Review: Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus by D.A. Carson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

D. A. Carson has this pesky habit of writing books that are impossible to breeze through. This is not because his books are “academic” and full of obfuscation but because every paragraph has something to contribute to the premise. Scandalous is no different.

Carson uses each of the book’s five chapters (sections?) to expound a separate passage from the Bible in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Each chapter contributes to the quality of whole. Chapter two (The Center of the Whole Bible: Romans 3:21-26) is worth the price of the book. Continue reading “Review: Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus”

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The Colonizers of Dreams

My version of The Hobbit was printed in 1977 and contains a forward by Peter S. Beagle that I thought was excellent. He concluded his forward with this:

For in the end it is Middle-earth and its dwellers that we love, not Tolkien’s considerable gifts in showing it to us. I said once that the world he charts was there long before him, and I still believe it. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams, and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers – thieves planting flags, murders carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.

Writing Simply

Writing simply is something I’ve been focusing on lately. And while I don’t claim to have mastered the art of writing simply I have gained some ability to recognize writing that is not simple. If you have the unfortunate opportunity to read old legal opinions you will find no shortage of writing that is not simple. Here is an example of a judge detailing a train accident:

On January 21, 1903, John Reed walked along and upon said tracks, and in so doing his foot became caught and held in said opening, negligently, as aforesaid, left open between said rails. That he never could or was able to extricate himself or his foot from said opening. That while he was so held and caught, the appellant learned and became aware of all the facts aforesaid, and, knowing the same, did negligently, at an unlawful high rate of speed, and without any warning or ringing any bell or sounding any whistle, ran a locomotive engine and a number of railroad cars and train along and on and over said tracks against, upon, and over said John Reed, then and there and thereby injuring him in such manner and extent that his death was thereby caused.

Pittsburg, C., C. & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Reed, 44 Ind. App. 635 (1909). You could not obscured and dehumanized an event more if you tried. Let’s simplify:

John Reed was walking along the train track when his foot became stuck in a gap between the rails. The train engineer should have seen John and stopped the train but he was driving the train faster than the law allowed and was therefore unable to stop. The train ran over John, killing him.

Nathaniel Hawthorn said “easy reading is damn hard writing,” I think he’s right. However, every once in a while you get the chance to write something simply that’s actually not that “damn hard” to write. Take those opportunities.

Happy, Dead Fish-Clones

Happy, dead fish-clones.

Before putting my daughter down for her nap today we read Jesus and His Friends. At the climax of the story Jesus feeds 5,000 people with a paltry five loaves of bread and two fish. After all of the people had their fill “there were even twelve baskets of food left over!”

I would like to point out the apparent joy the fish retained after being used by Jesus. I certainly hope that, like the miracle fish, I retain my joy even if God’s plan for me involves the skin and meat being stripped from my body.

Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith

One of the earliest memories of school I have is singing patriotic hymns during music class. It was in music class that I learned to sing the popular hymn “America” – or as it was known to us “My Counrty, ‘Tis of Thee.” The driving march of its melody made it an easy song for a young boy to get in to.

While the tune of the song came from the UK’s national anthem – “God Save the Queen” – the lyrics were written in 1831 by a seminary student named Samuel Smith. It took him all of thirty minutes to compose three stanzas and then fifty-eight years before he wrote the fourth.

Samuel Francis Smith – who presumably made his hair look like that on purpose.

Smith’s Harvard roommate, Oliver Wendell Holmes, apparently tried to gain Smith some recognition for his lyric – he wrote over 150 other less well known hymns – by recommending him for an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Harvard in 1893. But Harvard president Charles William Eliot thought that ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ was more known for its tune that for the lyrics. Holmes, however, was of the opinion that it would continue to be sung even “when most of us and our pipings are forgotten.”

It appears as though Holmes was right, at least as far as Charles William Eliot’s pipings are concerned. Holmes said of Smith and his song:

And there’s a nice youngster of excellent pith,-
Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith;
But he shouted a song for the brave and the free,-
Just read on his medal, “My Country, of thee!”

References:
Wikipedia (obviously)
Morgan, Robert J., Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, 2003 Thomas Nelson.

Run, John, Run

A while back my pastor gave a sermon, most of which I forgot, about how the grace that God offers through Jesus is greater than our feeble and invariably failed attempts to live up to it. One part I did not forget, however, was a short poem illustrating how hopeless our cause is without the Gospel. The poem’s origin in unclear and was either written by John Bunyan (of Pilgrim’s Progress fame) or John Berridge , an eighteenth century evangelist. John writes:

Run, John, run the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands.
Far greater news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

As my pastor, Mark Vroegop, puts it, “the Law is rigid, demanding, clear, and impossible. It demands that we run when we have no hands or feet.” But as the verse states, the gospel frees us from this impossible burden and enables us to live up to the expectations of the law vicariously through Jesus.

The poem is beautiful because it simply expresses such a beautifully simple concept.

Here are a few other variations on the poem. One from another eighteenth century preacher, Ralph Erskine:

A rigid matter is the law
Demanding brick, denying straw
But when with gospel tongue it sings,
It bids me fly and gives me wings

I liked them so much I wrote my own:

The law shouts fire, the bell it tolls
But gives us buckets filled with holes;
The Gospel’s answer, though, is plain
When fire’s shouted, gives us rain.

And one from my good friend Michael Buschbacher

The law of God is just and pure,
Reveals disease but gives no cure,
But the Gospel gives what was denied
What once was dead, it makes alive.

Who is Caspar Milquetoast?

Who indeed.

I recently came across a word I was unfamiliar with: milquetoast. The word is used to describe someone who is timid, weak, or unassertive.

The word originates from an early 1900’s comic strip created by H.T. Webster entitled “The Timid Soul.” The protagonist  of Webster’s cartoon is a timid, mustachioed man named Caspar Milquetoast who, as Webster described him, “walks softly and gets hit by a big stick.”

In his book “The Comics,” Coulton Waugh describes Milquetoast as “so sickening that many of his fans wonder why they go on reading.” p. 78. He goes on to posit that maybe we keep reading because within each of us is a little Milquetoast.

We are too lazy to face difficult biting issues; we excuse ourselves by thinking we are good-natured. Our soft, well-fed bodies shrink before a zero wind; we retreat to an overstuffed chair and fight the storm via an adventure book. Such weaknesses link us at once to Caspar; through these he catches our attention. Then by cleaver convention, he hands us a sudden backhanded compliment.

This convention is simply that he acts with a timidity far in excess of that of the average man. We would not be as puling as that, we think, and we are quite right. In this realization, we glow with a happy, suddenly inflated ego. We are quite pleased with ourselves after a Timid Soul reading, and look forward to an equal glow tomorrow and next Sunday.

Id. I think Waugh nailed it. I like this comic because it’s funny and because it makes me feel like less of a milquetoast. However, when I really begin an honest assessment of how I tend to act, I find that my personality aligns more closely with Milquetoast than I like to admit.

Caspar Milquetoast is a push-over and sometimes I’m Caspar Milquetoast.

Here’s some more Milquetoast for the road: