Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

Focusing on the Eternal

Last year’s political season was probably the most divisive in modern American history. The nature of the presidential race was such that I felt compelled to concentrate on it in this blog. However, I always sought to provide thoughts on other topics as well. After all, this blog is not about politics and government only; it’s about life overall.

I have a daily routine of online sites I check for current events and commentary, but I don’t limit my reading to those. That would be unbalanced. I am a voracious reader. It’s not just my profession as a history professor that mandates it; I thrive on reading.

My foundational reading for life is always going to be Scripture. I just completed reading the Bible through again. Whenever I do that, I use a different version to keep the message fresh.

My newest Bible-reading project will be long-term, as I’ve begun to delve into a study Bible that will keep me occupied for at least a couple of years. I’m not going to rush through it. I’ll take my time while I meditate not only on the verses themselves but the commentary within.

As a corollary to Scripture reading, I also have a daily e-mail from Christian History that not only offers a short devotional but also information about various people and movements in the history of the church.

A lot of my reading does have to do with the courses I teach, as I want to stay current with scholarship in my field. Yet that type of reading is not a duty; rather, it’s a joy.

For instance, I am teaching my C. S. Lewis course this spring. In my reading of a book about Lewis over Christmas break, I realized I hadn’t yet read some of his essays on literature. So I got a collection of those and found some I have now incorporated into the course.

Reading Lewis is one of my favorite things, as most of you probably know, since I published a book about him a few months ago. I find endless fascination in his thoughts and in the way he expresses them. He helps keep me balanced.

I’m reading other books now as well (I usually have three or four going at the same time). For my American Revolution course, which I will probably teach again in the fall, I’m previewing a book with an intriguing title: Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers. The author is a man I know personally, Daniel Dreisbach, who is an excellent scholar. Reading a book like that is a perfect combination of faith and history.

A course I’ve not yet taught, American history from 1877 to 1917, is another one I may teach in the fall, so I’m focusing right now on a key period in that history, trying to find just the right book to fill in the gap.

I’ve found a very readable book on the pivotal 1912 election that may be the one. It’s an interesting character study of the four candidates in that key campaign: Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Eugene Debs. I can say I’ve learned quite a bit; it has deepened my knowledge of the era, which is something I always seek to do with any historical period.

I also read fiction, mostly from evangelical authors who know how to tell a good story. Some of my staples in that area are Ted Dekker, Stephen Lawhead, and Joel Rosenberg, but I broaden my search all the time, wanting to find others who know how to combine fine storytelling with the faith.

I’m also working my way slowly through Paradise Lost, which is going to take a while, to be sure. Catching up on some of the classics that I’ve never read is another goal.

So, you can see I’m not just narrowly focused on politics. My life is so much more than just a matter of who won the last election. In fact, with an election like the one that has just occurred, I am truly grateful that life is bigger than that.

Memes created from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, can sometimes capture how I feel:

I hope we can all keep our sense of humor in times like these. Faith in God and a sense of humor should go together to remind us that current events are just that—current, not eternal.

That reminds me of another of my favorite Scripture passages, found in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

Therefore we do not lost heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.

For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

May our focus always be on the eternal.

Transitions All Around

The media naturally is glued to Trump Tower during this transition period, as the president-elect figures out who to nominate for various positions in his administration. Less attention has been given to the Democrat transition going on simultaneously. For instance, the Democrats in the House have chosen their “new” leader:

stagnate-again

Not to mention the team being assembled by the Democrats:

dem-transition

College campuses have been hit particularly hard by the election. The transition there has become especially difficult:

back-to-work

campus-in-lockdown

Campuses are supposed to be where students get educated, where they grapple with facts and interpretation of the facts. They’re not supposed to be playgrounds or childcare facilities for those who can’t grow up:

facts-dont-matter

Hillary Clinton also is having a hard time processing what happened. She’s now blaming “fake news” for her defeat. Let’s be clear: fake news exists, and it exists on both sides. It takes a certain amount of maturity and discernment to ferret out the fake from the true sometimes. But Hillary is not the person who should be complaining about spreading fake stories:

fake-news-epidemic

Donald Trump needs to be careful here, too. He’s tweeting (of course) about how he won a historic victory of landslide proportions. No, he barely won some key states, thereby allowing him to squeak by in the electoral college despite losing the popular vote nationwide. As a historian, I know what amounts to a landslide—FDR in 1932, Reagan in 1984 being prime examples.

