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Good advice upon graduation

This is the probably the last commencement speech Judge Antonin Scalia gave. It is filled with wisdom and the late Supreme Court Justice’s trademark humor. Having attended many graduation ceremonies, I would welcome more speeches like this. Enjoy!

How to handle losing

I was reading recently about the only debate I know of that C.S. Lewis ever lost. The year was 1948 and the sparring partner was Christian philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. It had to do with a chapter of his book, Miracles. To say he lost the debate is…debatable (had to do it), depending on who you ask. Not having interviewed anyone who was there, I couldn’t say who won. But I can say that having read about the event, and more importantly what happened after, I am thankful he lost.

For fans of Prof. Lewis, it may be hard to imagine how such a master could lose a debate, but his partner was no slouch. She was one of the most esteemed philosophers of her generation and a pupil of one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century (Ludwig Wittgenstein). She was a professor at Oxford until late in her life (she died in 2001).

I have no desire to get into the subject of the debate, not having a background in philosophy myself, but I want to point out a couple of things we can learn from what happened. After the debate, Prof. Lewis corrected the element of his book Mrs. Anscombe critiqued, while not rewriting the entire chapter. He displayed humility in correcting the flaws she pointed out. He could have dug-in-his-heels and remained adamant but chose to learn from correction, which King Solomon pointed out is the trait of a wise man (Prov. 1:5).

Also we can appreciate the providence of God in this matter. After the debate, Lewis altered the focus and tone of his writing. I’ll not say that he changed his focus entirely, but it was after losing this debate that he began to use a warmer tone in his writing and different means of communicating the truth of Christianity. This could not be entirely because of one debate, but it is significant that afterward, he wrote fewer philosophical works defending Christianity and more personal (Letters to Malcolm, Surprised by Joy) and child-friendly books (The Chronicles of Narnia). It is often that being taken down a few notches is better for us than we realize. Success can bring pride and pride eliminates our usefulness in the Kingdom of God. God loves us too much to let us go without occasional defeats.

Again I am thankful that he was bested by a younger professor in 1948. Had that not happened, we might not have had The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, or some of his other works. And we wouldn’t have seen him pass the test of how a wise man should respond to correction.

May there be many more

It was with great regret that I learned of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He was a great jurist, and an even greater Christian. He was a stalwart warrior for the truth and fought for the textual interpretation of the Constitution over against the “living” view of the Constitution.

I’ve always appreciated his stance in the face of tornado-like cultural winds, but  I’ve also come to appreciate his ability to communicate. He reminds me of a slightly acerbic version of G. K. Chesterton, lacerating foolishness with a poetic style of writing that few judges at any level have ever possessed. He could make you smile as you read his opinions; that is rare. But he could also speak. He was eloquent in his description of the Constitution. This particular speech is a great example of his views contrasting the conservative vs. socialist views.

His strong Christianity was not as well known, but still present. He was a faithful Roman Catholic until the day he died. His was not only a Christianity of the mind but also of the heart (as this story tells). As with all great Christians, his beliefs transcended denominational boundaries; he loved hearing the gospel  and wanted the news of Christ’s death and the resurrection proclaimed to unbelievers no matter who presented it, as this letter written to a Presbyterian pastor indicates.

Finally, he was a prophet. He understood the times better than most and could tell where the United States is headed in the future apart from reformation. Prophets are rarely appreciated (a brief look at twitter regarding his death will vindicate that statement), but he didn’t care. In fact he didn’t see himself as a great man, but as a sinner who hoped in God’s mercy and believed it was his responsibility to stand for truth wherever God placed him. This exhortation he gave to a group of believers in Denver is a fitting way to summarize his Christianity

“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

May God raise up many more like him in the coming age. May he rest in peace.


Not the way to stop a nosebleed

“To throw away the reality [of penal substitution] because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting our the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed.” – N.T. Wright, quoted in a blog post by Derek Rishmawy

Only dead things drift

“If a republic is to live up to its ideas and  be what it could be, then it had better look long and hard at what it is in danger of becoming and devote conscious effort to controlling its own destiny, rather than continuing to drift along on the tides of economic materialism.”  – Donald Davidson, quoted in George Grant’s Buchanan: Caught in the Crossfire.

A Real U-Turn

I remember as a boy liking certain baseball players. One that I for some unknown reason appreciated was Darryl Strawberry. I thought he was a good player and was amazed by his strength and ability. At the time, most of the players I liked the most were from my team, the Braves (with the above mentioned exception, along with Ozzie Smith and Nolan Ryan). I remember being saddened when I heard the Strawberry was addicted to drugs. I reminded me that heroes shouldn’t be put on too high a pedestal.

Just today though, I read an article that reminded me of something else: God’s grace can change even the stoniest heart, and retrieve the most lost of causes. Darryl Strawberry is no longer in baseball. He’s in a profession that he said gives him more happiness than anything he’s ever done: he’s a pastor. In an article in the Washington Post (discovered by Dr. Gene Veith), Strawberry gave an interview of his new life. Tell me if this doesn’t remind you of someone in Scripture.

“The two-story, four-bedroom house sits on a corner in this planned bedroom community, and when the muscular 6-foot-6 man welcomes you inside, there is no evidence that Darryl Strawberry the baseball player ever existed. There are no pictures of Strawberry in a Mets uniform. No trophies. No plaques. None of his four World Series rings. Nothing from his eight all-star games. None of his 335 home run balls.

