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G. K. Chesterton and the Forgotten Art of the Essay

Detail_of_G.K._Chestertons_Illustrated_London_News_column_masthead_graphicOne winter’s day in 1913, the 1st of January to be precise, American readers were treated to a memorable opening sentence in an article about G. K. Chesterton for The Dial magazine. It read: “A monstrously lazy man lives in South Bucks, partly by writing a column in The Saturday Daily News.”

A bright flash of literary wit, and one with a bit of a backstory . . .

It seems the unnamed author of this article in The Dial had wisely concluded there was little point in assaying an opening sentence that was wholly original; and had, just as wisely, opted to purloin a sentence from Chesterton himself—all with a view to catching the reader’s eye.
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Internally Displaced Person

ID-10089159In late April, the Indiana legislature “voted to let any county that can prove it is experiencing a drug-linked outbreak of HIV or Hepatitis C . . . set up a needle exchange program.” Governor Mike Pence, who had previously been opposed to these programs, said that he was “looking forward to signing [the bill] into law.”

What prompted the about face was an outbreak of HIV—more than 150 confirmed cases—in Scott and Jackson Counties in the southeastern part of the state. Austin, Indiana, population 4,200, has “a higher incidence of HIV than ‘any country in sub-Saharan Africa,’” according to Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control. In fact, Austin “had more people infected with HIV through injection drug use than in all of New York City last year.”
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Worldview and You

ID-100167270The Pew Research Center has reported recently on the continuing increase of the "nones"--the religiously unaffiliated. Over the past five years, says Pew, "the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%)."

On first glance it might appear that Christianity is in decline. The truth is rather more complex--in some ways encouraging and in other ways ominous, for what the numbers signify is a widening polarization of American society due to the collapse of the middle.

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All Things Examined

ID-100256431Despite the serious and well-known flaws of Alfred C. Kinsey’s iconic research on sexuality, many of his conclusions have become so embedded in our cultural DNA that they persist even though proven false.

Take his claim that 10 percent of the population is homosexual.

In 2013 the CDC found that less than 2 percent of people are gay, about half the percentage found in previous studies. Yet judging from the numbers of gay folk on prime-time television and in movies, one would conclude that the percentage is 10 times higher or more. Think “Modern Family,” “The New Normal,” and Ellen DeGeneres’ “One Big Happy,” where the best friend of a heterosexual married man is a lesbian. Really?
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Priorities

ID-100279910I don’t claim that my troubles are any worse or more challenging than those of others. In fact, in the case of many believers, assuredly they are not. I haven’t gotten a cancer diagnosis. No ISIS terrorist is about to behead me. My livelihood hasn’t been threatened because of my faith—at least not yet.

Nor do I believe that my response to the current trial—actually, a cluster of heartaches—has been especially godly. It is, shall we say, a work in progress. And yet that progress, though painful and fitful, has been real, although I still have far to travel. Perhaps some of the lessons I have been learning will help you in your own journey.
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Literary Lights

whistlestopsmI first began to understand the role of aspiration in an artist’s journey 30 years ago, when I discovered a nine-minute piece of music called “The Eye of the Storm Suite.” It was part of an album called “Drawn to the Light” by Paul Clark, a gifted singer/songwriter known also for his skill on keyboards and guitar.

“The Eye of the Storm Suite” was, and is, a remarkable piece. It opens with a trio of ambient sounds: the keening of a sea-bird’s cry, ropes creaking aboard an old schooner, the somber music of a foghorn in the wind. Then slowly these subside, yielding to a plaintive, rainfall-like melody on piano, and the subtle shimmer of chimes.
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Worldview and You

LionsI had never been treated less like a human in my life. Maybe I was asking for it.

It was March 24, 2012, and along with leaders and students involved with a very new campus apologetics ministry called Ratio Christi, I was spending the day at the “Reason Rally” on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Its organizers said it was “the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history.” We were there handing out bottles of water and a flyer I had written on “True Reason” from a Christian perspective.

