Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

22 November 1963

Today, November 22, is one that most of the world recognizes for one significant event. I recognize it for two, and the latter is of greater consequence.

In the preface of my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact, I write this:

I grew up in Bremen, Indiana, population roughly four thousand, surrounded by corn fields and a significant Amish community, half a world away from Oxford and in an entirely different environment. My parents had never read any of Lewis’s works; there was nothing in my background to lead me in that direction.

By the end of the decade of the 1950s, I could ride a bike and fill my bike’s basket with books from our local public library, a feat I accomplished consistently. Already, before the age of ten, I was a voracious reader. Yet I never borrowed anything in the library by C. S. Lewis. All of his Narnia books had been published by then, but if they were in that library, they never crossed my path, and my affinity for fantasy/science fiction reading surely would have aroused my interest if I had seen them.

Since I knew nothing of Lewis in 1960, I was unaware that his wife, Joy, had died that July. It would have had no meaning in my young life.

When Lewis himself died on 22 November 1963, again I took no notice. But I wasn’t alone—the whole world was startled and anxious over the death of another man that the world deemed more consequential.

lewis-jfk

As the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was placed in his grave shortly afterward, so was C. S. Lewis. Today, which of those two is of greater significance? I would argue that Lewis has influenced more American lives since his death than has the former president.

God’s judgments about greatness are rarely the same as man’s. On this day, I remember both of these men, but I honor far more the one less acknowledged.

Preserving Freedom: Lexington & Concord

Among the innumerable examples of bravery in American history, the events surrounding the first battle of the American Revolution are prominent. Massachusetts was under martial law; Boston was ruled by a British general. A shadow government of sorts had been set up by those who were opposed to how the Mother Country was tightening her screws of control.

The two leaders of the resistance, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, were in the small village of Lexington, planning their passage to Philadelphia to be part of the Continental Congress. On the night of 19 April 1775, British regulars were dispatched from Boston with two purposes: capture Adams and Hancock for trial (and execution) in Britain; remove all the colony’s store of guns and ammunition in Concord.

Neither objective was achieved.

paul-reveres-rideRiders went out from Boston to alert the countryside. The best-known one, of course, was Paul Revere. No, he didn’t shout “The British are coming!” That would have been a redundancy—they were all still British. His message was that the “regulars” were coming out, which was a fearful matter. These were highly disciplined troops.

What did the colonists have to stand against them? Only farmers and shopkeepers, the local militia that had recently taken the name of Minutemen, since they had to be ready at a minute’s notice should an attack come.

Stand Your GroundAdams and Hancock escaped from Lexington just in time. The 700 regulars arrived to face a small contingent of Minutemen on Lexington green. There was never an intent on either side to have a pitched battle. Seventy townsmen facing 700 regulars would have been folly. They were simply making a statement. When ordered to leave the field, they were in the process of doing so.

Then a shot rang out. Accounts differ as to the source of that shot. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a poem, later referred to it as “The Shot Heard Round the World.”

Eight Lexington men were killed. And the troops marched on to Concord.

minuteman-statueConcord was ready. All the stores of munitions were removed to safety before the troops arrived. Nervous Concord Minutemen stood by a bridge outside of town. When they saw smoke coming up from the town, they feared the troops were setting fire to their homes. That brought on a battle on the bridge.

Seeing that their goals were not achieved, the regular troops were ordered back to Boston, but now the entire countryside was up in arms—literally. That march back to Boston turned into a rout, as colonists, fighting in Indian manner, would shoot at them from behind hedges, trees, and fences, then run ahead to do the same again when the troops reached them in their new location.

Once the troops were back in Boston, 15,000 Massachusetts militia formed a ring around the city, to ensure they would not be attacked again.

Lexington and Concord signaled the opening of the war for independence.

john-adamsJohn Adams, writing to wife Abigail about what had occurred, penned some memorable words:

Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.

What of Adams’s words today? Have we done a good job of preserving what he and others of that Founding generation did to deliver freedom to us? Time will tell.

Lewis on the Old Books

“Every age has its own outlook,” C. S. Lewis instructed. “It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.” Amen to that. “We all, therefore,” he continued, “need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

Image: Dublin Library. The WSRL is a humble and intimate gathering ...Was Lewis saying that only old books are worthwhile? Was he so anti-modern that he believed nothing written in the last century could conceivably offer us wisdom? After all, in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge, he famously referred to himself as a “dinosaur,” one of the last specimens of those who live comfortably in their native land of previous epochs.

