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A Disappointing Book That Will Hang on My Wall

The other day while my wife and I were shopping in one of our favorite thrift stores, I found what looked to be a Knights in Combatnifty little book. Titled “The Little Book of the Holy Grail,” (Barnes & Noble/The Book Laboratory, 2004), it purported to give some historical background to the grail legends and even “retells two of the most famous Grail stories.” It was also loaded with marvelous Medieval art related to the grail. Oh, yes. I bought it.

Sucker.

Disappointing could be taken as an understatement here. Let’s start with the writing. The author, whose name will not be mentioned as a courtesy, is supposedly an attorney with a Master’s degree in Theology. They should have taken a composition class or two.

The first section of the book, about the history of the grail legends, is pedestrian at best. It gets the facts across and that’s it. The recounting of the grail stories is where the eyes glaze over. Honestly, I’ve read better fifth grade book reports. I’d quote it but I want you to finish this post.

For the big finish, the final section of the book is called “Reclaiming the Feminine Aspect of Christianity.” Here the author tries to make Dan Brown look like a scholar by going over the same “was Jesus really married to Mary Magdalene?” road that’s been traveled to death. There’s even a chapter here titled “The Conspiracy Continues?” Honest.

The only saving grace for this book are the beautiful reproductions of grail-themed art. Yet even here, the book falls short. None of the artwork is identified by artist or title. The only thing the reader is given is a list of acknowledgements as to the sources of the paintings and drawings. Frustrating.

I was going to donate this book to another thrift store, but then I had an idea. I have purchased several nice wooden frames at another thrift store we frequent and I plan to use a very sharp utility knife to extricate my favorite pictures and place them in the frames. I’m still trying to decide where I will hang them, but I know they’ll look great wherever they wind up.

Nice save, if I say so myself.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Book Hunting, Book Review, History

 

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Faith Without Knowledge

In the land of megachurches and the Bible Belt, one would think that the faithful would be very knowledgeable

English: Christian Bible, rosary, and crucifix.

English: Christian Bible, rosary, and crucifix. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

about matters of religion. The books of the Old and New Testaments, the names of key figures and the stories they are in, as well as the basic history and doctrines of the Christian faith, should all be common knowledge to most American church-goers.

Not so much.

In Stephen Prothero’s book “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t,” we get a splash of cold water in the face. It turns out that American Christians, especially Protestants, don’t know as much about their faith as it would seem. Things like the history of the Reformation, or what the basic orthodox Christian creeds say, are not part of the common knowledge background of most Protestant church-goers today. This is dangerous, not only for the churches, but for our nation as well, “putting citizens in the thrall of talking heads and effectively transferring power from the third estate (the people) to the fourth (the press).”

Prothero, chair of the religion department at Boston University, gives the reader a fascinating and whirlwind history of religion in America, from colonial days to the present. Modeled on E.D. Hirsch’s now classic book “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” this volume is loaded with facts and statistics contained in 45 pages of footnotes.

While it was the various Christian groups that drove the desire for wider education in early America, ironically it was people of faith that started the nation on the path to religious illiteracy. Prothero shows us how, as public schools spread across the country, people of faith reduced or eliminated doctrinal teachings about Christianity in order to keep religious instruction in the schools. By doing so, by attempting to make religion generic, they succeeded in collapsing religion into morality and “values.” Because of this, true theology and religious ideas have been lost to the culture and to many of the non-denominational churches.

The author has some good suggestions on how to correct this problem. Most important, from my point of view, is to inform the teachers in our schools that it IS constitutional to teach students about religion in an objective, scholarly manner. Many instructors today are petrified to even mention the subject thanks to confusing court rulings and high-pressure humanist groups anxious to erase any mention of religion from the public arena.

Finally, Prothero includes a thorough “Dictionary of Religious Literacy” at the end of the book, which is almost like an introductory course on religious studies by itself.

“Religious Literacy” is a fairly quick and entertaining read. If you really want to understand our country and what role religion plays in our society, you need to understand the religious influences at work in it. As Stephen Prothero puts it, “one needs to know something about the world’s religions in order to be truly educated.”

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Book Review

 

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The Wisdom of Hobbits, Wizards and Lions: Part 5: The Theological Virtues

English: Cross, anchor, and heart for Faith, H...

