Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The First Political Conservative?

The following is a partial quote of an ancient Chinese philosopher, Laotse (530 B.C.? - ?) and an explanation of that quote by the Chinese writer Lin Yutang from Lin's book, "From Pagan to Christian":

" 'Govern a country as you would fry a small fish,' that is, one should not continually turn it over, when the fish might become paste. The great art of government was to leave the people alone."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Word From George Herbert.

"Monday Morning Devotions" will continue soon on this blog. In the meantime, I thought this short poem would serve as a devotional to meditate upon during the week:

The Altar

A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,
Made of a heart, and cemented with tears:

Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;

No workman's tool hath touch'd the same.

A Heart alone

Is such a stone,

As nothing but

Thy pow'r doth cut.

Wherefore each part

Of my hard heart Meets in this frame,

To praise thy name.

That if I chance to hold my peace,

These stones to praise thee may not cease.

O let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,

And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.

George Herbert , 1593-1633.

Church Signs I Have Seen.

"I Don't Need Your Science; I Am A Man Of Faith."

Last week I saw this sign outside what looks like to me to be an independent Christian ministry on the campus of The University of Illinois . Do you think this message helps?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Audio Impressions.

The 2006 Chamberlain Holiness Lectures by Dr. Chris Bounds: Every year in October, my seminary, Wesley Biblical Seminary, hosts The Chamberlain Holiness Lectures. In 2006, six lectures were given by Chris Bounds, a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University. I found these very helpful in explaining the different views of sanctification as taught within Wesleyan circles. The main three views of sanctification are 1. Instantaneous once one truly begins to seek it, 2. Will be obtained after a short period of time and 3. Not to be received until a struggle of many years or at death. Not having grown up in Wesleyan Holiness surroundings, I can only suspect that these three views have not been properly differentiated when the doctrine and experience of sanctification has been taught. Perhaps that may be a major reason why many who have grown up in these surroundings are confused as to just what we are to experience when we are sanctified by God. It should be the priority of Wesleyan seminaries and Bible Colleges to make sure its students are presented with the material Bound's presents. It is heartening to hear an academic younger than I who can articulate this crucial doctrine and testify to experiencing it in his life.

The Parchman Endowed Lectures for November, 2007 by Dr. Ben Witherington III: Professor Ben Witherington of Asbury Theological Seminary delivered three lectures at Baylor University this past fall. The links to each, which Dr. Witherington provides at his blog, , can be accessed from this link: . (Scroll down to Dr. Witherington's November 5th article.) The first two lectures are the best as he deals with the cannon of scripture. He points out that the various writings that make up the cannon are polemical in nature and therefore the rule of analyzing them differ from the analysis of other forms of rhetoric we mistakenly apply to scripture. In his third lecture, Witherington puts forth his hypothesis that the beloved diciple we read of in John's Gospel is not John, the brother of James, but Lazurus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. I did not find his arguement convincing. However, you can hear it for yourself and make your own decision.

Interview With Alex McManus: This is an excellant interview with Alex McManus on innovative ways Christians can reach out to the lost that many Churches themselves cannot or will not attempt. The examples McManus shares are quite innovative. It is his desire to equip followers of Jesus to be "Missional", that is, to reject those elements of current Church culture that prevent Churches from reaching out to those among us who are not being reached with the Gospel message. This interview can be accessed through the January archives of Dr. Brian D. Russell's blog : .

The Emerging Church Movement and Key Topics In The Emerging Church Movement: Both of these two 3 part dialogues are available from Dallas Theological Seminary. These dialogues feature DTS professors discussing their views of the Emerging Church. They go into great detail highlighting the differences between the various branches within the movement. Most of what they share concerning this movement is positive, yet they do make it known that there are aspects about it that give them cause for concern. One professor brought up the Emergents tendency to view Jesus seperately from the Church. According to this professor, the two cannot be seperated, they must be seen as one. Here is the link to these dialogues:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Courage Produces A Miracle.

Last year in Great Britain, sixty-six babies who survived abortions were allowed to die through lack of medical attention. Twin girls escaped that fate. When British doctors recommended to a woman with cervical cancer that she abort her unborn twin girls so she could receive treatment, she refused. During her pregnancy, as the twins kicked in her womb, they dislodged the cancerous tumor. Today, the girls are a year old and healthy, and the mother is cancer free. "I felt them kicking, but I didn't realize just how important their kicking would turn out to be" the mother said. Here is a link to where I read this story:

My Only Consolation.

