Friday, September 30

Ted Drewes

If you've ever had a Ted Drewes "concrete," you'll know that it is the standard by which all other frozen custards are--and should be--judged. So, today Karen and I were having our regular (she, a chocolate, and me, a raspberry) when lo and behold who should walk up and introduce himself but Ted Drewes! How cool is that? We had a delightful conversation for about fiften minutes. A celebrity moment! And I was just a few blocks away from where I first met Francis Schaeffer two decades ago! I'm gonna have to make it to this wonderful little corner of St. Louis a little more often.

Thursday, September 29

Sub-Creative Genius

When Rudyard Kipling interviewed Mark Twain on this day in 1889, Kipling was still making his reputation while Twain was at the height of his fame. Kipling’s entertaining account of the meeting for a group of reporters began with a flourish of braggadocio, “You are a contemptible lot, over yonder. Some of you are Commissioners, and some Lieutenant-Governors, and some have the Victoria Cross, and a few are privileged to walk about the Mall arm in arm with the Viceroy; but I have seen Mark Twain this golden morning, have shaken his hand, and smoked a cigar—no, two cigars—with him, and talked with him for more than two hours! Understand clearly that I do not despise you; indeed, I don't. I am only very sorry for you, from the Viceroy downward. To soothe your envy and to prove that I still regard you as my equals, I will tell you all about it.”

Kipling described all the trials and tribulations of tracking down Twain at his gothic mansion there in central New York—the hassles, the run-arounds, the delays, and the off-putting diversions that almost deterred him from his task. , “They said in Buffalo that he was in Hartford, and again they said, perchance he is gone upon a journey to Europe—which information so upset me that I embarked upon the wrong train, and was incontinently turned out by the conductor three-quarters of a mile from the station, amid the wilderness of railway tracks. Have you ever, encumbered with great-coat and valise, tried to dodge diversely-minded locomotives when the sun was shining in your eyes? But I forgot that you have not seen Mark Twain, you people of no account!”

But at last the men met and Kipling was awestruck, “The thing that struck me first was that he was an elderly man; yet, after a minute's thought, I perceived that it was otherwise, and in five minutes, the eyes looking at me, I saw that the grey hair was an accident of the most trivial. He was quite young. I was shaking his hand. I was smoking his cigar, and I was hearing him talk—this man I had learned to love and admire fourteen thousand miles away. Reading his books, I had striven to get an idea of his personality, and all my preconceived notions were wrong and beneath the reality. Blessed is the man who finds no disillusion when he is brought face to face with a revered writer. That was a moment to be remembered; the landing of a twelve-pound salmon was nothing to it. I had hooked Mark Twain, and he was treating me as though under certain circumstances I might be an equal.”

The two men talked of publishing and writing and gardening. They discussed the novels of Scott, the stories of Hart, and the verse of Burns. Then Kipling got to the heart of the matter, “Growing bold, and feeling that I had a few hundred thousand folk at my back, I demanded whether Tom Sawyer married Judge Thatcher's daughter and whether we were ever going to hear of Tom Sawyer as a man.” Twain replied that he hadn’t decided yet. And then the two men dreamed and conspired and imagined what might be, what ought not be, and what should be until the waning hours of the night.

The portrait that finally emerged from the interview, was not so much of one man or the other, but of the way an artistic mind, engaged and inspired by another, may spin worlds of thought and imagination. It was, as Kipling asserted, “A holy moment when the subcreative genius of the Almighty is suddenly made manifest.”

That's a fine way of reminding us that iron sharpens iron.


Yahoo! Bryan proposed to Elisabeth! See the exciting details in Elisabeth's No Name Pub Blog.

Tuesday, September 27

1066 and All That

It was on this day in 1066 that William the Conqueror (1027-1087), a Norman prince and a cousin to the royal family of Saxon England, assembled his troops on the shores of the English Channel. He was preparing for an invasion of that "sceptered isle" the next morning in an effort to wrest the crown from his won kith and kin, King Harold.

Born in Falaise, France, William was the illegitimate son of Robert I, duke of Normandy. Upon the death of his father, the Norman nobles, honoring their promise to Robert, accepted William as his successor. Rebellion against the young duke broke out almost immediately, however, and his position did not become secure until 1047 when, with the aid of Henry I, king of France, he won a decisive victory over a rebel force near Caen. During a visit in 1051 to his childless cousin, Edward the Confessor, king of England, William is said to have obtained Edward’s agreement that he should succeed to the English throne. In 1053, defying a papal ban, William married Matilda of Flanders, daughter of Baldwin V, count of Flanders and a descendant of King Alfred the Great, thereby strengthening his claim to the crown of England. When Edward died however, the powerful English noble, Harold, Earl of Wessex, was elected king. Determined to make good his claim, William invaded.

Just two weeks later, on October 14, the Normans defeated the English forces at the celebrated Battle of Hastings, in which Harold was slain. On Christmas Day William was crowned "King and Conqueror of England" in Westminster Abbey. It was to be the last successful invasion of England but not the last dynastic change amongst the ever-feuding royals. But then, that's another story.

Sunday, September 25


Solidarity--or, in Polish, Solidarnosc--was a remarkable workers' union founded 25 years ago this month. What began as just another group of hopelessly idealistic, disgruntled shipyard workers and dissident intellectuals became an unstoppable force for change that ultimately toppled the Communist bloc and changed the balance of power in the world.

