Friday, July 20, 2007

Birthday Verse

I am trying to get into the habit of writing short poems for special family remembrances: birthdays, anniversaries, and the like. Here are a couple composed recently for the birthdays of my two sons. William just turned four yesterday, and Nathanael was one year old in May. Here's William's, first:

A Poem for William’s Fourth Birthday

Four Seasons our Lord sends;
Four Corners, the World’s Ends;
Four Evangelists nobly bring
Four Gospels for One King.

Four great Winds around us blow;
Four Directions a man may go—
East, West, South, North;
And Four brief years since you came forth.

Four years since your happy birth
(In this Fourth Age of Middle-earth);
Four Rivers flow in Paradise:
Drink deeply, and be strong and wise.

May the God of truth your heart enflame
(He of the great, Four-lettered Name)
With all the Four high Virtues, son—
Do not neglect a single one.

Ride on with valour, bravely fight
The Four Dark Horsemen of the Night;
And from this never turn aside:
The Foursquare City of the Bride.

And here's the one written for Nathanael:

A Poem For Nathanael On His First Birthday

A year has passed (as of today);
Again it is the third of May.
The Earth has travelled ‘round the Sun,
And now my little boy is one.

I think that you’re too young to guess
Your father’s pride and thankfulness
(Though I suspect you see and know
More than the experts say is so).

The mysteries behind your eyes,
The parables of infant cries—
So long would take to comprehend,
While our brief time will quickly end.

So while the days are young, and new,
God grant that I may be for you
A father: noble, strong and wise,
Who seeks the truth behind your eyes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Happy Harry Potter Week to all of you. This first: I am not subject to what might be described as Harry Potter Mania—as I’ve said before, a little Harry Potter goes a long way with me—though I admit it’s hard not to get caught up in the Euphoria this week. Can anyone remember any comparable scenario (recently - say, since Dickens and the serialized Old Curiosity Shop), with this level of excitement over the release of a book, of all things?

But I thought I might draw your attention to several articles of great interest, discussing predictions for the imminent Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (see below). Among the more interesting predictions:

1. Harry returns to Hogwarts as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher (a post that Dumbledore, in Half-Blood Prince, admits has been cursed since he refused the job to Tom Riddle, AKA Voldemort, years before.

2. Dumbledore actually died earlier, maybe as much as a couple of years earlier, and someone (Snape?) has been masquerading as him in Polyjuiced form, a la Alastor Moody in Goblet of Fire.

3. Snape killed Dumbledore, but only on the headmaster’s orders (Severus…please…) in order to save Malfoy from the Dark Side.

4. The Climax of the book takes place beyond the Veil of the Death Chamber in the Department of Mysteries (the cover of the American edition is said to be depicting part of this). Here Harry (dead, presumably) is reunited with his parents, Sirius, and Dumbledore.

What about the alleged Christian connections? Here’s a fascinating quote from J.K. Rowling, often overlooked, I think:

‘Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.’ (Source for this quote may be found here.)

I have often said that the overall meaning of the series is something best discussed after Book VII is released. John Granger has made the point that Rowling, while in a certain sense a Postmodern writer, is actually taking on Postmodernism and defeating its worst reductionist and relativist notions, much as the Inklings took on Modernism in their day. I hope he’s right, for I have secretly harboured fears of a Matrix-like anti-climax to Potter, with nothing ending up being what we thought it was—in which case Postmodernism would win out over Rowling’s Christian beliefs.

I’ve never been one for the midnight book release parties—in fact, Half-Blood Prince is the only of the six books that I read upon its initial release—but I think I might wander on over to Books-a-Million, where my pre-ordered copy awaits (thanks, Mom), around midnight of the release date. With all the spoilers out there, I figure it’s best to read the thing before venturing out into the world of loose-tongued fast readers. Besides, I’m not sure that all this hype is bad: thank God it’s not over the release of the new CD from whoever the current popular rap-mongers are. It’s over (I repeat myself) A BOOK. I can’t help but see this, all things being equal, as a good thing. Sure, it’s just a fantasy-world soap opera to some readers (the so called ‘shippers,’ who only care about the relation-ship, or romantic, aspects of the book). But much of what I’m reading is from people who care about the Story, and are immersed in trying to understand what this author is trying to say thereby. Like I say, we’ll wait to see how it ends, but I do think Rowling has given enough in the first six volumes to be hopeful for something good.

You may be interested in reading my three-part series on Harry Potter, including an interview/discussion with John Granger, author of Looking for God in Harry Potter, as well as Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. John also edited Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? What Really Happened in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?

Here is my three-part series on Harry Potter, including the interview with John Granger:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Here are the links to the articles I mentioned earlier:

Waiting for Harry: Will the Boy Who Lived Live? (One of the best 'looking ahead' articles I've read)

Harry Potter Predictions (Insightful thoughts on the final book)

Harry Beyond? (Thoughts by the same author on Harry Potter and death, and Christian faith)

The very best Harry Potter website is The Harry Potter Lexicon, which has an absolutely astonishing amount of information. Here you can do what I did, if you like: read the chapter by chapter synopsis of Half-Blood Prince, or any of the others, so you can brush up before reading Book VII. This is a good idea, because Rowling’s world of magic is the most thoroughly developed sub-creation since Middle-earth, and the vast array of names, places, people, spells, and events, is (almost) as bewildering as trying to remember all the names in The Silmarillion. Also, it’s been two years since I read Half-Blood Prince, and, not being one of those that has read the books multiple times, I am apt to forget details, which would otherwise likely result in a lot of confusion on my part while working through Deathly Hallows.

Harry Potter vs Public Schools?

A thought on Harry Potter: watching the just-released film version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I was reminded of some thoughts I had when reading that book a couple of years ago. Does anyone else notice that, with the intrusion of the Ministry of Magic’s Dolores Umbridge as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher (and eventually headmistress), that Hogwarts goes from being a private school to being a public (government-run) school? The walls are soon filled with newly issued 'Educational Decrees,' and Umbridge goes on a spree of banning and prohibiting and forbidding with the zeal that only a bureaucrat can know.
These books are known, among other things, for their satire: Rowling is particularly ruthless in her portrayal of unscrupulous and inept politicians and media-hounds. We know, from other interviews with Rowling, that magical children are homeschooled until they reach the age of eleven, upon which many go to schools like Hogwarts, or Durmstrang, though some continue on as homeschoolers. There certainly seems to be an underlying satire against government-sponsored education in these books, and especially in Order of the Phonenix. In one part of the movie (can’t remember if this line is in the book or not), Hermione says, ‘The Ministry [of Magic, i.e., the Government] is interfering at Hogwarts.’ This is obviously considered a bad thing, in these stories. I wonder how many readers/viewers will get the point and pull their kids out of government schools?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What Our Family is Reading, Listening To, and Watching

A few more recommendations for your enjoyment, in no particular order...