Time magazine has just named Trump as its Person of the Year. That’s to be expected, given his surprise win. Yet he needs to learn humility. The cover for Time needs to be more accurate:

not-hillary

That’s probably the main reason he won.

Willful Ignorance: Never a Safe Space

Nice to know that neither Obama nor Biden will make an appearance at Castro’s memorial. I don’t think that’s because they wouldn’t like to do so, but the backlash just might be greater than they wish to handle.

Most people, outside of the press, aren’t exactly in mourning that the dictator is dead. Some have very good reasons not to feel particularly sad about it.

in-mourning

The Castro legacy is not hard to discover:

castro-skulls

As I said in a previous post, I don’t believe Castro went to meet His maker. Rather, he went to meet his lifelong mentor:

hell-o

Meanwhile, on American university campuses throughout the nation, ignorance about communist atrocities in history continues apace:

taking-a-selfie

We’ve allowed those hallowed halls of higher education to become state nurseries:

bubble-u

Willful ignorance is never a safe space.

My Lewis Weekend

I had the distinct pleasure last Friday evening of speaking to the New York C. S. Lewis Society in Manhattan. This society was the first organization in America established to study the works of Lewis and help promote them, beginning back in 1969.

When I was researching my Lewis book, I had contacted the society for information to help in my research. Not only did I receive that help, I also received an invitation to talk about the book after it was published.

cover-on-ws-pageNow that America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact is a reality, I was delighted to tell them about it at their monthly meeting. My biggest concern (although “concern” might be too strong a description) was whether I could offer them something worthwhile since they are already well-versed in all things Lewis. When I finished speaking, I said I hoped I had given them more than “fluff.” I was gratified by the response in the Q&A that indeed I had not wasted their time with fluff, and that the niche I explore in the book is pretty unique in the Lewis literature.

In particular, I was happy to meet Dr. James Como for the first time, a Lewis scholar who appears prominently in my book. He was the first there to purchase a copy, even before I spoke. I told him I trust I got his life story correct but if, after reading the book, he decided he didn’t like it, to please not tell me. We had a nice laugh over that.

I had another venue for speaking while in the area, a Christian school whose headmaster is a former student of mine. More on that in a moment.

gateway-academy-2My first audience at the school was a tougher one than speaking to the Lewis Society: fourth- through eighth-graders in a chapel.

How does one connect with that range of children? Let’s just say that I made a few adjustments along the way, opened it up for a lot of questions (and they had them), and enjoyed the interaction. The feedback I received was that they really liked talking with me.

One question was rather personal and kind of funny: how much money do you make writing a book like this? My answer was in the form of guidance for their future. I said that if any of them decided to be university professors and write books like mine, don’t expect to become rich. You do it instead simply because you believe God has put it in your heart to do so.

On Saturday, I then spoke to many of the parents of those children, giving them an overview of Lewis’s life and influence. So it was a two-day Lewis extravaganza.

desanctisBack to my host. I want to thank Chris Desanctis, headmaster of Gateway Academy in Staten Island, for giving me the venue to speak there and for being my guide and chauffeur the entire time. In all my 65 years, I had never set foot in Manhattan, so he is the one who made my talk at the Lewis Society possible.

Chris was one of my students back in the 1990s when I taught at Regent University. Although we have stayed in touch, we hadn’t seen each other in 18 years. It was nice to reconnect, and I want to thank him and his wife for putting me up in their home (and for putting up with a guest who rearranged their Saturday).

Those two days “in the city” were great, and I’m thankful for the opportunities I had to share.

What Academic Freedom?

Radicalism on university campuses has changed somewhat since the 1960s. Back then, the radicals were fighting against what they perceived were conservative administrations and professors, and their protests often turned violent.

What they didn’t really understand is that most of those administrations and faculty members weren’t philosophical conservatives at all. Liberalism was dominant in the academic realm. It’s just that liberals at that time still professed a belief in honest debate over ideas.

Today, it’s those who were protesting in the 1960s who are running the universities. They haven’t lost their radical tinge even though they are now the “establishment.” That’s why the new wave of student radicalism is allowed and even supported: as the old cliché goes, the inmates are running the asylum.

reading-list

Here are some examples.

Marquette University is a Catholic institution. Presumably, it would hold to Catholic teachings. Presumably. You would never know it.

When one student objected that a teaching assistant had cut off students’ criticism of gay rights and same-sex marriage in a classroom discussion, the TA said “some opinions are not appropriate.” The student was then accused of homophobia.

