The point here …



The point here is not to suggest that the NRA and its allies are a threat to American democracy itself. Rather, it’s that they’re a threat to the quality of our democracy. Democratic theorists tend to see open, rational public deliberation as a key element of a successful democratic order: it helps citizens make honest and informed choices about which policies and politicians are worth supporting, about which values they want to shape the system that’s supposed to represent them. The move to cast every gun regulation as a threat to the Second Amendment is opposed to that democratic debate. It’s a stalking horse for the specter of tyranny, a fantastical conversation-ender rather than a point of view worth taking seriously.

Worth reading:  http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/rethinking-the-right-to-bear-arms/ (via @ayjay)


I read the excerpt below from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s book “My Struggle” in a review of it by James Wood (who happens to be from Durham) in the New Yorker.  These days, I can relate.  There is so much I want to do that it is a struggle not to see the routine of everyday life, especially with my kids, as an obstacle.  I never understood why people would tell me, “Don’t work too much when the kids are little, because you’ll never get the time back…it goes so fast.”  I never wanted to work more when my wife was responsible for most of daily routine for the kids.  Now, it is a constant temptation.

Inside, it is a question of getting through the morning, the three hours of diapers that have to be changed, clothes that have to be put on, breakfast that has to be served, faces that have to be washed, hair that has to be combed and pinned up, teeth that have to be brushed, squabbles that have to be nipped in the bud, slaps that have to be averted, rompers and boots that have to be wriggled into, before I, with the collapsible double stroller in one hand and nudging the two small girls forward with the other, step into the elevator, which as often as not resounds to the noise of shoving and shouting on its descent, and into the hall where I ease them into the stroller, put on their hats and mittens and emerge onto the street already crowded with people heading for work and deliver them to the nursery ten minutes later, whereupon I have the next five hours for writing until the mandatory routines for the children resume.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/08/13/120813crbo_books_wood#ixzz2GKo6eozg

Then Bishop H.C.G. Moule Remembers J.B. Lightfoot

I came first into his presence when in June i860 1 called on him at his rooms the rooms which had been Isaac Newton’s, nearly two centuries before and asked to be entered on his list of freshmen. Desperately shy was I.  And he, if I do not mistake, felt a little shy too, for it was his nature so to be. But though a Cambridge Tutor certainly in those days could not possibly be intimate with all his pupils, he exercised from the very first a very powerful influence on me by the magnetism of the good greatness of his personality, and the truehearted kindness which looked always through his reserve. All through those years, he was laying the deep foundations of his vast theological knowledge, chiefly in the vacations, and (during term time) by night. No man ever loitered so late in the Great Court that he did not see Lightfoot’s lamp burning in his study window, though no man either was so regularly present in morning Chapel at seven o’clock that he did not find Lightfoot always there with him.
From George R. Eden and F.C. Macdonald (eds.), Lightfoot of Durham:  Memories and Appreciations (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1933), 5.

Philip Schaff on J.B. Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham


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While looking for a copy of Saint Augustine’s Retractiones online, I came across a little biography called Saint Chrysostom and Saint Augustin by Philip Schaff and noticed that Schaff dedicates the work to J.B. Lightfoot.  In the preface, Schaff explains why:

A high admiration of these truly great and good men is quite consistent with an acknowledgment of their defects and errors. There is a safe medium between a slavish overestimate and a haughty underestimate of the Fathers. No man is perfect save Christ, and no man can be our master in the highest sense but Christ. Amicus Chrysostomus, amicus Augustinus, sed magis amica veritas.

It was in this spirit of free evangelical catholicity that the lamented Bishop Liglitfoot, the greatest patristic scholar of England, prepared his monumental work on the Apostolic Fathers. I have taken the liberty to dedicate this unpretending little volume to his memory.  I regret I have nothing more worthy to offer, but I know he would receive it with the kindness of a friend and co-worker in the service of truth. He wrote to me once that he had received the first impulse to his historical studies from my History of the Apostolic Church; and yet I have learned more from him than he could ever learn from me. He invited me to contribute certain articles to Smith and Wace’s Dictionary of Christian Biography (then under his charge), and sent me all his works as they appeared. Only a few days ago I received, “with the compliments of the Trustees of the LIGHTFOOT FUND,” his posthumous edition of St. Clement of Rome, with an autotype of the Constantinopolitan text a worthy companion of his St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp. The Bible Revision labors brought us into still closer relations. His book on Revision (which I republished with his consent), and his admirable commentaries on Galatians, Colossians, and Philippians, greatly aided the movement in this country.  I shall not forget my pleasant interviews with him at Cambridge, London, Durham, and Auckland Castle. He left a rare example of reverent and modest Christian scholarship that aims first and last at the investigation and promotion of truth.

