Thursday, June 29

Feast Day of St. Peter and St. Paul

Throughout Christendom, this day has been cause for a celebration of the proclamation of the Gospel--not just of the two men whose lives are synonymous with it. Children born on this day have invariably been named for both saints. Thus, in 1577 when the Rubens family near the village of Siegen in the heart of Westphalia was blessed with a son, they followed the tradition of the lower Netherlands naming him for the two saints. He would grow up to become one of the greatest of the Flemish masters: Peter Paul Rubens.

Tuesday, June 27

Glory! Glory! Glory!

It was on this day in 1736 that George Whitefield preached his first sermon before a small Anglican congregation in England. A member of the Holy Club, to which John and Charles Wesley also belonged, he took as his topic the need for Christians to care for one another. At first his speech was awkward, for his mother, his brothers and sisters, and many who had known him as a youngster were in the audience. But as he proceeded, he later recalled, the Spirit filled him. Those who came to listen were so moved by the authority of his words that a few parishioners complained to the bishop that some of them had actually gone "mad." Whitefield himself wrote in his diary, "Glory! Glory! Glory! be ascribed to an Almighty Triune God."

Of course, he went on to become one of the greatest evangelists in the history of the church--preaching thousands more powerful sermons in England, Scotland, and throughout the widespread colonial settlements across the Atlantic. He became the driving force in the Great Awakening which brought fresh life to America's cities and churches. His last sermon was preached in 1770 while on his seventh tour of the colonies. He was desperately ill but, mounting a barrel, urged his listeners to examine themselves whether they were in the faith. To be saved, they must be born again, he urged--as he had so many times before. That night he went to sleep in America and awoke in Heaven.

Monday, June 26

Both the Darkest and Brightest

In the days that followed its tragic sinking in the North Atlantic, the Titanic came to symbolize different things to different groups. Many perceived the ship to be a modern incarnation of the Tower of Babel. The sinking represented God’s unwillingness to allow man to build any edifice of invincibility or to seek salvation through technology. The frequent boasts of Titanic's indestructibility by builders and promoters of the leviathan were viewed as a direct challenge to the Creator.

According to Charles Linden, pastor of the prominent Yarborough Presbyterian Church in New York, that calamitous night, when the White Star liner went down to the ocean floor, “was both the darkest and brightest night in modern maritime history.” In a sermon reprinted around the country on this day in 1912. “Where the sin of human presumption abounds, the grace of God abounds all the more,” he asserted.

Consequently, he argued that many Christians could take great solace in the profoundly moving examples of courage and bold manhood represented by the men who faithfully honored the command "women and children first," men who gave up their lives when they gave up their seats on the few available lifeboats. With only a few exceptions, he said, Titanic’s men willingly gave up their places for others, thus exemplifying the verse, "Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for another."

The most poignant examples Linden cited came from the many incidents in which families were split up. Husbands literally looked into the eyes of their wives and children, whispered tender last words, and lowered their families into lifeboats with the full realization that they would never see them again. Thus, he argued “One of Titanic's greatest ironies was that she became a symbol of duty and faith.”

The suffragettes of 1912 had another opinion. To them the Titanic was a symbol of patriarchal oppression. They reacted negatively to Linden’s sermon. The philosophy that man should be protector and defender of womankind was a fundamental impediment to their cause. They resented the fact that the suffragette movement was criticized by newspapers which ran articles asking questions like "Boats or votes?" Consequently, feminists argued that the policy "women and children first," which had insured a death ratio of nine men for every one woman on the Titanic, was little more than a patriarchal sentiment that hid an agenda of suppression. Leading suffragettes actually argued that Titanic women were wrong to have accepted seats on the boats from men.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Saturday, June 24

Midsummer Day

Today marks what the Medievals called "Midsummer Day" in commemoration of the martyrdom of John the Baptist. Celebrations in rural English villages included the lavish decorating of the village well. This then became the focal point for music recitals and Morris Dancing throughout the day. As the traditional carol asserted:

When bloody Herod reigned king,
Within Judea's land,
Much woes his cruel will did bring,
By bloody fierce command.
Amongst the rest with grief oppressed,
Was good Saint John there slain,
Who on this day, 'midst sport and play,
A martyred death did gain.


