All posts by Phil W

Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church IN CHENGDU, China

Our technology has allowed us to expand our awareness to the entire world, making requests for prayer seemingly boundless. I hesitate to say this is the biggest prayer request of the month, but the persecution of Early Rain Covenant in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China, is something important to pray and praise the Lord over. I copied their Christmas Eve update below. Here’s a letter from earlier this month for more context on the government’s unlawful routing of their congregation.

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matt. 2:13-15)

Like the “White Terror” during the first Christmas, brothers and sisters of Early Rain Covenant Church, as members of the Lord Jesus, are currently walking the path that the Church’s Head once walked. Authorities are continuing to suppress Early Rain Covenant Church through everything from criminal detention, administrative detention, enforced disappearances, stalking, and financial pressure to the seizing of church property. 

On Christmas Eve, the 23rd-floor sanctuary of Early Rain Covenant Church was taken over by the Chengdu Qingyang District Shuangyanjing Community Police and converted to a community police office space. Linxishu Church, a church plant of Early Rain Covenant Church, was seized by the Pidu District authorities and community police. The church property at Enyue Church, another church plant of Early Rain, was cleared out by New Tianfu District authorities. The current church spaces were privately purchased or rented. As long as the civil contract has not expired, no one is allowed to alter or cancel it without the permission of both parties. Officials and local governments have violated both the law and morality. They have stolen nearly 1000-square-feet of real estate without paying one penny. 

And yet, Lord, we still praise you. Lord’s Day worship at Early Rain Covenant Church was observed in the homes of families and small groups called and set apart by the Lord, as well as other locations. Some brothers and sisters were confined to their own homes. One small-group’s worship was interrupted by police. A total of 20 people (including 8 children) were all taken to the police station. They returned peacefully to their homes the same day. Another small group was forced to change locations. Yet another was spoken to by police after the meeting ended. In these difficult circumstances, the Spirit of the Lord has been feeding, strengthening, and challenging everyone through Chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel and through His servants who are in the middle of these trials and tribulations. 

Continue reading Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church IN CHENGDU, China

New Works For Public Domain

At the start of the new year copyrighted works from 1923 will become public domain after a twenty year hiatus. That’s because Congress listened to corporate arguments for extending copyright restrictions and put a hold on anything entering public domain. The
Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 attempted to say, “I’ve got you, babe,” to American artists by making 1922 the cutoff for public domain for the last twenty years.

The Smithsonian calls that cutoff remarkable.

The novelist Willa Cather called 1922 the year “the world broke in two,” the start of a great literary, artistic and cultural upheaval. In 1922, Ulysses by James Joyce and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” were published, and the Harlem Renaissance blossomed with the arrival of Claude McKay’s poetry in Harlem Shadows. For two decades those works have been in the public domain, enabling artists, critics and others to burnish that notable year to a high gloss in our historical memory. In comparison, 1923 can feel dull.

Starting next year we’ll see more works on Google Books and other digital libraries for use in rebuilding western civilization, reviving our sagging economy, colonizing Mars, and making shepherding great again, and other worthy goals long held by the readers of BwB.

Big Men’s Boots, by Emily Barroso

Prayer is like that fire causing the pot to boil. God does nothing unless we pray. He has chosen us to be his co-workers on the earth. Prayer moves His divine hand. You need to remember to listen to what God is saying when you pray–he gets bored with lists. If you listen He will talk back.

What drew me to start reading Big Men’s Boots was the setting of the Welsh revival in 1904-05. What could be more exciting on its face than a historic outpour of the Holy Spirit?

According to Barroso, Wales was primed for change. English landowners clashed with common Welshmen on every front. Labor unions were taking up arms. Welsh Nonconformists chafed against Anglicans, who spoke another language and seemed to have all of the power. Would rising up against the English businessmen bring equality and justice to the Welsh, or would it drive all jobs out of the country?

The story begins with three men praying over the body of a young man who had passed away three days prior. They hold nothing back in urging God to act, even calling the boy to rise in Christ’s name, believing their earnest faith will produce the miracle they require. Outside the window, the boy’s friend Owen Evans, 13, also prays. The whole community must reckon with their grief and what they believe as social trouble begins to brew. Owen’s growing faith and what appears to be a prophetic gift frame up the rest of the story.