New York, December 12, 1890                                                       P.S.

Adam Gopnik on the Place of Geography in Historiography

“Yet there’s a difference between humility and fatalism. The continuities of geography are striking. But the discontinuities produced by thought are more striking still. The fruited plain did little for the idea of brotherhood until brotherhood took things into its own hands. Once, the sight of a Viking prow coming down a river was as terrifying a sight as any European could imagine. Now the Scandinavian countries are perhaps the most pacific in the world. Whatever changed, it wasn’t the shape of Scandinavia. Those Viking ships turned around, and the Vikings eventually became do-gooding Danes, because sense prevailed in the snows. England certainly is an island, and it was water, as much as will, that stopped Hitler. But the transformation there from the gang ethics that dominate human history to democratic reformist ones can hardly be accounted for by mere insularity. Tyranny flourished in the British Isles; and, when it ended, England had not drifted any closer to the Continent. Good ideas matter, as does the creation of the prosperity that good ideas need in order to flourish. Conversation shapes us more than mountains and monsoons can. Human history, like human love, is still made most distinctly face to face.”

Adam Gopnik, “Faces, Places, Spaces” in The New Yorker, October 29th  & November 5th 2012

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/10/29/121029crat_atlarge_gopnik#ixzz2AOVj3Sty

Bede’s World and Beowulf Redux, A Guest Post by Dr. Walker Cosgrove

Was it ok for Charlie’s class to do a reenactment of Beowulf at Bede’s World, or was it anachronistic?  My good friend and Medievalist, Dr. Walker Cosgrove, answered the question for me and kindly gave me permission to post his response for the edification of all.  See below:

“First, the only manuscript that we have of Beowulf is from around 1000.  So your museum curator is only partially correct.  The manuscript is not from the 11th century, but rather from around the turn of the 11th century.  This means that the manuscript comes from Anglo-Saxon England, not post-Norman invasion (1066).  While the Anglo-Saxon world of 1000 was much more stable, centralized, and Christian that that of 600, it is culturally more closely related to 600 than post-1066.  The 11th century experienced much change, development, and growth, and so to equate early-11th with the late-11th century would be like comparing the early-20th with the late-20th century.
Second, just because the manuscript is from the turn of the 11th century does not mean the world it relates to us is from that period.  The world of Beowulf, with exception of some forced Christian ideas inserted (probably) from the monk copying the manuscript, is very much the world of Bede.  There is no scholarly consensus of when the poem was composed, dates ranging from around 650 to 1000.  Most scholarship early in the 20th century supposes an early composition; however, post-1980 scholarship is more cautious about the dating.  Regardless of the exact date of composition, it still portrays well the world of Anglo-Saxon England circa 600 (or the world of pre-Viking norse, or the further side of the Rhine).  Even if there is no oral/written version Beowulf before, say, 1000 (which I highly doubt), I would still say that Bede would have recognized the world therein, and that it was completely appropriate to have Charlie in a “play” about Beowulf while visiting the sites of Bede.Finally, the world of Beowulf is actually not England proper, but rather Scandinavia, with Beowulf from among the various Germanic tribes from modern-day Sweden and Heorot from modern-day Denmark.  And the world that Beowulf portrays for pre-Viking Scandinavia circa 600 is accurate, and we can even cull some historical information from the text like several of the princely and noble families named and listed who were pre-Viking norse families.  Even so, it is a piece of epic literature, and thus not simply a “historical” source; however, the world it imagines is very much accurate, with its heavy emphasis on:

