Reflections on My 66th

Today I complete my 66th orbit of the sun. Do I become reflective when this annual event transpires? Absolutely. There’s a difference, though, between being reflective and being obsessed with introspection. We are to examine ourselves—our motives and actions before God and others—but that’s a daily thing. This annual reflection is not the same.

First, it’s a matter of gratitude to the Lord for another year passed and for the good things that have happened during that year. Were there bad things? Well, of course; that’s a part of life as well. But I don’t want to dwell on those.

What stands out to me on this day is how the Lord rescued me from my own self-destructive tendencies and allowed me to be used by Him to help impact the thinking and the character of college students. That’s been my ministry now for twenty-eight years, and despite some of the heartaches along the way, it’s a blessing that the positive things come to mind more readily than the negatives.

For me, it’s always been the relationship with students that keeps me going because I believe that’s God’s primary goal for my life: influence them as much as I can while I can.

So many memories of class times, informal get-togethers, trips, etc., crowd into my mind. Here are just a few I want to share.

A trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts, that culminated with a stop at the grave of William Bradford:

One of the annual excursions I used to make with students when I lived in Virginia, such as this Jamestown visit:

Once, a small group accompanied me throughout the Northeast, incorporating Plymouth, the Boston Freedom Trail, Philadelphia, and Mt. Vernon, to name just a few of the places we passed through:

Commencements at Regent University were always special:

Once, at Patrick Henry College, a graduating senior decorated my office door in commemoration of all the tissues she used while crying in that office:

At Southeastern, I hosted a Reagan Movie Night once. It was memorable:

Students also came to the house to watch a BBC production about C. S. Lewis. They stayed and talked afterwards—a relaxed evening. I’m glad they felt like they could hang around:

How many professors can claim to have taught three brothers, all of whom were history majors? We had a reunion last year:

For a couple of years, I was able to connect Southeastern with my former life in Virginia when I traveled to Williamsburg and showed students the historic sites. They came down to Lakeland last year and desired a “family” photo, so to speak:

I could share photo after photo, but I’ll stop now.

I remember fondly the Dead Historians Society at Indiana Wesleyan University.

I remember fondly a trip to Israel and Britain with Regent students—a trip none of us will ever forget (for great and not-so-great reasons). It was a bonding experience.

I remember fondly my great surprise when Patrick Henry students presented a gift to me at the end of one of the chapel services: the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. Those who know me know why that was a special gift.

Yes, I could go on for quite a while.

How much longer will I have this ministry? My standard joke is that as long as someone can wheel me into the classroom and I have my remote control to show my PowerPoint slides, I can still do this.

God gave me a calling. I will remain faithful to it until He says it’s time to move on. Today I’m just reflecting on the blessings of His calling.

I’ll probably do something like this again when I complete my 67th orbit.

Lewis: The Few & the Many

A very pleasant task I’ve set for myself is to read C. S. Lewis works that I’ve not yet taken the opportunity to examine. In this journey, I’ve taken on The Discarded Image, The Allegory of Love (tough read for me; not done yet), and now An Experiment in Criticism.

Since I’m a historian and not a literary critic per se, I admit I was hesitant to tackle this one, figuring it might be too dense for my taste, too pedantic perhaps.

That prejudgment was completely wrong.

What an unanticipated joy it has been to follow Lewis’s thinking in this little book. I even discovered, in the first chapter, some quotes I’ve appreciated before when he distinguishes between what he refers to as “the few and the many” when it comes to the types of readers.

“In the first place, the majority never read anything twice,” he opines. “The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work.” Great works, though, he argues, should be read multiple times over the course of one’s life.

A second difference, Lewis notes, is that “the many” turn to reading only if there’s nothing else that pops up that they would rather do. “It is kept for railway journeys, illnesses, odd moments of enforced solitude, or for the process called ‘reading oneself to sleep.'” Whereas the devoted readers—the few—“feel impoverished” if they are denied “attentive and undisturbed reading even for a few days.”

A third distinction is that the literary are so drawn into what they read that they often have an experience “so momentous that only experiences of love, religion, or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison. Their whole consciousness is changed. They have become what they were not before.”

His final distinguishing characteristic?

