Archive for December, 2008

Not that this hasn’t been a good time to have a blog break (it has been a wonderful time to take a blog break, as it happens), but just so you know, the absence of posts has been due primarily to a computer-related problem, not anything more dire. I am writing this on someone else’s computer, which I’m borrowing for a few minutes just to check in and say, ‘howdy, we’re doing all right, except for anything related to me being able to get on the internet’.

On the upside, I’m getting a lot more reading done than usual. I would particularly like to recommend to you William Wilberforce’s book on “Real Christianity” or “A Practical View of Christianity.” (It was published under a long title, and reissues have tended to come out under various abbreviations.) As I understand it, it was an international sensation when it came out, and was widely influential. I’m only partway through, but I’m already classing it with Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. Like C.S. Lewis, Mr. Wilberforce seems to somehow ‘have my number’ even though he was writing before my time.

In other news, we had a nice, quiet, white homebody Christmas. We stayed home, and fielded phone calls from near and far. We heard from a business friend we hadn’t heard from in something like three years. His wife was at work and he was home alone, and got an urge to go through an old address book and see if any of the phone numbers still worked. It was great to hear from him. We also heard from a man who shall remain nameless, who had scrimped and saved to get his whole family gathered for Christmas this year, and who was calling old friends to say he was counting the hours until they’d all go home again. Heh. He was still merry, after a fashion, but reality wasn’t living up to the dream, and he was seeking good cheer where he could find it, I guess…

We’ve had a nice, snowy winter so far, all in all. And it just keeps coming down. Until today, it’s been pretty moderate, not too much new stuff until the old stuff melts or settles some. Today was the first day I felt a need to shovel snow from the driveway. Note to self: A woman who likes to feel like she’s halfway intelligent and semi-competent would do well to remember to get the snow shovel out of the shed before the back yard is deep enough in snow to overtop snow boots…

It’s a good thing I laugh at myself easily. I do give myself ample reason…

In that same vein, the other day I went out the door on the way to the post office, slammed the door behind me, and found myself leashed to the house, because, ahem, I had slammed my flowing skirt in the door. Which of course I had locked. Note to self: Kindly remember to keep your house key in an easily accessible pocket.

The whole procedure might have been easier if I hadn’t been laughing so hard, but, in short, I had forgotten to move my keys from my dress pocket into my coat pocket, so I had to, while lashed moderately tightly to the house, dig under my coat, fish out my keys, and then unlock the door while twisting around to the extent of my ability to twist. By the time I was done, I was nearly ready to call for help, should any passersby be within earshot but not able to see that I had a problem. But that didn’t prove necessary, and it has been a fun story to tell. Believe it or not, a clerk I told it to was able to top it. She countered with the story of the day she accidentally closed the cash drawer on her blouse, and found herself helpless in front of a long line of customers…

No, I don’t think all of us going to tight clothing would help. We’d still find some way to get messed up, and some of us would be eyesores in the meantime. Not to mention the modesty thing…

For those of you who are local, my second novel should be out for sale soon. We (my husband and I) were spending part of my unplanned blog break smoothing over the rough spots on Why We Raise Belgian Horses, and getting it typeset. It will be available online soon, too. For those of you not familiar with this little project, I’ve been gathering encouragement but no contracts from publishers since 2001, and we finally decided to go ahead and print up a few books on our own, rather than keep making the rounds of publishers. Life’s short. (And I’ve got eight books I’d like to get out, so I can concentrate on writing something else.)

In closing (did I mention I’m borrowing someone’s computer for a few minutes?), have you ever seen a dog running under the snow? No, really.

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So, I was reading along in Ironies of Faith, continuing to be by turns enchanted and exasperated (not my cup of tea, literary criticism, but I really appreciate the lessons and commentary on Christian belief sprinkled throughout this book), when author Anthony Esolen began to discuss an Italian novel from the 1800s called I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed in English), which seemed like one I’d like to add to my to-read list. So I turned to the “Works Cited” list toward the back, to check which edition or translation Esolen had been referencing, and there I read that the book was, ahem, Number 21 in the Harvard Classics series. Which I have on my shelves. Which I have had on my shelves for nearly 20 years, to be more precise. Saying to myself, “surely he means a different Harvard Classics set” I went to look, and found, hidden in plain sight in the sea of red spines, I Promessi Sposi. Color my face as red as the book covers.

When I saw it, I remembered that I had seen it before, but had been put off by the foreign title (aren’t foreign titles for English translations a clue that the book is for snobs who like to brag about what they’ve read, or pretended to read?), and by the illustration opposite the title page, which is hideous and melodramatic. But against these I had the teasers in the Esolen book, so I put aside ‘Ironies’ and set in to read this one.

I thought, here and there in the early chapters, that it was, after a promising beginning, going to turn out to be too sweet for words. Twaddle, if you will.

I could not have been more wrong.

Oh, my. This is an extraordinary book, deep and deft, set in the midst of famine, war, plague, political intrigue, and class warfare, with historical detail that would do a nonfiction work proud, but one that never sinks into gratuitous gruesomeness. The action begins in late 1628. One of the heroes of the book is Federico Borromeo.

It reminds me a bit of something by Walter Scott, or something by Charles Dickens, or Thomas Costain, something along those lines, but notably Catholic and Italian and with its own voice. If you’re not Catholic (I’m not), don’t let that put you off. There are ups and downs and sweet spots and humor and tragedy, all woven together, so if you hit something that doesn’t suit you, hang on, you’ll soon be off in a different direction. Overall, a wise and wonderful, eye-opening, adventuresome, suspenseful read. It’s a book I’d like to see more widely read, if for no other reason than its piercing commentary on government and elites gone amok, or its contrasts between people who know how to love and those who try to make the universe spin around themselves, or its no-nonsense looks at what Christianity provides and what it demands. 

In the Introductory Note to the Harvard Classics edition, it says that the book originally came out in 1825-26, but that the author, caught up in the disputes of which Italian dialect should be used as the standard in prose, rewrote the entire novel to take out all non-Tuscan idiom, and republished it in 1840. The note does not, however, tell me whether the Harvard Classic text is from the first or the second version, nor who the translator is. Nor does the title page tell me who the translator is. Yargh. Whoever did it, it’s a first class read. Expect me to hand you some selected passages and shorter quotes over time. There are some gems to share.

So, it took me about a week to read the book, then I went back to the Esolen book – only to find that he picked up the discussion of I Promessi Sposi in the next section of his book, and that if I hadn’t jumped out when I did, I would have been up against some serious spoilers, some of which might have made me hesitate to read the book. Whew. Sometimes I get lucky.

Definitely recommended, for mature teens on up.

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If you have a child of school age, and they have a textbook that takes note of “The Mayflower Compact,” will you please compare the text presented there, to the original text? Leaving off the signatures, the original (courtesy The Avalon Project at Yale) reads:

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

The subject comes up because yesterday, at a The Truth Project seminar, I was informed that some current textbooks omit references to God or the promotion of the Christian faith, leaving the colonists to be only people out to “plant the first colony” in that part of the world.

If your child has a textbook more or less making Pilgrims out to be secularists out for their own ends, please fill in the gaps yourself. It is a sad thing when a child is given a false heritage. Besides, whether or not you can understand the motivation of early American settlers, can we agree that to baldly misrepresent them by sneaky omissions from their writings is both silly and unfair?

If you do have a textbook with a Dowdified text (i.e. one that uses ellipsis to change the meaning to better suit the editor’s purposes), please do me the favor of dropping into the comments here the name of the book, and what it puts forth as The Mayflower Compact. I have no reason to doubt my source, but I also haven’t got verification yet. Thanks.

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Yesterday, the pastor sprinkled the sermon with a goodly number of stories, three of which I’d like to share, because I think they’re good food for thought. Recalling things verbatim not being one of my strong suits, and me being in author/editor mode these days, these aren’t exactly what the pastor said, but I hope they’re close enough to bring the messages across.

1. Two men are looking out over the ocean. “Just look at how much water there is!” one man cries. “And that’s only the top!” the other replies. Christmas is like that, the pastor said. (Think about it. Most people only see the top of Christmas, and miss the depth, and thus the magnitude. Yes?)

2. A man went to buy his daughter a birthstone ring, but was dismayed that her birthstone, the opal, looked so pale and dull beside the other gems. The clerk said that the rings had been sitting out a while and were cold. She took the opal ring in her hand and rubbed it for a while, while the man stood there, skeptical, thinking she was only trying a sales ploy she’d been taught to use when potential customers found they didn’t see much in dull old opals. But when she brought the opal out it shone with all the colors of the rainbow, and was to the man’s eyes more beautiful than the other gems. He bought the ring, and his daughter loved it. People can be like opals, the pastor said, in need of a warm human touch to bring out what’s inside. (So get out there and provide the needed warmth and human touch they need.)

3. He attributed this to D.L. Moody: In the old days, when men would see a prairie fire headed toward them, they would burn the grass where they were, and then stand safely in the burned area as the prairie fire swept past them, destroying everything else in its path. Calvary is where a burned spot was made for us to stand in safety. (Hmmm. I’d like to find the whole story, and not the paraphrased version read to us by the pastor. Hang on while I google… Ah, here’s the original.)

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I still haven’t figured out who our benefactor is who scrapes the snow from our sidewalk, but this morning, after I swept off the back deck and the van and was feeling the cold start to enter my bones, I headed to the front and found he or she had spared me the chilly bother of cleaning off the sidewalk that runs in front of our house. My thanks again, whoever you are.

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In case you don’t know, it’s not all that hard to make English muffins from scratch.

One of my biggest problems is that I never seem to remember between batches how low the burner should be set. The right temperature doesn’t seem high enough to cook bread, but it is. I scorched a few muffins this week before I got my act together. You’d think I’d learn…

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A heads-up for Christian mothers of little girls. Phil at Brandywine Books has info on a contest you might like to enter.

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Yesterday on local radio, the president of the Chamber of Commerce was being interviewed. She was urging people to apply for government aid. Some folks had put their heads together, you see, and thought that something like $500,000 by their estimation (aka guess, at a guess) would flow into this community if only everybody would go apply for all the government assistance available to them.

Yep. That’s the spirit that founded America and settled the wilderness. You betcha.

Our friend the president of the Chamber of Commerce was saying that taking short term government aid was a great way to become self-sufficient in her view, that being how she got by as a single mother when she was younger. (She is married and off the dole now.)

She was, however, sandwiching this rallying cry for bettering oneself between statements like ‘it would really help the local schools if more people signed their kids up for free hot lunches,’ and otherwise emphasizing what sounded like programs you signed onto for the long haul, if they’d let you.

Yes, if you’re an honest, hardworking American, that would be your tax money our civic leaders are trying to siphon. (Is there some good reason I’m reminded of toddler property laws?)

Pardon me while I go crawl under a handy rock or something.

(For what it’s worth, I know of local churches that are quietly keeping people from resorting to government aid. And good for them.)

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You can slice your way through…

hat tip: Kim Komando

Then there are rotary plows…

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Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College:

November 2008
Dinesh D’Souza
Author, What’s So Great About Christianity

DINESH D’SOUZA is the author of several best selling books, including Illiberal Education, The End of Racism, What’s So Great About America, and, most recently, What’s So Great About Christianity. A graduate of Dartmouth College, he served previously as a policy analyst in the Reagan White House, John M. Olin Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Robert and Karen Rishwain Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His articles have appeared in several magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, Vanity Fair, The New Republic, and National Review.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on September 16, 2008, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Colorado Springs.

Created Equal: How Christianity
Shaped The West

IN RECENT YEARS there has arisen a new atheism that represents a direct attack on Western Christianity. Books such as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great, and Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, all contend that Western society would be better off if we could eradicate from it the last vestiges of Christianity. But Christianity is largely responsible for many of the principles and institutions that even secular people cherish—chief among them equality and liberty.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” he called the proposition “self-evident.” But he did not mean that it is immediately evident. It requires a certain kind of learning. And indeed most cultures throughout history, and even today, reject the proposition. At first glance, there is admittedly something absurd about the claim of human equality, when all around us we see dramatic evidence of inequality. People are unequal in height, in weight, in strength, in stamina, in intelligence, in perseverance, in truthfulness, and in about every other quality. But of course Jefferson knew this. He was asserting human equality of a special kind. Human beings, he was saying, are moral equals, each of whom possesses certain equal rights. They differ in many respects, but each of their lives has a moral worth no greater and no less than that of any other. According to this doctrine, the rights of a Philadelphia street sweeper are the same as those of Jefferson himself.

This idea of the preciousness and equal worth of every human being is largely rooted in Christianity. Christians believe that God places infinite value on every human life. Christian salvation does not attach itself to a person’s family or tribe or city. It is an individual matter. And not only are Christians judged at the end of their lives as individuals, but throughout their lives they relate to God on that basis. This aspect of Christianity had momentous consequences.

Though the American founders were inspired by the examples of Greece and Rome, they also saw limitations in those examples. Alexander Hamilton wrote that it would be “as ridiculous to seek for [political] models in the simple ages of Greece and Rome as it would be to go in quest of them among the Hottentots and Laplanders.” In The Federalist Papers, we read at one point that the classical idea of liberty decreed “to the same citizens the hemlock on one day and statues on the next….” And elsewhere: “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” While the ancients had direct democracy that was susceptible to the unjust passions of the mob and supported by large-scale slavery, we today have representative democracy, with full citizenship and the franchise extended in principle to all. Let us try to understand how this great change came about. (more…)

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