  • Fate and pagan (and in the poem sometimes the Christian God is merely a substitute for fate, the two terms being often interchangeable)
  • Evil (Grendel, Grendel’s mom, and the dragon) as something external to the individual and the community, which has to be defeated (as oppose to evil inherent in humanity, like sin)
  • A society built on heroism, honor, and vengeance (One of the best descriptions of the Germanic warrior code comes from Beowulf, see: “Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke: / ‘Wise sir, do not grieve.  It is always better / to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. / For every one of us living in this world / means waiting for our end.  Let whoever can / win glory before death.  When a warrior is gone, / that will be his best and only bulwark … Bear up / and be the man I expect you to be.'” 1383-1389, 1395-1396)
  • The importance of the warrior troop (even though Beowulf does most of the fighting, he does not do it without his troop.  Compare this with, say Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or some other Arthurian tale where the characters are often waging their battles alone, and often their battles revolve around virtue and vice), celebrating in the mead hall with one’s troop, and the gift giving to those loyal to you.

Thus Beowulf represents well an early-medieval Germanic culture, regardless of geographical location–Scandinavia, across the Rhine, or even Anglo-Saxon England.”

Bede’s World

The Venerable St Bede is an important figure in Christian history, in general, and British history, in particular (see the BBC’s brief biographical sketch:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/bede_st.shtml).  So, I was excited to accompany Charlie on a trip to Bede’s World in Jarrow, a place dedicated to introducing St Bede, his thought, and his world.  Charlie’s class has been doing a literacy unit on Beowulf, and a short rehearsal and reenactment of the story was a part of the program.  One of the assistants to the main staff person responsible for our group engaged me in a conversation regarding the dating of Beowulf, arguing that the earliest version is from the eleventh century.  This, of course, would make a comparison of Beowulf with the time of Bede anachronistic.  Leave it to me get into this sort of conversation and become conflicted about the premise of the whole trip.  I’ll have to contact my buddy, medievalist Walker Cosgrove, about this to set my mind at ease.  At any rate, we had a great time, and I found the presentation of Bede and his world at this museum very well done.  In my limited experience, the English certainly know how to do museums!  See below for a few pictures from our trip.

Discussion of eighth century uncial copy of the Bible called “Codex Amiatinus”

Practicing our uncials

Reenacting Beowulf

Update: the Unstable Nature of Social Time (or Moving to a Different Country is Weird)



I’m not sure what that title means.  It is inspired by some of the titles I’ve seen for academic publications and conference papers in Biblical Studies and the Humanities.  The paradox of technical jargon is that, while it is meant to clarify, it often obscures.  So, I’ll be clear:  we’ve only been in the UK for 19 days, but August 31st seems like a lifetime ago.

JE and the boys have been great.  Our transition has gone incredibly smoothly.  Life is good, which provides a partial reason for the lack of blogging.  All the same, I’ve been the detail guy for our family and have little time or energy to blog or write (or study, for that matter!).  I hope to do better as we establish a regular schedule.  In the meantime, I thought I’d walk you, dear reader, through our transition with a few representative images and reflections.


Our trip had a very happy beginning.  We arrived at Lambert in plenty of time, got our bags sorted, and made a leisurely stroll onto the airplane.  Last summer, when I told Charlie that Jane-Ellis and I were going to England to visit PhD programs, he was disappointed that he wasn’t allowed to go, mostly because he wanted to fly.  We took three flights–Saint Louis to Dallas, Dallas to London, and London to Newcastle–and the boys loved it.  Aside from being the last five people onto the plane in Dallas, the transatlantic flight being strangely hot, and almost missing our connection to Newcastle, everything went smoothly.


The day after arriving in Durham, we walked to the boys’ school to pick up their uniforms and get a feel for the place.  The Northeast of England has had an historic amount of rain over the summer, more than any other time in the last one hundred years, and the boys’ school St Hild’s had major flooding in June.  Though they were working down to the last minute to get ready for school starting the next day, the staff graciously showed us around and chatted with us.  Peter’s first day was a disaster (I walked the boys home after the first day, and so I got the report from his teacher).  He’s made very steady improvement since.  I’m proud of how each of the boys has adapted.  George would stay all day if they would let him.  Charlie’s class has been studying Beowulf, which he has loved.  Peter is getting along well in a radically different classroom environment.  Here’s a picture of the boys on the first day of school:


We didn’t know what to do about the uniforms.  How many shirts?  How many pants?  Windbreaker?  Well, we probably got some things that are unnecessary, but I like the St Hild’s swag, especially the little briefcase.