As a natural result of their different behaviour in reading, what they have read is constantly and prominently present to the mind of the few, but not to that of the many. The former mouth over their favourite lines and stanzas in solitude. . . . They talk to one another about books, often and at length. The latter seldom think or talk of their reading.

While Lewis is focusing on novels and poetry in his comments, I’d add that, for me, it isn’t limited to those genres. Really good nonfiction writing also can qualify. For instance, there’s Lewis’s own works such as Mere Christianity or his autobiography, Surprised By Joy. I repeat lines from those in my mind regularly.

I’ve had this experience with other books also. Whittaker Chambers’s Witness is awash with such memorable lines, phrases, and meaningful paragraphs that I have taught it constantly to students for thirty years. I highly recommend it to all who love excellent, striking prose.

Near the end of chapter one in An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis sums up nicely the reaction “the many” have toward “the few.”

It is pretty clear that the majority, if they spoke without passion and were fully articulate, would not accuse us of liking the wrong books, but of making such a fuss about any books at all. We treat as a main ingredient in our well-being something which to them is marginal.

So is Lewis intimating that “the few” are somehow superior humans who should look down on those who don’t have the same perspective on reading? Not at all. Those who are familiar with Lewis’s humility would never accuse him of that. In fact, he addresses that very issue in chapter two.

But that’s for next Saturday’s post.

Obamacare, Reality, & Leadership

Yesterday was supposed to be the big vote on the Republican bill to repeal (?), replace (?), revise (?), surrender on (?) Obamacare. It didn’t happen. Now today  is supposed to be the big day.

What’s the problem? Republicans can’t agree on whether this proposed bill does much of the above, and that has led to this impasse. This is a mess; it certainly doesn’t indicate competent leadership.

The most conservative House members say it leaves the essence of Obamacare in place; the majority of House Republicans blame the conservatives for blocking the best opportunity to reverse the Obamacare train wreck. Who is right?

I understand the strategy the GOP leadership says it is following: a three-step plan to eventually rid ourselves of this monstrous error. However, I don’t blame anyone for having doubts that the other two steps ever will occur. Yes, there are political realities, but if you campaign on a complete repeal and then do something less than that, you open yourself up to charges of hypocrisy.

And that’s what many conservatives are now charging the leadership with: rank hypocrisy.

Then, to make matters worse, we have Trump coming out and saying, in effect, either vote for this or else. I’ve also heard the voices of Republicans chastising conservatives because we all must get behind our president even if you don’t like this bill—even if you think it’s a joke.

As if the most important thing is to support President Trump above all else, regardless of what you believe about his policies (or his temperament or public accusations against anyone who dares oppose him).

I’m all for the Trump presidency being successful. I’m not for the attitude, “My way or the highway,” to repeat the cliché currently being bandied about.

Is this where we are today?

Is it any wonder why people get tired of politics?

Yet we cannot retreat and live in our own little bubbles. We cannot evade our responsibility to take these issues seriously and contribute what we can to the discussion.

For Christians, that’s what Jesus’s “salt and light” comments are all about, and no matter how dismayed we are over our politics and our culture at large, if we retreat, what then?

Will We Learn From History?

As a historian, I have this faith that people might actually learn something from history. What a quaint notion.

The first requisite, of course, is that people know some history. Those kinds of people are becoming a rare commodity.

Please excuse the seeming air of resignation in this post. It’s just that some lessons from history are so easy to find that it boggles the mind that mankind continues to repeat all the old errors.

Take socialism/communism, for instance. It’s never worked anywhere, yet it continues to beguile and beckon with its siren song of equality, fairness, and brotherhood.

You know, like in the Soviet Union where, under Stalin, everyone was so friendly.

It was such a wonderful success that they continued to promote those Five-Year Plans for 70 years. Don’t ask if they ever worked. Well, you could ask all those nations that adopted socialist economies; I’m sure they have a story to tell. Come along with me to one such country.

Britain went all agog for socialism after WWII. Rationing continued for years after the war, ensuring “equality.” Here’s how Winston Churchill described what he witnessed:

Yet the current generation is being wooed once again by this false philosophy. Take Bernie Sanders and his minions, openly advocating the policy. In fact, most Democrats are on this bandwagon; they just are more discreet by not calling it what it is. They couch it in the language of “caring.” And voters lap it up because they are rather ignorant:

Someone needs to write this book:

But would anyone read it who actually needs to read it?