In an effort to relieve the besieged Stirling Castle, England’s King Edward II, the effeminate son of the cruel Longshanks, sent troops northward into Scotland—a land that had been in constant rebellion against his sovereignty for more than a decade. First there was William Wallace and his ragged corps of Highland warriors. Now there was the loyal army of the presumptive king of an independent Scottish nation, Robert the Bruce.

Though the great castle overlooking the wide plain of Bannockburn had thus far been able to resist Bruce’s assault, Edward knew it would not be able to hold out much longer. The taking of this fortress was an achievement of which Edward was prouder than of anything else he had done in his invasion of Scotland—in the royal annals, he made it of far greater moment than even his victory over Wallace at Falkirk.

The time and the place of the inevitable battle were thus fixed by an obdurate necessity, on this day in 1314; The English were bound to relieve Stirling Castle; The Scots must prevent them. If the invaders were not met and fought at Bannockburn, they might outflank the Scots and reach the castle. And if the Scots did meet and fight them there, it was not likely there would be any other favorable field for a pitched battle anywhere in the whole of the land. The battle, therefore, would of necessity, be under the walls of the castle. Nevertheless, the odds were against the Scots—they were outnumbered by at least three to one. They would have to rely on strategy—and Bruce had a brilliant strategy.

At daybreak they met the fierce charge of the English armies. A detachment of English archers quickly wheeled around the Scottish flank and took up a position where they could rake the compact clumps of Scots spear men. But the lines held just long enough for a host of decoys—actually just a group of camp-followers—to appear along the horizon of a neighboring hill. The women and children were mistaken for a fresh army of the Scots—just exactly what Bruce had hoped. The confused English lines began to scatter. Scottish pikemen were then able to confine the English to a small land mass between the Bannock Burn—the Gaelic name for river—and the Firth of Forth. With little room to maneuver effectively, the massive English were forced into flight by a final charge of fewer than 2,000 Scots swarming down from Gillies Hill—on that hill today stands the William Wallace Memorial.

The end was rout, confused and hopeless. The pitted field added to the disasters; for though they were able to avoid it in their careful advance, many of the English were pressed into it in the retreat, and floundered among the pitfalls. Through all the history of its great wars before and since, never did England suffer a humiliation deep enough to approach even comparison with this. Besides the vast inferiority of the victorious army, Bannockburn was exceptional among battles by the utter helplessness of the defeated. There seemed to have been no rallying-point anywhere. It was as if the Scripture had been fulfilled, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.” At last, Scotland was free.

In commemoration of the victory at Bannockburn, Scottish poet Robert Burns penned one of his most famous verses in 1786:

Scots! Wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots! Wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!

Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour:
See approach proud Edward's power;
Chains and slavery!

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!

Wha for Scotland's King and law;
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa'?
Let him on wi' me!

By oppression's woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!
Let us do or die!

Thursday, June 22


The contentious Third Ecumenical Council was held in the ancient city of Ephesus in Asia Minor on this day in 431. It had been called to resolve a doctrinal controversy that had split the entire church into two warring camps.

The teachings of Nestorius, the prominent Archbishop of Constantinople, had been challenged by Cyril, the equally prominent Archbishop of Alexandria. The emperor Theodosius, who called the Council, believed that the strength of his empire depended upon true worship of God without the intermingling of any manner of falsehood. Thus, he was determined not to allow the controversy to remain unresolved.

The conflict actually, originated in the school of Antioch, when Diodorus and Theodore, bishop of Mopsuestia argued that the human and divine natures of Christ could not have been united from the moment of conception in the womb of Mary. The orthodox position had always been that Mary was the Theotokos—literally, the God Bearer or Mother of God. The church had thus always taught that though the Virgin Mary was not the progenator of the eternal and indivisible Trinity, she was nevertheless the mother, of the incarnate second Person of the Trinity, the God-Man, Jesus. Thus Theotokos was an important honorific title intended to emphasize the union of the two natures of Christ. Nestorius though, taking his cues from his mentors in Antioch, refused to accept the title Theotokos arguing that it rationally belittled the character and nature of Christ’s humanity.