They really take it slowly with the nursery classes here, so George wasn’t actually allowed to stay at school on the first day.  He insisted, however, on wearing his uniform.  I got this cute pic of him in the City Centre, where we went to get our banking figured out.


It’s a small world.  I went down to London for the British New Testament Society Conference on our first full weekend in England.  (JE and the boys did very well without me).  On the way back to King’s Cross for the trip home, I met Bob Mark and Terry Fox who were in London on business.  Bob and I, along with Bob’s wife Jane-Ellen, led the new members class at Central Presbyterian Church for the last eight years.  Terry joined Central just last year.


This is what happens when I give Peter our camera and tell him to go take pictures.  This is the posterior of a famous statue in City Centre.  For the last week, at random, Peter says something like, “Hey Charlie, remember the butt picture?  Wasn’t that great?!”

Though I continually feel like I’ve forgotten something essential, I think we’ve sorted the most essential things for now (including starting to use key words like “sort,” “quite,” and “sensible”).  JE didn’t get the job she interviewed for, so she’s regrouping and arranging meetings with recruiters.  We’re hopeful but anxious about that.  I’m eager to get going on work (had my first meeting with my supervisor on Monday, which went well), but, with all of the things we have to do to get established, I haven’t managed to study/work more than 2 hours every other day or so.  That will change soon.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying walking the boys to school each morning.  I’ve been making breakfast for everyone daily too, including JE’s egg cooked hard.  What fun that’s been.

That’s all for now.

“The Man Who Was Thursday” by GK Chesterton

I love this poem from the beginning of the book:



To Edmund Clerihew Bentley

A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul when we were boys together.
Science announced nonentity and art admired decay;
The world was old and ended: but you and I were gay;
Round us in antic order their crippled vices came—
Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its shame.
Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom,
Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a plume.
Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.
They twisted even decent sin to shapes not to be named:
Men were ashamed of honour; but we were not ashamed.
Weak if we were and foolish, not thus we failed, not thus;
When that black Baal blocked the heavens he had no hymns from us
Children we were—our forts of sand were even as weak as we,
High as they went we piled them up to break that bitter sea.
Fools as we were in motley, all jangling and absurd,
When all church bells were silent our cap and bells were heard.

Not all unhelped we held the fort, our tiny flags unfurled;
Some giants laboured in that cloud to lift it from the world.
I find again the book we found, I feel the hour that flings
Far out of fish-shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;
And the Green Carnation withered, as in forest fires that pass,
Roared in the wind of all the world ten million leaves of grass;
Or sane and sweet and sudden as a bird sings in the rain—
Truth out of Tusitala spoke and pleasure out of pain.
Yea, cool and clear and sudden as a bird sings in the grey,
Dunedin to Samoa spoke, and darkness unto day.
But we were young; we lived to see God break their bitter charms.
God and the good Republic come riding back in arms:
We have seen the City of Mansoul, even as it rocked, relieved—
Blessed are they who did not see, but being blind, believed.

This is a tale of those old fears, even of those emptied hells,
And none but you shall understand the true thing that it tells—
Of what colossal gods of shame could cow men and yet crash,
Of what huge devils hid the stars, yet fell at a pistol flash.
The doubts that were so plain to chase, so dreadful to withstand—
Oh, who shall understand but you; yea, who shall understand?
The doubts that drove us through the night as we two talked amain,
And day had broken on the streets e’er it broke upon the brain.
Between us, by the peace of God, such truth can now be told;
Yea, there is strength in striking root and good in growing old.
We have found common things at last and marriage and a creed,
And I may safely write it now, and you may safely read.

G. K. C.

“The Lake Isle” by Ezra Pound


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“The Lake Isle”

O God, O Venus, O Mercury, patron of thieves,
Give me in due time, I beseech you, a little tobacco-shop,
With the little bright boxes
piled up neatly upon the shelves
And the loose fragrant cavendish
and the shag,
And the bright Virginia
loose under the bright glass cases,
And a pair of scales not too greasy,
And the whores dropping in for a word or two in passing,
For a flip word, and to tidy their hair a bit.
O God, O Venus, O mercury, patron of thieves,
Lend me a little tobacco-shop,
or install me in any profession
Save this damn’d profession of writing,
where one needs one’s brains all the time.

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