Comus, adapted and illustrated by the magnificent team of Hodges and Hyman, is a retelling of John Milton's Comus: A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle, which itself was an adaptation of an old English Faerie Tale, Childe Roland. I recently read the original Comus by Milton and this adaptation by Hodges is very faithful, but written on a level for children to enjoy (it does, however, downplay the allegorical references to chastity that were so integral to Milton's version). Anything by these gifted ladies is highly recommended.

The coolest new book to come along in a good while. This book shows boys how to do so many of the things that are defining to boyhood, but neglected in our current prissy, safety-obsessed, politically-correct culture. Here's just a sampling: coin tricks, making the perfect paper airplane, hunting and cooking a rabbit, famous battles, making a battery, books every boy should read, making a bow and arrow, finding north in the dark, and bunches more. A must for every father with young sons.

Still trying to read through the Potter books before Book VII comes out, though I won't make it (a little Potter goes a long way for me). I'm about halfway through this one (Book IV). One thing I remember from the ending is the Black Mass in the graveyard with its perversions of both Baptism and the Lord's Supper, pointing out that the Evil characters in the story are particularly at war with the Christian faith.

Along those lines, John Granger has written a helpful book explaining the Christian significance of these books. The updated paperback edition has a chapter on Half Blood Prince and musings on possible outcomes for Book VII, Deathly Hallows. My interview with John is on the right under 'Key Articles.'

Just checked this out from our church library. Filmed during the Bach Revival of the 1970s and hosted by Brian Blessed (Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, and Hamlet, among many others) who also plays the part of Johann Sebastian Bach, this is a wonderful introduction to this greatest of composers. My children (ages 6 and 3) loved it. We're going to look into getting the DVD. The film shows a variety of different performances of Bach, by choirs, soloists, and street performers, as well as talking a lot about Bach's life and faith. They do not shy away from the point that Bach's faith in Christ drove everything he did. Highly recommended.

Debut novel for young readers from N.D. Wilson, son of Reformed minister and author Doug Wilson (click here to read Doug Wilson's blurb for my book, Talking of Dragons). This is a really well-done adventure story, and, as nearly every reviewer points out, draws inspiration from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Odyssey, and Robinson Crusoe, among others. The themes of true and false fatherhood are nicely explored as well. This is what Christian literature ought to be these days. Please skip Left Behind and read something like this instead.

I'm always amazed at how many people these days have never seen a Marx Brothers film, or (worse yet) never heard of them. My kids love these films, and so do I. My two oldest children often just call them 'the funny guys,' which says it all, I suppose. Best one of this batch is A Night at the Opera, but they're all worth the time.

From John Milton's Complete English Poems, I have just finished reading (as mentioned above) Comus: A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle. The Everyman's Edition, which I picked up cheap at a second-hand shoppe, is outstanding and beautiful.

We have several of the Classical Kids CDs, but this one is our favourite. Introducing children (and most adults who hear it, I daresay) to Early/Pre-Baroque/Medieval/Renaissance music through the story of a prince and princess who must seek the aid of Merlin to cure their sick mother, The Song of the Unicorn is wonderfully effective. Listeners learn about the history of music, the various instruments of the era (lyre, lute, recorder, etc), as well as the relationship of this era to later classical composers. Also, most importantly, they hear the music itself, and the selections here, which range from Gregorian chant to Celtic harp to Tallis, are outstanding. Other good Classical Kids CDs would include Mr Bach Comes to Call and Mozart's Magnificent Voyage.

Also started re-reading this one for the first time in a long while. Tom and Huck were certainly among my top literary favourites when I was a boy (I once read Huckleberry Finn in a single day when I was in bed sick all day). One of the scenes I love the most, and always have, is the one in which Tom and Joe Harper are playing 'Robin Hood.' Twain tells us that they played it 'by the book,' which meant that they actually quoted passages from the text and allowed for no variation from the canon when it came to what actually happened. When Joe, playing Guy of Gisborne, wants to kill Robin Hood for once, Tom refuses with the all the enthusiasm of a Bible-thumper:
By and by Tom shouted:
"Fall! fall! Why don't you fall?"
"I sha'n't! Why don't you fall yourself? You're getting the worst of it."
"Why, that ain't anything. I can't fall; that ain't the way it is in the book. The book says, 'Then with one back-handed stroke he slew poor Guy of Guis- borne.' You're to turn around and let me hit you in the back."
There was no getting around the authorities, so Joe turned, received the whack and fell.
"Now," said Joe, getting up, "you got to let me kill YOU. That's fair."
"Why, I can't do that, it ain't in the book."
"Well, it's blamed mean -- that's all."
"Well, say, Joe, you can be Friar Tuck or Much the miller's son, and lam me with a quarter-staff; or I'll be the Sheriff of Nottingham and you be Robin Hood a little while and kill me."