The Council at Ephesus opened before Nestorius and his followers were able to arrive to explain their position more fully. Thus, they were never actually able to answer the charges against them. Nevertheless, the heresy seemed clear-cut. As a result, Cyril, with the agreement of Theodosius and Celestine, the Archbishop of Rome, issued a series of anathemas. In effect, he served as both accuser and judge—but it was more than evident to most of the other two hundred theologians, pastors, and bishops that Nestorianism undermined an essential aspect of the very nature of Christ, the incarnation, and the Trinity.

TR's Run

On this day in 1912 Theodore Roosevelt accepted the presidential nomination of the Progressive Party after a power struggle at the 1912 Republican Convention disqualified all the Roosevelt delegates thus denying him the nomination--this, despite the fact that Roosevelt had won every primary. William H. Taft, Roosevelt's named successor, had failed to live up to the leadership demands and policies of the former president.

Incensed by the inability of Taft to lead effectively, Roosevelt once again sought the office of president. He condemned Taft for being too beholden to big business. Running on a platform consisting of the Ten Commandments, he sought to promote the prohibition of child labor, women's suffrage, national social insurance, and limits on government incursion in labor disputes. The Progressive ticket got more votes than the Republicans, but the split enabled Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, to eke out a victory.

Wednesday, June 21

Summer Solstice

Today is the Summer Solstice. It is the first official day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Interestingly, the earliest known poem written in vernacular English was written about this day:

Summer is ycomen in,
Loud sing cuckoo;
Groweth seed,
And bloweth mead,
And springeth the weed new

Word and Deed

Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) was America's foremost evangelist throughout the difficult days that immediately followed the cataclysm of the War Between the States and disruption of Reconstruction. Literally thousands came to know Christ because the former shoe salesman faithfully proclaimed the Gospel wherever and whenever he had opportunity--pioneering the methods of both modern crusade evangelism and Sunday school outreach.

But in addition to preaching to the masses, he cared for the masses. He was responsible for the establishment of some one hundred and fifty schools, street missions, soup kitchens, colportage societies, and other charitable organizations--including Chicago’s first street boys clinic on this day in 1889. He believed it was essential that Christians proclaim the Gospel in both word and deed. As a result, his impact on the nation is still felt--through many of those institutions that continue their vital work--more than a century after his death.


When the famed St. Paul's Cathedral burned down in the great London fire of 1666, King Charles II appointed Christopher Wren chief architect of the rebuilding project. Although he had no formal training as an architect, Wren was a genius who contributed to many sciences and built several public works. Wren's simple and elegant proposals were fiercely contested by a royal oversight committee which countered with a graceless alternative design.

Wren, a patient, practical man, agreed to the committee's plan--with the stipulation that he be allowed to make such modifications as would prove necessary during the actual construction. He modified continuously with the result that the finished work was almost identical to his own original design--a fortunate turn of events in any case: the completed building is one of European ecclesiastical architecture’s greatest achievements. Of course, Wren’s wry machinations hardly endeared him to the committee—despite his obvious brilliance, they determined to remove from consideration for any future royal commissions.

As a result of all this controversy, only a handful of official onlookers were present to observe as the first stone was lowered deep into earth overlooking the Thames River and set in place by Thomas Strong, a master mason. There was no special service. There was no fanfare. There was no dedicatory speech. There was no city-wide ceremony. It was almost as if a warehouse or even a theater was being constructed, not the city’s cathedral.

Nevertheless, Wren’s project was imminently successful. Few cathedrals are built in a lifetime but Wren was able to complete the project in just 35 years. Interestingly, when he first began to lay out on the floor of the reconstructed cathedral the shape of his proposed dome, he called a workman to bring him a bit of stone. The workman grabbed the first piece that came to hand. Inscribed on it in Latin was the word, Resurgam: "May I Rise Again." St. Paul's did indeed rise--and it rose swiftly.