The Poland that begat Solidarity a quarter century ago is hardly recognizable today. Then, Poland was a totalitarian, satellite state of the Soviet Union, under Moscow's firm hand. Today, Poland is a democratic country and a member of the European Union as well as NATO. Much of that development is due to the influence of the trade union that got its start in the Gdansk shipyards in 1980.

The origins of Solidarity go back even further, to 1976, when a "Worker's Defense Committee" was founded by a group of dissident intellectuals after several thousand workers who had been on strike were attacked and jailed by authorities in various cities. In 1979, the committee published a charter of worker's rights.

In 1980, a new wave of strikes again broke out, this time sparked by a seemingly insignificant event. The communist government had raised the price of meat in the cafeteria of the Lenin Shipyards in the northern industrial city of Gdansk. A female worker had complained about the price hike and was fired. That led 17,000 workers to put down their tools and barricade themselves inside the plant under the leadership of Lech Walesa, an electrician at the shipyard.

By mid-August, strikes had spread throughout the country and millions of Polish white and blue-collar workers took to the streets demanding better working conditions, even though only 10 years earlier, similar strikes had ended in bloodshed with dozens of people killed by machine gun fire and over 1,000 injured.

But in August and September, 1980, after weeks of the strike action, the workers in the shipyard reached their goal. The strike movement, which would soon be formally known as Solidarity, was accepted as an independent trade union.

"Finally we have an independent union under our own administration," said Lech Walesa. "We now have the right to strike and we are going to demand more rights soon."

Organizers were anything but sure of their victory, though, even when, at the end of that strike, the government signed the "Gdansk Treaty" with its 21 demands, including freedom of expression, a free trade union and the right to strike. "Getting the right to have an independent trade union was a breakthrough," said Bogdan Lis, one of the founders of Solidarity. "It was so unbelievable that we could only wonder then how long it would last."

The reformers got their answer less than a year later, when the former defense minister, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who took over the reins of government in February 1981, took away the new-found freedoms. "I hereby proclaim martial law in all of Poland," he announced on television as a shocked nation watched.

Martial law lasted two years after that and the communist leaders did what they could to cripple the Solidarity movement. Government critics and union adherents were put in internment camps, including the leadership circle around Walesa. The Party tried to rid the country of what it considered a trade union disease.

While forced underground, the drive for freedom was not easily stopped, according to Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, one-time chair of the Polish writers association and Polish foreign minister in the 1990s. "The breakup of the trade unions was a step that cannot be without consequences," he said after his release from an internment camp in October 1982. "Many have been released from prison, but many are still behind bars, even renowned writers and professors. There are many who are still being arrested and sentenced, many women among them. We Catholics in Poland are very upset and worried."

Lech Walesa himself was arrested and stayed under house arrest until the end of 1982. But the movement he led, although officially dissolved by parliament in 1982 and driven underground, remained active. The unrest in the country could no longer be quieted by draconian measures from on high.

In 1988, a new wave of strikes and labor unrest spread across the country, and high on the list of strikers' demands was government recognition of Solidarity. General Jaruzelski announced he was ready to talk with the opposition and in April 1989, the government agreed to legalize the trade union and allow it to participate in free elections to a bicameral Polish parliament.

In 1990, Solidarity experienced its perhaps sweetest triumph when Walesa was elected president. But at the same time, that marked the beginning of its long demise. The movement began drifting apart with internal fighting over interests and the speed of reforms leading to its losing popularity and influence. Even Walesa, a national hero, became a target for criticism with his high-handedness. He narrowly lost a bid for re-election in 1995 to a former communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski, head of the Democratic Left Alliance.

But the story does not end there—at least not for Poland. Today, twenty-five years after Solidarity was launched, Poles head to the voting booths again. This time they seem certain to return a center-right coalition to power. And all around the world, the yearning for freedom against totalitarianism remains a vital concern. The idea of Solidarity is the "most important answer to the globalized world in the 21st century," Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski has said. "The message of 'Solidarnosc' lives on,” he argued, “as we recently saw in during the orange revolution in the Ukraine." Viktor Yushchenko, the victor of that orange revolution likewise said, “By storming freedom, Poland gives an example for the continuing path toward freedom. Each country does it in its own way. But Solidarity was a guidepost for all of us.”

And it still is. As ex-Czech president and longtime dissident Vaclav Havel asserted, “On the 25th anniversary of Solidarity, we should all be reminded of the countries where there are still dissidents fighting for human rights, and where people are not free. Solidarity does not only mean freedom, it means responsibility,” adding that the people in “Belarus, Burma, Cuba and North Korea still need clear signs of support, still need freedom, still need Solidarity.” We might add to that list all the nations in the grip of poverty and tyranny in the Islamic Bloc, across the heart of Africa, and throughout China. Indeed, may God be pleased to raise up another Solidarity for these oppressed masses.

Signs of the Times

The mainstream media’s newspaper of record admitted late Saturday that one of its reporters fabricated part of a news story on Hurricane Katrina relief. Saying his paper “flunked” the test of basic journalistic fairness, New York Times public editor Byron Calame said Alessandra Stanley’s September 5 report claiming that the Fox News Channel’s Geraldo Rivera “nudged” an Air Force relief worker out of the way so he could film himself rescuing a Katrina victim had been made up out of whole cloth.