What was it like? “Unfriendly” would be understating it. My friend Blake and I ran into P. Z. Myers, one of the Internet’s more vocal proponents of godlessness, who asked us, “Are they ridiculing you here?” He followed that with his own answer: “They should be.”
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All Things Examined

Tissot_Gods_CurseThe American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) bills itself as “a fellowship of Christians in science.” According to a 2010 survey, less than 12 percent of the fellowship believes “Adam and Eve had no contemporaries, and were the biological ancestors of all humans.” Many survey respondents referred to Adam and Eve as “metaphors,” “symbols,” “representations,” or “fictional characters.”

If you think these beliefs are limited to liberal-leaning laymen, you would be badly mistaken: They are shared by A-list Christian scholars and theologians, like popular author and Bible commentator N. T. Wright.
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Priorities

640px-Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_023Several years ago, I wrote a column for Christianity Today advocating a continued commitment to Jewish evangelism. A prominent Orthodox Jewish rabbi from Chicago, Yehiel Poupko, reacted strongly, saying that my words were the same as advocating the end of the Jewish people. This led to a series of exchanges online, on NPR, and on the Milt Rosenberg radio program on WGN.

The night Christine drove me to the WGN studio in Chicago, immediately I knew I was in trouble: It turned out that the venerable Rosenberg and Rabbi Poupko were old friends, and I felt a little frozen out of the conversation, both before and during the live call-in program.

During the discussion, our beliefs about the nature of life after death came up, and Rabbi Poupko spoke very vaguely indeed. Many Jews don’t have real assurance of an afterlife. Then Rosenberg, a very old man with glasses the size of Coke bottles, turned to me. What did I think?
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Literary Lights

image_previewHistory remembers Charles Haddon Spurgeon as “the prince of preachers.” For more than 30 years, from 1861 until his death in 1892, Spurgeon preached at London’s great Metropolitan Tabernacle, which seated well over 5,000 people. On one memorable occasion, in October 1857, nearly 24,000 people heard him preach at Britain’s famous Crystal Palace.

Nor was this a one-time event, as Spurgeon’s sermons in various venues frequently drew record-breaking crowds. London, said one periodical, hadn’t seen anything like this pastoral phenomenon since the ministry of George Whitefield in the 1700s.
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Worldview and You

ID-10010252I’ve been wondering lately what it is that same-sex marriage advocates think marriage is.

It ought to be obvious. They say they want marriage equality: to be be able to marry just like opposite-sex couples. There’s a key phrase: “like opposite-sex couples.” That tells us something about what they think marriage is. They must think there’s something about marriage that makes it the kind of thing that same-sex couples can participate in, just like opposite-sex couples.

In fact, if they're really serious about their marriages being like opposite-sex couples’ marriages, then for them marriage must be basically the same whether the couple are opposite-sex or not. Sure, there may be differences—a man and a woman can have their own children—but those differences are incidental. They’re not essential to what marriage really is. Their marriages are just as real, just as much marriages as any other marriage.

Now, logically, that could only mean one of three things.

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All Things Examined

250px-Gendersign_Transgender_symbolBack in January, Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Wolf tapped Dr. Rachel Levine for state physician general. Dr. Levine is a recognized expert in eating disorders with nearly 30 years of medical practice in pediatric psychology and behavioral health.

The governor stated that Dr. Levine’s knowledge and expertise is important for placing “equal emphasis on behavioral and physical health issues.” As for Levine, she says she wants to help “individuals with their myriad, complex, medical, and psychological problems.”

But there’s a glaring paradox about Levine’s selection.
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Internally Displaced Person

Alex_Rodriguez_2008-04-19Frank Deford was right about one thing: Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez was blessed. As good a prospect as Josh Hamilton was, A-Rod was better. In fact, some consider him to have been the best prospect of the draft era (1966-present).

He confirmed that judgment when just three years after being drafted number one out of Miami’s Westminster Christian High School, he hit .358, the highest batting average for an American League right-handed batter since Joe DiMaggio hit .381 in 1939, with 36 home runs and 123 runs batted in at 20 years of age. (The only two players to have comparable age 20 seasons were Ty Cobb and Mike Trout.)
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Priorities

ID-10025710I believe our president is a Christian, at least to his own satisfaction. However, given the fact that he has been less than honest in the past, I’m not surprised that some are doubting his sincerity about it.