To Wren, a staunch Protestant, the preaching of the Gospel was the primary function of a church. As a result, he designed the interior so that the pulpit would be the center of attention. He forbade his workmen to curse on the project, reminding them, on pain of dismissal, that they were engaged in a holy work. After his death Christopher Wren was entombed within the Cathedral. On his commemoration stone is written, Si monumentum requiris, circumspice: "If you would see his monument, look around."

Friday, June 16

The Magna Carta

The Magna Carta, drafted by Archbishop Stephen Langton, was forced upon King John at the field of Runnymead on this day in 1215. England's barons had been on the verge of revolt against the high-handed king who had never been able to match the popularity of his dashing older brother Richard Coeur de Lion. Though the charter was not the genesis of Western liberty as is often claimed--that honor really should go to Robert the Bruce’s Arbroath Declaration of 1420--the Magna Carta did guarantee several key provisions of common law for the nobles including trial by a jury and a prohibition against new taxes without permission of mediating magistrates--both of which afforded them with the rudimentary beginnings of a representational parliament. John, loathe to yield even a fraction of his power, appealed to the pope, promising to become his vassal. The pope promptly voided Magna Carta.

Who Is Polk?

An Expansionist mood dominated the country in the mid-1840’s and the man who caught the spirit of the times and then came from nowhere to lead the country through the period of its greatest expansion was the Tennessean, James K. Polk (1795-1849). In spite of this distinction, Polk has been one of the most neglected of our Presidents. Emerging from comparative oblivion to become President, he has somehow managed to return there--in spite of an extraordinarily successful administration, one called by several leading historians “the one bright spot in the dull void between Jackson and Lincoln.”

When the delegates to the Democratic convention met in Baltimore in 1844, Polk was not even considered for the Presidency; before the convention was over he had become the first dark-horse candidate. And, in the election, when the Whigs made “Who Is Polk?” their battle cry, he answered them by soundly defeating their very well-known, well-connected, and well-funded candidate Henry Clay, who was running in his third Presidential race.

As President the little-known Polk was a strong, though not radical, expansionist. During his administration the nation acquired the vast lands in the Southwest and Far West that extended the borders of the country almost to the present continental limits. He proved to be a forceful President in his direction of the Mexican War and in settling the Oregon boundary dispute with Great Britain; yet he did not yield to the extremists who wanted all of Mexico, nor to those who cried “Fifty-four forty or fight!” and claimed the Oregon Territory clear to the Alaskan border.

But the man who successfully led the country through its period of expansion strangely faded away when his work was done. Still popular at the end of his term but exhausted from overwork, Polk declined to be a candidate and returned to his home in Nashville, where he died on this day, only three months after leaving the White House--at the age of fifty-three.

Thursday, June 15

Coral Ridge TV

I typically don't like doing television interviews very much. All too often they are time-consuming. They tend to be life-intruding. They often are schedule-busting. They can be mind-numbing. They are invariably emotion-draining. And quite frankly, I am never really sure of their actual impact. As a result, I unhesitatingly turn down just about every TV opportunity, request, and invitation that I get. I know, I know! As an author, I'm a publisher's worst nightmare!

There is one ministry though, to which I always try to say "yes," regardless of the subject or circumstance or situation. Coral Ridge Ministries is the outreach arm of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and one of my mentors, D. James Kennedy. Accepting interviews for CRM programming is one of the few ways that I can actually give honor to Dr. Kennedy and all he has meant to me and my family.

Thus today, my office at the church was transformed into a mini TV studio for a couple of hours as the wonderfully competent CRM crew did a taping for an upcoming segment on the societal and cultural consequences of Darwinian thought. It will be several weeks before the program will air--and I probably will never see it since I rarely watch TV. But, I was happy to do this nevertheless. And I had a surprisingly good time besides. Wonders never cease.