I want to praise this book and recommend it without reservation. That’s what I want to do with every book. But I have to be honest and say I didn’t finish reading it. Because I didn’t finish it, I delayed reviewing it until now. It feels overly long. Historical novels have their own pace as do readers. Perhaps you would enjoy it more than I did.

How Americans Got Christmas

Christianity Today has a series of posts pulling back the curtain on Christmas concepts and traditions. W. David O. Taylor describes the debauchery of 17th century Christmas celebrations, how Puritan leaders outlawed Christmas all together, and the influences that brought it shaped what we celebrate today.

One of those influences was Queen Victoria, who shared her family traditions with the world just as Christmas was beginning to be accepted again in America. (Alabama was the first state to make it legal in 1836.)

As the historian Stephen Nissenbaum summarizes things in The Battle for Christmas, what was once marked by liturgical celebrations at church and festivities in the village, revolving around public rituals and civic activities, eventually turned into a domestic affair, revolving around a children-centric holiday, marked by extravagant gift-giving and, in time, commercial-oriented activities.

Tom Flynn in The Trouble with Christmas adds this remarkable fact: “[It is] surprising how small a role the churches played in the Victorian revival. From its inception, contemporary Christmas was primarily a secular and commercial holiday. The parsons were as surprised as anyone else when after a century-long hiatus, the pews started filling up again on Christmas morning.”

Add to this Dickens giving us the Spirit of Christmas instead of the Spirit of Christ and various artists portraying St. Nicholas as a secular toymaker.

Photo by Jessica Lewis/Pexels

Unable to refuse Babette’s Feast

Luminously realistic and profoundly intricate, Dinesen’s stories all celebrate physicality as something deeply spiritual. “Babette’s Feast” does so in excelsis. In style it is stark but shining; in plot it is unpretentious—indeed nothing more than one long anecdote—but also a complex interweaving of characters and years. A simple story about a dinner, it is also an expansive story about the interplay of art, time, destiny, failure, and gratitude. What is more, it is a tiny masterpiece of grace.

Leta Sundet writes of the powerful grace in Isak Dinesen’s short story “Babette’s Feast.” 

A Rising Shame Culture

Perhaps the most poisonous aspect of current media culture is how it facilitates our impulses to condemn and shame others. Whether by open letter or twitter storm, some of us wake up primed to take a stand against some unthinkable person somewhere. Any accusation is credible without need of investigation. Any social post is up for scrutiny, no matter the age of the poster at the time. Consider our virtue signaled.

Helen Andrews reviews a shameful public incident that has followed her for years in this essay in First Things. Her story is grueling, but there are many more, allowing us to see a pattern.

At the risk of insulting the reader: No one actually believed Williamson was a threat to his female colleagues. It was only a pretext for what was really an exercise in raw power. People made the same kind of excuses when it was my turn in the dunk tank. Again and again, I read commenters insisting that what might at first glance appear to be prurient gossip was, in fact, fair political commentary, because I was a family-values scold and thus open to charges of hypocrisy, or because I was a hard-core Randian who needed a lesson in the dog-eat-dog heartlessness advocated by my idol. As far as I can tell, these characterizations were extrapolated from the fact that I worked at National Review. Certainly, they had no basis in anything I’d written (an Objectivist, really?).

The truth does not matter in the shame storm–only what can beat down the victim.

What solution is there? Look at what Jared Wilson posted today: “Christian, the Lord knows you are not an asset to the organization. He knows what a tangled-up knot of anxiety, incompetence, and faithlessness you are. He knows exactly what a big fat sinner you are. He knew exactly what he was getting into.”

Photo by Victor Rodriguez on Unsplash

A Blessing on Mother

In one of our old books, which was handed down from four generations ago, I found several newspaper clippings–a couple obituaries, an announcement of new officers to a Presbyterian organization, an ad for hearing aids, and a curious poetic blessing on mothers. The only credit is to Harper’s Magazine.

It looks like the kind of folklore people would pass around and think nothing of preserving, because that would be a kin to preserving grass. We assume such things will be around forever. A generation goes by, and maybe someone asks, “Do you remember that thing we used to say? It was so good.” But no one remembers. And maybe it wasn’t actually good.

They were words of their time, spoken like all words with dissipating breath.

I found it on a page scanned from a March 1877 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine with a bit of explanation not included in my paper clipping.

The following was recently written and sent by a distinguished clergyman to his mother. It was sent on a postal card:

    Dear Mother —
    From sweet Isaiah’s sacred song, chapter 9 and verse 6
    First 13 words please take and then the following affix;
    From Genesis the 35th, verse 17, no more.
    Then add verse 26 of Kings, book 2nd, chapter 4.
    The last two verses, chapter 1, 1st book of Samuel
    And you will learn what on this day your loving son befell.

Deciphering this from the King James, we read this.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”

“And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.”

“Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well:”

“For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him:  Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.”

New Cambridge Fellow focus of Academics’ outrage

A new research fellow at St Edmund’s College of Cambridge has riled 300+ professors who think he earned the position unethically. The Guardian offers a review of the complaints, which are not based on what Noah Carl has actually written but on characterizations of his research. 

“A careful consideration of Carl’s published work and public stance on various issues, particularly on the relationship between race and ‘genetic intelligence’, leads us to the unambiguous conclusion that his research is ethically suspect and methodologically flawed,” states the letter, which is signed by seven Cambridge professors and more than 700 other academics.

If Carl’s work has been carefully considered, then citing offending arguments and data shouldn’t be a problem. But when Quillette Magazine reviewed the work, they found nothing that aligned with the complaints. They asked one of the signatories to spell out his complaint and received a broad assertion that certain concepts have “at best questionable scientific validity” and cannot be taken in stride by anyone. Again Quillette couldn’t find these concepts in Carl’s work and are arguing for the public rebuke of the professors who appear to have signed a letter grounded in nothing by hearsay.

“Accusing a young scholar of ‘psuedoscientific racism,’ and claiming his work is ‘ethically suspect’ and ‘methodologically flawed,’ is not something that should be done lightly, given the likely impact on his career,” Quillette editors write. “Anyone who cares about intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity should join us in denouncing this witch-hunt.”

They asked many other academics for comment and received responses like this from Jonathan Haidt, a professor of ethical leadership at New York University Stern School of Business

Greg Lukianoff and I open chapter 5 of The Coddling of the American Mindwith a Durkheimian analysis of witch hunts. It works beautifully to explain the otherwise inexplicable and shameful open letter denouncing Rebecca Tuvel and calling for the retraction of a philosophy article that hardly any of the hundreds of signatories had read. That whole affair was an embarrassment for the academy and those who signed the open letter. Here we go again. If hundreds of professors think that Noah Carl conducts bad science, let them make the case, with quotations and citations. The “open letter” denouncing Carl is just a list of vague assertions and charges of guilt by association. If the signers think we should condemn anyone who gives ammunition to “extremist and far right media,” they should write a new letter condemning themselves.

Maybe the review process proposed by Susan Harlan in “A Poem About Your University’s New and Totally Not Time-wasting Review Process for Tenure and Promotion,” would help curtail these open letters. While a mob of professors is not funny, this is.

New Collection of Epstein Essays

Following up on yesterday’s post about expanding book coverage of a likely political nature, we have word of a new collection of essays from Joseph Epstein: The Ideal of Culture. Jonathan Leaf praises it and the man who created it.

Epstein is very much of the opinion that possession of Culture—with the capital C—is a lifelong endeavor that enriches daily life and reflects both inculcation and determined striving.

. . . Nonetheless, the book’s publication is unlikely to be noted in the most celebrated organs of commentary. That is because, in today’s thought-policed intellectual world, Epstein is probably best known for having defied the politically correct authorities.

Who’s organizing the raising of a monument for this man?

Literature Is More than Politics

The Columbia Journalism Review asks, “What’s behind a recent rise in books coverage?The New York Times and other publications are growing (perhaps only on the digital side) and may have expanded their book coverage as a result. It doesn’t quite explain what’s behind the rise other than to say readers want it.

Micah Mattix observes the strongest themes in the reviews that come from these organizations are political. Book coverage may be contextualize short-form reports, but as Mattix says, “If you’re interested in literature primarily for its politics, you’re not interested in literature. And book coverage that always keys reviews to political concerns is a very philistine sort of coverage.”