That student then told his tale to a professor at Marquette, John McAdams, who, after hearing of the incident, published a blog post calling out the TA for shutting off debate.

The administration’s response? Prof. McAdams was placed on indefinite academic leave and banned from campus. McAdams is a tenured professor, which shows what tenure actually means in practice if one runs afoul of the “proper” attitudes.

McAdams was informed he could be reinstated only after writing a letter of apology. He was instructed to affirm his commitment to the university’s “guiding values.” He responded that he was doing just that. The university didn’t like his response. He remains banished.

no-sarcasm

Then we have the silliness taking place at Oberlin College in Ohio. Oberlin began as a Christian community devoted to holiness and abolition of slavery back when Charles Finney was its professor of theology and later its president. How times change.

Last December, student protesters sent Oberlin’s president a long list of what they called “nonnegotiable” demands. Among those demands were the following:

  • An activism wage of $8.20 per hour for protesting.
  • Banning any grade lower than a C. After all, what can one expect of a student who is devoting so much time to activism? The college should recognize that students so devoted to improving society cannot be expected to spend a lot of time on classroom studies.
  • Replacing midterm exams with a conversation with professors during thier office hours. Such a substitution should be mandatory, the administration was told.

The administration apparently is taking these demands seriously and contemplating changes.

Meanwhile, one Oberlin professor has suggested on her Facebook page that Zionists orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, the rise of ISIS, and various terrorist acts that everyone else knows were perpetrated by Islamic radicals. While the board of trustees condemned those remarks, Oberlin’s president has only stated his firm commitment to “academic freedom.”

About the only freedom allowed on some campuses these days must be within certain constraints:

tolerance-news

Every time I read reports of what is occurring at many universities, I thank God I have an outlet for true academic freedom where I teach.

When Clyde Kilby Met C. S. Lewis

clyde-kilbyClyde Kilby was the man responsible for bringing the C. S. Lewis Papers to the Wade Center at Wheaton College, where not only Lewis’s papers now reside, but also those of Tolkien and five other British luminaries with ties to Lewis.

Kilby and Lewis met face-to-face only once, back in 1953, but the impression from that visit stayed with Kilby the rest of his life. When Kilby returned from England, he wrote about his experience.

Upon knocking [at Lewis’s Oxford office door], Kilby was greeted warmly by the man who had meant so much to him in writing. First impressions? “He has a pleasant, almost jolly face, full though not fat, with a double chin. He has a high forehead and thinning hair. Actually, he is a much better looking man than the published picture of him.”

Kilby also liked Lewis’s sense of humor, of a type understood best by a fellow academic: “He spoke of the making of a bibliography as just plain labor and laughed about the idea of the scholar’s life as a sedentary one, saying that the physical labor of pulling big folios from the shelves of the Bodleian was all the exercise he needed.”

It was the sharing of minds, though, that stood out to Kilby as he looked back on this meeting. They spoke of the nature of the Renaissance, with Lewis’s comments foreshadowing what he would say the next year in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge. They also talked about Palestine/the new nation of Israel and of Kilby’s recent trip there. Lewis longed for the pleasure of visiting the Holy Land someday, and they speculated about the possible rebuilding of the Jewish temple and the reestablishment of sacrifices on that ancient spot in Jerusalem.

c-s-lewis-3Further, they discussed the relationship between Christian faith and art, as well as all things people consider secular. “He said the same relation existed between Christianity and art as between Christianity and carpentry.” Of course, given Lewis’s penchant for writing novels, they debated the exact nature of that specific species of literature.

When Kilby quoted someone who had said a novel is no better than a well-told lie, Lewis objected: “As I expected, he disagreed completely with this claim, saying that one is far more likely to find the truth in a novel than in a newspaper. In fact, he said he had quit reading newspapers because they were so untruthful.”

Kilby also sought to know if Lewis would be lecturing while he was in Oxford. “He said he had no lectures scheduled and bantered me as a college professor wanting to hear a lecture while on vacation. In fact, in all his talk there is an incipient good humor and genuineness that makes a conversation with him a real pleasure.”

Front CoverThe only awkward moment was when Kilby asked him to autograph one of Lewis’s books he had brought with him. Although Lewis agreed to the request, he commented that he saw no sense in doing so. That led Kilby to conclude something about his character: “Both from reading his books and talking with him, I get the impression that he is far more fearful than most of us of the subtle sin of pride and tries in every way to escape it: thus his reticence to give an autograph.”

This account of Kilby’s encounter with Lewis is found in my new book on Lewis’s contacts with and influence upon Americans. America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact is currently available at the publisher’s site. It’s coming to Amazon soon. It is replete with such stories, so if you liked this one, I’m sure you’ll like the others also.

Where I Come From & Where I Am Today

I’ve been musing the past few days on the roots of my political and/or governmental philosophy. Why am I where I am today in my understanding of what’s best for the governing of this nation?

I wasn’t raised in a home that taught me what I now believe, so it’s not a matter of merely copying what my parents thought. In fact, I grew up thinking the Democrats were the party to support.

I was conservative as far as I understood what conservatism was, but didn’t grasp the drift taking place in that party. I thought that because I was sympathetic to the civil rights movement, I was a good Democrat.

Liberal-ConservativeIt took a conversation in college with someone knew the difference to show me I was truly a conservative in outlook and that my views lined up better with the Republicans. That actually surprised me.

Yet I didn’t just follow the advice of that person blindly. I began to investigate what I should believe and why. Two factors guided my thinking: my growing Christian faith and the influence of certain writers I was beginning to enjoy reading.

First, I began to learn about Biblical principles and how they should be applied to society, including government. Those principles continue to guide me today.

William F. Buckley Holding BookSecond, two periodicals honed my thinking in accordance with those Biblical principles: National Review and The Freeman. The first offered witty and insightful commentary on the current political scene, and I greatly admired William F. Buckley, the founder of the magazine; the second grounded me in free-market concepts.

When I decided to pursue my doctorate in history, I was in a time of uncertainty spiritually. I was searching to see if anything else could fill that void. My professors, generally speaking, were far more liberal than I, and some of the reading I was given allowed me to test my convictions. Would they stand?

They did. I was now grounded in what liberals thought, as I expanded my understanding of both worldviews.

My advanced degrees offered no answers for life; God mercifully drew me back to Himself. Yet that pursuit of higher education did prepare me to better define what I believed and why.

My path to what I believe is not everyone’s path, by any stretch. My spiritual quest combined with my educational quest to make me what I am. It was a fascinating integration of intellectual and emotional satisfaction.

TextbooksI have been in higher education circles ever since. Seven of my years of teaching were at the graduate level; another five at a college that stressed classical education.

In my courses, I try to communicate to my students a worldview that is spiritually and intellectually sound.

I’ve always approached politics from this foundation of Biblical principles and solid reasoning from a well-grounded conservative philosophy. I don’t repent of any of this, but I do think my approach has left me a little bewildered by the politics of 2016.

As I meditate on what has developed politically over the past year, I have been astounded by what seems to me to be a devastating loss of principle in both the Christian world and the corresponding conservative world.

Donald Trump at DebateI’ve been trying to understand why this is so. You see, for me, the first time I saw Donald Trump on the stage with all those other candidates, I came away thinking that this was the biggest con of recent political history and that no one would take him seriously. Why? Because I didn’t perceive him as a serious candidate.

Trump had no command of the issues. He was an egotist who blustered, interrupted, and insulted anyone he thought was in his way. His entire history was as a liberal Democrat, and now he was trying to convince everyone he was a Republican.

I thought everyone would see through this charade. I’ve been sorely disappointed.

True, he didn’t get the majority of Republican votes in the primaries. I console myself with that fact. But once he became the nominee, so many who had previously said he was unacceptable suddenly decided he was now worth supporting, and anyone who disagreed should be shamed and guilted (is that a word?) into abandoning their principles and declaring their undying allegiance.

My entire background and training doesn’t allow me to board this train. I’m dismayed that so many others have decided to do so.

PrinciplesI’ve learned a valuable lesson, though. I have to realize that not everyone makes decisions based on principles only. Sometimes emotions carry the day. The emotion that leads some to vote for Trump now is fear—fear of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

I understand that fear. What I don’t get is why those same voters don’t see the danger of a Trump presidency as well. In my view, both are equally undesirable.

Some probably wonder why I continue to warn about Trump when it is clear that one or the other—Trump or Hillary—will be the next president. The answer is this: I’m looking beyond this election; I’m trying to keep us thinking about what comes next and whether there will be a Christian witness left to the nation after this, and whether there will be any conservative movement to build upon and salvage the disaster that is sure to come regardless of who wins this particular election.

We need to be principled people. My task, I believe, is to stay true to that calling and convince as many others as possible to do the same.