Readers of this blog will know that I had origionally supported Fred Thompson for the Republican nomination. When he withdrew after the South Carolina primary, I was faced with the prospect of having a choice among candidates I could not feel enthusiastic about. Of the four remaining candidates, I felt that Mitt Romney was the most electable and the least likely to betray my trust . Apparently, most other Republicans disagreed. Now that Romney has made his exit from the race, when I consider who is left, I can only sob. My only consolation is that now that Romney is no longer in contention, there is no immediate danger of the Church being put under public pressure to legitimize Mormanism as another way to follow Christ. At least the pressure will be off for now.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: Truman Capote

The past three Friday evenings I have spent reading a collection of short stories by Truman Capote. The first story was a novella entitled "The Grass Harp." The rest were eight stories from a short story collection, "The Tree of Night and Other Stories." I read them here in Morgantown, WV at my parents house. Here I generally do not eat frozen dinners but eat Mom's home cooking. In the summer, I generally read American literature, and so I decided to try something new. Having an image of Truman Capote the celebrity in my mind, I wanted to see what Capote the author could produce.

Capote had great style and wit. Whether his stories took place in the deep south or in New York City, he knew how to make the reader feel they are there. His ability to describe nature and urban life was great. Even in stories only ten pages long he could bring characters to life. Yet after finishing these stories, I get the feeling it was time not well spent. I was entertained, but at times I was disturbed. The disturbance I felt was not the good kind that the best literature produces, the kind that causes us to question ourselves or the world around us. No. I felt I was in contact with a mind that was a bit twisted so that it could not achieve the potential its talents seem to promise. His stories are filled with eccentric characters. So are the works of others, like Faukner and Flannery O'Conner and Dickens. Yet the eccentricity these authors portrayed had symbolic importance. Capote seems to be fascinated with eccentricity for its own sake. This fascination prevents him from producing genuine works of beauty. Some works of art change our characters, some cause us to view the world in a whole new light, some cause us to take some sort of action. Art can make us feel enobled just for being in contact with it. None of what I have read of Capote produces any of these reactions. The characters he created are not worth keeping company with. Too bad. I think he was capable of better things. Will I read any more of his works? I am not sure it would be worth the time.

I am altering my reading roster for this feature again. As the fourth of July is approaching, I will read two recent works on our nation's founding. The first will be "The American Gospel" by Jon Meacham. The other I will not actually read, but will listen to. That will be an unabridged reading of David McCullough's "1776." My brother Andrew gave it to me for Christmas two years ago and I have not yet had a chance to listen to it. After that, "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual" will feature a book of essays by African American Commentator Thomas Sowell called "Black Rednecks and White Liberals." I am spending more time in WV than I have origionally planned, so my reading list is changing. I might work in another American novel or two this season.


Just a quick word. Why did the BBC and PBS think we needed more versions of Jane Austin's novels? Since 1995, we have had the privilege of seeing definitive versions of three of her works: Pride and Prejudice (The A and E version), Sense and Sensibility (the Emma Thompson movie), and Persuasion. Persuasion did have its faults. Sometimes the characters speak in whispers hard to hear and the viewer may not fully understand what is going on without reading the book first. Yet as in the other versions mentioned above, the actors were so suited for their roles that it may be said that they own these characters. To show another production of these stories after so little time has elapsed is a waste. Not only that, but what I have seen of two of the remakes makes me wonder if they would not discourage potential Austen readers from ever reading her. Persuasion was abysmal and Mansfield Park not much better. None of the actors were suited for their parts. In the previous versions, not only are the actors better suited to the characters, these actors actually looked as if they belonged in the time the novels depict. Charlton Heston once made the observation that there was something about him that made him seem natural as a character from the past, while his roles as modern characters were not as convincing. Comparing himself to Paul Newman, he said that while both of them are about the same age, when Newman wore a Roman toga for a role, he was laughed at. The actors in the newer versions of Jane Austen looked like twenty-first century actors dressed up and just reading their lines with little passion. When I heard that there was to be a remake of Mansfield Park, I was looking forward to it. The eighties version, while highly satisfactory, has some flaws in it. Yet I would rather watch six hours of that that the newer version which does not allow enough time to let the situations develop. The newer version of Northanger Abbey was actually enjoyable. The story is not as complex as other Austin works and ninety minutes is enough time to tell the story. However, in the eighties version, the portrayal of the villain by Robert Hardy is much superior to the portrayal in the newer version. Also, the newer version contains a suggestive scene not found in the book. There was no need to produce these remakes and I hope they fade from view. The older versions of Austen's works are quite enough to satisfy.

