The Literal Meaning of Genesis

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In his short work entitled The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Saint Augustine provides excellent advice for all Christians who are faced with the daunting task of interpreting Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge:

In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.

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Christmas 2014: Favorite Children’s Books


Following my previous post about my favorite books of 2014, I wanted to share a few of my favorite contemporary children’s authors. After having gone through scores of books that had been stored up from my 1970s childhood, and having been throughly unimpressed by most of them, I have been struck by the quality of the storytelling and illustrations in recent years. Here are a few standouts. Continue reading “Christmas 2014: Favorite Children’s Books”

The Wit of the Carpenter

In 1964, the Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood published a short book called The Humor of Christ (Harper and Row). In it he challenged “the conventional picture of a Christ who never laughed.” He rightly observed that there is far more laughter in the gospels than is generally recognized. Further, he makes the excellent point that “there are numerous passages in the recorded teaching which are practically incomprehensible when regarded as sober prose, but which are luminous once we become liberated from the gratuitous assumption that Christ never joked” (p. 10). Continue reading “The Wit of the Carpenter”

Be Still

At church this morning, I was reminded today how wonderful the following hymn is. The words were composed by Katharina von Schlegel in 1752; were trans­lat­ed from Ger­man to Eng­lish by Jane L. Borth­wick in 1855; and then set to the tune “Finlandia” (1899) by the great composer Jean Si­bel­i­us.

The Cyberhymnal notes, “Borthwick be­longed to the Free Church of Scot­land. In 1855, she and her sister, Sarah Findlater, co-produced a book of translations of German hymns titled Hymns from the Land of Luther. In 1875, while liv­ing in Switzerland, she produced another book of translations called Al­pine Lyrics. Borth­wick was al­so ac­tive with the Edinburgh House of Refuge, the Moravian Mis­sion in Lab­ra­dor, and other mis­sion work. She nev­er mar­ried.”

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

Simplifying the Ten

beachAs a Christian parent, I often puzzle over how best to instruct my children about how to behave. I take the injunction in Deuteronomy 6 seriously: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

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Strenuous Acts of Will

I recently stumbled across a delightful 2003 article by Judith Shulevitz about the difficulty of observing the Sabbath. In it, she writes,

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily, the way you might slip into bed at the end of a long day. . . . This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional, requiring extensive advance preparation—at the very least a scrubbed house, a full larder and a bath. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.

The exact same thing could be said of other aspects of our walk with God and our relationship to our communities. It’s not simply an act of will on the part of a single individual. Culture and habit are as important in living faithful lives as individual conscience.

Subtraction and Addition

Today marks seven months since my father died. My eulogy can be found here.

After having visited home for the first time without him there, I am reminded of something C. S. Lewis wrote in his book The Four Loves:

Lamb says somewhere [see below] that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but “A’s part in C,” while C loses not only A but “A’s part in B.” In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles [Williams] is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [J. R. R. Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves” [Paradiso Canto 5, line 105]. For in this love “to divide is not to take away.” (page 61 of the Harcourt paperback)

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Notes on Polygamy

detail of “Bathsheba” by Hayez

There’s something irresistible about the endnotes of a good book. In the course of an argument, one comes to trust a writer’s judgments and his judiciousness about sources—precursors, precedents, and pathfinders. So a favorable mention of an author or book in an endnote or an annotated bibliography provides further lines of exploration of the topic at hand, often yielding a genealogy of sound thought.

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