Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Socialism in Practice" Requires Force

“It was perfectly clear, too, that if socialism was to stem the crisis and remake the world, socialism involved a violent struggle to get and keep political power. At some point, socialism would have to consolidate its power by force…This was not theory or statistics. This was socialism in practice. This was how it worked.

I quickly passed on to Lenin’s State and Revolution and the ABC of Communism (its three authors were all shot during the Great Purge). Here was no dodging of the problem of getting and keeping power. Here was the simple statement that terror and dictatorship are justified to defend the socialist revolution…Terror is an instrument of socialist policy.” (Whitaker Chambers, Witness, 1952, pages 194-195)

Mystery Writer Dorothy Sayers Explores Theology

In the “Panera portion” of my yesterday morning (with Dick Wilson, my regular Tuesday companion being out of town at a conference), I finished reading Dorothy Sayers’ Creed or Chaos, a collection of remarkable essays that had been collected from the war years (mainly) and published in 1949. The essays deal with timeless issues: theological orthodoxy, the priority of biblical revelation, work, creativity and art, morality, economics, and justice. They are all profoundly important and all written in Sayers’ unique and persuasive style. 

I could not recommend this small but weighty book (only about 100 pages) more highly. I would further recommend that you read it with friends for it will make for a most enlightening and helpful conversation.

And…if you would like to invite Claire and I into that conversation, we would be delighted!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Paget Style

Sidney Paget undertook the job of illustrating Arther Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories for The Strand Magazine in 1891. However, his hiring was a mistake. The editors had actually offered the job to his brother, Walter, another fine illustrator whose drawings eventually adorned the works of Shakespeare, Walter Scott, H. Rider Haggard, Daniel Defoe, and others. It proved to be a most fortuitous mistake for the Sydney Paget illustrations of the Holmes stories proved to be superbly unequaled.

Wrote James Montgomery in 1954, “It would be impossible to overestimate the influence that Paget exerted…on his interpretation of Holmes, Watson, and the golden time ‘where it is always 1895.’ From that day to this, no characterization, no other mood has been accepted by English readers, and when his untimely death in 1908 necessarily shifted his mantle to other shoulders, the artists who followed him — several of greater skill and reputation — were compelled to subordinate themselves to the Paget style in all essential particulars. It has been truly said that what Phiz did for Pickwick, Paget did for Sherlock Holmes.”

Here are examples of both men’s work. The first two are Walter Paget illustrations from, respectively, Treasure Island and King Solomon’s Mines. And the other two, of course, are Sidney Paget’s work for the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Next Up for the Wild Knight Literary Society

The first meeting of the Wild Knight Literary Society was held at our home last month where we enjoyed refreshments and a delightful conversation over Sir Walter Scott’s classic novel, Ivanhoe. The meeting started with a reading of a terrific review of the book from Dr. Greg Gardner of Birmingham, England which provided a nice stimulant to the subsequent discussion of the novel with Linda Scheffler, Matt Troutman, former English prof at Grace University Leonard Johnson, and his wife Diane; and Claire and me. We had a great time discussing a genuine classic.

And after the desert, we decided on next quarter’s book, the award-winning allegorical novel, The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr. The date? Saturday evening, June 23rd. That Wild Knight evening will begin with a “burgers and dogs” cookout party at 4:30. However, as will always be the case with this particular book club, we welcome “distant participants” as well as locals. Indeed, the club was formed to help provide motivation, accountability, and stimulation for readers of quality fiction wherever they are and to invite direct participation via email and Skype.

So, if  you are a local looking for all the blessings of a book club, please grab a copy of The Book of the Dun Cow and plan on joining us for the discussion on June 23rd. And if you are further away, read along with us anyway and send in your reviews so that we can add them into the mix. You might also consider joining us via Skype for the discussion. Claire has a few details as to how that can work.

Thanks for considering our invitation. And please remember, RSVPs are very helpful.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Day the Union Bombed the Times

“Terrorism reigned in America. During the four years from 1906 to 1910, terrorists (they wore the label proudly) struck more than 200 construction sites. And then the Los Angeles Times Building was bombed, killing at least 20 workers…It was later revealed that the bombing -- or bombings, if the failed attempts on the lives of General Otis and Merchants and Manufacturers Association chief Felix J. Zeehandelaar on the same day are included -- was to be only the opening salvo in a terror campaign funded by a major U.S. union, the Iron Workers, aimed at bringing the city to its knees.”