Wednesday, June 14

GKC (1874-1936)

Journalist, humorist, historian, theologian, social reformer, artist, and novelist, G. K. Chesterton died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on this day in 1936. A master of thoughtful epigrams and insightful paradoxes, he became--besides William Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson--the most quoted author in the English language. And for good reason. I could go on and on and on, but some of my favorite Chesterton quotes are:

Weak things must boast of being new, like so many new German philosophies. But strong things can boast of being old. Strong things can boast of being moribund.

Faith is always at a disadvantage; it is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all conquerors.

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

The Modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; but their truth is pitiless. And thus some humanitarians care only for pity; but their pity--I am sorry to say--is often untruthful.

The great intellectual tradition that comes down to us from the past was never interrupted or lost through such trifles as the sack of Rome, the triumph of Attila, or all the barbarian invasions of the Dark Ages. It was lost after the introduction of printing, the discovery of America, the founding of the Royal Society, and all the enlightenment of the Renaissance and the modern world. It was there, if anywhere, that there was lost or impatiently snapped the long thin delicate thread that had descended from distant antiquity; the thread of that unusual human hobby: the habit of thinking.

You cannot escape the revelation of the identical by taking refuge in the illusion of the multiple.

Despotism can be a development, often a late development and very often indeed the end of societies that have been very democratic. A despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy. As fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty.

The fairy tale can be more sane about a seven-headed dragon than the Duchess of Somerset can be about a School Board.

I wonder at not wondering.

Tuesday, June 13

And Yet a Worldling

Horatius Bonar, in his sermon, "The Risen Christ and the Things Above," boldly asserts:

Go on in your worldliness; fling yourselves headlong into the torrent of earth's vanities; but know that the end of these things is death! "Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15) "You adulterers! Don't you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can't be a friend of God." (James 4:4)

The point is settled. The Christian cannot take part with the world in its follies, and gaieties, and sins!

What! A Christian and yet a worldling--singing its idle songs, hurrying through its mazy dance, partaking in its mirth and revelry! Impossible!

We have ceased to be citizens of earth's polluted cities; we are citizens of heaven! We have a home--but not in the palaces or haunts of the world. We have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens!

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ!" (Phil. 3:20)

Amen and amen.

Monday, June 12

Barnaby Bright

Today is Saint Barnabas Day. Known in Medieval Britain as "Barnaby Bright" because it coincided with the Summer Solstice. The tradition dates from those days before the 1752 Gregorian Calendrical Adoption when the solstice was moved up ten calendar days. Barnaby Bright was thus the beginning of Midsummer--or what was also popularly called the "Nightless Days." Hence, the nursery rhyme:

The day they called Barnaby Bright
Was the longest, and shortest at night.
The eleventh of June,
They would all sing a tune
As they basked in the languorous light.

Friday, June 9

Summer Reading

Readers are inveterate and unapologetic list makers. There are lists of books that must be read. There are lists of books that must be reread. There are lists of books that must be read by others. There are lists of books that must be bought. There are best-seller lists. There are best of the best lists. There are the indispensable book lists--those titles readers might profess to be their preferred companions were they stranded on a desert isle. It seems that list-making simply goes with the territory--it is the natural accompaniment to the shelf life. As Umberto Eco has quipped, "Lists are the most necessary literary accessories of all."

Every summer and every winter, I make new lists. I make lists of all the books I want to somehow find the time to read in that coming season. To that end, here is my current summer list--and as always it is prone to frequent revision:

Classics: "A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say." Italo Calvino. "When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before. A classic is a mirror that reflects the truest self--and all the more clearly than the mere looking glasses of our own vain manufacture." Charles Gillespie.

I love the books of Sir Walter Scott. He was once ranked on a par with Shakespeare, Johnson, and Milton--the greatest writers in the English literary tradition. Alas, in recent years Johnson, Milton, and Scott have fallen out of academic favor--which has made them even more attractive to me than ever. This summer is going to be my Scott summer. I hope to reread The Antiquary, which is my favorite of the Waverly Novels. But, I am also planning on reading a good bit of his epic poetry including Marmion and The Lady of the Lake.

