Category Archives: Religion

“Now a Thousand Christmas Lights are Lit.”

Tonight, another Norwegian Christmas song you can’t understand, from Sissel. Because it’s good for your education.

“Nå tennes tusen julelys,” is the name of the song. It means “Now a thousand Christmas lights are lit.” It paints a picture of Christmas lights being kindled all around the world. It goes on to talk of the Christmas star, and then moves on to a hope that the light of Christmas will bring peace to the world. I think it’s very beautiful.

Happy St. Stephen’s Day. And Boxing Day.

‘I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve’

Tonight, another classic Norwegian Christmas hymn. This one, “Jeg Er Så Glad Hver Julekveld,” is probably the best-known original Norwegian carol. Which isn’t saying much; you’ve probably never heard it. But it’s famous to us. I had to memorize it phonetically when I was a kid, for a Christmas program in church.

The title means, “I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve,” and that’s what the translation is called, if you can find it. The singer (clearly a child) is saying how much he loves Christmas Eve, and the reasons are all about Jesus. How the star shone forth and Jesus was born, and how Jesus lives in Heaven to hear our prayers. How his mother trims the Christmas tree and fills the room with light, explaining that Jesus came as a Light to enlighten the world.

It should really be done by a children’s choir, but I couldn’t find a video like that. So this one will have to do.

Glade Jul. Merry Christmas.

Believing in Christmas

Kirsten Powers describes her history with Christmas and how the Lord brought her to himself in Christianity Today.

Ironically, after all of this, Christmas lost its luster for me. The rank materialism became too much to bear, and the Christmas season morphed from being a time I savored into something I tried to survive each year. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, the holiday jingles—they all felt like pagan oppression. When people complained about a war on Christmas I often smirked and thought to myself, Where do I sign up? Honestly: When a sale at Crate & Barrel gets entangled with the birth of Jesus Christ, something has gone horribly wrong.

She doesn’t leave it there. It’s a marvelous story.

Also out of New York City today, columnist Nicholas Kristof asks pastor Tim Keller whether one can be a Christian while rejecting the virgin birth and resurrection. Keller says many good things, and on this question the main point is that Christ Jesus was not a good teacher whose ideas could be taken out of the context of his life. He came to give us life through his resurrection. It was on this basis that he taught what he did.

“Oh How Beautiful the Sky”

For your Christmas (Jul) edification: One of Norway’s most popular Christmas hymns — “Deilig er den Himmel Blå,” which when found in English translation is usually rendered “Oh, How Beautiful the Sky.” It’s actually a Danish hymn, written by Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig, a prominent but eccentric Danish cleric and educator (he’s mentioned in Catherine Marshall’s novel Christy).

The gist of the thing is that the sky is beautiful, and delightful to look at. The stars are twinkling and shining, and they turn our thoughts to Heaven. The Wise Men followed a star to Bethlehem, and we have God’s Word which, like the star, will lead us also to Christ.

The choir here is the boy’s choir of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. St. Olaf is buried there (we’re not sure where). I visited it once. The emblem on the boys’ robes is the coat of arms of the church, either the cathedral itself or the diocese. I’m pretty sure.

“My heart always returns”

What shall I blog about on the evenings when I haven’t got a recently finished book to review? That’s going to be my personal dilemma for a while. I picked up a book on the Inklings. It’s excellent and full of points of interest, but it’s about as long as The Lord of the Rings, I think (that’s one of the interesting aspects of reading on a Kindle. Sometimes you’re surprised by the length of a book you bought, an occurrence that never occurs in bookstores). Anyway, I’ll have to actually talk to you until I’ve finished this book. Which means I’ll have to think.

I thought I wouldn’t have to do that anymore, now that I had a master’s.

Anyway, it’s Advent, so a Christmas song from Sissel is always in order. I’ve probably posted some version of this before, but I think I’ve run out of new Sissel Christmas stuff. She bears repetition. This is one she’s recorded and performed many times. The title, “Mitt Hjerte Altid Vanker” means, “My heart always returns.” The singer is saying she constantly turns her thoughts back to Christ and His birth. I like this arrangement, which incorporates a theme from Edvard Grieg in the bridge. This recording was done in Iceland.

Back to the Incarnation

Durer Nativity
The Nativity, by Albrecht Durer (1514)

Christmas has many customs, varying from culture to culture. One of the most annoying of our own culture’s customs is the annual attack of Friendly Fire, in which sincere Christian brothers and sisters exercise their freedom of conscience and expression, informing the rest of us that we are submitting to Satan by celebrating the holiday. They expect to shock us by declaring a) that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, b) that Christmas is really a heathen holiday, and c) that Christmas really isn’t that important anyway.