(Deadly Times: The 1910 Bombing of the Los Angeles Times and America’s Forgotten Decade of Terror, Lew Irwin, 2013, page xi, xii)

“Until that moment, the union effort had been aimed at destroying property, sending a message to the ‘exploiting class’ in a language that they easily grasped -- money. Injuries have been few, and no one had been killed. Moreover, no one had been caught.  But the plan that J.B. McNamara laid out to Clancy, Tveitmoe, Johanssen, Schmidt, and Caplan back in San Francisco amounted to nothing short of an act of war. He would plant bombs not only at the Los Angeles Times but also at the homes of the two principal business leaders in the city: Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, the owner of the Times, and Felix Zeehandelaar, head of the Merchants and Manufacturers Association and Otis’s powerful ally…

If any member of the group was disturbed over the probable loss of life, their hesitance was overcome by McNamara’s passion. In all great battles there is loss of life on both sides, he had repeatedly argued. Men must sometimes be sacrificed for the greater good of society.” (Ibid, page 83)

“Once inside, J.B. made his way directly downstairs to the belly of the beast, where he found the access to the gas cocks to the natural gas pipes. Using a set of pliers that he had brought along, he wrenched the cocks open, and then waited and listened to the hiss of the escaping gas until he could detect the unmistakable pungent odor. As he would later explain, he wanted the whole building ‘to go to hell.’” (Ibid, page 97)

“McNamara appeared downright nonchalant about it all, McManigal thought, as he pointed out that J.B. had accomplished just what he had set out to do. Those who died were ‘scabs,’ McNamara said. ‘This will make them set up and take notice.’ Indeed, he now wanted to step up the bombings.” (Ibid, page 147)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Whittaker Chambers on the Communist Vision

“The revolutionary heart of Communism is not the theatrical appeal: ‘Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to gain.’ It is a simple statement of Karl Marx, further simplified for handy use: ‘Philosophers have explained the world; it is necessary to change the world.’ Communists are bound together by no secret oath. The tie that binds them across the frontiers of nations, across barriers of language and differences of class and education, in defiance of religion, morality, honor, the weaknesses of the body and the irresolutions of the mind, even unto death, is a simple conviction: It is necessary to change the world…

It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: ‘Ye shall be as gods.’ It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God. It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world.” (Whittaker Chambers in the Foreword in the Form of a Letter to My Children of his classic work of 1952, Witness.)

(The accompanying photo is of the famous sculpture in Moscow created for the Soviet Union's World's Fair in 1956, Worker and Collective Farm Woman.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Catching Up, The First Wild Knight Meeting, and More

Even though Claire has struggled with a severe sinus infection the last few days, this week before we take off for a working vacation in Branson has been eventful and enriching. The highlights include: slow dancing together at Linda Potter’s fabulous birthday bash last Friday night; writing a couple of articles and a gang of letters; sending out a few signed copies of The Christmas Room; getting in several days of my walking regimen; hosting the first of our Wild Knight book club discussions; and presenting the last of this month’s “When Swing Was King” shows.

But we still have several things to do before we take off for the Ozarks and among them are two items regarding The Book Den. 1) A quick recap of Monday night’s meeting of the Wild Knight book club. and 2) Updating my reading list for the year.

1) The Wild Knight club deals with fiction, meets only quarterly, and encourages participation even from distant friends. Thus, last Monday night’s meeting started with me reading a terrific review of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe from Dr. Greg Gardner of Birmingham, England. It provided a nice stimulant to the subsequent discussion of the novel by Linda Scheffler, Matt Troutman, former English prof at Grace University Leonard Johnson, and his wife Diane; and Claire and me. We had a great time discussing a genuine classic. And after the desert, we decided on next quarter’s book, Walter Wangerin Jr.’s The Book of the Dun Cow. Of course, if you’re interested in becoming a Wild Knight yourself, please grab a copy of Dun Cow and let us know.

2) I guess I’m a little tardy in keeping up with updating my reading list. (My last “catch up” post was on February 7.) The schedule has been pretty busy — which worked to keep down the numbers of books read. But then the weather (cold, windy, snowy, rainy) kept me from walking as much as usual — which worked the other way. Anyhow, in the last couple of months I’ve read:

* More than a dozen novels of Donald Bain under the “Murder She Wrote” banner. No, this isn’t great literature but the novels (which feature Jessica Fletcher, Cabot Cove, and all the rest from the popular TV series starring Angela Lansbury) provides short, easy, and entertaining reading for those (like us) who enjoy what are called “cozy mysteries.”

* Re-reading Anthony Hope’s most famous adventure novels, The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau were also a lot of fun.

* Re-reading Alice in Wonderland and (of lesser value, in my opinion) Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll was enjoyable. Of course these books provide interest for those who enjoy the sound and rhythm of words, humorous turn of phrases, clever word play, satire, the fruits of a vivid imagination, and an adult reinterpretation of things you’ve known since childhood.

* On much more serious topics, in these past few weeks I finished a couple of books by Swiss physician Paul Tournier. They were both re-reads also but as provocative and insightful as ever. They were The Meaning of Gifts and The Adventure of Living.

* Captivating and inspiring was To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom by Newt Gingrich & William R. Forstchen. It was the February selection of the Notting Hill Napoleons. (Unfortunately, we missed the March book.)

* Two books that I’d been going through slowly, carefully, and with great spiritual profit were No Little People by Francis Schaeffer (a re-read from long ago) and Happiness by Randy Alcorn. I recommend both very highly.