Devotional Theology: "It is an old and healthy tradition that each home where the light of godliness shone should have its own bookshelf. Blessed is the man or woman who has inherited such a cultural and spiritual bequest." John Macleod. "Reading means borrowing. Reading the best means borrowing from the best." George Christoph Lichtenberg.

My wife and I will be reading Sacred Marriage, by one of my favorite contemporary Christian writers and thinkers, Gary Thomas. I am already starting to dig into the remarkable book on worship, With Reverence and Awe, by D.G. Hart and John Muether. Sam Storms has a new book, One Thing, about the need for Christians to develop a passion for the beauty of God. I always find that his books, like those of John Piper and Jerry Bridges, are not only helpful, they are delightfully convicting. I am also thrilled that Sinclair Ferguson's sermons on the book of Ruth have been published as Faithful God. And Zach Eswine has produced a new study of the preaching of Charles Spurgeon, Kindled Fire, that I am really looking forward to delving into.

Fiction: "The end of reading is not more books but more life." Holbrook Jackson. "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.

With the passing of Ellis Peters and Patrick O'Brian, perhaps the greatest living practitioner of the historical novel is Bernard Cornwell. His new series is about King Alfred the Great during the ninth century Viking invasions. The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horsemen are the first two installments--and I hope to read them both this summer. Another remarkable historical novelist is Colin Thubron--his novel Falling is a tour de force. I have never read one of his older stories, Emperor. So, this summer I hope to linger long over his invariably marvelous prose. I haven't decided yet about John Updike's new novel Terrorist, which has just been released. The thing about Updike is that he is sometimes astonishingly brilliant and sometimes outrageously offensive. I may have to wait on a few reviews before I finally make up my mind.

History: "The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries." Rene Descartes. "A good writer is basically a story-teller, not a scholar or a redeemer of mankind." Isaac Bashevis Singer.

My favorite history books are invariably biographies. I've got three of Peter Ackroyd's new Brief Lives set out for this summer: on Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, and J.M.W. Turner. But, even more exciting to me is Paul Johnson's new book, Creators, which looks at the lives of Bach and Durer, Verdi and Dante, Tiffany and Dior, Picasso and Disney. It is a thematic sequel to his brilliant Intellectuals, published two decades ago. I am also reading Joseph Pearce's biography of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn--I started it last fall and was interrupted and I am just now getting back to it.

Current Events: "A broad interest in books usually means a broad interest in life." Lyman Abbott. "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them." Mark Twain.

On my list for the summer are four books of contemporary interest. They are hot-button-issue books. Two books on Islam and the West are by the preeminent Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, The Rage and the Pride and The Force of Reason, both published by Rizzoli. Also on the subject of Islam and its assault on the indigenous Christian peoples of the Middle East, is William Dalrymple's travelogue, From the Holy Mountain. And finally, I am looking forward to reading Joseph Pearce's fresh look at the legacy of E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Still Beautiful.

Art, Music, and Architecture: "Books are the food of youth; the delight of old age; the ornament of prosperity; the refuge and comfort of adversity; a delight at home; no hindrance abroad; companions at night, in traveling, in the country. Indeed, no wise man ought ever be found apart their company." Cicero. "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." Jorge Luis Borges.

I love books on art, music, and most especially architecture. This summer I hope to make my way through a new book on classical Roman architecture by Mark Wilson Jones, The Principles of Roman Architecture as well as a classic of American architecture criticism by Henry Hope Reed, The Golden City. I will also reread Witold Rybczynski's The Perfect House, which examines the work of the sixteenth century genius, Andrea Palladio. I also intend to reread Greg Wilbur's Glory and Honor. It is a remarkable biography of Johann Sebastian Bach that, it seems to me, has even more to say about the future of music than it does about the past--despite the fact that it is an historical biography of a man who lived some three centuries ago.

Sport: "A life being very short, and the quiet hours of it few, we ought to waste none of them in reading valueless books." John Ruskin. "Mediocre minds usually dismiss anything which reaches beyond their own understanding." Duc de la Rochefoucauld.