English: Cross, anchor, and heart for Faith, Hope and Charity(=Love). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faith, Hope and Love.

Saint Paul wrote about these over and over, perhaps most famously in 1 Corinthians 13: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three:” (1 Cor. 13:13 RSV.) Do Christians really understand what it means to treat these things as virtues, as things to practice and live by? I’m afraid many would consider “faith” to be merely the Christian faith, and “hope” in the sense that, “I sure hope this is all true!” As for “love,” well, just exactly how are we supposed to love those people we don’t even like?

In his great book, “On the Shoulders of Hobbits: the Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis,” Professor Louis Markos goes over these and more in the section titled “The Theological Virtues.” He also gives us a bonus by  adding “friendship” to the mix. At first I wasn’t sure about this being a theological virtue, but now I think I may understand and I’ll try to explain further along.

Louis Markos is an English professor, so he views faith and hope, like the other virtues, through the lens of literature. More generally he analyzes them via the form of story. Given that the biblical message of salvation is told in a series of stories, this makes perfect sense. Faith and hope are well suited to this format and what better stories to frame them in than the tales of Tolkien and Lewis?

First off, we must understand that faith and hope go together. As Markos quotes from Hebrews, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for. . . ” (11:1.) One needs the other to be fully understood and to work the way they were meant to. Together.

In The Lord of the Rings, the characters and events are driven forward toward some unknown but grand conclusion, as is the case in most of the great stories of literature. Here, the quest is to deliver the One Ring to Mordor and destroy it in Mount Doom. This quest has been foretold in ancient prophecy which most of the main players are aware of. Yet they are not certain of the exact outcome nor the circumstances that will lead to it, only that the prophecy promises a resolution. So the Fellowship moves ahead, trusting in the promise and believing the resolution will be just. Except for poor Boromir, who never had full faith in the promise. He tries to take matters into his own hands, with disastrous consequences.

Markos rightly points out that faith is more than just a virtue; it is a way of looking at the world that allows us to live with assurance and confidence. When faith is lived, we can see that the world is actually a place full of meaning and that there is an active providence that guides events according to a transcendent plan we can only glimpse. To live in faith is to trust that the universe has meaning and purpose. That today’s world has lost this view of life is undoubtedly behind many of the problems we face.

If faith is the way to look at this universe, hope is what we are looking toward. It is the Happy Ending that we look forward to even though we may not see the way to it clearly. Markos likens it to a term Tolkien coined in his famous essay “On Fairy-Stories.” The eucatastrophe is “the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous ‘turn’.” To live in hope is to live in expectation of this joyous turn even if the circumstances are less than promising.

Next comes love and love is the greatest of the three theological virtues. Just ask St. Paul. I was so happy to see professor Markos use the word charity, from the Latin “caritas,” to describe how love is used by Paul in the famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13. Charity is the word used in the King James Bible, and is a fitting translation of the Greek agape. Unfortunately, many Christians, including some theologians, think of love as that warm fuzzy feeling accompanied by Disney animated birds flying around one’s head. Nope. The love Paul speaks of is more an act of will than an emotion. It involves self-sacrifice and a “movement out of narcissism,” as Markos puts it. He rightly describes it as the most active of the three virtues. Faith and hope can change a person, but love can change a person and the world around them.

It is this agape love that plays the central role in true friendship and lifts it to the level of a virtue. Indeed, real friendship acts as a model of this love and helps us learn to apply it. There are so many things to say about this that I am going to do a separate post on the theological “virtue” of friendship. Markos has hit on something important here and I want to do it justice. Until then, think about your important friendships and how they reflect what love should be.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2013 in Book Review

 

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So, How’s Your Soil?

It is possible to read the Bible from a number of different angles and for various purposes without dealing with God as God has revealed himself . . .

To put it bluntly, not everyone who gets interested in the Bible and even gets excited about the Bible wants to get involved with God.

