A London Library of Books and Bombs

This is a well written story of the origin of an amazing library and of its survival in the heart of London during WWII. And with that, a lesson in the important and surprising roles that libraries play in the history of a nation and city.

The article appeared in The Paris Review last week (May 18, 2017) and was penned by Though lengthier than other articles, it is worth your reading on this Friday.

This quotation begins about halfway through the article.

For a few years, the Bethnal Green Library seemed to be safe, but in 1938 an ominous note entered the library report. George Vale, borough librarian, wrote, “The estimated daily average attendance in the Newsroom was 554 and this department undoubtedly fills an urgent need in these troublesome times.” By 1939, Vale explicitly included solace in the library’s remit: “If amidst the threats and rumours of war and universal destruction we can bring, in some small measure, a sense of beauty and a general desire for truth into the homes of the people of Bethnal Green, the work of our public libraries will not be in vain.” The 1940 report reflected country’s move to war. Gone were the thick white sheets, replaced by translucent brown onionskin. Our librarian reported on his fractured clientele, “Some were exhilarated, but not a few suffered from depression, ‘nerves,’ bewilderment, restlessness, or ill health.”Then on September 7, 1940, the library was bombed. Vale described it like this:

The enemy raiders had fired on the Docks, and as darkness approached the night became an inferno. It was on that day at 5.55pm that our Central Public Library received a direct hit … The bomb went clean through the Adult Lending Library.

That year, Vale’s annual reports to the borough council stopped altogether. As London was battered and blitzed, librarians were trying to keep books safe. Bethnal Green asked for one hundred pounds to construct shelves inside the local bomb shelter. Though the London Civil Defense Region did not think this was the most pressing issue in time of war, they agreed that fifty pounds could be put toward the provisions of bookcases or cupboards, and the librarians carried four thousand books down into the tube.

This was how, during the Blitz, the Bethnal Green library became the first, and possibly only, bomb-shelter library in all of Britain. As bombs and fires cratered the city, Londoners hunkered underground, and librarians handed out poetry, plays, novels, nonfiction, and children’s books. Presumably, the readers discovered the library’s new location as they clattered down the steps away from air sirens, caught their breath, and looked around. It was open from 5:30 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. every weekday.

What courage all this must have taken. When he resumed his borough report, Vale wrote that “there were no Press photographs showing library assistants working on the edge of a crater and certainly no films or gay posters advertising the attraction of the library service.” And yet throughout the war, this little library offered a respite from fear, an education, and beauty.

Can you imagine celebrating our libraries as we do our battalions? What if world leaders put their egos in the number of libraries their countries boasted? Perhaps we should start by being grateful for those libraries we do have. There was almost no bomb-shelter library. If the war government had decided that books were too frivolous, if Carnegie had not found the money, if the residents of Tower Hamlets had refused to pay their taxes, if a few Victorians hadn’t wanted to shunt the poor from the pubs, then the residents of Bethnal Green would’ve had no books to unfold as they crouched underground.

Source: How a London Borough Turned an Asylum into a Library

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Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 8:24 AM  Leave a Comment  

Ascension Day and the Pilgrim’s Progress

Christian Reaches the Celestial City

christian-flees-city--destruction

After thinking about the classic The Pilgrim’s Progress the last few days, and in the light of this being Ascension Day (the church’s remembrance of Christ’s going up to heaven), it seemed fitting to post this part from the Tenth Stage of John Bunyan’s allegory, where Christian and his fellow pilgrim cross the river and enter the Celestial City.

May this encourage all true Christian pilgrim’s to continue to make their trek through every valley, over every mountain, and in battle against every enemy to the heavenly city, knowing that our great Pilgrim has gone before us, conquering and preparing (Heb.6:19-20; 12:1-2).

Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them. Wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those that shall be the heirs of salvation. Thus they went along towards the gate.

Now you must note, that the city stood upon a mighty hill; but the pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms: they had likewise left their mortal garments behind them in the river; for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They therefore went up here with much agility and speed, though the foundation upon which the city was framed was higher than the clouds; they therefore went up through the region of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted because they safely got over the river, and had such glorious companions to attend them.