Two of the world's greatest sporting spectacles occur this summer--so, it is a great time for me to catch up on the sports reading that seems too often to get shoved aside by the tyranny of the urgent. I always follow the Tour de France with keen interest. Without Lance Armstrong this year, competition should be even more intense than usual during the month-long event. I typically buy Bob Roll's Tour Companion just so that I can follow the action with some level of intelligence. Likewise, when the World Cup comes around every four years, I find that I have to bone up on all the international soccer rules (what all the rest of the world calls football). To that end, I will have John Motson's World Cup Extravaganza handy throughout (starting today with Germany v. Costa Rica and Poland v. Ecuador).

Obviously, I have a good deal of reading to do. I'd best get started.

The Chivalry of American Manhood

During the Senate hearing following the tragic sinking of the Titanic the doctrine of “women and children first” was very much the topic of discussion. The surviving Second Officer, Charles Lightoller, indicated that despite the fact that there were actually no maritime laws, which mandated the such chivalry in times of danger he, and perhaps many others like him, believed that the doctrine was a universally-recognized and uniformly-practiced principle of conduct. It was why the overall death toll in the Titanic disaster was nine men for every one woman--for the most part the men gave their places in the few available lifeboats to women.

That was the motivating virtue behind Nellie Taft’s efforts to establish a memorial to chivalry in Washington D.C. shortly after the Titanic disaster. The First Lady mounted a national campaign to raise funds for a monument to be built in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Taft explained, "I am happy to do this in gratitude to the chivalry of American manhood."

Using the one-dollar donations of American housewives, nearly $90,000 was raised and a commission was given to a prominent team of artists, architects, and landscape designers.

The monument, dedicated at a very prominent location near the White House on this day in 1913, bears the inscription: "To the brave men who gave their lives that women and children might be saved." Atop a grand pedestal a beautiful bronze statue of a man, arms outstretched, eyes toward the horizon, was placed.

Sixty years later, the entire monument was removed and placed in a storage facility where it languished, all but forgotten, for several years. Finally, in 1979 it was given a new home, overlooking the Potomac River where it stands to this day as a reminder of the old virtue of chivalry and sacrifice.

Thursday, June 8


Exiled Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn shocked Harvard graduates during a commencement address on this day in 1978 by censuring the West as stridently as he did the East, "The fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of evil have begun their decisive offensive. You can feel their pressure, yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?"

He went on to assert that "a decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today." He then ominously exhorted, "Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end."

Of course since he gave that great address, the Soviet threat has dissapated and the West has gone on to ever greater heights of splendor, glory, and prosperity. Solzhenitsyn's warnings seem to have gone unneeded as well as unheeded.

This past week however, I reread the entire address, reprinted in Solzhenitsyn's remarkable A World Split Apart. It was published by Harper and Row in 1978, but long ago passed out of print. Thankfully, it is now available online. Once again, I was stunned by its relevance and prescience. With the Islamic threat now looming even more ominously than the Soviet one did just thirty years ago, I have to wonder anew: will we have the courage of our convictions? Will we have convictions of courage? Will the West continue to be the West?

Unending Troubles

The ne're-do-well Meccan prophet, Mohammed, died on this day in 632. He had only just recently mobilized his pseudo-religious rabble into an army in order to consolidate a violent conquest of the central Hejaz in the heart of what is today Arabia. Alas, his passing did not bode peace as many had hoped. Instead, the world has known nothing but unending troubles from his followers ever since.

An Eye on Independence

His resolution “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States,” approved by the Continental Congress on this day in 1776, was the first official act of the United Colonies that set them irrevocably on the road to independence. It was not surprising that it came from the pen of Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794); as early as 1768 he proposed the idea of committees of correspondence among the colonies, and in 1774 he proposed that the colonies meet in what became the Continental Congress. From the first, his eye was on independence.

A wealthy Virginia planter whose ancestors had been granted extensive lands by King Charles II, Lee disdained the traditional aristocratic role and the aristocratic view. In the House of Burgesses he flatly denounced the practice of slavery. He saw independent America as “an asylum where the unhappy may find solace, and the persecuted repose.”