New Letter from C.S. Lewis Reveals Intolerance of Unexamined Convention

We know C. S. Lewis wrote a lot of correspondence to readers, strangers, children, and women’s study groups. To that last group, a previously unpublished letter offers an example of one of things that could set the author off.

“Dear Ladies,” Lewis wrote, “Who told you that Christians must not go to the theatre, dance, play cards, drink, or smoke?”

Who these ladies were is unknown and they apparently annoyed Lewis with their letter, but he wouldn’t ignore it. He responded to it with a duty few of us share today.

Stephanie Derrick, author of The Fame of C.S. Lewis: A Controversialist’s Reception in Britain and America, explains some of what we do about this letter and our favorite Oxford don’s habits of correspondence.

First, it appears they parroted some tired, theologically unsound notions about Christian behavior—i.e., good Christians don’t drink, smoke, or otherwise enjoy themselves—and if Lewis had intolerance for anything it was the touting of unexamined tenets. This was partly a matter of personality—Lewis once described himself as “by temperament, an extreme anarchist”—but it was also an effect of his training in logic and philosophy. And he was particularly irked by the addition of perfunctory requirements to the Christian faith, once saying, for example, “How little I approve of compulsion in religion may be gauged from a recent letter of mine to the Spectator protesting against the intolerable tyranny of compulsory church parades for the Home Guard.” Lewis hated to see the joy of hope and faith—or of everyday living, for that matter—diminished by dogmas that were shaped more by social convention than sound religion.

I Know Death Has No Sting, But Still

Last week, a great teacher in our church, adjunct at Covenant College, and godly resource for the global church passed away suddenly. I went to Twitter and became a bit irritated that no one was talking about him. But why would they? Maybe twenty years from now men like this would resonate online at the right frequency to vibrate whatever social networks people would be using then. But last week with all the talk of how important this or that thing should be, I was irritated by the thought I couldn’t say something about the most important person in my mind at the moment.

Tonight another man I know from church, a little older and not a teacher in the same way, has passed away. The last I’d heard about him was of his successful surgery and hospital release. I wasn’t prepared for the news of his death. I’m not prepared for missing him in the hallways and all of the other places I might have seen him.

I know that these are astonishing moments for both men and that both of them awoke on the other side as if they had been asleep their entire lives. I know that “this perishable body must put on the imperishable,” because Christ Jesus has put death in its own grave. Its sting is blunted; its victory made void.

But still.

As One Who Has Slept

This is John Tavener’s arrangement of a Holy Saturday liturgy from the Orthodox Church:

“As one who has slept the Lord has risen
And rising he has saved us. Alleluia.”

In Praise of Men

Andrée Seu Peterson has assembled a few thankful words for men.

The best musical composers are men. The best art in our local Philadelphia Art Museum and Barnes Foundation is by men. The best writers are men. The best chefs are men. And to be honest, who wouldn’t rather watch men’s hockey than women’s hockey? In other words, everything that lifts the dreariness of life is by and large a man’s idea.

Men cut to the chase. (Except William Faulkner, who was wordy.)

We at Brandywine Books recognize the honesty in which this column was written and deny any hint of comic exaggeration.  Bully for us!

In other news, World offers their books of 2018, noting some changes in Christian publishing over the last several years.

Coffee Is a Slow Poison, Voltaire

Dear Quote Investigator: Coffee enthusiasts enjoy sharing an anecdote about Voltaire who savored the aromatic beverage throughout his life. The famous philosopher’s physician warned him that coffee was a slow poison. He replied, “Yes, it is a remarkably slow poison. I have been drinking it every day for more than seventy-five years”.

But did this exchange occur between Voltaire and his doctor or was it someone else and someone else’s doctor? What are the facts interfering with this story? The Quote Investigator spells it out.

Would You Travel to a Book Town?

A book town is a small town with a lot of books for sale. A personal library like Richard Adams’s wouldn’t count.

Hobart, New York, is a perfect example of how having one bookstore in a small town is nice, but having many bookstores together makes a place special—a destination. Since the 1970s, book towns like it have been springing up all over the world. There are now dozens of them, from Australia and Finland to India and South Korea.

Atlas Obscura talks to the author of a book on forty-five of these literary havens. “After we’ve gone through everyone getting excited about e-books and online reading,” Alex Johnson said, “having something practical and in your hand is something that people are happy to travel for.”

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash