‘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.

Suicide by Praise Song

Many Khmers resisted, to the degree they were able, by shutting down. Do your job; don’t complain; keep your head down; and most important, trust no one. Over time, people’s souls shriveled. In one sense, even the Khmer Rouge themselves were dying on their feet. They were soldiers of socialism for whom murder was not a crime but the prelude to a new society.

Surrounding Radha as he lay on the termite hill were endless stretches of shallow water broken up by dikes and stands of trees. He saw no way out. Lord, he prayed, I really want my rest. Take me home. He waited, and the rain kept falling. If you aren’t going to take me home, I’m going to help you.

So he began to sing in English. With water dripping off the bushes around him, he lifted up his voice and sang, perhaps not as loudly as he could but quite clearly, about how this world was not his home. “I’m just a-passing through / My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” It’s a bouncy, country gospel tune called “This World Is Not My Home” that he had learned at Maranatha Church in Phnom Penh. He learned it soon after he became a Christian in 1973. He hummed it to himself in the fields while plodding behind the water buffalo, along with “Call for the Reapers” and “Bringing in the Sheaves.” “Power in the Blood” was one of his favorites.

World Magazine shares the opening of the remarkable story of how a Cambodian Christian survived an evil communist regime.

‘The Fellowship,’ by Philip and Carol Zaleski

The Fellowship

Though surpassed in poetry and prose style by the very modernists they failed to appreciate, though surpassed in technical sophistication by any number of distinguished academic philosophers and theologians, the Inklings fulfilled what many find to be a more urgent need: not simply to restore the discarded image, but to refresh it and bring it to life for the present and future.

Last night I was complaining about the length of this book, but it turned out as I speculated – about 35% of its body is end notes. Still, it’s a big book. But it’s well worth reading, if you’re interested in the social and intellectual matrix that produced some of the 20th Century’s most influential Christian writing.

The Inklings began as an Oxford student literary group in 1932, but when the students had graduated and moved on, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other friends who had been invited to join carried it on as a sort of cross between a writers’ criticism group and a social club. They met once a week in Lewis’ rooms at Magdelen College for the writing phase, and again at the Eagle and Child pub for the more social part. They carried on, with some changes in membership, until the 1960s.

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip and Carol Zaleski, concentrates on the lives of the four best-known Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. Much of the material covered will already be familiar to fans, but Williams’ and Barfield’s lives are far less known, and there’s plenty of material that will be new to most readers (there certainly was for me). I did not know, for instance, the Tolkien had suffered an injury to his tongue in his youth, which caused him to mumble when speaking (this impediment disappeared when he was “performing,” as in his famous LOTR readings recorded by George Sayer). I didn’t know that Owen Barfield was baptized as an adult into the Anglican Church (though he continued to believe in reincarnation and other Anthroposophist doctrines). Remarkably, there’s even some movie trivia – one discovers connections between the Inklings and David Lean, Julie Christie, and Ava Gardner. Continue reading ‘The Fellowship,’ by Philip and Carol Zaleski

A new leaf

I’m still working through the Inklings book I’m reading. I must be getting near the end – most everybody’s dead now. Maybe there’s a long notes section at the end.

But for now, you’re stuck with my idle thoughts.

My reading today got me thinking about The Lord of the Rings, and my mixed feelings about the Peter Jackson films.

I remain a fan of the original movie trilogy. It has its flaws, but all in all (and this is my personal metric) the experience of watching the films is fairly similar to that of reading the books. So they get a thumbs up. The Hobbit movies are a different matter. I saw them in a theater, but hope never to watch them again.

Still, there are moments in the LOTR movies that should have warned me, I think, of what was to come with the Hobbit fiasco. I’m thinking primarily of the treatment of smoking.

It’s impossible for anyone who understands Tolkien’s life and culture, his friends and environment to understand the smoking in the LOTR books as being about anything but tobacco. Tolkien and the Inklings were inveterate smokers. No doubt we might have enjoyed their presence in this world longer if they hadn’t been, but the world was different then. Lewis is on record as disbelieving all the health warnings.

But in the very first movie, as Gandalf and Bilbo smoke together, they consistently refer to what they’re smoking as “weed.” That’s shorthand, of course, for “pipeweed,” which is what tobacco is called in the books. But the clear implication for the modern viewer is that they’re enjoying marijuana. This is reinforced later on, when Saruman taunts Gandalf, saying that his love of “the halflings’ leaf” has muddled his thinking.

Of course it’s a different world today. People today are taught to treat tobacco as if it were plutonium. It has almost become magical in its evil effects, in the public imagination. So Jackson, no doubt, thought he was helping Tolkien out by turning his beloved tobacco to cannabis. In so doing he changed the Shire, replacing Tolkien’s idealized agrarian English village with something that might be his own ideal – a 1960s California commune.

And that’s Jackson’s problem, it seems to me. He thinks he’s in a position to correct Tolkien. To explain to him how a story really ought to be told. In his view, he is the master, Tolkien the student. Tolkien is lucky to benefit from his storytelling genius.

And that’s what spoiled the Hobbit movies.

In my opinion.

A Basketful of Thyme

AP: “A new study published Friday by the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam says despite decades of research there is no conclusive evidence the Jewish diarist and her family were betrayed to the Netherlands’ German occupiers during the second world war, leading to their arrest and deportation.” While it’s still possible they were betrayed, it’s also possible the Nazis were investigating “illegal labor or falsified ration coupons” when the Franks were discovered.

University of Stavanger: “The works of J.R.R. Tolkien are an excellent introduction to Old English and other historic languages, according to researcher.”

TGC:  Robert Barron has produced a documentary on G. K. Chesterton. Treven Wax says, “It dives headlong into two of Chesterton’s greatest works: Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, the latter of which C. S. Lewis called the greatest apologetic for Christianity in English.”

Uncurious Scientists Making Up Stuff

John C. Wright has a long essay on the suicide of thought, starting with the reason a group of natural scientists would believe geometry is empirical. Just to put the cookies on the bottom shelf, geometry is a logical science, which uses analytic reasoning. You don’t observe natural shapes and conclude the ratio of circles or hypotenuse of three-pointed things, and yet here was a group of scientists saying that’s where geometry is found.

Apparently they did this out of a commitment to materialism in opposition to rationalism or some combination of the two.

One of the many flaws in radical materialism is this: if radical materialism were true, radical empiricism must also be true, on the grounds that if nothing is real but matter, no knowledge is real except for knowledge about matter, and facts about matter can only be known by empiricism. But radical materialism is a universal metaphysical theory, and therefore cannot be known empirically, which means it cannot be known at all. Hence, if radical materialism were true, it is false.

It is a doctrine that refutes itself, something which the mere unambiguous statement of the terms proves false. No further argument is need, no other witnesses need be called.

Hence the final clue also fits the pattern, but also leads to a bigger mystery: the reasons why the teachers do not teach and the students do not learn about the basics of science is because of dogmatic yet illogical beliefs that cannot withstand such scrutiny that swirl about science.

These beliefs and beliefs like them are beliefs that make outrageous claims about the prestige of science, which is inflated to serve as a substitute religion. Such beliefs are called science worship. These beliefs flourish only in a dark age, when the lamp of reason is guttering or extinguished.

Science worshippers are not necessarily partisans of radical materialism and radical empiricism, but these and beliefs like them are friendly to science worship. Such beliefs dull the curiosity, encourage dismissive arrogance, or inspire bellicose narrowmindedness, which, in turn, forms a favorable environment to allow science worship to grow like mold.

Science worshippers do not do science, do not understand science, and are easily duped by junk science.

So, the lesser mystery of who killed Euclid now has to have a reasonable theory that fits the facts. Since teaching the truth about geometry and science would necessarily cast doubt on a cult belief about science worship that is prevalent in society, it can only be passed along from one uncurious mind to the next by indoctrination.

… Science worship is a symptom, but only one, of a deeper sickness that afflicts more than just one field of study, more than just one school of thought or more than just one topic.

“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.

White Lights or Santa Boogie?

Do I need a building permit to turn a house into a Christmas snow globe? Asking for a friend.

You are either a colored-lights family or a white-lights family, and changing your Christmas tree light color is like changing your religion or your political affiliation—it’s something people do, at most, once in their lives. But white lights seemed classier to my teenaged self, so I petitioned the family, and we made the switch.

Jonathan V. Last talks about his changing views on Christmas decor.

After the first Christmas, when I didn’t put up any decorations outside our house, the lady next door—a sweet, Christian Secret Service agent—presented me with a shiny, four-foot-tall aluminum Snoopy, ringed by blinking lights. I tried to demur, but she insisted not only on giving it to me but helping me set it up, too. I was both touched and horrified.

What’s Under the Tree?

Pre-wrapped gifts are essential, or her little darling will pitch a fit.

She shoulders the door open, her arms stretched around sparkling presents, hoping this will be the last gift run of the year.

She hears a tiny voice singing by the fir tree, plucking each word, “You better watch out.”

Unloading her packages on the floor, she glances at her blotchy-faced, wild-eyed child, whose ruddy fingers like tentacles clutch the nearest branch, corrupting the evergreen with an insatiable, yellowing appetite, as the little darling jabs at gifts with a candy cane, shaking the tree with each word—mine, mine.

(Written for the Advent Ghost Story Fest)

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

True Crime Podcasts That Catch Your Ear

I don’t listen to podcasts much, mostly because of technical limitations. My commutes haven’t been long. My iPod probably qualifies as a vintage edition, and I’m not a regular iTunes user. When I listen to podcasts, it’s through a computer, sometimes while washing dishes, usually while doing things that don’t require my full attention. I’ve heard a few episodes of Crime Writers On, which has put me onto two other true crime podcasts.

via GIPHY

Both series talk through a current criminal case, but that’s where their similarity ends. The first series is out of Hawaii. “Offshore,” produced by Honolulu Civil Beat, focuses on 2011 incident in which an off-duty federal officer shot and killed a young Hawaiian man. Here’s the preview.

Many on the island see the case as a tangible symbol of powerful Americans running over native Hawaiians, which some have said it how the island kingdom became a US state in the first place. This abuse of privilege dramatically unfolded in an 80-year-old case remarkably similar to the current one. Reporter Jessica Terrell draws the parallels between the two cases and gives an ear to the hearts of Hawaiians who want justice and respect. Continue reading True Crime Podcasts That Catch Your Ear

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.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture