Meet J. Warner Wallace. No, Wallace is not a former congressional investigator, but he is one of the world’s most respected experts at solving the toughest crime cases, the ones that have gone unsolved for years.
I raised my face to look at him. “Why have I never heard of this?”
I asked. “I’d think Augvaldsness would be a place of pilgrimage for the whole
north – for the English and the Franks as well.”
“We’ve been chary
of the great Roman church here in Rogaland,” said Baard. “They keep throwing
that Arian thing you touched on in our faces, when they notice us at all. We’d
as soon not have them looking too closely at our ways. We’ve learned that when
the Romans look for error, they generally find it, whether it’s there or not.”
“As an Irishman, I
know what you mean,” I said.
Baard slipped the
cover back on the reliquary, and we went back out into the dark. You’d think
that that revelation would be my chief memory of that night, but it pales in recollection,
because of what followed.
As we stepped back
through the entry and into the hall, a figure filled my view, dark against the
light, haloed like a saint in some eastern icon. She sidestepped right to let
me pass, and I stepped left to let her pass, and so we did that foolish dance
you do in narrow places, each trying to make way for the other. At last we both
stopped and laughed, and by now I could see her face.
It was the
loveliest face I’d ever seen on human head. She was woman in her full bloom,
but slender. A few strands of hair that peeked from under her headcloth were
light brown, and her eyes – those eyes! I see them even now – large and blue
under dark brows slightly curved. Her face was longer than an oval, rather
triangular in shape to make room for those great eyes, and her lips were full, but not to excess.
At that very
moment I felt my stomach lurch, as if I’d stepped down a well in the dark.
I closed my eyes
and shook my head, fearing I’d eaten something bad and was about to shame
myself before this woman, through being sick. The feeling passed.
Then I looked back
in her eyes, and my stomach went whump again.
I looked away. All
I looked back at
I was lost for
words to say, but Baard moved up from behind me and broke the moment.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on this day in 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Here’s a recording of an interview from the 1960s. I think you can identify the slight slur in his speech, caused by an early tongue injury. By all accounts, it did not affect his lecturing voice, but it did make him hard to understand, sometimes, in conversation.
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.
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.
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.
These stories [by Lovecraft] end in suicide, madness, or, as in The Shadow Over Innsmouth, a disturbing acquiescence. Given the Darwinian undertones, what else could one do but acquiesce? You are what you are, and that’s the end of it.
But for Lewis, there is reason for hope. Reality comes with an “upper story,” and while we are embodied souls, we are souls above all. It is to our souls that Lewis makes his appeal. He wants us to look in horror upon our inner monster, but unlike Lovecraft, he does not want us to die. He wants us to turn to Aslan and live.
At Touchstone, C. R. Wiley analyzes the different ways in which two near-contemporaries, H. P. Lovecraft and C. S. Lewis, approached the mysteries of the universe in their imaginative fiction. This article precisely mirrors my own opinions, and is therefore a marvel of reason.
Here’s Sissel singing the most famous Norwegian Christmas carol — Jeg Er Saa Glad Hver Julekveld. Generations of Norwegian-American kids have learned it by rote and sung it for church programs. As did I.
The art here is not really appropriate. It’s not a Santa song. It uses the lighting of the Christmas tree to meditate on the wonder of the Incarnation of Christ. The child sings that he/she loves Christmas because of Jesus.
I have a column up at The American Spectator Online today. It seems a little tin-foil-hat even to me, and yet it also makes perfect sense to me. Either I am mad, or the world is.
On my mental timeline, that conversation marks a watershed (I’m always seeing watersheds everywhere; probably a sign of OCD). It seems to me to mark a realignment on the Left. The feminists and the hippies were never really compatible, but they made an alliance, like Churchill and Stalin, during the Wars of Aquarius. The alliance was doomed, of course. Feminists have always been essentially Victorian. The last thing they want to see is anyone letting it all hang out.
I think I can explain everything that’s wrong with western politics today. All intelligent people (that is, everyone who already agrees with me) will understand immediately.
I think the problem rises from the fact that westerners – even those who expressly reject Christianity – base their ethic on the teachings of Christ.
Only they misunderstand it.
They start with Christ’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do yet also unto them.” And that’s good. It’s the best of ethical rules, and well worth following.
But they assume a corollary. They assume the next stage is, “And then they will do the same unto you in return.” Be nice to others, and no one will hurt you. A thousand Sunday School papers and children’s books make the tacit promise that that’s true.
But the passage doesn’t actually say that.
There’s no promise that anyone will return your kindness. In fact, Jesus often warns His disciples that people will hate and persecute them.
Most sophisticated westerners assume that if you’re peaceful and act peaceful, and if you’re kind, that will protect you from evildoers. Your kindness will make them kind, too.
There is no such promise.
That’s why the Apostle Paul tells us that the emperor bears the sword. Because somebody has to protect the vulnerable.
It isn’t the government’s job to practice the Golden Rule, unless you want everybody to die.
Here endeth the lesson.
And now, just to prove to you how old and white I am, another instrumental piece from my youth for a Friday – “The Syncopated Clock,” by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975). He was Swedish-American, by the way, and is probably best remembered for the Christmas favorite, “Sleigh Ride.”
Jared Wilson has seen a lot of backlash and argument since the WWW installed itself on our society. Watch bloggers are now a thing. Twitter is easily understood as a cess pool and Facebook an echo chamber. For some people, chatting about anything online feels like walking in front of a firing squad. I preemptively blocked a couple profiles on Twitter last week after they attacked the character of a podcasting pastor under the mantle of spiritual discernment.
This is something missing in far too many of the online prophets — tears. Setting aside the fact that the biblical vocation of God’s anointed messengers isn’t really a one-to-one correlation with self-appointed pundits on Twitter, we certainly can learn from them — and many other places in Scripture — that there is a certainly a place within the church for pastoral rebuke, prophetic witness, and courageous calls to repentance. But this is but one aspect of prophetic ministry. The guy spending all day every day looking for people to fisk, mock, or otherwise use for his own promotion and praise isn’t echoing biblical prophetic ministry. If anything, he is more like the pharisaical enterprise of nitpicking, condemning, and “laying traps” to catch people in alleged errors or missteps.
Stanley notes rightly that “skinny jeans and moving lights” won’t keep many young people from abandoning Christianity. But he argues that the way to hold them, and win others who say they’re “spiritual,” is to abandon the hard things in the Bible and emphasize a smiling Jesus. C.S. Lewis brought us Mere Christianity. Pastor Stanley brings us Mere Sponge Cake.
Stanley says he knows “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” but seriously people, “the Ten Commandments have no authority over you.” I don’t think Jesus would sign off on that. The new covenant is the fulfillment of the old covenant. The law given to us by Moses still reveals the state of our sin and our need for salvation. When Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, he essentially told us if we thought we knew what the law required, we didn’t know the half of it.
I don’t doubt Stanley has a pretty good point somewhere at the beginning of his line of thought, but where he runs with that line is straight heresy. I love what Steven Graydanus said about Stanley’s solution, published in an interview this summer. Stanley said, “Without the OT, we can make a better case for Jesus,” to which Graydanus replies, “As *what*? Go into the Sistine Chapel and paint over everything except the figures of Yahweh on the central ceiling panel and Jesus on the west wall. At that point, what on earth are you looking *at*?”