Saturday, November 29


"How proper it is that Christmas should follow Advent. For him who looks toward the future, the manger is situated on Golgotha, and the cross has already been raised in Bethlehem." --Dag Hammarskjold

Advent is a season of preparation. For centuries Christians have used the month prior to the celebration of Christ’s incarnation to ready their hearts and their homes for the great festival.

While we moderns tend to do a good bit of bustling about in the crowded hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas—shopping for presents, compiling guest lists, mailing holiday greeting cards, perusing catalogs, decorating hearth and home, baking favorite confections, and getting ready for one party after another--that hardly constitutes the kind of preparation Advent calls for. Indeed, traditionally Advent has been a time of quiet introspection, personal examination, and repentance. It is a time to slow down, to take stock of the things that matter the most, and to do a thorough inner housecleaning.

Advent is, as the ancient dogma of the Church asserts, a Little Pascha--a time of fasting, prayer, confession, and reconciliation. All the great Advent stories, hymns, customs, and rituals--from the medieval liturgical antiphons and Scrooge’s Christmas Carol to the lighting of Advent candles and the eating of Martinmas beef are attuned to this notion: that the best way to prepare for the coming of the Lord is to make straight His pathway in our hearts.

The Whip of Advent

The pitch of the stall was glorious
Though the straw was dusty and old
The wind sang with orchestral beauty
Though it blew bitter and cold

The night was mysteriously gleaming
Though the earth was fallen, forlorn
For under the eaves of splendor
A child-The Child-was born

Oxen Sheep and doves
Crowded round Nativity's scene
Though the world still failed to grasp
T’was here that peace had been

Cast out into a cave
When no room was found for Him
His coming was a scourge
That cleansed a robber's den

While the Temple's become a cattle stall
Where beasts and such are sold
The Child's turned Manger into Temple
And changed the base to gold

Tis the paradox of the ages:
Worldly wisdom will ne're relent
To notice signs of visitation
Nor the cords of the whip of Advent

--Tristan Gylberd

Failure: The Backdoor to Success

Theodore Roosevelt was never afraid to fail. In fact, he often wore his failures as badges of honor. To him, the attempt, the effort, and the sheer pluck of involvement was what really mattered in the end, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

Though he enjoyed many successes throughout his career, he had his share of failures. He never allowed them to stymie his sense of responsibility and calling. He was often knocked down, but never out.

In addition, he was eager to learn from his mistakes. On this day in 1905, when his administration had lost a strategic legislative battle on the floor of the Senate, he called each of the men who had led the opposition to the White House. Expecting an angry tirade or an hysterical harangue, the Senators were surprised when Roosevelt anxiously gathered them around his desk and asked for their advice. “How could I have handled this bill better? What did I say or not say to cause you to oppose it? What should I do in the future to better advance my principles?” The men were stunned. There was no recrimination. There were no lectures. There were no threats. Instead, they found in the President an eager learner—ready to accept the blame for his own shortcomings and then to try to move on and do better on another day. One of them later confessed, “I learned more about leadership and greatness in that one incident than in all my previous years in politics.”

Elihu Root, who served as Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, called him “the most advisable man I ever knew.” “If he was convinced of your sincerity,” said the Progressive leader Albert Beveridge, “you could say anything to him you liked. You could even criticize him personally.” And the author and social reformer Herbert Croly remarked that he had “never met a man so eager to learn from his mistakes—or even so ready to admit them. It was as if he had no ego.”

Roosevelt was not simply a hopeless romantic or and unrealistic optimist in this regard. Rather he was a man who was secure enough in his calling and purpose in life to remain undeterred by obstacles along the way—be they great or small. His son, Kermit explained, “Some men have a strong sense of destiny. I cannot say that Father could ever fully identify such sentiments in his own experience. But I am quite certain that he knew what to work toward. Whether he ever actually attained to it was another matter altogether—and one of little concern to him.”

For Roosevelt, true leadership not only involved a strength of character that was unafraid to admit failure, was willing to learn from error, and was quick to accept wise counsel, it also involved a sense of calling that was able to integrate such virtues into life with real confidence. For him, failure was merely the backdoor to success.

Wednesday, November 26

Taken for Granted

"The greater God’s gifts and works, the less they are regarded."
--Martin Luther in Table Talk

"If the constellations appeared only once in a thousand years, imagine what an exciting event it would be. But because they are there every night, we barely give them a look." --Ralph Waldo Emerson in The Essays

"We don't ever take our adversities for granted--only our blessings."
--Dan Gylberd in Going Somewhere

Tuesday, November 25

Caedman's "Coffee"

As I was meditating on the strange ironies of Nehemiah 6:1-9, I could not help but remember a poignant, similarly-themed song from Caedman's Call:

I am small; I've seen things far beyond these city walls
The land is flat and it rolls for miles
I don't know much
I know I've many places yet to see
I know I've been here for a while

Wouldn't you know just when I thought I had this figured out
I'm back at my first day at school
Trying not to think too loud
I raise my hand to scratch my head
I've no ideas of what to do

'Cause something's changed today
And what it is I just can't say
And if I don't seem okay, well I'm okay

So sue me! Sue me!
If I just don't want coffee tonight
Back in this coffee house where we just met a week ago
Now we've been friends since we were young
But all our conversations are hitting walls we can't ignore
We can hide but we can't run
And I can't run from you
Or what we've run into
Now regardless what I choose, we both lose

It must be getting late
Where's my head
Where is my head
Where is my head

I still hear you telling me what a big mistake I've made
Funny that's what I've been telling you
I can lead a horse to water
You can even make him drink
But you can't change his point of view

Tonight as I was driving home I passed a coffee shop
You know I wrestled with the truth
And how I'd explain to you
What you could never understand
And how I'd keep my mind from you

But that's the price I pay
Your way is not my way
Today's another day and it's okay

So sue me! Sue me!
If I just don't want coffee tonight
Back in this coffee house where we just met a week ago
Now we've been friends since we were young
But all our conversations are hitting walls we can't ignore
We can hide but we can't run
And I can't run from you
Or what we've run into
Now regardless what I choose, we both lose

I think I need some rest
Rest my head, arrest my head
Rest my head, arrest my head
Rest my head, arrest my head

Sunday, November 23

No Eleventary Today

Ugh! No eleventary for the Titans--at least not until Thursday.

Saturday, November 22

First Steps

There is just so much to like about Kerry Collins. Even if his Tennessee Titans fail to win another game this season, his unlikely leadership, his rare humility, his forthright honesty, and his gutsy return to football prominence make him one of the most refreshing figures in sports today. Even ESPN says so! In Rick Reilly's most recent column, he makes the point as only Rick Reilly could:

I like Kerry Collins. Whether he plays like Fran Tarkenton or Fran Drescher, he never makes excuses. After he performed like a Xanaxed ferret in the 2001 Super Bowl, lobbing four picks to the Ravens in the Giants' blowout loss, he stood at the podium postgame and said, "I sucked today. I was prepared. I was ready. I just played terrible." No matter how he screws up his life—and the young Collins found more ways than MapQuest—he always faces the music. Hell, he sticks his face in the tuba.

Agreed. I have no idea if Collins is a believer, or if he has any understanding of the Gospel at all. But, it is clear, he knows a thing or two about the fallenness of man, the need for redemption, and at the very least, the first steps toward repentance. So, it probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I am rooting for Kerry Collins to achieve a for-real Eleventary tomorrow against another of my sports favs, Brett Favre.