G. K. Chesterton nailed it:

Forgive my cynicism today. If not for my steadfast faith that this world ultimately is not my home, cynicism would prevail. However, I can see past the blindness; I know where Truth resides. I want to live in that Truth today and continue to do what God has called me to do. I will be faithful and leave results up to Him.

Making Our Witness: The Chambers Model

What startled many readers of Whittaker Chambers’s Witness when it first was published in 1952 (and became a bestseller) was its deeply spiritual tone, its message of returning to faith in God, not only for the sake of individual salvation but also for the hope of salvaging Western civilization.

Chambers had been a avowed atheist, an ideological stance influenced by his dysfunctional family upbringing, the nihilism communicated to him by his university education, and his commitment to changing the world through communism.

One of his most famous lines about religious belief prior to his conversion shows not only his attitude but his ability to convey that attitude in memorable phrases:

I associated God with ill-ventilated vestries and ill-ventilated minds.

That attitude crumbled when he finally faced the truth of the Christian faith. There is one passage in Witness that best describes what happened to him when the Spirit of God touched his life, and that passage is even more memorable than the one noted above:

What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind—the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step.

It was that touch from the hand of God that led Chambers to his decision to make his witness before the world—not just a testimony about what he knew of the workings of the communist underground and its designs to overthrow the American government—but a witness to the grace of God in men’s lives.

Yet it was that very witness that most intellectuals rejected. They didn’t understand how Chambers could embrace the “old” faith that so many of them now despised. This is why Chambers, near the end of Witness, wrote this:

To those for whom the intellect alone has force, such a witness has little or no force. It bewilders and exasperates them. It challenges them to suppose that there is something greater about man than his ability to add and subtract. It submits that that something is the soul.

What’s interesting is that Chambers saw a clear demarcation between those intellectuals and the majority of the population:

Plain men understood the witness easily. It speaks directly to their condition. For it is peculiarly the Christian witness. They still hear it, whenever it truly reaches their ears, the ring of those glad tidings that once stirred mankind with an immense hope.

For it frees them from the trap of irreversible Fate at the point at which it whispers to them that each soul is individually responsible to God, that it has only to assert that responsibility, and out of man’s weakness will come strength, out of his corruption incorruption, out of his evil good, and out of what is false invulnerable truth.

Why did Chambers believe that weakness could become strength, that corruption could be transformed into incorruption, that good could be squeezed out of evil, and that falsehoods could nevertheless lead men to see the truth?

He could believe all of that because it happened in his life. He responded to the Christian message, he acknowledged that he was individually responsible to God, and he took the necessary steps to assert that responsibility by proclaiming the witness God had given him through his own personal experience.

The message hasn’t changed. God hasn’t changed. All of us need to respond as Chambers did. We need to make our individual witnesses to the world. We are all individually responsible to God and need to take whatever steps are necessary to make our witness.

New Radio Interview: Lewis Book

Last week, I recorded an interview with a Christian radio station in Chicago. The subject was my book, “America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact.” I think it went very well. Here’s the program; lasts just over 40 minutes. Check it out for yourself.

Get Rid of the “Precious”

The “Replace Obamacare Saga” continues. Critics of the whole idea of getting rid of this failed policy don’t really get it yet:

I’m not sure, though, that enough Republicans get it either:

The problem, as I see it, is that too many of the Republican leaders, and the guy in the White House, remain committed to the idea that the federal government has the authority to dictate healthcare. Republicans want to tinker with the Obamacare disaster, but they haven’t really grasped the fact that the government both shouldn’t and can’t succeed in this endeavor:

No matter how much Trump railed against Obamacare during the campaign, he persisted in promising that the government would make sure everyone is covered. Well, isn’t that what Obama promised? What’s the difference?

Why not free up the system and get the government out of it? Well, says the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the new Republican plan will throw a lot of people off health insurance. What it doesn’t take into account is that many of those are the ones who were forced to get the insurance in the first place. Maybe now they might opt out.

But that would be called liberty . . . and we certainly don’t want that. The Nanny State must be upheld.

Republicans, hear this message, please. Rid yourself of the “Precious.” Throw that Ring into the fires of Mordor once and for all.

Once that is accomplished, perhaps peace and common sense will prevail in the American Shire.