It don't get much better than that.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jerry Falwell: Requiescat in Pace

Christian minister and political heaven-raiser Jerry Falwell died last week at the age of 73, as everyone has heard by now. It is an understatement to say that he was a controversial figure, as even a cursory perusal of the comments after his death will reveal. Some are actually rejoicing at his passing. Many, many, are mourning. Others, while disagreeing with him, recognise the fact that he made an enormous impact on the worlds of American politics and religion. But he made enemies both without and within the Church. Sometimes this is a good thing. I can understand well why the cultural enemies of the church hated him: he stood against their worldviews (without, I believe, ever hating them as people) and would not compromise. He was not afraid to draw heat and fire for speaking what he believed to be the truth. But I find the hatred, or even the cool arrogance of some Christians difficult to understand. Granted, even those who might describe themselves as somewhat conservative, found themselves at odds with Falwell's words, which, as he himself admitted, were ocassionally intemperate. But what I really don't get is their opposition to him on the grounds that he was politically involved. That had to be the best thing he ever did for the conservative wing of the church. Fundamentalism is, in its history and essense, a retreatist theology that is content to let the world burn, so long as souls don't. Then Jerry Falwell comes along and talks as if, I don't know, Christians have a duty to labour for the good of the world, or something. Whatever you think of his theology (I would agree with him on the basics while disagreeing on many secondary articles), or his politics (ibid), he certainly challenged, successfully, millions of Christians to get involved in one side of the fight that they had been neglecting for too long. No, as many will be quick to point out, God is not a Republican. The Republican Party, for what it's worth, is a bloody mess, right now. So, maybe you won't like Falwell's party affiliation. But how many Christians (I mean the kind that actually believe the Bible to be a little more binding than, say, the Pirate's Code) can disagree with the things Falwell fought for? Anyone want to argue for the expansion of abortion on demand? Any anti-family conservatives out there? Then what's the big problem with Christians trying to fight for such things? Maybe it's a question or tone, or method, I don't know. But when the Church leaves a culture to rot, it will certainly do so. Q.E.D.

Here are several interesting, posthumous comments about Falwell from various sources:

'My own sense, having spent a lot of time in the States over the years, is that he was a classic of his type and with a lot more integrity than some of the shady characters in the religious penumbra.' (N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham)

'No man in the last century better illustrated Jesus' warning that "All men will hate you because of me" than the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who left this world on Tuesday. Separately, no man better illustrates my warning that it doesn't pay to be nice to liberals...From the news coverage of Falwell's death, I began to suspect his first name was "Whether You Agree With Him or Not." Even Falwell's fans, such as evangelist Billy Graham and former President Bush, kept throwing in the We didn't always agree" disclaimer. Did Betty Friedan or Molly Ivins get this many "I didn't always agree with" qualifiers on their deaths? And when I die, if you didn't always agree with me, would you mind keeping it to yourself? Let me be the first to say: I ALWAYS agreed with the Rev. Falwell...Despite venomous attacks and overwhelming pressure to adopt the fashionable beliefs of cafe society, Falwell never wavered an inch in acknowledging Jesus before men. Luckily, Jesus' full sentence, quoted at the beginning of this column is: "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."' (Ann Coulter, Conservative Author and Speaker)

He held God’s promises close to his heart throughout his 55 years as a Christian and more than 50 years as a pastor, never losing sight of the unique vision God had planted in his heart.
I saw through the years that my dad always sought God’s direction and then boldly, even audaciously, went to work to carry out what God placed in his heart...I never once saw my father stray from God’s direction. I never doubted dad’s walk with God because I witnessed his unswerving commitment to follow God’s principles every step of the way...As I think back on my dad’s nearly 51 years of ministry, I can only attribute its great success to God and a man who understood vision. I hope that I, too, will be able to effectively teach these principles to my children in the years to come. And, I hope that as I continue teaching these principles — to the church and to my own family — that it will be far more than just words. I am praying that God will allow me to embody the dedication to the Gospel in my life that I saw in my father’s life.
May people see these principles lived out every day in my life, just as I had the great privilege of witnessing this in my dad’s life. (Jonathan Falwell, son of Jerry Falwell)

Justorum animae in manu Dei sunt, et non tanget illos tormentum mortis.
Visi sunt oculis insapientium mori, et aestimata est afflictio exitus illorum
illi autem sunt in pace.

('The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and the torment of death will not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die, and their departure is taken for misery - but they are at peace.')

Monday, May 14, 2007

Atesten Tac: Polycarp: The Crown of Fire Now Available in Turkish

Much attention has been focussed on the Middle East in recent years, and Islamic religion and culture have been in the forefront of current events. This being the case, it was with no little feeling of gratitude to the Lord that I made an announcement on this blog back in December, that my first book, Polycarp: The Crown of Fire, would be translated into Turkish, based on a request from missionary contacts in the Middle East. That has now happened, and Atesten Tac: Polikarp (Izmir Episkoposu) is available. As I mentioned in that announcement, Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, which survives today as the city of Izmir in modern Turkey. This may in fact account for part of the interest, as Polycarp would be better known there than in many parts of the world. Interestingly, it seems that the translator used 'Izmir' throughout the text (and in the title, as you can see in the picture above) rather than the older 'Smyrna,' perhaps in an effort to provide a point of contact with modern inhabitants of Polycarp's home town. I'd like to comment further on the translation, but my Turkish is, shall we say, a bit rusty. But my publisher has provided new artwork for the cover, which my wife thinks is a decided improvement over the old one for the English edition. If you know of anyone for whom this translation could be of some benefit, here is a Turkish website that has the book available. The book arrived in the mail, interestingly, on the very day of mass demonstrations in Polycarp's home town demanding that Turkey remain a secular state, and not be ruled by Islamic sharia law; and two days after a bombing in Izmir. We are immensely grateful for this translation, which is the first time anything I've written has been translated into another language, and our prayers are that God would be pleased to use this for His glory in that part of the world.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What Our Family Is Reading

Here are some books we can recommend from recent personal experience.

We've been reading a few selections from the famous Oxford Book of English Verse most nights after dinner. Milton, Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne, and many more. George Grant says to only get the one edited by 'Q,' and, so far, I've not been disappointed.

Angela has been reading through some of the stories from Teach Them to Your Children to (appropriately enough) our children in the evenings. Part cautionary tales, part devotional stories, our children have found them fascinating.

The Children's Illustrated Bible is a fairly decent book of Bible stories, with lots of good historical background. Once in a while the interpretation leaves something to be desired, but overall, not bad. We read this at supper: I read the story, and my wife reads the historical background stuff. 'Mommy, now it's your time to read the historical facts,' my six-year old daughter, Grace, says each evening.

Book VII, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is out in a few months, so I'm rereading the first six as time permits. I'm currently in Book III, Prisoner of Azkaban, which, though a bestseller like all of them, is often cited as a least favourite among fans, due to its dark and depressing nature. Check out 'Key Articles,' below on the right, for a three part series of articles I wrote on the Harry Potter series, including an interview I did with John Granger, author of Looking for God in Harry Potter.

Angela is reading this one, Paedofaith: A Primer on the Mystery of Infant Salvation and a Handbook for Covenant Parents, by Rich Lusk. A book every Christian parent should ponder, and also a must read if you want to understand the key issue in the Federal Vision controversy: are young children, even infants, capable of faith, and therefore salvation?

Just started reading Farmer Giles of Ham to my daughter, Grace, who finds is terribly funny. This is one of Tolkien's lesser known stories, but is a wonderfully fun tale. If you're interested in knowing more about some of Tolkien's other lesser known writings (and some of the more famous ones) check out my book, Talking of Dragons, over to your right, somewhere near the top of the page.

A couple of nights ago I read this one to my oldest son William for the...I don't know how many times we've read this. We have several of these matchless picture books written by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. The writing is beautiful yet simple, and the illustrations are magnificent. The one on St George and the Dragon (adapted from Spenser's Faerie Queene) is illustrated like an illuminated Medieval manuscript. This one's the story of Sir Gareth of Orkney, from the King Arthur legendarium. Other must-reads from Hodges and Hyman include Comus, adapted from John Milton's masque of the same name, and Merlin and the Making of the King, adapted from Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur.

Anyone serious about understanding current New Testament scholarship needs to read N.T. Wright. He is a fine writer and communicator, and something of a controversial figure, but certainly no heretic. I've just begun his book Paul: Fresh Perspectives, which should get into some of the controversial stuff. But he's a first-rate scholar, and has done a great service to the church by reminding the world that the central claim of the Christian faith is not some timeless truth or other, but an event that actually happened in history: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. His book The Challenge of Jesus, which I recently read, is very good, as is his little book For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed.

Speaking of Wright, I have about three pages left in this book, which I have found very helpful: The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God: Getting Beyond the Bible Wars. I can't agree with every word in the book, but overall it's very helpful and thought-provoking. His metaphor for understanding history as a five-act play (Act One: Creation, Act Two: Fall, Act Three: Israel, Act Four: Jesus, Act Five: Church) is outstanding, and I wish everyone would begin to think more along these lines. I have taught the five act model, in a rudimentary way, to my daughter, and have also taught her, following Wright, that we are in the fifth act, and our responsibility as Christians is to know the first four acts (the Bible) inside out so that we can understand how best to play out our part in the fifth act. For more on N.T. Wright, including a lot of free audio lectures and sermons, visit The N.T. Wright Page.

Angela and I are reading The Wise Woman from this collection of George MacDonald's fairy tales. Every parent should read this one: it's all about the right and wrong ways to teach children to obey.

Finally, here's my current personal favourite: the newly released The Children of Hurin, the first new J.R.R. Tolkien book in thirty years. This is a longer, more developed version of a tale that was told in The Silmarillion, but that version was something like 35 pages, whereas this one is well over 200. This is a must, must read. I'm about four chapters in, and this is mountaintop stuff. Last I checked it was # 2 on Amazon after, of course, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Brothers and Sisters

But Beauty, like the fair Hesperian tree
Laden with blooming gold, had need the guard
Of dragon-watch with unenchanted eye
To save her blossoms, and defend her fruit,
From the rash hand of bold Incontinence.
You may as well spread out the unsunned heaps
Of miser’s treasure by an outlaw’s den,
And tell me it is safe, as bid me hope
Danger will wink on Opportunity,
And let a single helpless maiden pass
Uninjured in this wild surrounding waste.
Of night or loneliness it recks me not;
I fear the dread events that dog them both,
Lest some ill-greeting touch attempt the person
Of our unownéd sister.
John Milton, Comus: A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Angela's Birthday

Today is my wife's birthday, and I thought I'd post a short poem I wrote for her. All men should write poetry for their wives, though they will, understandably, complain of a lack of time, or of inspiration. This bit of verse (poor though it is, I've no doubt), written during my lunch break at work, proves that an unromantic setting can (with imagination) be overcome, and that even such time as we have can be put to some use.

May the day of your birth be remembered always,
By all who love Goodness, her Motherly ways;
By all who love Truth, who from her would not part;
By all who love Beauty, her glory and art.

May the day of your birth be never forgotten,
By all of your children, unborn and begotten;
By kith and by kin, by allies and foes;
By a bridegroom whose love for you kindles and glows.

Friday, February 23, 2007

St Valentine’s Day Reminiscences

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.

King Solomon, The Proverbs of Solomon, Son of David, King of Israel

Prince, thou art sad; get thee a wife, get thee a wife…

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (Act V, Scene IV)

Though it was over a week ago, I haven’t had the opportunity to write about some wonderful Valentine’s moments our family had. Somehow, the idea of ‘surprise’ seemed to be an infectious one, as you will see, if you read on.

During the day, I received two Valentine’s email cards: one from my wife and children, and one just from my wife. I also found, in the backpack I always carry, a homemade card, with contributions by all, and the message, ‘Daddy, our love for you grows everyday.’ This one will remain on display in my office for quite a long while.

On the evening of St Valentine’s, I arrived home from work to find the door open, and my two oldest children, Grace (6) and William (3), dressed in their Sunday best (colour-coordinated, too!), and with big smiles on their faces, waiting at the door. Grace had a nice towel draped over one arm, and William had a moustache (curled up on each end) and pointed beard pencilled on his face.

Grace, very prim and proper, spoke: ‘Welcome to Newsom Café. Our menu.’ This last as she gestured toward a sign on the dining room door with the afore-mentioned appellation, and a second sign on which was drawn, in the very best crayon, a picture of the dinner menu.

Grace took my backpack, and William took my coat; then they led me to a place of wonder where my beautiful wife, Angela, sat waiting for me in a dining room darkling except for seven candles on the table. She was also dressed in fine clothes (making me feel just a little out of place in my workaday raiment!) and was also smiling. The soup course was on the table, along with homemade breadsticks and salad. My surprise was to be a candle-light dinner with my bride, and two of my children as waiter and waitress (is it politically-correct to say ‘waitress’ any more? Because, if not, I…oh, wait, that’s right—I don’t care.)

