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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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Internally Displaced Person

51Nv4MC8ZOLWith the possible exception of “bigot,” the worst thing you can call someone nowadays is a “hypocrite.” Our culture values “authenticity” above nearly everything else, so, naturally, it despises hypocrisy and hypocrites.

Except that its use of the word “hypocrisy” brings to mind Inigo Montoya’s reply to Vizzini in “The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

My musings about hypocrisy have their origins in, of all things, a recent “binge read” of James Michener novels, which included “The Covenant,” his epic telling of the story of South Africa, and “Centennial,” his account of the history of a fictional town in Colorado.

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Priorities

ISISLogoIn the 2013 movie “World War Z,” armies of aggressive, wall-climbing zombies are taking over the world, leaving cities and whole nations “dark.” The hero, a retired U.N. investigator named Gerry Lane, played by Brad Pitt, must find a way to stop the unknown infection, which is spread by the bite of a zombie, before all human life is overcome. Whatever disease is involved, it works fast: The transformation from human to zombie takes just 12 seconds.

To protect against the chomping undead, Lane improvises by wrapping magazines around his forearm and securing them with duct tape. Even zombie teeth cannot penetrate this glossy paper and ink barrier. However, Lane—and civilization itself—needs a masking agent to keep the zombies from biting in the first place. But will he be able to survive long enough to discover it?

We can thank God that “World War Z” is fiction. Yet human civilization is facing an infection just as barbarous and nearly as deadly: the inexorable spread of Islamist ideology and its inevitable fruit, terrorism, exemplified by the grisly beheadings of two American journalists, posted on YouTube. Read More >
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Literary Lights

teachers-620x420In December 1880, readers of The New York Times were introduced to one of the finest phrases to come from the pen of Julia Ward Howe. “Education,” she said, “keeps the key of life.”

What a telling metaphor—beckoning, as it does, to promise, potential, and opportunity. To give young people this key opens the door on a wider world. Gifted teachers impart a legacy as rare and fine as any we may discover.

* * *

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Worldview and You

Depressed-PersonWake up!

Everyone is telling everyone to wake up. Wake up to the desperate plight of Christians in Iraq! Wake up to religious freedoms being trampled under in the West! Wake up to the horrors of sex trafficking! Wake up to the crisis at our borders! Wake up to institutional racism that just keeps hanging on! Wake up to the unending murder of babies in the womb! It goes on and on, doesn’t it?

Do you ever get worn out from all these wake-up calls?
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All Things Examined

MultiverseWe shouldn’t be here. And, if any one of dozens of parameters had been different by a smidgen, we wouldn’t be.

For instance, the formation of stars, planets, and matter itself hinges on the relative masses of the proton, neutron, and electron, and on the relative strengths of the electromagnetic and gravitational forces. The habitability of Earth depends on precise values for the sun’s size, mass, and intensity; the Earth’s size, tilt, orbit, and rotation; and the distances from the sun to the Earth and Earth to the moon, as well as the size and number of Earth moons. The viability of a biological gene—the smallest thing nature can “select” in the Darwinian struggle for survival—is determined by hundreds to hundreds of thousands of base molecules arranged in a particular sequence. And that’s just for starters.
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Priorities

104314531Critics sometimes like to charge that Christianity is a fairy tale for adults. Now some are saying that religious belief hinders children from understanding the difference between fact and fairy tales.

According to a study published last month in the July issue of Cognitive Science, five and six year olds who have “exposure to religious ideas” in church or parochial school find it harder to distinguish fact from fiction than do less-religious children. For example, they were less likely to be able to tell the difference between Snow White and George Washington.

Prominent atheists were quick to trumpet the study, which had all of 66 participants, as proof that religion is bad for kids and their cognitive development. Hemant Mehta, the self-styled “friendly atheist,” blogged, “Religion blurs the lines between fact and fiction. You only hope kids exposed to it figure it out soon enough. . . . It’s just more evidence for those who believe religious indoctrination is a form of mental child abuse.”

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Literary Lights

Ancient-BooksIt all began with a book that nearly went unread. The setting was England, the time, October 1916. Amid the whistle and clatter of steam engines, and the sound of a porter shouting out arrival and departure times, a well-dressed young man, age 16, pored over the books set out on a railway station bookstall. He had done so before, times without number, for he was an avid reader. He prospected for books like a miner in search of buried treasure.

But not just any book. He was looking for titles that held some promise of a great literary experience. He had been reading Edmund Spenser’s epic allegory, “The Faerie Queene,” with rapt attention. Its stories of martial valor and chivalric virtue had stirred something deep within him. He wanted to revisit that world, or something like it, if he could.

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Internally Displaced Person

Border_Crisis_Bambini_a_scuolaThis Joe Klein piece on the border crisis and the president’s feckless response to it is filled with unintentional irony and reminds me of why I am a man without a political party and not likely to ever vote again.

Really.

I’ve been trying not to read about the predicament of the 57,000 unaccompanied Central American minors accumulating and rotting at our southern border because thinking about it brings words like “accumulating” and “rotting” to mind.
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