Eugene H. Peterson, “Eat This Book,” Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 2006

Take a look at Mark 4: 3 – 9.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2013 in Quotations

 

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The Secular Cancer

Writing in the aftermath of World War II, Christopher Dawson took exception to the suggestion that modern European civilization was “pagan.” Paganism was rife with religious sentiment, Dawson recalled; what was going on in mid-twentieth century Europe was something different. True, many men and women had ceased to belong to the Church. But rather than belonging to something else, rather than adhering to another community of transcendent allegiance, they now belonged nowhere. This spiritual no-man’s-land, as Dawson characterized it, was inherently unstable and ultimately self-destructive. Or, as the usually gentle Dawson put it in an especially fierce passage, “a secular society that has no end beyond its own satisfaction is a monstrosity – a cancerous growth which will ultimately destroy itself.” One wonders what Christopher Dawson would say today.

 

- George Weigel, from his book “The Cube and the Cathedral” (Basic Books, 2006)

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2012 in Quotations

 

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Side Dishes

Altarpiece of the Church Fathers: St Augustine...

First off, Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope everyone out there has a wonderful day with family or friends. Or both. Be sure to catch the latest in the Hobbit Read-Along, titled “Happy Hobbit Thanksgiving,” over at jubilare. It’ll put a smile on your face!

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Speaking of read-a-longs, there’s another one developing over at “Read the Fathers.” This one is a seven-year project to read seven pages a day of the early church fathers. It’s a great opportunity to read some of the foundational writings of the Christian faith. It starts on the first Sunday in Advent (December 2, 2012.)

Check out the link. I plan on participating and hopefully I’ll be disciplined enough to read my daily seven pages. Evidently there will be a forum where readers can discuss the material covered each day. Learning and fellowship. Sounds good, no?

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Oh God our Father, we would thank thee for all the bright things of life. Help us to see them, and to count them, and to remember them, that our lives may flow in ceaseless praise; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

J.H. Jowett, 1846 – 1923

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2012 in Notices, Prayer, Quotations

 

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Books You Read To God

I like prayer books. I have at least a dozen of them, probably more. I have Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish and even a Billy Graham, Evangelical prayer-book. Yes, there is an Evangelical prayer-book, though it’s not a standardized one intended for corporate worship.

My wife and I attend an Anglican church that uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It is designed for both liturgical and personal use, as are the Roman Catholic, Jewish and Lutheran ones. Not all prayer books are meant for liturgical use. I have several that are designed for personal devotion and meditation, and some that are simply collections of prayers through the ages.

Of course, I have many books that are ABOUT prayer, including Richard J. Foster’s “Prayer.” I’ve lost count of how many of those I own.

I’ve always felt that prayers were a type of poetry. Some of the most beautiful words I’ve read were arranged in prayer to God. Offerings, if you will. In reading these various prayers, I often find myself actually praying, which is a good thing!

There are some, I know, who are skeptical of using prayers that are written out and arranged for corporate or personal use. These prayers may seem to be mechanical or “canned.” However, if read with a real awareness of the words, these prayers are actually teachers which can lead us into deeper communication with God. They can widen the areas we speak to God about and help us to become better pray-ers.

I will share some of these prayer-books with you in future posts.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2012 in Prayer, Reading, Words

 

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“Supposing We Really Found Him?”

“The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. . . But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband – that is quite another matter. . . There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He has found us?

“So it is a sort of Rubicon. One goes across; or not.”

C.S. Lewis from “Miracles”

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in Quotations

 

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Power and Truth

Pilate confronts Jesus with two questions: don’t you know that I have the power to have you killed? And – what is truth? That is the language of kingdom, power and glory that the the world knows. Notice how the two halves support each other. In order to be able to say, ‘Support my kingdom or I’ll kill you,’ pagan empire needs to say that there’s no such thing as truth.

N.T. Wright, from “The Lord and His Prayer”

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Quotations

 

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The Senior Citizen Prayer

The Virgin in Prayer

The Virgin in Prayer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months back I found a marvelous book titled “The Complete Book of Christian Prayer,” (Continuum Publishing, 1995). It contains almost 500 pages of prayers from the first century to the present. Since I’m closing in on 60 years on this earth, I found this prayer to be especially relevant:

Lord, thou knowest better than I know myself that I am getting older and will some day be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody: helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint – some of them are so hard to live with – but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.

- Source unknown, 17th century

If this prayer is really from the 17th century, somebody has updated the language a bit. I don’t mind, though. I intend to recite this prayer often.

 

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2012 in History, Prayer, Quotations

 

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