, the committee has done a great deal of work and has at long last produced a massive 31-page report at By Faith Magazine Online detailing its conclusions.

This is the sort of report that will prove rather arcane to many Christians but is of vital import to those of us in the PCA. For someone like me, who has dear friends on all sides and in all camps, this is a particularly important matter. I have only skimmed the report thus far, but I intend to study line-by-line, proposition-by-proposition, and footnote-by-footnote once I have come to the end of the current academic year and can give it the careful attention it deserves.