* More unsettling than ever was my re-read of George Orwell’s classic study of a humanistic, totalitarian regime, 1984.

* A quite different kind of book for me was Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon by California preacher Greg Laurie. It was a bit long-winded for me, covering the same territory too many times. And yet the stories of both writer and subject were quite compelling. And so I would recommend it, especially to those of my own generation. For as important as anything, is that the book has already created several opportunities for me to talk to others about McQueen’s conversion to Christianity. And I'm sure they would both be pleased to know that.

* And finally, there’s the re-read of Ivanhoe by Walter Scott that I make reference to above. Terrific stuff.

Okay, on to the next titles!

Monday, March 12, 2018

On Reading...and Re-Reading

“Reading also has two quite distinct pleasures for us -- that of discovering a new author, of enlarging our minds with new feeling and thoughts as we read, and that of rereading a well-known book, in which we find ourselves, as it were, at home but keep noticing new details that had escaped us in our hasty first reading, when we were hurrying on in our eagerness to find out what came next.” (Paul Tournier, The Adventure of Living, 1965, pages 155-156)

Friday, February 23, 2018

An Indispensable Four

After finishing Francis Schaeffer’s No Little People and Randy Alcorn’s Happiness, two books that I’ve been carefully reading for awhile now, I’m freshly grateful to God for the superb gifts He has given me over these last several decades in passionate, skilled, and Bible-centered writers.

Particularly Francis Schaeffer, Randy Alcorn, C.S. Lewis, and Joni Eeareckson Tada.

There are, of course, many others I'm profoundly appreciative of -- G.K. Chesterton being the foremost among the “honorable mentions” -- but it is these four who have had the strongest influence on me and I look forward to continuing to read and reread them for whatever time I have left in my spiritual adventure here.

So Lord, thank you again, for the inspiration, encouragement, and wise exhortation You have poured out upon me through these faithful servants. May the lessons they've shared with me continue to help move me forward. And for the two who are still alive, would you please bless them, their families, and their various ministries with all needed mercies.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Gems from Recent Reading

“It is then, as we face death itself, that all this world’s gifts are but deceit, if there be none of another order, of the order of life itself, a gift to which our human strength cannot attain by itself, despite all its efforts, joys, and triumphs. The great gift, the only one which can be unchanging in value, is the assurance of life beyond the grave, of peace beyond our remorse. It is the assurance of reconciliation with ourselves, with our fellows, and with God, beyond all the conflicts which have accompanied and tarnished the joys of our existence. The great gift, the unique and living one, is not a thing but a person. It is Jesus Christ himself. In him God has given himself, no longer just things which he creates or has created, but his own person, his own suffering, and his own solitude, given unto death itself…

Thus it is that God offers it freely. He is the One who has paid its price, in the death of his Son. The erasure of all our failings and all our remorse, of all our regrets and our rebellion, what a gift it is! The redemption of all our joys about to be swallowed up in death, and their fulfillment in the eternal joy it’s self –what a gift indeed!” (Paul Tournier, The Meaning of Gifts, pages 56-57, 1961)

“Woe betide those who no longer feel thrilled at anything, who have stopped looking for adventure!” (Paul Tournier, The Adventure of Living, page 13, 1965)

“Nothing is more poisonous than the sense of entitlement that permeates our culture and sometimes, sadly, our churches. We’re disappointed with family, friends, neighbors, the church, the airlines, the waiter -- nearly everyone. And in the process, it becomes clear that it’s God we’re really disappointed with -- after all if he’s sovereign, he’s the one subjecting us to all these irritations. How dare he not give us everything we want, when we want it?  

If only we could see our situation clearly. We deserve expulsion; he gives us a diploma. We deserve the electric chair; he gives us a parade. Anything less than overwhelming gratitude should be unthinkable. He owes us nothing. We owe him everything.

'Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?' (Romans 11:35, NIV) The answer is nobody.

Christians in dire situations, undergoing persecution, are often deeply grateful for God’s daily blessings. How dare we whine and pout when our latte isn’t hot enough? 

God, Open our eyes to the wonders of your grace! (Randy Alcorn, Happiness, page 369, 2015)

“Each person who heard Jesus’s invitation on the great day of the Feast was faced with the decision -- would he believe or not? And every person who hears the invitation of Jesus Christ in the second half of the 20th Century is faced with the same decision. Whether you hear it through the preached Word of God or through reading the Scripture,  this invitation gives you only two choices: to accept or reject him, to believe on Him or cry with the crowd, ‘Not Christ, but Barabbas. Crucify Him!’ There is no neutrality, no alternative, no third choice. They could not say, ‘He is a nice man.’ On the basis of Jesus’s claim, either the Jews had to believe on Him or they had to cry out against Him.” (Francis Schaeffer, No Little People, page 156, 1974)

“If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, ’it never happened’ – that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death…And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -- if all records told the same tale -- then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’… 

This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs -- to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.” (George Orwell, 1984, pages 32 and 36, 1949)