Stanley’s bogus report continues a pattern at the “Old Gray Lady” of making up the news. Two weeks ago, columnist Paul Krugman finally was forced to admit that he falsely claimed media recounts in Florida showed Al Gore winning the 2000 presidential election. In August, a Times profile of Hillary Clinton changed a quote first reported by NewsMax where Clinton said she was “adamantly opposed to illegal immigrants.” In the toned down and doctored up Times version, Clinton’s opposition was to “illegal immigration” rather than the immigrants themselves—making for a very different story.

Friday, September 23

Reading Aloud

Recently, I have been listening to the BBC audio productions of The Chronicles of Narnia as I run. The experience has reminded me that the power of hearing great stories read aloud is an unsurpassed pleasure.

Silent reading is actually a fairly modern innovation. As late as the eighteenth century, it was thought that the best way to truly appreciate the classics was to read them aloud--all the better to relish the beauty of the words, the music of the composition, and the architecture of the ideas.

In books like the Waverly novels or Shakespeare's plays or even something as contemporary as the Narnia tales, the sundry uses of experimental literary structures or the proliferation of odd colloquialisms make reading aloud even more advisable. You’ll quickly find that what was an obstacle when you were reading silently has suddenly been transformed into a delight. Unfamiliar phrases, peculiar historical references, and odd vocabulary choices become all the more charming, challenging, and cheering.

Late last night I began rereading the wonderful old epic poem Marmion. Though I was alone in my library, I could not help but break the silence of the night to read the sonorous tones of Sir Walter Scott's brogue aloud. What a perfect way to end a long and wearying day.


"I have heard higher sentiments from the lips of the poor uneducated men and women, when exerting the spirit of severe yet gentle heroism under difficulties and afflictions, or speaking their simple thoughts as to circumstances in the lot of friends and neighbors, than I ever met with outside of the pages of the Bible. My firm conviction is that they have the advantage of never being separated from tradition by the fopperies of fashion." Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Wednesday, September 21

What Does It Profit A Man?

"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul?" (Luke 9:25)

Charles V was one of the most remarkable men in history serving as king of the Spanish realms of Castille and Aragon, the Austrian dominions, and the Netherlands as well as Holy Roman emperor for some forty years. He very nearly succeeded in uniting the world into a vast Roman Catholic fiefdom--stretching from the Americas to the frontiers of Asia.

He was born with the most royal pedigree of any man since the time of the Caesars: he the son of Philip I, king of Castile; maternal grandson of Ferdinand V of Castile and Isabella I; paternal grandson of the Habsburg Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I; and great-grandson of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy. On the death of his father in 1506, he inherited the Burgundian realm; following the death of Ferdinand in 1516, he became ruler of the vast interconnected Spanish kingdoms and colonial possessions; and when Maximilian died in 1519, he gained all the varied Habsburg lands in central Europe, where his younger brother, Ferdinand, later Emperor Ferdinand I, was governor. Also in 1519, Charles, having bribed the electors, was designated Holy Roman emperor.

Thus, before his twentieth birthday, Charles was by far the most powerful sovereign in Christendom. His inherited lands far exceeded those of the Frankish emperor Charlemagne. His territory included the Spanish realms of Aragon and Castile; the Netherlands; the Italian states of Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia; Spanish conquests in America and Africa; and all the Habsburg lands of the Germanies and the Central European Slavic realms.

Yet, his hegemony was not without challenges. He ascended the imperial throne at a time when all the German kingdoms, principalities, and duchies were agitated by Martin Luther and his dramatic grassroots Protestant reformation. In an unsuccessful attempt to restore centralized authority and absolute jurisdiction, a great diet was held in Worms in 1521, before which Luther made his memorable defense of the Gospel of sovereign grace. The diet rejected his position, and Charles subsequently issued an edict condemning Luther--but the reformer enjoyed the protection of several German electors and the masses of the people as well as the blessing of Providence.

Meanwhile, Charles was distracted by the rivalry between England, France, and the various Spanish kingdoms over the fractured Italian provinces, city states, and counties. War resulted, so Charles was unable to prosecute his assault on the Lutherans. And as if that were not bad enough, the Ottoman Turks, under the able leadership of Sultan Suleiman, were threatening to overrun Europe. The Turks already controlled the Balkan Peninsula, and in 1526, the Moslem hoard swept over the Hapsburg lands of Hungary. Then just three years later, the Turks laid siege to Vienna.

Though Charles was finally able to quell the rivalries in Europe and hold Suleiman at bay, the ever expanding decentralization of authority wrought by the Reformation emboldened the German princes to seek autonomy for their states. The peasants took advantage of the turmoil in 1524 and revolted.

In the end, it seemed that one thing or another would always conspire against his attempt to unite all of Christendom into a single Imperial See once again. Weary of the constant struggles and heavy responsibilities of his scattered realms, Charles in 1555 resigned the Netherlands and, in 1556, Castille and Aragon, to his son Philip II. In 1556 Charles announced his intention to abdicate the imperial crown in favor of his brother, Ferdinand I, who officially became emperor in 1558. Now a broken man, Charles retired that year to the monastery of San Jerónimo de Yuste in Extremadura, Castille, where he died alone, despised, and rejected on this day in 1558.

Monday, September 19

A Winsome Untruth

The first Ecumenical Council was convened in the Byzantine city of Nicea in 325 by the recently converted Roman emperor, Constantine. It was a momentous occasion--the first time the church had convened a universal synodical meeting since the time of Peter, James, John, Barnabas, and Paul at Jerusalem to discuss the initial outreach of the largely Jewish church to the Gentiles.

Three hundred and twelve bishops gathered. In the center of the room, on a throne, lay the four gospels. The emperor himself, dressed in a purple gown and with a silver diadem, opened the council saying, "I rejoice to see you here, yet I should be more pleased to see unity and affection among you." The next few days would be devoted to achieve that purpose, if at all possible, by finding an agreeable way to describe precisely who Jesus was.

The problem was that a prominent Eastern bishop, Arius had been preaching that Christ was actually a creation of God--the first of all his creatures, of course, but a creation nonetheless. He was not of the essence or substance or nature of God. "There was a time when the Son was not," he and his followers insisted. They even made up popular Unitarian songs, slogans, and jingles with catchy tunes to propagandize their ideas among the masses. The appeal was very compelling--this new non-Trinitarian was simple to understand and required no complex doctrinal formulas to explain. It was a very sane, rational, straightforward, seeker-sensitive, relevant, charismatic, and contemporary counterfeit faith. It was a winsome untruth.

Bishop Alexander of Alexandria was horrified. Jesus, the Word, had co-existed eternally with God the Father he argued. If Christ were not God, then man could not be saved, for only the infinite and holy God could forgive sin. He deposed Arius. Arius did not go quietly. He gathered followers and continued to teach his pernicious doctrine. The factions rioted. The unity of the empire was shaken. Constantine was alarmed. And that was why he called the council in the first place.

As the council progressed, the bishop of Nicomedia defended Arius' views, attempting to prove logically that Jesus, the Son of God, was a created being. Opposition bishops snatched his speech from his hand and flung it in shreds to the floor. They had suffered for Christ, some of them greatly, in the persecutions of Diocletian. They weren't about to stand by and hear their Lord blasphemed. Otherwise, to what purpose had they borne their gouged eyes, scourged backs, hamstrung legs and scorched hands?

The issues of Nicea boiled down to this. If Christ is not God, how can He overcome the infinite gap between God and man? If a created being could do it, there were angels aplenty with the power. Indeed, why could not any good man himself bridge the gap? On the other hand, Jesus had to be truly man, otherwise how could he represent mankind?

The orthodox bishops ultimately prevailed. Arius was condemned. At that point the council decided to write a creed that clarified the Bible’s teaching on the nature of Christ’s person and incarnation. The Nicean Creed became a document of fundamental importance to the church and gave clarity to the issues of orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

House A'Fire

Ben House has an excellent review of both a great battle and a great book at his always refreshing, always informative HouseBlog. Once again, his insights are simply not to be missed.

Sunday, September 18

Boot-Strap Ethic

Born into slavery, Booker T. Washington literally pulled himself up by his own bootstraps to become one of the most articulate and influential educators in the nation. Founder of the Tuskegee Institute, author of a number of books, and popular speaker, he always emphasized the importance of education, hard work, and self-discipline for the advancement of African-Americans. Washington became a celebrity, much in demand as a speaker and lecturer around the country and as a consultant and confidante to powerful politicians and community leaders. Though he was criticized by some because he refused to use his influence for direct political agitation, he had obviously begun the long process toward the reconciliation of long sundered communities and races.

He was asked to deliver an address at the Cotton States’ Exposition on this day in 1895. The invitation was noteworthy in and of itself since his audience would include both White and blacB Southerners. As a result, his speech received enormous attention throughout the country--it helped galvanize public opinion in favor of Black self-improvement.

Thus, he argued in that famous speech, “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress. There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all. If anywhere there are efforts tending to curtail the fullest growth of the Negro, let these efforts be turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him the most useful and intelligent citizen. Effort or means so invested will pay a thousand percent interest. These efforts will be twice blessed--blessing him that gives and him that takes. There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable: The laws of changeless justice bind oppressor with oppressed; And close as sin and suffering joined, we march to fate abreast.”

Washington had already instilled his philosophy of hard work, competence, and community-mindedness in thousands of students all across the country who were making a substantive difference in the welfare of African-American families, churches, neighborhoods, and businesses. And now, that boot-strap message was going out to the entire nation, thus helping to usher in a new era of civil rights for all Americans.

Friday, September 16

Samuel Davies

Though he lived only 37 years, Samuel Davies helped to shape American life and culture like very few other men had ever done before--or have done ever since. Born in Newcastle County, Delaware, 1723, he was descended from sturdy Welsh stock on both sides of his family. His parents were both devout, but his mother especially exhibited an ardent piety. Indeed, years later Davies would say, “I am a son of prayer, like my namesake, Samuel the prophet, and my mother called me Samuel, because, she said, I have asked him of the Lord.”

When the Rev Samuel Blair opened his famous school at Fagg's Manor, Pennsylvania, Samuel Davies was put under him and there completed his formal education--both classical and theological. The slender frame of the young man was very weak when he completed his studies; however, he was licensed to preach by Newcastle Presbytery in 1746. The same year he married, and the following year was ordained an evangelist for the purpose of visiting vacant congregations in Virginia. Due to his inexperience, feeble health, and a fear he would dishonor the ministry, Davies was reluctant to go--but in obedience to Presbytery he set out.