The president’s Christian faith remains a hot topic of discussion because Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, had the temerity not to go along with reporters’ “gotcha” question: Do you believe Barack Obama is a Christian? Here’s how Walker replied:

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about [it]. I’ve never asked him that. You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”
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Literary Lights

Belmonte_PhantastesOver the years, many a reader has discovered a special magic in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia—the interweaving of Lewis’s stories with classic illustrations from artist Pauline Baynes. They are marvelously, inextricably linked, and few would think of one without the other.

Both the prose and the drawings may be said to compose the “text” of the Narnia Chronicles: a text that mingles the written word and visual images. Truly, it would be difficult to think of a finer, more fitting, more enduring collaboration between an author and artist.

But if one were to look for another equally important and revealing collaboration between author and artist, there is, perhaps, one book that Lewis himself would point to: the 1905 edition of George MacDonald’s mythic novel “Phantastes,” which has 33 illustrations specially commissioned from the great pre-Raphaelite artist and illustrator Arthur Hughes.
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Internally Displaced Person

11047As Justice Clarence Thomas recently wrote, a majority of his colleagues appear to have made up their minds on the issue of same-sex marriage. By July 1, same-sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia (it already is legal there), and Puerto Rico.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But what you may not know or have thought about is the profound irony that will be at the heart of the Court’s decision: The seeds of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right were sown, watered, and otherwise tended to by our Christian (and some cases, literal) forebears.
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Worldview and You

ID-100305365I have a confession to make. I’ve been getting testy lately. Annoyed. Anxious. Even angry, sometimes.

My world is turning upside down. People are telling me I’m a hater, a bigot. They’re suing people who share my values, and they’re winning.

That’s upsetting to me.
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All Things Examined

ID-100109906There was a time when it was nigh impossible not to believe in God—not because of man’s irrational superstitions, as atheist popularizers tell it, but because of nature’s rational design.

To early thinkers, the intelligibility of nature pointed to an ineluctable fact: a prime, non-contingent source of reality (the uncaused Cause, One, Apeiron, Logos, Yahweh) brought the universe into being with a structure that made knowledge possible. By the late Middle Ages, that fact led researchers to science —a methodological system of inquiry that liberated knowledge from the limits of natural philosophy, and the errors of alchemy and astrology.
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Priorities

download_6Confucius once said, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” When it comes to radical Islam, it’s clear that too many people have chosen foolishness over wisdom. The question is, in these dangerous times, are there enough of us willing to embrace wisdom?

Our answer will go a long way toward determining whether the West, founded upon Judeo-Christian principles, will prevail over radical Islam. For, as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said recently, “You cannot remedy a problem if you will not name it and define it.”

The Obama administration’s verbal contortions over the nature of our self-avowed enemies would be comical if they weren’t so seriously misguided. After a recent atrocity by the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL), the president opined, “ISIL is not 'Islamic.' No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim.” Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean offered this: “I think ISIS is a cult. Not an Islamic cult. I think it’s a cult.” These statements bring to mind the odd Bush administration mantra after 9/11: “Islam is a religion of peace.”
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Internally Displaced Person

Serial-2The most unlikely cultural phenomenon of 2014 was probably “Serial,” the podcast spinoff from NPR’s “This American Life.” The 12-part series, hosted and narrated by Sarah Koenig, told the story of the January 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore County, Maryland.

Nineteen days after her body was discovered in Baltimore’s Leakin Park, Hae’s ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was arrested and charged with her murder. After his first trial ended in a mistrial, Syed was convicted in February 2000 and sentenced to life in prison.

If you have heard anything at all about “Serial,” chances are it was about Koenig’s endearing self-doubting style. (For a hilarious take on this style, check out this Saturday Night Live parody.) She and her colleagues spent more than a year going over the facts of the case and she spoke to Syed for more than thirty hours over the phone. In the end she never found anything that completely convinced her—“tipped” was the word she used—that Syed was guilty or innocent.
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