Tuesday, November 18

Genuine Compassion

"The definition of genuine compassion is the number of people who no longer need government assistance." --J.C. Watts

Monday, November 17

The True Discoverer

"The true discoverer is not he who stumbles across that which none else has stumbled but he who beholds its wonder and tells of its glory and makes use of its stewardship." --Seneca

Saturday, November 15

New College Franklin

Many readers of this blog probably already know of the work we began 18 months ago to establish New College Franklin, a four-year liberal arts college--following in the footsteps of the great pioneers of the classical and Christian tradition. The work continues behind the scenes as we prepare our application for authorization by the State of Tennessee--no little feat. Lord willing, we hope to have the license for state authorization complete in 2009 so we can open officially and begin offering our courses for full credit.

Just this past week, we released our first e-newsletter from the college. If you are not already on the mailing list, you can sign up to receive this and all future newsletters--just e-mail our dean of students and administrator, Matt Vest, and he will bring you quickly up to speed (

We are also well on the way to achieving our goal to have at least fifty "Psalm 89 Founders" join us in building strong financial foundations for the school. We are convinced that this work of covenantal education and succession is more critical now than ever. Won't you join us and support the growing work of New College Franklin?

Mountain Aires Christmas

I just got my first new Christmas CD of the season. And it is a dandy. The Mountain Aires are a group of young acoustic musicians from North Carolina. Their debut effort, Echo the Legacy, was a a unique blend of traditional Bluegrass, Celtic, Folk, and Gospel tunes. For their newest project, they maintained their distinctive sound, mature arrangements, and exuberant musicianship for a joyous celebration of the Advent and Christmas seasons. There are fifteen cuts including standards like Good King Wenceslas, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Jingle Bells, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and Joy to the World. Combined with less familiar tunes like Bonaire Sleigh Ride, Ding-Dong Merrily On High, Duan Nollaig, Hiemo, and Pat-a-Pan, the collection will be a welcome accompaniment to your holiday merry-making. So, be sure to get your own copy of the CD--now available on the Mountain Aires Website.

Thursday, November 13

The Father of Western Civilization

The great African theologian, Augustine of Hippo, was born on this day in 354 at the Roman city of Tagaste, Numidia--in present-day Algeria. His father, Patricius was a pagan, but his mother, Monica, was a devout Christian who labored untiringly for her son's conversion and who was canonized by the church.

Augustine was educated as a rhetorician in the North African cities of Madaura, and Carthage. As a young man, he lived a dissolute life—indeed, between the ages of 15 and 30, he lived with a Carthaginian concubine who bore him a son, whom he named Adeodatus. Nevertheless, he was an inspired intellectual and thus, Augustine became an earnest seeker after truth. He considered becoming a Christian, but experimented with several philosophical systems before finally entering the church while teaching rhetoric in the city of Milan.

Shortly afterward, he returned to North Africa and was ordained in 391. He became bishop of Hippo in 395, an office he held until his death. It was a period of political and theological unrest, for while the barbarians pressed in upon the empire, even sacking Rome itself in 410, schism and heresy also threatened the church. Augustine threw himself wholeheartedly into the theological battle writing innumerable works of lasting significance--the chief of which are his Confessions and The City of God.

Many scholars believe that in a very real sense these works established the principles upon which Western Christendom would be established in the generations afterward.

Wednesday, November 12

Saturday, November 8

The Idol of Self

"People will be lovers of SELF" 2 Timothy 3:2
The passions of discontent, pride, and envy--exert themselves in each of us. We are fallen into a state of gross idolatry--and SELF is the idol we worship! The principle of SELF is deep-rooted in every heart, and is the spring of every action--until grace infuses a new principle, and SELF, like Dagon, falls before the Lord Almighty! --John Newton

Self-Worship and Modernity's Mess

We are prone to think of God--when we think of Him at all--as wonderful. We are less likely to see Him as willful. Certainly He is both, but the overwhelming emphasis of Scripture is upon the will rather than the wonder. It is upon the exercise of God's prerogative rather than the expiation of our pleasure. The difference is probably a matter of slights rather than slanders. Nevertheless, it is a difference that makes for rather dramatic consequences.