These three points are enough to spark hours and days of debate. But I’ll confine myself to the third point just now.

It’s true that Christmas is not the chief festival of the Christian calendar. That honor belongs to Easter, the feast of the resurrection. And our disproportionate cultural emphasis on Christmas over Easter is indeed a sign of wrong priorities. However, that argument means less now that our culture has been pretty thoroughly de-Christianized. The secular, commercialized celebrations of Christmas and Easter aren’t really matters of much theological importance.

But it’s wrong to suggest that Christmas is not an important celebration.

Christmas is the Festival of the Incarnation (that means that God, a Spirit, became flesh, a human being with a heartbeat, blood pressure, and an alimentary system). And the Incarnation (as Ron Burgundy would put it) is “kind of a big deal.” Continue reading Back to the Incarnation

A grumble and a review

I was AWOL last night again. I am keenly cognizant of this sin. But the sin isn’t mine. I blame winter. It was winter’s fault, really.

Stopped at Arby’s after work. When I’d finished and came out, a woman, who had parked next to me, said, “Your tire is flat.” I looked, and behold it was even as she had said.

So I went back inside and called AAA. If there’s a lousy time to call for road assistance, it’s the first cold night of a cold snap. I sat on hold for about 45 minutes, and then waited about an hour and a half before a young guy came around to help me. Apparently he was the special auto club Flat Tire Squad. He’d been running around changing tires for hours, and had hours to go. I pitied him, and tipped him when he left.

Today I took the car to the shop, and had to get a ride to work (and back). I’d shredded my tire. Needed to buy two new ones. But I endured. I survived. I met the Challenge of the North.

I need to get a malamute, and name him King.

Here’s a short book review:

Nailed It!

One of our readers sent me a devotional book. I’m not a great booster of devotional books, but this reader – for reasons entirely inscrutable to me – thought I might appreciate a book of sarcastic devotions. So I agreed to examine Nailed It! 365 Devotions for Angry or Worn-Out People, by Anne Kennedy.

I haven’t read it all the way through yet, but I like it. This is very much in my line. If Osteen has lost you, if Peale appalls you, if you find Schuller shallow, you’ll likely find Nailed It! a relief. The book abounds in gritty, realistic wisdom and great lines: “Anyway, don’t be so worried about offending your friends and neighbors with the good news of Jesus Christ. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone could throw a rock at your head? You’re going to die sometime anyway.” Or: “It’s the best kind of praying, this praying without enough faith.”

Anyway, I like this devotional better than any I’ve ever encountered, I think. I’m going to make it my daily devotional in 2017. Recommended. A great gift, if you have friends who are anything like me, heaven help you.

Fred Sanders Can’t Dance the Flow

In his review of Richard Rohr’s new book, Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Fred Sanders explains how it isn’t about the Trinity at all. It’s about the divine flow, a dance within the Godhead that ends up being more important than the Godhead.

The flow is a self-giving exchange of love and life. If you were to ask Rohr whether the flow is primarily something about God, the world, or the human person, he would no doubt answer with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and his twinkling Franciscan eyes would twinkle Franciscanly. The flow overflows the distinction between the Creator and the creature. It flows from God as God empties Godself; it circulates among creatures and binds them together with each other and the absolute; it flows back to God, enriching and delighting that Holy Source who loves to see finite spirits awaken to their true, divine selves. The flow sounds like a noun, but it’s really a verb. Flow verbs all nouns as they flow with its flowing.

That looks like some good verbal dancing on Sanders’ part, but it isn’t the flow. It’s more like keeping his footing solid while the room shakes, which makes for entertaining reading.

No One Believes in Self-Fulfillment

Among the things that could be said to be rocking the American church in 2016 are writers and teachers who have claimed a Christian mantle to teach decidedly unchristian things. Jen Pollock Michel writes for Christianity Today about Glennon Doyle Melton’s recent announcement that she was dating another woman.

Melton is as modern as she boasts—even if her effusive references to “love” and “joy” are reassuringly offered to confirm that her choices are in everyone’s best interest. From the public announcements both of her divorce and her new dating relationship, she wants us to understand this: The greatest gift any of us gives to the world is our true self. Let’s not look to anyone else for permission or feel any obligation for explanation. Humans flourish as they obey their desires.

She goes on to contrast this with the marvelous story Augustine tells of his conversion, but I want to jot down a thought on this idea of being our true selves.

