Friday, May 19


While I am in England, I will take a brief hiatus from blogging--until June 1 or 2 (depending on the jet lag and the piles of correspondence on my desk). In the meantime, here are some of the places I will be visiting with my students:

London Town

Though London was for more than a century the most populous city on earth, it was also always a collection of villages. Each village used to have a unique quality and some still do. The Government focuses on Whitehall, with power derived from parliament in Westminster--incomplete without the royal family, whose public and private life is still centered around St. James' Park. Newspapers used to be in Fleet Street, book publishers in Bloomsbury, antiquarian shops on Charing Cross, films in Wardour Street, theatres in Shaftesbury Avenue, fashion in Mayfair and fruit and vegetables in Covent Garden. And they all still are to one degree or another.

Oh sure, the architectural wizzardry of Sir Norman Foster has transformed the city with the Gerkin spires of Swiss Re and City Hall or the deep thrusts of the Millennium Bridge and Heathrow East. And the inevitably busy urbanism of one of the world's greatest cities tends to impose a smothering uniformity on the seething mass of humanity swarming out of Victoria--or Waterloo or Euston or King's Cross or whatever other station you might choose. Still, there is an amazing distictiveness that hangs over London like its once ubiquitous fogs.

According to G.K. Chesterton, "Here is the place where England ends--and here is where England can begin." Henry van Dyke describes the city this way, "Oh, London is a man’s town; there’s power in the air."

Two poems likewise capture the essence of the town. The first is by Henry Howarth Bashford:

As I came down the Highgate Hill
I met the sun’s bravado,
And saw below me, fold on fold,
Grey to pearl and pearl to gold,
This London like a land of old,
The land of Eldorado.

The second is by John Mansfield:

Oh London Town’s a fine town,
And London sights are rare,
And London ale is right ale
And brisk’s the London air.

But, of all the descriptions of London I have read, perhaps my favorite is James Bone's vision of St. Paul's:

"The mighty fleet of Wren, with their topgallants and mainsails of stone. The nautical simile leaps to the mind at the sight of Wren’s white spires and towers, and it is appropriate, too, to the material in which Wren worked. Portland stone is a marine deposit of the Noahic period before Britain first at Heaven’s command arose from out the azure main. Its beds are full of fossils of marine creatures, cockles, sea urchins, starfish, and oysters. You can see shell imprints on the freshly cut whitbed stone on the top of the new Bush building, and you can see the horses heads—as certain sea fossils are called by masons—on the weathered parapet of St. Paul’s. You can see and feel the shells projecting form the plinth of King Charles’ statue at Charing Cross. It is a strange thought that the majesty of the capital of this sea-joined empire should come itself from beneath the sea. How could the poets have missed such a theme?"

Thursday, May 18

English Books

My good friend, Ben House, stirred up by thoughts of English books and the land that has spawned them in great and glorious profusion, sent me this marvelous bit of original verse:

Most unlikely kingdom of warmth and light,
Detached, aloof, on a soggy island,
Whose lesser kingdom would reach all the seas,
Whose greater empire was rule of letters.

With Celt and Saxon, Viking, and Norman
Spilling and mingling blood and mixing tongues,
Graced and blessed by legion and priest from Rome,
Raising crosses and stuttering the psalms.

England rose and conquered, stood in triumph,
Making Homer and Virgil her servants,
Perfecting Greek myths and Petrarch’s sonnets,
Breaking the bread of Rome with common prayer.

We of rebels' sons and distant daughters,
Still claim the patrimony by our blood,
Our scribblings show barest hint of features,
Our love, near idolatrous devotion.

Tuesday, May 16

This England

Whenever I visit England, I will inevitably call to mind this very nearly transcendent prose-poem of William Shakespeare:

This royal throne of kings,
This sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty,
This seat of Mars,
This other Eden,
This demi-paradise,
This fortress built by nature herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men,
This little world.
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot,
This earth,
This realm,
This England.
Renowned for deeds as far from home
For Christian service and true chivalry
As unto the Holy Sepulchre itself, this land
Of such dear souls,
This dear, dear land:
This England.

Charing Cross in London Town

In less than a week, I will be taking the Franklin Classical School seniors to England. A good bit of the time while we are there will be spent in the city of London. And one of my favorite places in London is Charing Cross, near the West End theater district. Over the years I have made some of my best antiquarian book finds there in the little shops that line the lane. I am always reminded of the wonderful little poem, "Charing Cross in London Town" by Norman Davey:

By Charing Cross in London Town
There runs a road of high renown,
Where antique books are ranged on shelves
As dark and dusty as themsleves.

And many book lovers have spent
Their substance there with great content,
And vexed their wives and filled their homes
With faded prints and massive tomes.