Thus, to some of us God is little more than a cosmic vending machine in the sky, designed to dispense our every want and whim. To others of us He is a grandfatherly sage who lives to patiently offer us certain therapeutic benefits and baubles from His largess. To still others He is a kind of Santa figure--jolly, unflappable, and determined to bestow goodies upon incognizant masses. Invariably though, we moderns tend to see God in terms of ourselves--in terms of our wants, our needs, our preferences, and our desires. We have apparently, as Voltaire accused, "made God in our own image."

But, according to psychologist Paul Vitz, such a conception is not knowledge of God at all, but a form of "self-worship." According to J.C. Ryle, it is "the cruelest of all delusions" because "by it men think they have come to a knowledge God when in fact they have done nothing of the sort." Thus, Joseph Aulen has argued that "the vast proportion of modern Christians have a vastly mistaken knowledge of the person and work of the Almighty."

Thus, according to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "because men do not know God or the nature of God--particularly those who claim to be Christians--all of the problems of life and culture are amplified even more." Andrew Murray asserts that it is due to the fact that Christians do not "properly entertain a knowledge of God" that "societies fall into such disarray as we have in the modern world." And A.W. Tozer has said that "a lack of a true knowledge of God's attributes and character" is the "root of the indecisiveness, imbalance, and ineffectiveness" of the contemporary church.”

Wednesday, November 5

The Day After

"Politics is not an event but a process. We sometimes lose the events but it never gives us the right to stop being faithful to our principles that enlisted us in the process. We shall live to fight another day."
--Mike Huckabee

All Hail to the King

Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!

Tuesday, November 4

Election Day Reminders

America's foremost comedian, Will Rogers, was born near Oolagah, Oklahoma on this day in 1897. He often lampooned politics and politicians in his beloved nation--famously saying:

“There is no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”

“I belong to no organized political party--I’m a Democrat.”

“There is something about a Republican that you can only stand him for just so long. On the other hand, there is something about a Democrat that you can’t stand him for quite that long.”

“Democrats are the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller, and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected to prove it.”

“No party is as bad as its leaders.”

Good reminders as we go to the polls today. Politics is of course important--but, because it is just politics, it is certainly not all important.

More Election Day Wisdom

"Being in politics is like being a football coach: you have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important." Eugene McCarthy

“If it were not for government, we should have nothing left to laugh at.” Nicholas Chamfort

“The worst thing in the world, next to anarchy, is government.” Henry Ward Beecher

“Two characteristics of government are that it cannot do anything quickly, and that it never knows when to quit.” George Stigler

“When you break the big laws, you do not get liberty; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.” G.K. Chesterton

“In government, the sin of pride manifests itself in the recurring delusion that things are under control.” George Will

“We do not need to get good laws to restrain bad people. We need to get good people to restrain bad laws.” G.K. Chesterton

“The most terrifying words in the English language are, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Ronald Reagan

“If I knew that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.” Henry David Thoreau

“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely expressed for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent busybodies.” C.S. Lewis

“If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.” Harry Truman

“You can’t even trust the dogs in this town.” Clarence Thomas

"If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments they shall be governed by the ten thousand commandments." G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, November 2

Saturday, November 1

Suddenly Too Close to Call?

In a stunning new report, pollster John Zogby has Republican John McCain starting to pull ahead in the race for president for the first time in more than a month. "Is McCain making a move?" he asks. "The three-day average holds steady, but McCain outpolled Obama today, 48% to 47%. He is beginning to cut into Obama's lead among independents, is now leading among blue collar voters, has strengthened his lead among investors and among men, and is walloping Obama among NASCAR voters. Joe the Plumber may get his license after all."

In addition, he says, "Obama's lead among women declined, and it looks like it is occurring because McCain is solidifying the support of conservative women, which is something we saw last time McCain picked up in the polls. If McCain has a good day tomorrow, we will eliminate Obama's good day three days ago, and we could really see some tightening in this rolling average. But for now, hold on."

With other pollsters, including Gallup, Rasmussen, and TIPP, predicting an Obama cakewalk, it is apparent that volatility is not limited to stocks and mortgages.