Alas, shortly afterward, on this day in 1747, his wife and son died in a sudden and afflicting manner. The brief notice in his own Bible beside the wife's name says, “September 16, 1747, separated by death, and bereaved of an abortive son.” Grief broke his already weakened constitution, and his physical condition gave his friends great concern. In such a condition Davies was unwilling to receive a call to any congregation, but traveled from one vacant pulpit to another; his ministrations always being well received so that he received a number of earnest calls for his pastoral services. Among them was one from Hanover County, Virginia, signed by heads of about 150 families and delivered personally by one of their elders.

He accepted the call and sudden blessing was poured out upon the region. At first there were five meeting houses in which he preached, and then seven in six counties, and later as many as fourteen separate meeting places over which Davies had charge. Some of these were more than 30 miles from one another. Like Whitefield and Wesley, he read while riding on horseback from one charge to another, being all alone in that vast wilderness. The meeting house closest to where Davies lived, was a plain wooden building in Hanover County capable of holding 500 people. Amazingly, the building was too small for the multitudes that assembled—including large numbers of black slaves and freedmen. So great and steady was the progress of the church in that region that under the leadership of Davies the first presbytery in Virginia was organized in 1755 with five ministers.

Hanover became the mother Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the South--and became the seedbed of principled fervor for independence in the coming conflict with Britain. As Patrick Henry--a congregant in one of the churches established by Davies--later said, “Were it not for him, America freedom would have been still born. In the Gospel he preached, the energy he displayed, and the courage he lived day by day, he modeled the true American temper.”

The Four Men and Magic

Ben House has a way with words. But it is the thinking behind those words that always catches my attention. His HouseBlog essay on the four great contemporary writers of the twentieth century--Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Tolkien, and Lewis--is simply not to be missed.

Likewise, Greg Wilbur's insight absolutely bedazzles in his WilburBlog essay on magic in literature--insight he gleaned from, of all places, the writing of the Venerable Bede.

These short pieces should go right to the top of your "must read" list.

Thursday, September 15

Father of the Constitution

His words are among the most recognizable of any of the Founding Fathers, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), who was primarily responsible for the final draft of the Constitution was also an eloquent, though sometimes windy, speaker, and members of the New York legislature, the Constitutional Convention, and the Senate were often swayed by his masterful blend of logic, wit, and imagination. Although he had strong aristocratic tendencies, and as late as 1774 wrote, “It is in the interest of all men to seek for reunion with the parent state,” in 1776 Morris spoke in the New York legislature on behalf of the colonies and against the King. He early recognized the need for a united, strong national congress. Of Morris, historian David Muzzey wrote, “he was a nationalist before the birth of the nation.”

In the Continental Congress Morris was chairman of several committees and his gifted pen produced such important documents as the instructions to Franklin, as minister to France, and detailed instructions to the peace commissioners, which contained provisions that ultimately appeared in the final treaty. As a member of Congress, he supported and signed the Articles of Confederation.

At the Constitutional Convention Morris participated in debates more than any other delegate. He argued that the President and the Senate should be elected for life, and that the Senate should represent the rich and propertied, to counterbalance the democratic character of the House of Representatives. This was, of course, rejected, but his proposal for a Council of State led to the idea of the President’s Cabinet, and he proposed that the President be elected, not by Congress, but by the people through some mechanism of federalism--and thus, the brilliant Electoral College. When the Constitution was completed, Morris was given the task of editing and revising it, and he then wrote the famous words of the preamble.

Once the Constitution was formally accepted, Morris proved one of its most devoted supporters. On September 15, two days before the delegates signed it, Morris made an impassioned speech answering Edmund Randolph, who refused to sign. Many of the delegates later attested that it was his speech that swung the tide of opinion in favor of ratification.

As minister to France in the 1790s, Morris found himself in the wrong country at the wrong time. Although he was recognized by the French revolutionists as one of the leaders of the American Revolution, he was nonetheless a Federalist with clear aristocratic sympathies. In Paris he became involved in attempts to help French nobles escape—including the Marquis de Lafayette and the King, and the revolutionists demanded his removal. After he returned he served in the Senate and, later, as chairman of the group that developed the plan for the Erie Canal, the waterway that opened the path for westward expansion.

But for all of his other accomplishments, he will forever be known as the author of those immortal words in the Preamble to the Constitution.

Wednesday, September 14

Star Spangled Banner

The War of 1812 was fiercely raging when Francis Scott Key, a Washington attorney was sent to the British naval command to secure the release of a prisoner when the fleet began to bombard the placements of American fortifications in Baltimore at Fort McHenry. Key had to watch in agony, wondering if his nation could possibly withstand such a barrage.

Though the battle raged through the night, the American defenses stood firm. The sight of the flag still flying over the fort the next morning inspired the young lawyer to pen the immortal words of the Star Spangled Banner—on this day in 1814.

Later it was set to a popular English hymn tune, Anacreon in Heaven, and it became a standard in the patriotic repertoire. Congress officially confirmed it as the national anthem more than a hundred years later, just before the First World War.

Though the first verse of the anthem is well known—sung at the opening of most political and sporting events—the other verses are almost entirely unknown:

O! say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming:
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming,
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:
O! say, does the star-spangled banner still wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mist of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam—
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is the band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country would leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave!
And the star-spangled banner in triumph cloth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the foe’s desolation;
Bless’d with victory and peace, may our heaven rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just—
And this be our motto—“In God is our trust!”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Tuesday, September 13


By all accounts, the very first catechism--a manual of Christian doctrine drawn up in the form of questions and answers for the purpose of instruction in the faith--was compiled by the English scholar Alcuin sometime in the 8th century. It was followed in the next 100 years by many others, among them those of Notker Labeo, monk of the Abbey of Saint Gall, in Switzerland, and of the German monk Otfried of Weissenburg in Alsace. Nevertheless, catechisms remained relatively rare until the time of the Reformation.

Because of Martin Luther's insistence on the religious instruction of covenant children, the venerable tradition of the catechism was revived--indeed catechisms became one of the distinctives of Reformation renewal. After Luther published his first little primer of religion, A Brief Explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer in 1520, several other catechisms were prepared by leading Protestant theologians. Luther's visitation of the Saxon churches in 1528 led him to prepare his Larger and Smaller Catechisms the following year.

The Swiss, English, Dutch, and Scottish Reformed also made wide use of catechisms--and a number were published in the 16th century. The most noteworthy were the Geneva and Heidelberg catechisms, and those of the German theologian Johannes Oecolampadius of Basel. The Swiss reformer Heinrich Bullinger produced a catechism in Zürich in 1555. Likewise, John Calvin produced catechisms for the church in Geneva. The Smaller Catechism was published in French in 1536 while the Larger Catechism appeared in 1541--both of which were translated into various languages, and became an acknowledged standard of the Reformed churches.

The Heidelberg, or Palatinate, catechism was compiled in Heidelberg by the German theologians Caspar Olevianus and Zacharias Ursinus, at the request of the Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate. It was published in 1563 and was translated into all the languages of Europe. It became the standard of the Dutch and German Reformed churches of America. Soon, even the Roman Catholic church, began producing catechisms--the first was prepared by the Council of Trent and published in 1566.

The Larger and Shorter Catechisms, which, with the Westminster Confession of Faith, became the standard catechisms of the Presbyterian churches throughout the countries of the former British Empire were compiled by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster between 1645 and 1652. The very familiar Shorter Catechism opens with the words, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Amazingly, this little didactic device became the means by which the very foundations of Western culture were reshaped. As Samuel Johnson asserted, “The little questions and answers of the catechisms afford us a glimpse at the inner framework of the Western view of the world.”

Saturday, September 10

Slough, Great Thou Art

During one episode in John Bunyan's classic, Pilgrim's Progress, Christian seems to be hopelessly mired in a "Slough of Despond.” No amount of effort seems sufficient to redeem him from such a perilous plight, so Christian resigns himself to a sad, sedentary demise. Suddenly, though, out of nowhere, a fellow pilgrim named Help comes to the rescue. With a single reach of the hand and a hearty tug, Help pulls Christian out of the slough and onto safe ground once again. In short order, both pilgrims are off and on their way, their destination now one trial closer than before.

If for no other reason than for clarity's sake, it is a good thing Bunyan set this scene in the early seventeenth century. Had he written it in contemporary America, the scenario would have to have been substantially more complex. Help would not have been able to just walk right up to the edge of the slough and yank Christian out. Oh, my, no!

Instead, Help would probably have been required to submit an environmental impact statement on pilgrim removal. In triplicate, of course. Upon receipt of Environmental Protection Agency approval, Help then would have been required to conduct a sectional opinion survey or, perhaps, call for a community-wide referendum, thus securing permission from the citizenry to undertake such a bold course of action. He would have had to gain approval from local, state, and federal FEMA officials, received disaster management instruction and certification from the Red Cross, and have undergone special psychological counseling and gender-specific sensitivity training. Next, he would have had to retain a lawyer, to protect him from criminal and/or civil liabilities; a press secretary, to schedule all future media appearances; and a literary agent, to find the best market for this “life story,” tentatively entitled Slough, Great Thou Art.

Finally, since he was a devout man, he would have had to return to his prayer closet in order to ascertain rightfully “God’s will” in the matter.

Meanwhile, of course, Christian would have expired in the slough, thus writing a premature and an entirely unsatisfactory ending to the tale.

Somehow we have complicated even the simplest of human transactions. Deals are no longer sealed with a handshake. They are dependent upon clause after clause of legalese. Marriages are no longer bound by vows. They are consummated by bilateral prenuptial property contracts. Helping is no longer a matter of neighborly concern. It is stipulated, conditioned, and administered by legislation and litigation. Humanism's grand scheme has backfired and, as a result, our society is less human than ever before.

All the finger-pointing, political-posturing, and blame-shifting we’re now seeing in the aftermath of Katrina is a stark reminder of that. On the other hand, the remarkable mobilization of churches all across America to help those who have suffered great loss begin to dig out, rebuild, and recover, is a beautiful study in contrast.

Biblical charity acts as an immutable humanizing force in the midst of such modern inhumanity. Biblical charity reaches across all barriers and defies all odds to rescue, without any delay, those caught in the sloughs of despond and deprivation. Biblical charity extends a steady, ready hand in times of need.