That’s hardly his intention. What he was doing in this quote was attacking the oh-so-modern fallacy (found in every age, by the way) that we have progressed so far that we understand things much better than previous ages and generations.

I teach historiography. Part of the course delves into different schools of historical interpretation. One common mistake for historians is to believe that progress is inevitable, that each succeeding generation is wiser than the last one.

I ran into this perspective in my doctoral program. One book used in a course on American colonial history was infused with a sneeringly condescending attitude toward those so-called primitive early Americans. They were just so backward, the book implied. Not like the new generation that has come so far.

Of course, in the view of that author, to “come so far” meant that we have set aside all those outmoded ideas about God that seemed to drive many of the early settlers. The hubris in the book was astounding.

c-s-lewis-2All Lewis was saying in this quote is that each era has its truth emphases and each also has its own characteristic mistakes and/or falsehoods that it believes. How do we guard against this arrogance? Return to the thoughts and beliefs of earlier times and keep in mind that whatever faults they had, they also might have contained truths that we, in our pride, have foolishly abandoned.

The “old books” are not error-free, but they do put a check on our runaway love affair with ourselves. They remind us of things we may have forgotten as a society.

There is one old book, though, that is error-free and never leads us astray. If we take it seriously, our pride is leveled and we recognize our true place in the universe.

As I survey the mess our current society has devolved into, I’m reminded of another Lewis quote: “Moral collapse follows upon spiritual collapse.” If we are disturbed by what we see happening morally in our day, we must acknowledge the real reason for this development. We have allowed our Christianity to be compromised to the point that it no longer is the salt and light it was intended to be.

We must return to the one Old Book that puts things right again.

On Rigged Elections

This election is rigged. That’s been Donald Trump’s theme for a couple of weeks. Is that possible? Accusations of a rigged presidential election are rare, but there are a few examples.

john-quincy-adamsIn 1824, John Quincy Adams won the presidency after no one got the majority of the electoral votes and the decision was thrown into the House of Representatives. Henry Clay, Speaker of the House, was later chosen by Adams to be his secretary of state, considered at that time to be the stepping-stone to the presidency. Andrew Jackson, the loser even though he started with a plurality of the electoral tally, charged that it was a corrupt bargain. He lost the election, he said, because it was rigged against him.

What Jackson didn’t allow into his thoughts is that Clay, who undoubtedly used his influence as Speaker to put Adams in the presidency, felt that Jackson was unfit for the office and gave his support to Adams because he believed Adams was the better of the two men. That, of course, never stopped Jackson from thinking he was cheated out of the office and he held bitterness over it for the rest of his life.

rutherford-b-hayes-2The 1876 election was one of the most controversial in American history. Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but neither he nor Republican Rutherford Hayes had an electoral majority due to claims of voter fraud in some of the Southern states. This was after the Civil War and the rancor of Reconstruction.

A special commission had to be set up to determine the winner. It took until just a few days before the March inauguration to solidify Hayes’s victory. The only way Democrats accepted Hayes as the legitimate president was after he promised to serve only one term and bring Reconstruction policies to an end. Still, some Democrats refused to acknowledge Hayes as the legitimate president.

jfk-nixonThen there was 1960. Everyone knows John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon, right? Well, that’s not necessarily true. Most historians admit that voter fraud was so plentiful in Illinois and Texas that those two states should have gone to Nixon, thereby making him the next president.

Chicago has been a source of voter fraud continually; it’s amazing how many dead people vote there every time. Texas was Lyndon Johnson’s home state, and he made sure there were enough votes counted to gain the victory there, regardless of how many actually voted.

Nixon was aware of the fraud and many in his circle encouraged him to challenge the result. Tempting as that was, Nixon instead chose to step back from any challenge for the good of the nation. He felt it would be damaging to the country, especially at a time of Cold War tension with the Soviet Union, to disrupt the government in that way.

Most people don’t know about Nixon’s selfless decision; all they ever think about is Watergate.

So, yes, voter fraud might take place. In fact, I’m convinced it does on a regular basis. However, here’s the real question: could it be massive enough to make a difference this year, as Trump intimates?