"Our Mutual Friend" by Charles Dickens

This past Christmas I finished "Our Mutual Friend" by Charles Dickens. I began reading it last February. Please don't get the impression that I am a slow reader or that I found the book to be a hard or boring read. The fact is that Dicken's style prevents the serious reader from speed reading through it. The time spent in Dicken's world is well worth it and when I finally finished the book, I was a little sorry I had left that world. Dickens paints a vast portrait of all classes of Victorian English society and how money can corrupt all those who seek it and all those who possess it. His satirical portrayal of the nouveau riche ( The Veneerings and the Podsnaps) and its merciless judgement towards those who fall from "respectability" is at once hilarious and condemning. The greed and shallowness of those gaining and flaunting their wealth reminds me of the Yuppies. Yet Dickens condemnation of this particular class does not prevent him from creating characters of wealth who readers can sympathize with. Nor does he exempt the poor from its examples of villains. Especially rememberable is Silas Wegg, the wicked one legged employee seeking a way to gain control of his masters fortune. Then there is Mr. and Mrs. Lammle, two con artists who trick each other into thinking the other was marrying into money. Once they realize their mutual deception, they employ their shared deviousness to bleed their rich acquaintances of their wealth. Their schemes bring them into the orbit of the money lender "Fascination Fledgeby" who becomes both their partner and secret foe. All these villains are portrayed with a mixture of cunning and potential murderous intent while at the same time exposing a bit of their common humanity. The only villain devoid of humor or sympathy is the psychopathic school teacher Bradley Headstone who shares his destiny with yet another villain, Rouge Riderhood. Throughout most of the book, these villains are scheming and maneuvering, waiting to make their move against their intended victims. That Dickens can keep the reader in suspense for such a length of time is one of the attributes of his greatness as a novelist. There are some critics of Dickens who dislike the way he plots the activities of his various villains. For much of the time, his wicked protagonists will be shown to plot with great humor, and then when their masks come off, then they can be quite violent and malevolent. But is this not the way it is in real life? Is not evil often cloaked in the garb of charm and good humor? This illustrates to me one of the benefits of using great literature to train the character of the young. If one is creative, one can use the examples of splendid but evil fictional villains to assist the young in seeing evil approaching them with a smile on its face. Of course not all of Dicken's characters are completely realistic. Yet Dickens was interested in creating portraits that conveyed a message that not only would readers never forget but whose portrayal would transform his readers for the better. The example of Scrooge comes to mind. Not all the characters in "Our Mutual Friend" remain constant throughout. The portrayal of Bella Wilfer, who begins as a self centered girl who seeks to marry money and then changes into someone better is masterfully done. The portrayal of her family contains much unforgettable humor concerning her affable father, her imperial-like mother and her hugely annoying sister. This book does contain one major disappointment, but I will not reveal the ending. But I will say it undermines the impact of Dicken's warning against the acquisition of great wealth. Also, there is much Victorian sentimentality that does not travel well into the twenty-first century. It is especially on display in the character of the Boffins, who figure significantly in the story. I could not wait till Dickens changed the focus from them to other characters, especially in the story's beginning. Yet once the focus did change, my interest was captivated again. Despite it faults, the reading experience is worth it. Dickens gave the impression that his characters were on a voyage and that I was on the ride with them, not knowing where I was being taken, and when the voyage was over, I was surprised where I had been. Most writers reach a peak of artistic creativity and then begin to decline. But not Dickens. In writing "Our Mutual Friend", his last completed novel, he showed himself to be a writer who continued to get better without any evidence of decline in his talents on the horizon. One caution. Instead of reading the book, you may be tempted to see the PBS version of the story. I advise you not to see it. All the humor was removed (Dickens without humor is dreary indeed) and many of the actors were not suited to their roles. Seeing this production before reading the story may discourage one from ever wanting to read any Dickens.