I can hardly wait.

Thursday, May 11


We are enamoured of progress. We live at a time when things shiny and new are prized far above things old and time-worn. For most of us, tradition is little more than a quirky and nostalgic sentimentalism. It is hardly more than the droning, monotonous succession of obsolete notions, anachronous ideals, and antiquarian habits--sound and fury, signifying nothing. Henry Ford called an awareness of history and an appreciation for the past mere “bunk.” Augustine Birrell called it “a dust heap.” Guy de Maupassant dubbed it “that excitable and lying old lady.” But many of the wisest of men and women through the ages have recognized that honoring and remembering the traditions, accomplishments, and aspirations of the past form the firm foundations upon which all true advancement must be built--that they are in fact, the prerequisites to all genuine progress:

"The greatest advances in human civilization have come when we recovered what we had lost: when we learned the lessons of history." Winston Churchill

"Those who have no concern for their ancestors will, by simple application of the same rule, have none for their descendants." Richard Weaver

"A contempt of the monuments and the wisdom of the past, may be justly reckoned one of the reigning follies of these days, to which pride and idleness have equally contributed." Samuel Johnson

"To comprehend the history of a thing is to unlock the mysteries of its present, and more, to disclose the profundities of its future." Hilaire Belloc

"In literature as in love, courage is half the battle. Likewise, in virtue as in fashion, tradition is the surest guide to the future." Sir Walter Scott

"Clearly, in order to advance the cause of life and liberty in these dark and difficult days, we must recover what we have lost—we must learn the lessons of history. There is no need for us to attempt to reinvent the wheel. The battles for truth, justice, and mercy have been fought again and again and again. Successfully. We need not cast about for direction. We need not grope in the dark for strategies, programs, and agendas. We need not manufacture new ideas, new priorities, or new tactics. We already have a tested and proven formula for victory. We already have a winning legacy. We simply need to reclaim it. We simply need to recover what is rightfully ours." Tristan Gylberd

"Both the liberals and the conservatives have lost definition. Neither one can make us know what a tradition might." Andrew Nelson Lytle

Thy Way, Not Mine

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) was among the disciples of Thomas Chalmers that laid foundations of reformation and restoration in the nineteenth century Scottish Free Church. He was, like so many of his peers, multi-faceted and multi-talented. Besides being a brilliant teacher, preacher, historian, theologian, and missionary, he was a fine poet and musician. He was a voluminous hymn writer, many of which became known all over the English-speaking world, gracing hymnbooks to this day. Some of his best works were published in two volumes, Hymns of Faith and Hope and My Old Letters.

Among my favorites is this remarkable call to obedience and submission, written in 1857:

Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be;
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.

Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it leads
Right onward to Thy rest.

I dare not choose my lot;
I would not, if I might;
Choose Thou for me, my God,
So I shall walk aright.

Take Thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem;
Choose Thou my good and ill.

Choose Thou for me my friends,
My sickness or my health;
Choose Thou my cares for me
My poverty or wealth.

The kingdom that I seek
Is Thine: so let the way
That leads to it be Thine,
Else I must surely stray.

Not mine, not mine the choice
In things or great or small;
Be Thou my Guide, my Strength
My Wisdom, and my All.

Wednesday, May 10

A Closer Walk

A single unattributed stanza of a hymn quoted in Spurgeon's Morning and Evening sent several members of our church staff on a determined hunt. Lo and behold, the quote turned out to be the fifth stanza of a hymn by William Cowper: "O for a Closer Walk with God." Quoted here in full, I think you'll see why our office was in such a frenzy to find it today:

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heav'nly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!

Where is that blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soulrefreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their mem'ry still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.

Return, O holy Dove! return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn,
And drove Thee from my breast.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.

So shall my walk be close with God,
Serene and calm my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.

Tuesday, May 9

Reading Aloud

"'Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon."
Edward Lear (1812-1888)

Silent reading is 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. Of course, the classics are not limited to great philosophical tomes by the likes of Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. In fact, some of the greatest classic works ever written are books for children--books that are at their very best when read aloud.

The best thing about reading aloud to children aside from developmental progress and all that good stuff, is onomatopoeia. “Clang, clang!” “Harrumph!” “Chugga-chugga” “Choo-Choo” “Splat” “Ring! Ring!” “Flutter, Flutter.” Wonderful children’s literature doesn’t just progress along the pages in staid font transferring information, it sings out from the very book at us! Be it Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel digging away furiously or Peter Rabbit hopping lippity, lippity through Mr. MacGregor’s dangerous garden patch, we are fully engaged from once-upon-a-time to everyone-lived-happily-ever-after. Ducks wear poke bonnets, trains wish desperately to make children happy, dreams come true, elephants and carpets fly, and small children affect the outcome of their worlds. Adults who wear business attire and behave perfectly appropriately in steel and glass towers day after monotonous day transform themselves into snakes, mean old hags, princesses with snooty accents, and sorrowful baby bears when a small child is snuggled on their lap with a good book. Is it any wonder that a happy child’s evening litany includes “Read one more book, please?”

