BP_blog

Literary Lights

ID-100180546Nearly seven years ago, William F. Buckley passed away. “God’s finger touched him, and he slept,” to borrow from a letter written to the poet Tennyson. It is given to none but a few to be known famously by their initials alone, but W.F.B. was. To see those initials in the pages of National Review was to know that sparkling, incisive prose was in close proximity, likely marked by a flash of rapier wit.

To read William F. Buckley was to enter a realm rich in the felicities of language. The reach of his vocabulary was well-nigh inexhaustible—and this is the more instructive, as we so seldom meet today with displays of wordcraft that send us, fascinated, to the dictionary.

Consider the word “williwaw.” It means a gust of cold wind. You won’t see it used very often anymore, but Buckley knew and used this richly evocative word, as he used countless other evocative words—words like “recondite,” “adumbrate,” and “eristic.”
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Worldview and You

ID-10057274The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states the following:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This Amendment’s language has served us well for more than two centuries, current controversies notwithstanding. Whether it will continue to serve us that well as belief in Islam grows across our country is questionable, for it was not written with Islam in mind.
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All Things Examined

The-Child-Jesus-in-the-TempleOne of the oddities of the Bible is how little it reveals about the life of its central figure: Jesus Christ. All we know of Jesus prior to age 30 are a few sketchy accounts by Matthew and Luke, with gospel writers Mark and John completely silent on His early life.

A yawning gap

Luke tells of Jesus’s circumcision and presentation at the temple; Matthew reports His visit from Magi as a young child followed by His flight to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod. After that, the biblical record goes dark until the “lost and found” report on Jesus at age 12.
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Priorities

9781400206421According to journalist David Van Biema of TIME, “polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the Bible holds the answers to ‘all or most of life's basic questions.’” Unfortunately, most of us find the Bible to be difficult to understand. In fact, pollster George Gallup has dubbed the United States “a nation of biblical illiterates.”

Van Biema cites a telling example of this illiteracy: “Only half of U.S. adults know the title of even one Gospel. Most can’t name the Bible’s first book. The trend extends even to Evangelicals.”

So how do we begin to get a handle on God’s Word?
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Literary Lights

cornucopia-clip-art-13Cornucopia.

We hear this word, and think immediately of a horn-shaped container—one full of things from harvest time—crops, fruits, and flowers. It seems an image tied very closely to Thanksgiving, and that is true enough. But “cornucopia” has other shades of meaning, and we might say they point to Christmas.

For example, its second meaning refers to “the source of something.” Still another meaning speaks of “an inexhaustible store.” To take these second and third meanings together is to see how the word “cornucopia” might offer a wonderful compliment to what we in the family of faith know about Christmas.

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Worldview and You

ID-100280269“If you read the Bible . . . cover to cover, I believe you will emerge from that as an atheist. . . . The Bible itself will turn you atheist faster than anything.”

That’s how magician Penn Jillette answers the question, “How did you become an atheist?” He tells of one disturbing feature of the Bible after another, from rape to the Abraham/Isaac story to “the insanity of the talking snake,” asking how the Lord could be okay with it all. Now, to me it’s clear that he missed the point in virtually every case, but to speak of each way he misses the point would also miss the point, because the main thing Penn Jillette missed was the big picture: What is the Bible, anyway?
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All Things Examined

transistor-radio“I just witnessed an event so mysterious that it shook my skepticism.” That from Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptic Society and editor of Skeptic, its official magazine.

A skeptic’s skeptic

Michael Shermer, in short, is a skeptic’s skeptic, whose skepticism is most strenuously exercised against all things supernatural. With a full-throated materialistic bent, he argues that all phenomena are reducible to natural causes ultimately explainable through science.

In his writings, interviews, and debates, Shermer projects an intellectual swagger that has become fashionable in freethinking circles. A number of years ago in a PBS panel discussion on religion, when the topic of the Resurrection came up, he pressed a Christian physician for how (how!) God did it. By presuming that the Resurrection must have occurred through a clever medical manipulation to be credible, Shermer’s question was designed to ensure that naturalism wins.
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Priorities

NativityIn those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.

In advance of a powerful typhoon, villagers in the Philippines abandoned their homes along the coast. Grocery stores and gas stations were cleaned out by fearful residents. Last year, Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 7,000 people in the region.

This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

The United States is no longer the leading economic power on the planet, for the first time since the Grant administration. China now holds the top spot, producing 16.5 percent of the global economy, compared with 16.3 percent for the U.S.
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Literary Lights

currier__Ives_winter_sceneRecently, I completed work on a new book with the working title “Through the Year with D. L. Moody.” It’s modeled on other books that I’ve come to admire, most notably “A Year with C. S. Lewis,” a very fine gift idea into the bargain (I once received a copy myself!).

Going though D. L. Moody’s writings, and selecting passages for December, especially readings that have a bearing on Christmas, I found a marvelous trove of stories and reflections. It was as though Christmas had come in midsummer by the time I put finishing touches to the manuscript.
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Worldview and You

GusheeIt’s hard to ignore when a top evangelical ethicist urges believers to change our minds about homosexual relationships. David P. Gushee, who co-wrote the widely used textbook “Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context” (IVP Academic, 2003), has just released “Changing Our Mind: A call from America's leading evangelical ethics scholar for full acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church.”

It is the most thoughtful work I have seen so far in favor of gay and lesbian relationships. Gushee’s skill as a thinker and writer shines through. Thus I find much to recommend in what he has written, but only up to about the halfway point. The latter portion of the book falls short, in frankly astonishing ways.
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All Things Examined

Affleck_Maher.jpgTheir moony embrace of multiculturalism has rendered modern liberals unable to connect the dots between beliefs and consequences. Rooted in moral relativism, multiculturalism is the notion that all moral codes are valid within their respective cultures, with no people group privileged to make moral judgments of others.

The person boorish enough to criticize the mores of another culture will quickly find himself banished from polite company for being racist, bigoted, intolerant, or (fill in the blank)-phobic. Just ask Sam Harris and Bill Maher, both establishment liberals, who were excoriated by Ben Affleck on an HBO panel discussion for their illiberalism. Their offense: calling Islam dangerous for the atrocities committed by Islamists.
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Internally Displaced Person

ID-100184617The Tuesday after Labor Day, 2013, Kelli Stapleton of Frankfort, Michigan, took her 14-year-old daughter, Issy, to a secluded spot off a hiking trail. There, she lit two hibachis and made s’mores for Issy. Afterwards, she gave Issy four risperidone, double her nighttime dose, in an effort to put her to sleep.

Then, as Hanna Rosin tells us in New York Magazine, “Kelli arranged the blankets, the extra pillowcases, and Matt’s shirt on the mattress. She put the grills, with coals still smoldering, in the space between the front and middle seats, and she shut the van doors, so the space would fill with carbon monoxide . . .”
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Priorities

ID-100137119Senior members of the Arlington Martin High School football team in Texas have been told not to wear their spirit wear T-shirts to school any more. The shirts, which 40 students have been wearing since August, portray a pirate flag with the words, “We take what we want.” Below the flag the shirt says, “Shhhhhhh, just let it happen.”

I don’t know for sure whether the booster club intended the double entendre. Booster club President Kevin White says, “It’s sickening to me that [it] was misconstrued. And it’s weird that it has been out for so long and just came up.”

Actually, White shouldn’t be all that surprised. In recent months, much ink has been spilled nationally about “rape culture,” generally defined as the normalization of sexual assault. California and Ohio have stringent new informed consent laws. The Obama administration has jumped on the bandwagon, releasing a much-discussed report on sexual assault claiming that nearly one in five women in college will be sexually assaulted. In this kind of charged environment, the only thing that’s weird is that it took so long for the district to pull the plug on what seems to be a pretty clear allusion to rape.
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Literary Lights

Tolkien_A_Biography_by_Humphrey_Carpenter_cover_photoI have before me a copy of Humphrey Carpenter’s very fine biography of J. R. R. Tolkien. Its cover bears one of my favorite photographs of him, wearing a waistcoat, tweed jacket, and seated at the foot of a great tree—a rather Entish-looking, welcoming tree, one might say—that has bidden him to take his ease, and rest awhile.

But what I like best is what this photo shows us of the expression on Tolkien’s face. We see him looking off into the distance with the hint of a kind, contented smile.

But what does he see? That’s a question this picture seems to ask.
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Worldview and You

friends“Does gay marriage harm anyone?”

That question keeps getting asked, and the assumption in the courts and media seems to be that it doesn’t. It’s a hard opinion to sustain, in my view, especially now that I’ve been reading Anthony Esolen’s “Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity.”

Esolen’s 12 arguments revolve around virtue: not virtue as stuffy prudishness, as it’s now reputed to be, but virtue in its older sense of thoroughgoing goodness of life. “Virtue” is a strong word. It’s a virile word, where virility is called for, and a tender word where tenderness is due. It’s about living well by (pardon the grammar) living good. It can be a very passionate word, for one can certainly be passionate about goodness. In all those areas it is under attack, including, surprisingly, the area of passion. Read More >
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All Things Examined

factfiles_lion_01Charles Spurgeon once said, "Truth is like a lion. Who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and it will defend itself." A few years back, I learned just how right the 19th-century preacher was. It happened during in an online discussion I had with “Nigel” (not his real name).

Nigel is a self-described atheist and rising star in the Brights movement—a community of philosophical naturalists aimed at “illuminating and elevating the naturalistic worldview,” as their slogan proudly states. Some of its more prominent luminaries include Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, and Daniel Dennett.

After coming across a piece I had written critical of naturalism, Nigel invited me to have a dialogue with him on his open blog. I agreed and was quickly drawn into a protracted discussion.
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Priorities

islam-in-america-shutterstock_30831886-400x400The takeover of America by radical Islam happened a lot faster than anyone ever expected.

How it happened is well known now: the electromagnetic pulse bomb that shut down the nation’s electrical grid, producing food shortages, jet crashes, and instant national panic; the detonation of a suitcase nuclear weapon that took out Manhattan’s Financial District; a string of beheadings (most of which were characterized as “workplace violence”); the bombing of the U.S. Capitol; and the capture of the White House by a hit squad of well-armed fanatics. All these events and more set the stage for national surrender, basically without a shot being fired.

True, the Secret Service put up a fight once the intruders were discovered inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But they were badly outgunned by the Islamists, who cut off the heads of the Secretary of State and the director of the Office of Management and Budget, who simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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Literary Lights

9781598566123Part of the challenge (and privilege) for any writer delving into the past is to discover fine things waiting there, and commend them anew. To put it another way, how do writers who look at an earlier time pass on facets of wisdom and insight in ways that are at once accessible and compelling?

Often, I take my cue from D.L. Moody, remembering his pithy and memorable phrase: “It’s worth going a thousand miles to get a good thought.” So saying, he’d take out a small hip-pocket notebook, chock full of what he called “nuggets,” and read some of them out.

Moody’s generous and very genuine habit is instructive, and of a piece with another practice he had, that of letting people borrow his Bible, if they wanted to copy out something he might have written in the margins—whether his own thoughts, or perhaps some pearl of wisdom he’d discovered from another source. It was always understood that anyone who borrowed Moody’s Bible was expected write in a few nuggets of their own before returning it.

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Worldview and You

OrientationAndrew Marin is an evangelical Christian, the founder of the Marin Foundation, an organization that “works to build bridges between the LGBTQ community and the Church through scientific research, biblical and social education, and diverse community gatherings.” He’s also the author of the 2009 book “Love Is an Orientation,” which I just finished reading. Brian McLaren wrote the foreword.

With that short introduction, my guess is you’d like to know where Marin stands on the issues. I certainly had to wonder about that as I was reading the book, trying to discern whether I could safely recommend it. Is he really evangelical? Does he agree with what the Bible says about homosexuality? What about same-sex marriage?

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All Things Examined

Before-I-Die-New-Orleans-Candy-Chang“Before I die I want to ______.”

How would you fill in the blank?

It’s a haunting question, one that challenges everyone who passes by one of the hundreds of walls from Beijing to Brooklyn emblazoned with that hanging statement.
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