First of all, it would only matter in a very close vote within a state. Consequently, you can dismiss any issue of damage to the Trump campaign in states that are going for Clinton by wide margins. California, New York, and Illinois are lost causes for Trump anyway. Even if we were to wipe out all of Chicago’s graveyard votes, he will still lose Illinois.

The only real possibility of voter fraud affecting this election would have to focus on Texas or Florida, yet both of those states are controlled by a Republican majority who will guarantee that Trump won’t be trumped by Democrat tricks.

Let’s be real. Voter fraud, while always a concern, is not going to be any kind of determining factor this year. The determining factor is Donald Trump, pure and simple. Well, he’s simple, at least.

Donald Trump Addresses GOP Lincoln Day Event In MichiganHave you noticed that every time Trump loses, he has a scapegoat? Recall the Iowa caucuses. Why did he lose there, in his mind? Ted Cruz cheated. “Lyin’ Ted” cost him Iowa. That was his story and he was sticking to it. He pretty much used the same mantra wherever he lost.

Why? Because Trump believes he is a winner. Remember that he told Republicans he was going to win so much that they were going to get tired of winning. If he loses, it can’t be his fault; it has to be some kind of “rigged” election.

Much has been made of Trump’s comment in the last debate that he will wait and see if he will accept the results of this election. Some feel he is destroying the American electoral system by saying that. I don’t go there. I know there can be fraud, and I use 1960 as a prime example.

However, what really bothers me is what it reveals about Trump’s character. His ego is so huge and vast that he cannot even imagine losing due to his own uneven temperament, lack of knowledge of the issues, and moral turpitude.

He’s also preparing the context for his loss. You see, he didn’t really lose; the election was stolen by “Crooked Hillary.” By the way, she is Crooked Hillary, but he’s “Delusional Donald.”

He will never accept the hard truth that he is his own worst enemy. Rumors abound that once he loses, his next venture will be a media network to promote his views (whatever they may be next year).

Lose he will, and probably “bigly.” And it won’t be because of voter fraud. It will be because he is the worst candidate the Republicans have ever chosen as a standard-bearer.

Lewis on Visiting America

cover-on-ws-pageWhy write a book on C. S. Lewis’s connections with America when he never set foot on American soil? Well, connections are made in many ways, and this book stresses the impact Lewis made on individual Americans. During his lifetime, he received countless invitations to visit but he always had reasons for why he couldn’t do it.

Although Lewis declined all invitations to visit America due to his personal circumstances, that did not mean he wasn’t attracted to some of what the New World had to offer. Sprinkled throughout his letters to Americans, one finds comments that reveal the longing of his heart to make the journey.

He was developing a new appreciation for the literary tastes of the American public, confessing to longtime correspondent Warfield Firor that he would love to visit the country where his own favorite book at the time—Perelandra—had been more enthusiastically received than in his native land.

Lewis stated more than once that he was not drawn to the cities of America, but instead he hoped for the opportunity to experience what nature had to offer in the New World. In having to reject Firor’s offer of a stay in a cabin in the woods, Lewis lamented his lost opportunity, as he would have loved to have witnessed American wildlife and the mountainous landscape.

Lewis never shied away from acknowledging his preferences for places to see in America. He wrote to a Beverly Hills resident that he didn’t think he would like that kind of climate on a permanent basis. He needed to have snow, he confided to her.

To another who had sent pictures of California, he admitted it looked attractive, but that he would prefer New England. Why? He confessed to another correspondent that in temperament and habit, he was actually more like a Polar Bear.

c-s-lewis-13One letter, in particular, pretty much summarized what he would do if he ever did take the opportunity to travel through the United States, and how he would handle the entire trip: his focus would be on meeting the friends he had made through his American correspondence, seeing the natural wonders—the Rockies and Yellowstone Park—and just taking his time to enjoy the entire getaway. The only way he would ever consider arriving in America, he confessed, was by a slow boat so he could enjoy the maritime voyage.

It’s a shame that Lewis never made it to these shores, but that doesn’t diminish the influence he has wielded on the minds of so many Americans in the last seven decades. And that influence shows no signs of diminishing.

If you would like to read more about Lewis’s relationship with Americans, check out my book. The publisher’s page provides an overview of it and a link for purchasing it.

How About a Display of Gratitude Instead?