“Humans flourish as they obey their desires.” No one really believes this. They only believe it for themselves, that they will flourish if they are allowed to do their own thing. Follow your dream, kid; just don’t let your dream interfere with mine.

Politicians live high on public money by obeying their desires. Thieves follow UPS trucks to pick up their deliveries before the owners do. Rioters destroy their neighbors’ businesses. Poachers kill off animal life. This is the flourishing we can expect when humans obey their desires.

Lars said this earlier this year:

It is Christians, after all, who (almost alone in our present age) recognize that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Our confessions declare that we are not good people but evil people, saved not by our golden deeds and noble aspirations, but by the work of Someone Else.

Human beings will only flourish when they recognize themselves as servants and stewards on the vast estate of the Governor of the Universe. Our kindness, love, hope, and courage are defined by him, not our own desires, so yes, humanism can do a lot of good when it runs parallel to the goodness Christ has taught us, but that’s the only time.

We weren’t made for self-fulfillment. We were made to be filled by Christ.

Lucy of Narnia, the Valiant

Yesterday, November 16, was, as Stephen Bullivant puts it, “the actual feast day of the actual Blessed Lucy of Narnia.” He notes that Lucy was the one who observed in The Last Battle, “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

So, if you want to visit the ancient, hillside city that gave Lewis’s magical country its name, you’ll have to go to Italy’s Umbria region and find the place presently called Narni.

‘Dresses’ in ‘That Hideous Strength’

That Hideous Strength

The esteemed Dr. Bruce Charlton at Tolkien’s The Notion Club Papers re-posts a review of That Hideous Strength. This post, from the Toast blog, is by a woman named Felix Kent. I found it delightful, for two reasons. First, I’ve come to assume that all modern women will hate THS (which remains one of my favorite novels). Secondly, Ms. Kent gets it precisely right.

“Don’t read That Hideous Strength,” my mother said. My mother is a great C.S. Lewis fan, also a believer, in the religious sense. One of my best sources for what to read. And a woman who grew up in the Fifties and became an academic. Became, like Ransom, the trilogy’s main character, a philologist.

“Why not?” I said.

I don’t think my mother used the word “yucky” in her reply, but that was more or less what she meant. I went ahead and read the book anyway.

God at Work in Our Universities

We may have read about some of the nutty things happening at colleges these days, things that rival The Babylon Bee for loony satire, and we’ve seen student ministries oppressed by acolytes of the spirit of the age. But Owen Strachan talks about some of the inspiring work God is still doing in American schools.

I read Adira’s testimony with lightning running down my back. At my alma mater, a college I warmly remember, God is at work. Through diverse means, including the heroic efforts of Rob Gregory and the McKeen Study Center, he’s moving. I can scarcely say how encouraging this is. We sometimes approach secular schools as if they are fortresses, but they are not. They are filled with people–flesh-and-blood people made in God’s image. The university is filled with humanity, teeming with purpose, loaded with promise. No person on campus is without worth. No resident is without value. And it must be said: no one is beyond the reach of God.

Extension granted

Today a musician who visits the school from time to time dropped into my office, and we talked for a couple hours. At no point did we mention the election, or politics.

It was bliss.

I hope more bliss is to come. One of principles of conservatism is that we should be able to live our lives as much as possible without reference to politics. One of the monstrosities of Progressivism is that each citizen is expected to think politically at all times, down to a painstaking ideological analysis of pronoun choice every time we frame a sentence.

I haven’t made any secret of my lack of faith in Donald Trump. I supported him, as I’ve explained on this blog, simply on utilitarian grounds. If he appoints Supreme Court justices in the manner he’s promised, we ought to retain speech and conscience liberties for the foreseeable future.

I should be more elated than I feel. The cavalry, after all, came over the hill in the nick of time. At this hour yesterday I was steeling myself for a Democrat victory, and all that would entail – especially in the curtailment of constitutional liberties. I was trying to figure out the best ways for a middle-aged, sedentary man to prepare for the purges. (I couldn’t really come up with anything. If the secret police come, I expect I’ll just go quietly. Can’t think of an effective countermeasure.)

But now – it appears – things should be OK. At least for the remainder of my expected lifespan. Like Hezekiah in one of his less admirable moments, I can say, “At least there will be peace in my time.”

Of course there is something to do about all this. I need to work at my ministry, sowing the seed of the Word. Running a library for a seminary and a Bible school. Writing novels.

Prayerfully. With thanks for an extended day of grace.