In 1764, when news of the proposed Stamp Act reached Virginia, Lee was a member of the committee of the House of Burgesses that drew up an address to the King, an official protest against such a tax. After the tax was established, Lee organized the citizens of his county into the Westmoreland Association, a group pledged to buy no British goods until the Stamp Act was repealed. At the First Continental Congress, Lee persuaded representatives from all the colonies to adopt this non-importation idea, leading to the formation of the Continental Association, which was one of the first steps toward union of the colonies. Lee also proposed to the First Continental Congress that a militia be organized and armed, the year before the first shots were fired at Lexington; but this and other proposals of his were considered too radical at the time.

Three days after Lee introduced his resolution, in June of 1776, Congress appointed him to the committee responsible for drafting a declaration of independence. Alas, he was called home when his wife fell ill, and his place was taken by his young protégé, Thomas Jefferson. Thus, Lee missed the chance to draft the document--though his influence greatly shaped it and he was able to return in time to sign it.

He was ultimately elected President, serving from November 30, 1784 to November 22, 1785 when he was succeeded by the second administration of John Hancock. Elected to the Constitutional Convention, Lee refused to attend, but as a member of the Congress of the Confederation, he contributed to another great document, the Northwest Ordinance, which provided for the formation of new states in the Northwest Territory.

When the completed Constitution was sent to the various states for ratification, Lee opposed it as anti-democratic and anti-Christian. However, as one of Virginia’s first Senators, he helped assure passage of the amendments that, he felt, corrected many of the document’s gravest faults: the Bill of Rights. He was the great uncle of Robert E. Lee and the scion of a great family tradition.

Friday, June 2

Home Again, Home Again

Whenever I return home from a long trip, I always think of the line “Home again, home again, jiggety jig.” It comes from the old English nursery rhyme, “To Market.” It reads:

To market, to market,
To buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again,
Jiggety jig.

To market, to market,
To buy a fat hog,
Home again, home again,
Jiggety jog.

To market, to market,
To buy a plum bun,
Home again, home again,
Market is done.

Almost all nursery rhymes were originally written to satirize certain political and cultural circumstances long ago in English history—making them anything but innocent nonsense poesy. So, for instance, “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” was probably written as a complaint against the hardships caused to the poor by the enclosures of land for sheep farming in the days of King Edward VI.

“Georgie, Porgie, Pudding and Pie” (a rhyme I wearied of hearing when I was a child) may have been written to poke fun at the Prince Regent (later, King George IV) because of his greed, his lust, his sloth, and his resistance to political reform.

“Hickory, Dickory, Dock” is said to refer to Richard Cromwell, who was unable to preserve the Commonwealth created by his father or to prevent the restoration of the Stuart monarchy.

“Humpty Dumpty” probably refers to the days when the barons struggled with King John at Runnymede and toppled him from his solitary seat of power by means of the Magna Carta.

“Jack and Jill” apparently mocks the ill-fated scheme to arrange an alliance between the royal houses of Scotland and France through the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots and Francis II.

“Little Boy Blue” is said to refer to Cardinal Wolsey who lost favor with King Henry VIII because he was unable to secure a Papal dispensation for the King’s divorce. Interestingly, Wolsey was the son of an Ipswich butcher, and as a boy, he looked after his father’s livestock.

“Little Jack Horner” supposedly satirizes the seizure of the church's lands during the dissolution of the monasteries.

“Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” is said to be a lament for the persecution of the Protestant believers during the “killing years” of Queen Mary Tudor, who was thus known as "Bloody Mary."

On and on we could go. But, back to the rhyme at hand, the “jiggety jig” verse is traditionally said to be about the dubious consent Archbishop Cranmer gave to King Henry VIII to divorce Queen Catherine--as well as the even more dubious counsel of Thomas Cromwell to the king to take for himself treasures of the monasteries.

Given all that, I am not too sure how apt it is for me to sing this rhyme when I return home from a journey. But, "jiggety jig" is what I think of nevertheless.