Friday, September 9

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

I know. I know. I should have known better. I could have saved myself a great deal of trouble--to say nothing of the gas. But, I fell into the trap of thinking that I might actually be able to find a couple of books at our local Christian bookstore. Generally, I avoid such places like the plague. But, this afternoon I lapsed into what I can only suggest may have been temporary insanity.

I was hunting for a few commentaries. I am currently teaching through the Book of Acts and I am about to begin a series in the Gospel of Luke and perhaps another on the Epistle of James. I had thirty minutes between appointments and was near the dread Box-Store-Valley (otherwise known in my personal parlance as the Geography of Nowhere) just adjascent to our even more dreadful Maxi-Mall (affectionately known to me as Gehenna). So, I headed over to the Mega-Mart-for-All-Things-Evangelical. Surely somewhere in that 10,000 square foot garish behemoth, I thought, I would find a book or two. Nope. No such luck. None. Nada. Nothing.

Stunned, I stood in the middle of the store for a moment looking across the Jam-Packed-Miles-of-Aisles wondering what on earth anyone could possibly want with any of that Glitzy-Shiny-Tacky-Holy-Hardware! And then I quickly realized that standing there was bad for me, my attitude, my character--and my witness. I was having an extreme spiritual-cultural-intellectual allergic reaction.

I quickly turned on my heels, hopped in my truck, and drove away--with ESPN blithering away on the radio.

I think I'll be OK. But, it may take a few days.

God of Nature

Stephen D. Lawton, Director of Music and Worship at Mitchell Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, South Carolina has written the following hymn, offered in response to the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina:

God of Nature, at Whose Voice

God of nature, at whose voice the waves and winds must now obey,
Give your people words of comfort, acts of grace to share today.
Yours the pow’r of devastation, yours to gather, help and heal;
We know not your ways of wisdom; let your light our paths reveal.

Shelter Lord, the homeless, helpless, young and old with pity see,
Give their daily food, supply their needs with perfect equity.
Grant protection, strength and patience to their rescuers, we pray;
Fill with hope the laboring workers, grace to serve both night and day.

Bring your people ever closer, sharing pain of grief and loss,
Motivate us, loving Savior, with the love shown by your cross.
We, your Body, long to serve you, serving others in your name,
And when sorrow washes o’er us, Gracious Spirit, heal the pain.

Call our nation to repentance; gather us that we may see
You’re the God of love and mercy; rescue us and set us free.
Let our deeds announce redemption, saving grace for all our days.
Let your song go forth to cheer us, lifting heart and hands to praise. Amen.

Beach Spring, 87.87.D (Come All Christians Be Committed)

© 2005 Stephen D Lawton, all rights reserved
Permission is hereby granted for credited use, unaltered, only in public worship.

Tuesday, September 6


According to J.R.R. Tolkien, "The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of the traveler who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gate should be shut and the keys be lost."

Cinderella is one of the most beloved of these great stories we call “fairy tales.” Its familiar narrative abounds with great moral lessons, rich literary reflections, and deep spiritual implications--if you've been ruined by the silly childishness and cloying sweetness of the Disney version, you probably need to take a second, more serious look. The story has been told and retold innumerable times through the ages--in a wide variety of styles, utilizing a vast array of genres. At the University of Southern Mississippi, there is even an academic archive--the Cinderella Project--dedicated to studying every aspect of the old tale. It is indeed, "wide and deep and high and filled with many things."

Besides the early retelling by the Brothers Grimm, one of my favorite versions of the story is the original musical created for television in 1957. In a rare stroke of genius, CBS asked the great Broadway duo, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, to write the very first musical for prime time American television. Rodgers composed the music and Hammerstein wrote the lyrics to this delightfully rich story.

It starred a budding young actress named Julie Andrews, who was only 21 at the time of production, and was currently on Broadway performing the lead role in My Fair Lady. It was seen in color on the East Coast (for those few who actually had color television) and in black and white on the West coast. The West coast performance was seen 3 hours later, using a kinescope taping of the original. The production was met with unprecedented success. It was viewed the largest TV audience up to that time--over 107 million people. It also received rave reviews from the critics. Sadly, at the time videotape had yet to be perfected, thus preventing a quality repeat broadcast.

CBS reproduced and rebroadcast the show in 1965. In this production several enduring changes were made. A song was added for the Prince to sing which was originally written for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific but was cut before its debut on Broadway. And, the names of the stepsisters were changed from Joy and Portia to Prunella and Esmerelda. Though this changed some of the literary symbolism of the original fairy tale, it struck a chord with viewers and it eventually became the standard--even making its way into the wildly popular Walt Disney animated version of the old story.

This next week, the Franklin Classical School music and drama department will perform a full production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s original. In two performances on September 15 and another two on September 17, the student performers will remake this old classic for a whole new generation of Americans. Don’t miss this great opportunity. Performances are at 2:00 and 7:00 PM at the W Theater, 274 Mallory Station Road, near the Cool Springs Galleria in Franklin.

Sunday, September 4

Desire Street Ministries

Desire Street Ministries is one of the most remarkable and effective urban outreaches and community development ministries anywhere in the country. Sadly, like nearly everyone else in the city of New Orleans, the ministry, its leaders, and their families have suffered a devastating, total loss following the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe.