 ‘I got rid of it all. I was never attached to none of that stuff,’ says Strawberry, 51. ‘I don’t want it. It’s not part of my life anymore.’ Darryl Strawberry the outfielder and slugger from the 1980s and ’90s is no longer. But Darryl Strawberry the ordained minister is very much alive in this town 30 miles west of St. Louis. ‘I’m over ‘Strawberry,’  he says. ‘I’m over Mets. I’m over Yankees. I don’t want to exist as Darryl Strawberry the baseball player. . . .That person is dead.’”

As I read the article, I was struck by how much he sounded like the Apostle Paul. Saul of Tarsus too was a superstar in his own right. He was trained at the feet of an amazing master. He likely saw himself in the tradition of Phineas, the priest who killed a man and his harlot for fornicating near the tabernacle in the book of Numbers. He was the true definition of anti-Christ (opposed to Christ). But he gave it all up when he was struck down on the way to Damascus by the Lord Himself.

Paul said in Philippians that all he had before he counted as dung (read rubbish, manure, fill-in-your-own-synonym) for the sake of Christ. He left everything behind. He had to if he was to gain Christ. Darryl Strawberry did the same thing. He gave up all his stuff from his glory days. All the rings, the memorabilia, everything because it’s trash compared to Christ. That’s not his life. It makes me wonder what things I have that get in the way of obeying Christ completely.  How about you? What do you value more than the Lord of glory? What needs to be put on the trash heap in order to free yourself to serve your King?

Mentally stimulating + heart stirring

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey Into Christian FaithThe Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

I was not expecting this book to pack the punch that it did. I suspected it would be a book solely about Mrs. Butterfield’s conversion, but it was so much more. She told about her struggles not only coming out of lesbianism, but her struggles in the faith and with other Christians. Her story is beautifully told (she’s an English Literature professor, after all), but the writing only enhanced the powerful story of what life is like when you trust God with everything. I needed to hear what she had to say at this particular point in my life, and I’m sure others do as well.

It’s impossible for a review to do this book justice. In less than 150 pages, she lays out what it means to trust the God who raises from the dead and demonstrates it by personal example. In addition, she raises excellent points about the failures of current conservative Christian culture. She doesn’t criticize as an outsider; she points out flaws as a sister in the Lord that we need to address and strengthen. You won’t agree with all she says, but even what you don’t agree with is edifying to read. Some books are mentally stimulating; others stir up your heart. This brief biographical account is both. If you are soldier in the culture war, you need to read this book.

View all my reviews

Living pro-life

Rachel Jankovic is quickly catching up to her dad (Doug Wilson) as a fantastic writer of practical theology.  She has several books out, one of which Amanda and I have read and learned much from (Loving the Little Years).  In this article at Desiring God, she exhorts mothers to daily choose life.

“Far from having done our part when we carry a baby to term, we can continue to choose life every day. Every day we choose the life of another over our own life. Every day we can lay down our desires, our selfish ambition, our self-importance, and choose life. And of course this is not unique to mothers — every Christian has the means of fighting for life by laying theirs down for those around them.

Right now, in our culture, in our time, there is something uniquely potent about mothers sacrificing for their children. As we lay down our lives for them, presenting ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, that sacrifice makes an aroma. That sacrifice directly contradicts and blasphemes everything the world is fighting for. As you care for your children, on the long days and tired moments, disciplining yourself, sacrificing yourself for them, you are reaching out to the world. When you present yourself as a living sacrifice, the aroma of that sacrifice cannot be contained.”

I can’t think of any better way to say it. She concludes:

“Motherhood is the big-leagues of self-sacrifice. Millions of women kill to avoid it. In our culture of self-gratification, to embrace selfless motherhood is a revolutionary act. To see the sacrifice and rejoice in it. To recognize that the cost is your own life, and to willingly lay yourself down. The world hates the smell of that sacrifice, because it is the smell of grace. They hate it because it is the smell of something living and burning at the same time — something that is impossible without a risen Savior.

There are times to stand on sidewalks and hold signs, but holding a sign isn’t what makes a mother pro-life. Being pro-life means putting the life of another ahead of your own. It means being daily grace to the small souls nearest to you. It is not just an opinion or a position or a lobbyist group. It is the glory of maternal self-sacrifice that begins at conception and runs through labor and midnight feedings and diapers and sandwiches and crayons and homework and flu seasons and graduations and on into grandkids. It is an avalanche of small and large sacrifices. It burns bright in kitchens and bedrooms and backyards. It is the real life of the pro-life movement, and it will change the world.”

She’s on to something.  Changing the world is not about everyone giving up all their money, or moving to the inner-city, although some are called to do those things.  Changing the world is cleaning up one dirty diaper at a time, washing one dish, making one pie, taking one fishing trip at a time, all as unto the Lord.

Not a bad idea

When asked to support more military spending, President Calvin Coolidge responded:

“Why can’t we just buy one airplane and have all the pilots take turns?”

The Lord Will Provide – William Cowper

Jehovah-Jireh. The Lord Will Provide

(Genesis, xxii.14)

The saints should never be dismay’d,
Nor sink in hopeless fear;
For when they least expect His aid,
The Saviour will appear.

This Abraham found: he raised the knife;
God saw, and said, “Forbear!
Yon ram shall yield his meaner life;
Behold the victim there.”

Once David seem’d Saul’s certain prey;
But hark! the foe’s at hand;
Saul turns his arms another way,
To save the invaded land.

When Jonah sunk beneath the wave,
He thought to rise no more;
But God prepared a fish to save,
And bear him to the shore.

Blest proofs of power and grace divine,
That meet us in His word!
May every deep-felt care of mine
Be trusted with the Lord.

Wait for His seasonable aid,
And though it tarry, wait:
The promise may be long delay’d,
But cannot come too late.