During the course of the meal, the children brought the food to us (except the main course, which was beyond their abilities of strength and balance), and took our dishes away when we were done. When they were not so engaged, they sat in two chairs, some little distance from the table, where they picked up instruments—Grace, a recorder, William, a ukulele, neither of which they know how to play—to provide us with soft, dinner music. Sometime during the excellent spaghetti and meat balls, my youngest son, Nathanael (9 months) awoke from a late nap, and, when he was brought in, I found that he, too, was dressed in tie and pencilled-in facial hair.

There was candy, and dessert, and a lot of fun. The children really seemed to enjoy an opportunity for responsibility and service (plus playing a part in what must have seemed like a mini-masque or play). It was a wonderful evening, and a grand surprise for old Dad. Truly, I am blessed far beyond deserving to have such a delightful family, and I honour them for their love and thoughtfulness.

Unknown to any of them, however, I was planning my own little surprise for the weekend. This one will take more time to tell, not because my surprise was more important, but because, my wife and children far exceeding me in intelligence, it was far harder for me to surprise them that it was for them to surprise me.

Angela and I had planned to go out for a Valentine’s dinner on Friday night, and I had made the arrangements for it. My parents were to keep the children for the evening, and we were to return by about 9 or 10. We dropped off Grace, William, and Nathanael at my parents' house, and took to the road.

But on the way, I revealed the surprise: I was actually taking Angela away for an overnight excursion—our first alone since well before our oldest child was born—and we would not be returning until Saturday evening. My parents, I told her, were prepared to keep the children overnight until our return.

Now, men with wives can easily imagine the kinds of questions that will, of necessity, attend such a surprise, like an inevitable conclusion following hard upon the heels of logical premises. Such queries will normally include the following:


‘No, seriously, what?’

And a host of other questions, all beginning with a preamble of ‘but what about…?’

Actually, my wife was, as I could have told you beforehand, a wonderful good sport about it, and was thrilled at the prospect of this little adventure, once she got used to the idea. She did, of course, want to know that everything had been taken care of for the children, and, though she did not say it, I don’t doubt that her feminine mind experienced no inconsiderable doubt re the ability of men, in general, to successfully pack everything a woman would need for an overnight jaunt. Complicating this was the fact that she is nursing our youngest child, and had never been away from him for more than a few hours. Parents of nursing infants will know the kinds of preparations that have to be made when Mommy is away from the little one even for a short time.

I am pleased to report that she was pleased, and informed me later that I had not overlooked a thing. Here’s part of how I pulled it off (this, I believe, was my Dad's idea): a couple of weeks earlier, I told my wife that I was working on a scene in my new book (a novel) in which a woman packs her things for an overnight trip. I told her that I was weaving certain storytelling symbolisms into the choice of items, and that the symbols in this scene were vital to an understanding of the book as a whole. Therefore (said I), it is important that I have a realistic understanding of just what sort of things a lady might pack for a short trip. Can you help me, my dear?

None of it was true, of course, except that I am writing a novel, and I did need such a list of items. She told me later that she thought it an odd sort of request at the time, but, as I really am writing a new book, she didn’t think much of it, and duly provided the information. I also consulted my Mother and Mother-in-law to make sure I had not overlooked anything (I had). My Mother-in-law uses some of the same make-up-type items as my wife, and was able to describe the various bottles and whatnot that she uses so that I would be sure to get the right things.

I packed our clothes, and bags for the children, over the couple of nights before our trip, and took the children’s stuff to my parents’ house on the way to work Friday morning. I hid the bag with mine and Angela’s clothes in the back of our minivan. I got off work early, and returned home. I had not been able to pack things like toothpaste, hair items, makeup, and so on, because, of course, she would need them just before leaving. So, we got into the van, ready to take the children to my parents’ house for what Angela still believed was an evening away, and then I told her I had forgotten her present, and had to go back inside to get it. What I got instead, however, was the makeup, toothpaste, and so on, that I had not been able to pack earlier.

Such were the machinations of my tortured mind as I carried out this diabolical plot. I could not have pulled it off without the help of my parents and in-laws, and probably would have made a shocking mess of things otherwise. Back to the moment of surprise: when my wife, on the way to our destination, was at last convinced that everything was well-prepared, she, while still, like a good mother, harbouring some anxiety about the well-being of the baby, settled down to enjoy our journey. I took her to a wonderful bed and breakfast in Winston-Salem, Colonel Ludlow’s, which is about an hour from our home. I chose this spot because Angela had surprised me by taking me to the same place exactly ten years ago, for Valentine’s Day. It is a beautiful, Victorian-era (1887) mansion, in the heart of the city’s historic district. The rooms feature stained-glass windows, antique art and furniture, as well as all the modern conveniences. For a short, one-night-only, tightly budgeted getaway, it was a wonderful choice.

After checking in, we walked one block to the restaurant where we had dinner reservations at six: The Old Fourth Street Filling Station, also located in an historic building. The food there was outstanding (filet mignon for her, southwest flank steak for me, with crab bisque soup, barbecue quesadillas, and a most unbelievably delicious Lemon Mist Cake for dessert). We dined on their outdoor patio—yes, it’s February, but it is a heated patio, so the cold air was not a factor. Returning to our room, we called the children to tell them (surprise!) that they would be staying overnight with Papa and Grand-mama. They were delighted, as I knew they would be.

Throughout the weekend, I gave Angela homemade cards, with little poems in them I wrote just for her. On Saturday, we breakfasted in our room on polish sausage, Amaretto French Toast, ham biscuits, and quiche, after which we visited the historic Reynolda house (the mansion of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds), which is now an American art museum. Here we saw an exhibition of the paintings of Grandma Moses, and toured the family manse. Angela, who does some decorative/scenic painting on the side, was greatly inspired by the artwork of Grandma Moses. Afterwards, we lunched on burgers and bean and bacon soup at Mayberry Ice Cream in Reynolda Village, and caught a movie, A Night at the Museum (quite good, and with the surprising message that we neglect a good knowledge of history at our own peril).

All in all, about twenty-seven hours of having my wife all to myself, and it was truly one of the most delightful days I’ve ever had. We laughed, and loved, and lived, just delighting in being together. We had more time to talk than we ever get in the course of a busy week. I knew, even before this weekend, that I was thankful for her. After all, she has been faithful to me, lo, these many years (17, including our years of courtship, or, as we called it in the old days, ‘dating’), she is the mother of my children, and diligently educates them in our little homeschool (The St George Dragonslayer Academy), and she is as happy and contented a wife as ever drew breath. She loves me unconditionally, and is not at all hard to please— which, of course, is why I went to such great lengths to please her with this surprise trip. She doesn’t complain, or nag: she has grown in grace over the years, and we are far closer than we have ever been before.

So, as I say, I knew beforehand that I was thankful for her. But this brief journey brought it all before my eyes again, like the vivid pictures of a relief sculpture in a Roman arch. Angela is patient with me, supportive, tender, and loving. She manifests the grace of God in my life, and, though we are very different in many ways (thank God she’s not just like me!), she is perfectly suited for me, and I cannot believe my good fortune (under Providence) in such a wife. She is a magnificent companion, a noble mother, and my best friend.

I write all this, partly to express my own heart on the matter, and partly to encourage those who are, for whatever reason, sceptical or jaded about marriage in a world of broken homes. I can claim no credit for the fact that I chose such a wonderful wife, except that I did see her quality, even then—but God knows I was far from the wisest eighteen-year-old when Angela and I first began seeing each other, and it scares me to think how easily, in my folly, I might have ended up with someone else. God’s mercy is very great. But to you who are contemplating marriage, or contemplating contemplating marriage, or are too afraid, or hurt, to think about marriage, I say this: all the effort and pains it takes to really get to know someone, all the time it takes to find a good mate, is eminently worth it. There is really nothing like a good marriage: though it involves sacrifice, though it involves denying ourselves and killing our own selfish tendencies, though it is, quite often, just plain old hard work—it is all worthwhile. The pain and frustration are overwhelmed by the comfort and joy. To ‘God, the best maker of all marriages,’ and the giver of all good things, I give all praise. To my wife, I rise and call her blessed. She is my crown of glory.

On Friday night of our trip, I gave her another poem, longer than the short pieces in the cards I made. It is actually a song, but the music is still being written, so it exists for now as a poem. It is, I think, weak in spots, and I plan to give it something of a revision, but here it is in its unedited state, written quickly in a whirlwind hour of inspiration, when the thoughts and feelings were tumbling out almost faster than I could write them.

For Angela
15 February 2007

Take my hand, walk through the gate:
Inside, a display of what some call Fate.
Galleries, rooms, every one filled
With relics of Something we’re trying to build.

Ancient artefacts, treasures beyond price;
History’s haven, virtue and vice:
All on display, awaiting our eyes,
And maybe our judgment, as though we were wise.

This is our Museum…

It’s all in this place, every moment and choice:
Exhibit of memories, History’s voice;
Ours to remember, rejoice, regret;
Too many things we’d like to forget.

Doom whispers coldly: accuse and condemn—
‘In this Museum, I’ll crucify them.’
Not his the last word, no sentence to speak:
Divinity’s blood is sustaining the Weak.

This is our Museum…

Here in this Museum, I witness my life;
Sorrow has ravaged—but you are my wife.
Wherever I turn, there’s your face on display,
Turning the Enemy, winning the Day.

A story is told in these hushed galleries,
Of triumph, revenge over dark enemies.
And all is not over, there are empty rooms still:
Let us fill them with relics of war and good will.

This is our Museum…

In the fire, and the furnace, let us forge a great Love:
With the lustre of laughter, the fruit of the Dove;
Dip our fingers in the ashes of the ruin of all,
And write of our joy on the eternal wall.

Let us love so wildly that even in death,
The living will envy these two without breath.
A thousand years in the Cathedral we’ll stay,
And the evening and the morning were the first day.

This is our Museum…

And I will find you beyond the circles of the world,
When the flag of the universe at last is unfurled;
We will taste the twelve fruits, and never more part,
I will hold you in wonder, my eucharist-heart.

I will hold you forever, both now and then:
Flesh, then Spirit, then Flesh once again.
‘Til then, we’ll wander the Gallery-halls
Of this old Museum, where history calls.

This is our Museum…

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

St Valentine's Day

It is that time of year, when a young man's thought turns to love, or something like that. Few people know much about St Valentine, the man for whom this day is named (in case you were wondering, he wasn’t some sort of Don Juan or Cassanova, at least not that we know of). Here’s what New Advent has to say about him, or, rather, them:

'At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under date of 14 February. One is described as a priest at Rome, another as bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), and these two seem both to have suffered in the second half of the third century and to have been buried on the Flaminian Way, but at different distances from the city. In William of Malmesbury's time what was known to the ancients as the Flaminian Gate of Rome and is now the Porta del Popolo, was called the Gate of St. Valentine. The name seems to have been taken from a small church dedicated to the saint which was in the immediate neighborhood. Of both these St. Valentines some sort of Acta are preserved but they are of relatively late date and of no historical value. Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered in Africa with a number of companions, nothing further is known....

The popular customs associated with Saint Valentine's Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e. half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair…For this reason the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lovers' tokens. Both the French and English literatures of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries contain allusions to the practice. Perhaps the earliest to be found is in the 34th and 35th Ballades of the bilingual poet, John Gower, written in French; but Lydgate and Clauvowe supply other examples. Those who chose each other under these circumstances seem to have been called by each other their Valentines.'

So, another Christian holiday whose origins are nearly completely forgotten by our post-Christian culture. Who’da thought it?

I am one of those fortunate ones who live in great love with their Valentines. And here’s a detail that many will insist is mere fiction for effect, but is, nonetheless, quite true. My wife and I first went on a date on Valentine’s Day, seventeen years ago today. Now, in the interests of historical accuracy, she did accompany me to a Christmas banquet a couple of months earlier, but only as a friend, and we had not kept in touch during the interim. But on 14 February, 1990, she accompanied me to church (it was a Wednesday), and we went to dinner afterwards. At that time I declared my interest in her and my desire to spend time with her, and we came to an accord, namely, that we would begin to see something of each other. On 14 August, 1993, three and a half years later, to the day (the length, in some ecschatological schemas, I note in passing, of the Great Tribulation, a fact that is completely inapplicable in this case), we exchanged vows before God and Man, and were wed in the holy covenant of marriage. She is that rarest of jewels: a good wife, perfectly suited to me, and I can abide no thought of spending my life with anyone else. Angela, you are my crown of glory, and I love you.