Mo Leverett, the PCA pastor who pioneered the work among the poorest of the poor in that benighted city, was able to evacuate safely with his family. He has now set up temporary, makeshift offices in Atlanta. Despite the fact that he and his family have literally lost everything--their home, their ministry facilities, and all of their worldly positions--they know that Desire Street's work is more vital than ever before. So, Mo and his dedicated staff and volunteers are already beginning the process of reorganizing and rebuilding.

It won't be easy. The staff is as scattered and in as much need of substantial financial relief as the families they have long ministered to in the heart of the city. Nevertheless, the ministry is quickly mobilizing to partner with other relief organizations and churches to respond to the needs of the refugees from New Orleans. They are also in the process of looking for an alternate location for Desire Street Academy--a vital classical Christian school committed to raising up a whole new generation of leaders from and for the inner city.

Please pray. But also, please consider giving financially. The ministry's website was down and offline for most of the last week--but a remote server site has been established and the site is up and running again. There you can find the latest information, a people registry, and all various ways you can contribute to this vital work.

If you would like to respond financially, you can give directly online at the website or you can send your checks payable to Desire Street Ministries and mail them to:

Whitney National Bank
Mail Teller
1716 Mangum Road
Houston, TX 77092

Now is the time for us to come together to support local, indigenous ministries like Desire Street as they seek to minister to their beloved neighbors.

The Great Commission

The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 is familiar turf for most Christians. Its primary teaching is quite straightforward and commonly understood. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”

All authority in heaven is His, of course. The heights and the depths, the angels and the principalities are all under His sovereign rule. But all authority on earth is His as well. Man and creature, as well as every invention and institution, are under His sovereign rule. There are no neutral areas in all of the cosmos that escape the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:17).

Therefore, on this basis, the Commission states that believers are to extend Christ's Kingdom, making disciples in all nations by going, baptizing, and teaching. This mandate is the essence of the New Covenant, which is but an extension of the Old Covenant: go and reclaim everything in heaven and on earth for the Kingdom, working out the full implications of beauty, goodness, and truth for His Name's sake (Genesis 1:28). We are called to be a part of that which will, in the fullness of time, “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one Head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). Our call is to win all things for Jesus. The emphasis is inescapable: we are not to stop with simply telling the nations that Jesus is Lord; we are to demonstrate His Lordship by exercising Gospel faithfulness in our culture. We are to make disciples who will obey everything that He has commanded, not just in a hazy zone of piety, but in the totality of life.

This is the primary thrust of the Great Commission. It is the spiritual, emotional, and cultural mandate to win all the world for Jesus, by grace through faith.

The tendency of modern Christians to sidestep all the implications of the Great Commission except soul-saving has, in stark contrast, paved the way for inhuman humanism's program to crush our liberties and steal away our freedoms. When the Christian's task is limited to merely snatching brands from the flickering flames of perdition, then virtually all Christian influence is removed from the world. There is little or nothing to restrain the ambitions of evil men and movements. There are no checks, no balances, no standards, and no limitations. God's counsel goes unheard and unheeded.

Commenting on this tragic tendency, the great Victorian pastor and reformer, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, said, “There are certain pious moderns who will not allow the preacher to speak upon anything but those doctrinal statements concerning the way of salvation which are known as ‘the Gospel.’ We do not stand in awe of such criticism, for we clearly perceive that our Lord Jesus Christ himself would very frequently have come under it. Read the Sermon on the Mount and judge whether certain among the pious would be content to hear the like of it preached to them. Indeed, they would condemn it as containing very little Gospel and too much good works. They would condemn it as containing all too much of the legal. But we must never let be forgotten Christ's emphasis: the law must be preached, for what the law demands of us, the Gospel produces in us, else ours is no Gospel at all.”

Biblical Christianity, authentic cutting-edge Christianity, as Spurgeon asserts, embraces the comprehensive implications of the Great Commission. It applies Scripture to every area of life and godliness. The fact is, the salvation of souls is an immediate and important aim of the Great Commission. But the penultimate aim does not end there--it is the promotion of the glory of the Triune God (Romans 16:25-27). We most assuredly must have a passion for souls (2 Corinthians 5:11). We must take every opportunity (Colossians 4:5), expend every energy (2 Corinthians 6:4-10), and risk every expense (Acts 5:20) for every single man, woman, and child. But personal redemption is not the do-all and end-all of the Great Commission. The message of God, like the redemptive work of God, is covenantal. Thus, our evangelism must include sociology as well as salvation. It must include reform and redemption, culture and conversion, a new social order as well as a new birth, a revolution as well as a regeneration. Any other kind of evangelism is shortsighted and woefully inadequate. Any other kind of evangelism fails to live up to the high call of the Great Commission.

Our monolithic humanistic culture attests all too well that all our bumper-sticker, revival-meeting, door-to-door, and televangeism strategies are simply not sufficient in and of themselves for the task of satisfying the demands of authentic Christianity of fulfilling the Great Commission.

It is vital that we release our evangelism from the restraints of passive Christianity in order to mount a full-scale assault on evil and privation. It is vital that we set our evangelistic visions by the Scriptural pattern. It is vital that evangelism becomes the invasion of lifestyle and society it was intended from the start to be.