Children’s classics are those books that can be read over and over and over again, with great anticipation and satisfaction. Character traits that would serve well both presidents and street sweepers are inculcated between the few pages, and good, while often tattered, does overcome evil in the end. Lost battles are still worth the fight. As in real life, the honor and import of the struggle count more than winning.

Do you miss it? Then rush out to a school in your own neighborhood and ask for the privilege to read to some children once a week. Better yet, ask for the greater privilege of teaching someone to read as a volunteer tutor in a local school. The rewards of macaroni necklaces, somewhat sticky hugs, long, extremely detailed stories of the day’s adventures, and glittery homemade cards are surprisingly as touching as gifts from your own loved ones, as well as the quiet inner assurance that you are making a difference in the world forever after.

Rather than purchasing huge quantities of books for your children, purchase quality copies of some great ones, and read these over and over again.

Reading quietly to a small child in the tub just after the dinner hour has a calming effect on the entire household.

Do you have one of those busy little people in your family who finds it very difficult to sit still? They really can concentrate better on the story you’re reading if they have a crayon and paper in front of them or a small car to hold in their hands as you read.

Keep wonderful books such as The Chronicles of Narnia or the G.A. Henty adventures or the Jan Karon Mitford novels in the car and read aloud to the entire family if you have a regular long commute together, or will be together on vacation.

Make sure each child has a bookshelf of their own or a space of their own on the family bookshelf. Books should never be kept in toyboxes where they will be destroyed. Treat them as if they are very valuable.

Your children must see you reading if they are to take reading seriously themselves.

Perhaps you missed out on many wonderful children’s classics as a child. Buy them, read them, then donate the books to area school libraries or create a small library at a shelter for kids in transitional housing. Any schoolteacher can provide you with the name of a young student who needs and would appreciate a book for Christmas.

If you have more than one child in your family, their reading skills will vary. Some children simply don’t read well; it is work for them, and not unadulterated joy. For these children especially, reading aloud to them for as many years as they will listen is especially important for their cultural understanding and development. Things as simple as the inflection in your voice when you read about an inappropriate action by a character will imprint upon your child’s moral character if read to often.

Some children simply aren’t as affectionate as others. They often get left out when it comes to reading time merely because it isn’t as sensuously enjoyable for everyone as with a snuggling sweetheart engaged in the story. These children need your patience and time even more than others, who will probably find ways to get their needs met in life through normal daily interaction. Do whatever it takes to keep their attention: feed them cookies, let them blow bubbles, and concentrate on rhyming, fast-moving stories and beautiful illustrations. You may be the only person in their entire life who will take the time to interest them in books. A lot of extra stimulation is not advised however for a child easily read to. Imagination develops in wonderful ways when pure listening skills are employed.

"There is a great deal of difference between the eager man who wants to read a book and the tired man who wants a book to read. A man reading a Le Quex mystery wants to get to the end of it. A man reading the Dickens novel wished that it might never end." George MacDonald (1824-1905)

"Mediocre minds usually dismiss anything which reaches beyond their own understanding." Duc de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

"You can find all the new ideas in the old books; only there you will find them balanced, kept in their place, and sometimes contradicted and overcome by other and better ideas. The great writers did not neglect a fad because they had not thought of it, but because they had thought of it and of all the answers to it as well." G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

"The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not yet read them." Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

Monday, May 8

In Memorium: Otto Scott

Author, commentator, historian, and teacher, Otto Scott quietly went home to be with the Lord on May 5, 2006 in Issaquah, WA. Otto was preceded in death by his wife of 34 years, Anna Barney Scott, in August 1997 but he is survived by four daughters and a host of grandchildren.

He served in the US Merchant Marines during WWII, and had a successful career in advertising and as a journalist after the war ended. He then went on to pursue his lifelong dream of being a writer and was the author of ten books including The Exception: The story of Ashland Oil, James I: The Fool as King, The Creative Ordeal: The Story of Raytheon, Robespierre: The Voice of Virtue, The Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionists, The Professional: A Biography of J.B. Saunders, The Other End of the Lifeboat, The Great Christian Revolution, and Buried Treasure: The Story of Arch Mineral.

Otto made a living from his corporate biographies, yet achieved fame from his thorough knowledge of history and poetic use of language. He was also the author of Otto Scott’s Compass, a monthly journal of contemporary culture which ran for fifteen years, and was widely read by a number of well-known conservatives.

For me, Otto was a friend, mentor, and provocateur. He was brilliant. He was controversial. He was irascible. He was unflapable. I will miss his razor wit and his fierce passion. I will miss his wild stories from around the world. I will miss his keen insights and his wide-ranging knowledge.

His funeral will be held on Saturday, May 13, 2006 at 11:00 AM at the Gethsemane Cemetery--with arrangements managed by BONNEY-WATSON--in Federal Way, WA.

Sunday, May 7

Giving Offense

The renowned English preacher of the last generation, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones once remarked, “The great effect of our Lord's preaching was to make everybody feel condemned, and nobody likes that.” On almost every page of the New Testament, we find Jesus offending someone. When He wasn't confronting the Scribes and the Pharisees, He was rebuking the promiscuous and the perverse. When He wasn't alienating the Saducees and the Herodians, He was reproving the tax-collectors and the prostitutes. He even had a knack for estranging His own disciples with His “hard sayings” (John 6:60) and “dark parables” (Matthew 13:11).

Jesus “meek and mild” was rarely meek or mild when it came to sin. He pulled no punches. At various times, and when the situation demanded, Jesus publicly denounced sinners as snakes, dogs, foxes, hypocrites, fouled tombs, and dirty dishes. He actually referred to one of His chief disciples as Satan. So that His hearers would not miss the point, He sometimes referred to the objects of his most intense ridicule both by name and by position, and often face to face. . . . Christ did not affirm sinners; He affirmed the repentant. Others He often addressed with the most withering invective. God incarnate did not avoid using words and tactics that His listeners found deeply offensive. He well understood that sometimes it is wrong to be nice. He was an equal opportunity offender.

Christ came into this world to call all humanity unto repentance. Thus His message stands out as an unflinching condemnation of the fallen estate of all humanity: the great and the small, the good and the bad, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor. It matters not who we may be or from whence we come, the Gospel is an affront to all that we have done and to all that we are: “There is none righteous, no not one.” Such a message was never intended to be popular; it was intended to be true. There is no justice in a killing kindness; it may be attained only in the brutal apprehension of our dire need of Christ. We all desperately need Good News, not nice news. And that is simply not a popular notion. Not now. Not ever. Thus, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not” (John 1:11).

We don't want to hear that our hearts are “deceitful and wicked above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). We don't want to hear that “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) or that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We don't want to hear that our corrupt lives have resulted in a corrupt culture where the innocent are exploited, the helpless are despoiled, and the downtrodden are utterly forgotten. We don't want to hear that there are very real and tangible consequences to our sin that ultimately must be dealt with. We would much rather find a series of steps that would “enable” us, “empower” us, or help us to “recover,” than we would to hear the clear message of grace, “Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

According to Lloyd-Jones, “If Christ had come and told us that the way of salvation was to consider a great, noble, and wonderful teaching and then to set out and do it, why, we would have liked it. Thoughts of imitating Christ always please mankind, because they flatter us. They tell us that if we only use our wills we can do almost anything. . . . The world today in its state of trouble is very ready to listen to sermons that tell it somehow or another about the application of Christian principles. No one is annoyed at them. 'What wonderful thoughts' people say. 'What a wonderful conception.' But the message of the Gospel is that, 'The world is as it is because you are as you are. You are in trouble and confusion because you are not honoring God; because you are rebelling against Him; because of your self-will, your arrogance, and your pride. You are reaping,' says the Gospel, 'what you have sown.'. . . We all dislike that, and yet it is always the message of Christ--He called upon men and women to repent, to acknowledge their sin with shame and to turn back to God in Him, but the message of repentance always has been and still is a cause of offense.”

Friday, May 5

A de Tocquevillian Ring

Alexis de Tocqueville has oft been quoted--though perhaps apocryphally--as having said:

"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

I was reminded of this astute perspective as I read Rodney Stark's fascinating article, "A Civil Religion," in the May 2006 issue of The American Enterprise. In it, Stark recounts observations about America's "genius" by one of Communist China's leading economic, social, and political analysts . His statement has a hauntingly distinctive "de Tocquevillian" ring:

"One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact the pre-eminence, of the West.... We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics."

He concluded by asserting, "We don't have any doubt about this."

Interesting that the Communist Chinese don't have any doubt about this, but we most assuredly do.

Tuesday, May 2

A Petrine Tactic

It is a Petrine tactic:
To strike at ears
In bold bursts of passion
And conjured tears,
Only to be quick followed
By brazen perjury.
It is the sudden revelation
Of a heart’s larceny.