What does this flag mean? Why do we salute it? Is it appropriate to do so or should we hold it in contempt because not everything that has happened under this banner has been perfect?

american-flag

A Christian knows that citizenship in any nation is a temporary condition. We are, as the Scripture famously affirms, strangers and pilgrims on this earth. Yet we are also told to pray for whatever nation we live in and do all we can to help it conform to Biblical principles, in society at large and in the government.

This flag, and the national anthem that accompanies it in public venues, is now being disparaged in an unprecedented manner. I hold up no nation nor any of its symbols as sacred in the same sense as I revere God and His ways. However, I am to appreciate the good that has been done in a nation and honor its symbols.

The United States, despite its manifold problems throughout its history (and I know something about that history), has been one of the greatest forces for good that the world has ever witnessed.

The current controversy centers on slavery. Let’s review.

When has slavery never existed in the history of the human race? You have to search hard and long to find any place that has never had this institution, in one way or another. Why not, instead, acknowledge that the English-speaking world, both Britain and America, led the way in the banning of slavery?

You say that prejudice continued even after slavery was banned? Again, I ask this: where, in the history of the world—and even today—has prejudice not reared its head? It’s part of the human condition called sinfulness. Why not, instead, look at the efforts of this country, in particular, to minimize the natural prejudices that arise?

francis-scott-key-on-shipThe Star Spangled Banner is now under attack as racist. Why? Consider the history of the anthem. The author, Francis Scott Key, was on a ship in Baltimore’s harbor attempting to arrange a prisoner exchange. He had to wait through the night to continue the negotiations. He feared that Ft. McHenry, which blocked the British entry into the city, would fall. When he awoke the next morning and saw the flag still waving over the fort, he was inspired to write.

The third verse, in context, speaks of how the British have sought to wipe out the land of the free and the brave by the use of hirelings (remember the Hessians in the War for Independence?) and slaves. The latter were promised their freedom if they would come over to the British side and fight. The exact words are these:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, that the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion a home and a country shall leave us no more? Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, and the Star – Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I see nothing obviously racist in those words when taken in context. It’s a simple statement of fact at that moment in our history.

francis-scott-keyKey himself is also being attacked because he was a slaveholder. Yes, he was, as were George Washington and many other luminaries in those early years. Those who disparage all the Founders overlook the desire most of them expressed to find a way to wipe out slavery once and for all. They also overlook the possibility that some slaveholders were kind to their slaves and even freed some of them when they had the opportunity to do so.

Francis Scott Key was one of those. Key was a committed Christian who despised the slave system he was born into. He believed slavery was wrong in principle and did free some of his slaves. As a lawyer, he took cases on behalf of slaves seeking their freedom. One of his contemporaries even said he was “ready to brave odium or even personal danger in their behalf.”

Key didn’t advocate for mass emancipation all at once because he didn’t see how that would work. As with many of his fellow citizens at the time who worked to end slavery, he favored a gradual merging of freed slaves into the culture and the economy.

Some fault Key for his support for the colonization movement, which sought to send freed blacks to Africa to set up their own government there. That did happen, by the way. That nation is known as Liberia. Many prominent Americans joined that movement. Some did so for racist reasons, hoping to create an America with a wholly white population. Others, though, such as James Madison (The Father of the Constitution) and Abraham Lincoln, lent their support because they thought it would be best for blacks who might find it difficult to enter successfully into a society dominated by those with a British/European heritage.

Calling all supporters of the colonization movement racists is a gross stereotype that doesn’t stand historical scrutiny.

America, throughout its short history, by comparison with other empires, has demonstrated to the world that representative government can work, even when it is messy.

America has come to the aid of the world by standing up to the tyrannies of fascism and communism.

America has, by law, thrown out ancient prejudices and attempted to place all citizens on an even playing field.

America has offered opportunities to the descendants of slaves that few nations have ever achieved. Does a racist society elect a black president? Does it pay black football players millions of dollars for athletic skills because it is racist?

Then those same individuals who have been so blessed decide to make a public protest over what they consider to be a racist society?

Colin Kaepernick and others on the various NFL teams will make more money this year than I will make in my lifetime.

Should I protest? Should I reject my nation because I’m being treated unfairly? I mean, I can make a case that what I do as a university professor is far more valuable than what they do when they play their games.

We need more historical common sense and less manufactured outrage. Displays such as these public protests only help bring us down as a nation. We need to pull together and show gratitude for what the blood and toil of previous generations have handed to us.

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.