Here is a poem I wrote for Angela, on St Valentine’s Day, two years ago:

A Short Poem for Angela Upon St Valentine’s Day

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
Chaucer, Parliament of Foules

This is the day when birds are wont to choose
From all the other birds their ‘destined mate;
And I that to a bird would nothing lose,
Did make my choice upon that self-same date.

St Valentine’s, the day of love and choice;
St Valentine, who loved and chose to die;
A martyr, whose brave death gave love a voice,
Who lent his name to those whose hearts shall fly.

Three things I seek and ever long to see:
For Goodness, Truth, and Beauty mark the Wise.
And under God, I, blessed, have found all three
Within thy heart, thy mind, and in thine eyes.

St Valentine’s Day, 2005

Saturday, January 27, 2007

2006 Books List

I decided at the beginning of 2006 to try to keep up with the books I read during the year. Below is a list that I think must be incomplete, since I don’t believe I wrote everything down. First are the books that I read completely, followed by a second list of books that I read only in part, which could mean anything from a few paragraphs to a couple hundred pages. The fact that I only read part of a book does not imply that it was a bad book or couldn’t keep my attention (though in some cases that is true); rather, it means that, for one reason or another, I wasn’t able to complete it at the time. Sometimes I have to stop what I’m doing and read something related to a writing project I'm engaged in. Sometimes a discussion with a friend or family member prompts me to read something to be better informed on the subject. Sometimes I just pick up an old favourite and just jump into it for a random chapter or two. At times I just don’t get back to the previous book, or at least for a while.

Apart from grouping an author’s books together, these are in no particular order. Short stories are included in the second list, as they don't represent an entire book read.

What were your favourite books during the year?

Here are the books read entirely:

1. The Everlasting Man (G.K. Chesterton)
2. The Flying Inn (G.K. Chesterton)
3. Four Faultless Felons (G.K. Chesterton)
4. The Man Who Was Thursday (G.K. Chesterton) (3rd time)
5. The Club of Queer Trades (G.K. Chesterton)
6. The Man Who Knew Too Much (G.K. Chesterton)
7. Lepanto (G.K. Chesterton)
8. Wise Blood (Flannery O’Connor)
9. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
10. Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life (Peter Leithart)
11. Against Christianity (Peter Leithart)
12. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling) (2nd time)
13. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling) (2nd time)
14. Carry On, Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse) (2nd time)
15. Very Good, Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse) (2nd time)
16. Jeeves in the Morning (P.G. Wodehouse)
17. The Magician’s Nephew (C. S. Lewis) (Can't remember how many times)
18. The Silver Chair (C.S. Lewis) (Can't remember how many times)
19. Taliessin Through Logres/The Region of the Summer Stars/Arthurian Torso (Charles Williams/C.S. Lewis)
20. War in Heaven (Charles Williams)
21. The Last Disciple (Hank Haanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer)
22. The Essential Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson)
23. Yukon Ho (Bill Watterson)
24. The Leper of St Giles
(Ellis Peters)
25. Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Ann Coulter)
26. For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed (N.T. Wright)
27. More Than a Skeleton (Paul Maier)
28. Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant: The Final Victory (Newt Gingrich/William R. Fortschen)
29. Cricket on the Hearth (Charles Dickens)
30. America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It (Mark Steyn)
31. Zeal of Thy House (Dorothy L. Sayers) (4th time)

Here are the books that were regrettably (in most cases) unfinished:

1. The Foresters: Robin and Marian (Alfred Lord Tennyson)
2. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (N.T. Wright)
3. The Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit (N.T. Wright)
4. The Case for Covenant Communion (Greg Strawbridge)
5. The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism (Greg Strawbridge)
6. Paedofaith: A Primer on the Mystery of Infant Salvation and a Handbook for Covenant Parents (Rich Lusk)
7. The Federal Vision (Steve Wilkins/Garner)
8. The River/Good Country People/The Displaced Person/Wildcat/A Good Man is Hard to Find/A Temple of the Holy Ghost (from O’Connor: Collected Works, Flannery O’Connor)
9. Trinity and Reality: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Ralph Smith)
1o. A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a Confused, etc, Christian (Brian McLaren)
11. Lee and Jackson: Confederate Chieftains (Paul D. Casdorph)
12. How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (Thomas Cahill)
13. Lillith (George MacDonald)
14. The Wise Woman (George MacDonald)
15. The Valley of Fear (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
16. The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers (from Lord Peter: The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories, Dorothy L. Sayers) (2nd time)
17. Creed or Chaos (Dorothy L. Sayers)
18. Henry V (William Shakespeare)
19. The Return of the King (J.R.R. Tolkien)
20. Descent Into Hell (Charles Williams)
21. How Right You Are Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse)
22. The Most of P.G. Wodehouse (P.G. Wodehouse)
23. City of God (Augustine)
24. A Reformation Debate (John Calvin, Jacopo Sadoleto)
25. The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (Charles Darwin)
26. How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Francis Schaeffer)
27. Knowing God (J.I. Packer)
28. Demon Possession (ed, John Warwick Montgomery)
29. More Liberty Means Less Government: Our Founders Knew This Well (Walter Williams)
30. Omnibus III: Reformation to the Present (ed, Douglas Wilson and Ty Fischer, with a contribution by Yours Truly)
31. Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology (Douglas Wilson)
32. Federal Husband (Douglas Wilson)
33. My Life For Yours: A Walk Through the Christian Home (Douglas Wilson)
34. The Oxford History of Christian Worship (ed, Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker)
35. From Cottage to Workstation: The Family’s Search for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age (Allan C. Carlson)
36. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (C.S. Lewis)
37. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (C.S. Lewis)
38. The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity Reason and Romanticism (C.S. Lewis)
39. The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth (Ralph Wood)
40. The Encyclopaedia of the Middle Ages (Norman Cantor)
41. Bullfinch’s Mythology: The Age of Chivalry (Thomas Bullfinch)
42. Piers Plowman (William Langland)
43. The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing
44. General Washington’s Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming 1783 (Stanley Weintraub)
45. Our Nation’s Archive: The History of the United States in Documents (ed, Erik Bruun and Jay Crosby)
46. The Journals of Lewis and Clark (Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, ed, Anthony Brandt)
47. The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Thomas J. DiLorenzo)
48. Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe (Thomas J. DiLorenzo)
49. An Honourable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government (William C . Davis)
Theodore Roosevelt (Louis Auchincloss)
50. Southern Tales (Webb Garrison)
51. Scotland: The Story of a Nation (Magnus Magnusson)
52. Scotland: A Short History (Christopher Harvie)
53. 1314: Bannockburn (Aryeh Nusbacher)
54. Troubadour for the Lord: The Story of John Michael Talbot (Dan O’Neill)
55. In the Arena: An Autobiography (Charlton Heston)
56. The Size of Chesterton’s Catholicism (David W. Fagerberg)
57. Crossing the Threshold of Hope (John Paul II)
58. Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church (H.W. Crocker III)
59. The Blood of the Moon: The Roots of the Middle East Crisis (George Grant)
60. The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton (G.K. Chesterton)
61. Glory and Honor: The Musical and Artistic Legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach (Gregory Wilbur)
62. Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling (Ross King)
63. Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend (Richard G. Williams, Jr)
64. Roosevelt: Letters and Speeches (Theodore Roosevelt)
65. America: The Last Best Hope, Vol I: From the Age of Discovery to a World at War (William J. Bennett)
66. American Courage: Remarkable True Stories Exhibiting the Bravery That Has Made Our Country Great (ed, Herbert W. Warden III)
67. Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War (Bruce Levine)
68. Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch (Donald J. Sobol)

Friday, January 26, 2007

My Space

Not sure why, but I have a My Space page, now. I've actually had it for a while, but it didn't seem important enough to mention. However, if you'd like to check it out, you can do so by clicking the title of this post, above.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Happy 200th Birthday, General Lee

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of a man who (it should not be so difficult to say) is certainly one of the greatest Americans in history: General Robert Edward Lee. It is only difficult because our culture does not understand honour and righteousness as well as it once did. Lee was a man of almost unbelievable honour and integrity. After the war, he did, as one biography put it, more than any other American to heal the divisions between North and South.

We celebrated with our children by watching Ron Maxwell’s fine film, Gods and Generals. Focussing attention on three battles in the first two years of the War Between the States—First Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, the movie portrays the greatest military partnership of all times, that of General Lee with his ‘right arm,’ commander of the second corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.

There are many fine moments in the film, including a heart-wrenching battle before the stone wall at Fredericksburg between two Irish regiments: one Northern, one Southern. ‘Don’t they know we’re fighting for our freedom?’ cries a Southern Irish officer, incredulous that his old countrymen could be fighting for the Yankees. ‘Didn’t they learn anything at the hands of the English?’ ‘These Irish Rebels are our countrymen,’ shouts the Northern Irish officer, even as he urges his men on in their hopeless charge. But one of the most telling moments in the film is also just before the battle of Fredericksburg, when Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the Twentieth Maine (later to earn lasting glory for his heroic defence of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg), speaks to his men before the battle, just as the vanguard of the Union forces are crossing the Rappahannock river into Virginia. Maxwell puts into Chamberlain’s mouth the words of Marcus Lucanas, Roman poet, chronicling the military crossing of the Rubicon (an act unlawful under Roman law) by Julius Caesar. I say it is telling, because at the same moment as this speech, the Union Army of the Potomac is also crossing a river, and invading their own country. Notice the italics, which are my own, and ask your self whether Maxwell’s intention as a screenwriter and as a director could be clearer:

In the Roman civil war, Julius Caesar knew he had to march on Rome itself, which no legion was permitted to do. Marcus Lucanus left us a chronicle of what happened. ‘How swiftly Caesar had surmounted the icy Alps, and in his mind conceived immense upheavals, coming war. When he reached the little Rubicon, clearly through the murky night appeared a mighty image of his country in distress; grief in her face, her white hair streaming from her tower-crowned head. With tresses torn and shoulders bare, she stood before him and sighing, said: “Where further do you march? Where do you take my standards, warriors? If lawfully you come, if as citizens, this far only is allowed.” Trembling struck his limbs, and weakness checked his progress, holding his feet at the river's edge. At last he speaks. “Oh, thunderer, surveying great Rome's walls from the Tarpeian rock. Oh, Phrygian, house gods of Lulus, clan and mysteries of Quirinus, who was carried off to heaven. Oh, Jupiter of Latium, seated in lofty Alba and hearths of Vesta. Oh, Rome, equal to the highest deity, favor my plans. Not with impious weapons do I pursue you. Here am I, Caesar, conqueror of land and sea, your own soldier everywhere, now too if I am permitted. The man who makes me your enemy, it is he will be the guilty one.” He broke the barriers of war and through the swollen river swiftly took his standards. When Caesar crossed the flood and reached the opposite bank from Hesperia 's forbidden fields, he took his stand and said: “Here, I abandoned peace and desecrated law. Fortune, it is you I follow. Farewell to treaties. From now on, war is our judge.”

Hail Caesar. We who are about to die salute you.'

Maxwell compares Lincoln’s armies to Caesar, unlawfully inciting war against his own countrymen, and feeble pleas of patriotism (‘O Rome, equal to the highest deity…the man who makes me your enemy, it is he will be the guilty one’) his only excuse. He tells us that the North, ‘abandoned peace and desecrated law,’ and said ‘farewell to treaties…from now on, war is our judge.’ Implicitly, the South is the 'mighty image of his country in distress,’ pleading for peace. In the movie, Southerners, like Jackson, quote Scripture, while Northerners, like Chamberlain, quote pagan (albeit beautiful) poetry. The meaning is clear enough, and the sympathies of filmmaker Maxwell (blessings upon him), equally clear (though certainly he would also sympathise with many of the fine soldiers—like Chamberlain and General Winfield Hancock, for instance— in the Union forces as well). It is a fine movie, and a fine way to celebrate the birth of one of our great national and Southern heroes, Robert E. Lee.

The War Between the States was one of the saddest, most glorious, beautiful, horrifying, tragic, noble moments in our country’s history. We are fools if we ignore its stories, or its lessons. Let this day be a reminder to us of our own history, and especially of the nobility of this great and good man.