The talk that they had with the shining ones was about the glory of the place; who told them that the beauty and glory of it was inexpressible. There, said they, is “Mount Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect.” Heb. 12:22-24. You are going now, said they, to the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof: and when you come there you shall have white robes given you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity. Rev. 2:7; 3:4,5; 22:5. There you shall not see again such things as you saw when you were in the lower region upon earth; to wit, sorrow, sickness, affliction, and death; “For the former things are passed away.” Rev. 21:4. You are going now to Abraham, to Isaac, and Jacob, and to the prophets, men that God hath taken away from the evil to come, and that are now “resting upon their beds, each one walking in his righteousness.” The men then asked, What must we do in the holy place? To whom it was answered, You must there receive the comfort of all your toil, and have joy for all your sorrow; you must reap what you have sown, even the fruit of all your prayers, and tears, and sufferings for the King by the way. Gal. 6:7,8. In that place you must wear crowns of gold, and enjoy the perpetual sight and vision of the Holy One; for “there you shall see him as he is.” 1 John, 3:2. There also you shall serve him continually with praise, with shouting and thanksgiving, whom you desired to serve in the world, though with much difficulty, because of the infirmity of your flesh. There your eyes shall be delighted with seeing, and your ears with hearing the pleasant voice of the Mighty One. There you shall enjoy your friends again that are gone thither before you; and there you shall with joy receive even every one that follows into the holy place after you. There also you shall be clothed with glory and majesty, and put into an equipage fit to ride out with the King of Glory. When he shall come with sound of trumpet in the clouds, as upon the wings of the wind, you shall come with him; and when he shall sit upon the throne of judgment, you shall sit by him; yea, and when he shall pass sentence upon all the workers of iniquity, let them be angels or men, you also shall have a voice in that judgment, because they were his and your enemies. Also, when he shall again return to the city, you shall go too with sound of trumpet, and be ever with him. 1 Thess. 4:14-17; Jude 14,15; Dan. 7:9,10; 1 Cor. 6:2,3.

Now, while they were thus drawing towards the gate, behold a company of the heavenly host came out to meet them: to whom it was said by the other two shining ones, These are the men that have loved our Lord when they were in the world, and that have left all for his holy name; and he hath sent us to fetch them, and we have brought them thus far on their desired journey, that they may go in and look their Redeemer in the face with joy. Then the heavenly host gave a great shout, saying, “Blessed are they that are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb.” Rev. 19:9. There came out also at this time to meet them several of the King’s trumpeters, clothed in white and shining raiment, who, with melodious noises and loud, made even the heavens to echo with their sound. These trumpeters saluted Christian and his fellow with ten thousand welcomes from the world; and this they did with shouting and sound of trumpet.

This done, they compassed them round on every side; some went before, some behind, and some on the right hand, and some on the left, (as it were to guard them through the upper regions,) continually sounding as they went, with melodious noise, in notes on high; so that the very sight was to them that could behold it as if heaven itself was come down to meet them. Thus, therefore, they walked on together; and, as they walked, ever and anon these trumpeters, even with joyful sound, would, by mixing their music with looks and gestures, still signify to Christian and his brother how welcome they were into their company, and with what gladness they came to meet them. And now were these two men, as it were, in heaven, before they came to it, being swallowed up with the sight of angels, and with hearing of their melodious notes. Here also they had the city itself in view; and they thought they heard all the bells therein to ring, to welcome them thereto. But, above all, the warm and joyful thoughts that they had about their own dwelling there with such company, and that for ever and ever; oh, by what tongue or pen can their glorious joy be expressed! Thus they came up to the gate.

Now when they were come up to the gate, there was written over it, in letters of gold, “blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”

Then I saw in my dream, that the shining men bid them call at the gate: the which when they did, some from above looked over the gate, to wit, Enoch, Moses, and Elijah, etc., to whom it was said, These pilgrims are come from the City of Destruction, for the love that they bear to the King of this place; and then the pilgrims gave in unto them each man his certificate, which they had received in the beginning: those therefore were carried in unto the King, who, when he had read them, said, Where are the men? To whom it was answered, They are standing without the gate. The King then commanded to open the gate, “That the righteous nation (said he) that keepeth the truth may enter in.”  Isa. 26:2.

Now I saw in my dream, that these two men went in at the gate; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured; and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There were also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them; the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honor. Then I heard in my dream, that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and that it was said unto them, “enter ye into the joy of your lord.”

I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying, “blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the lamb, for ever and ever.”

Now, just as the gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them, and behold the city shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold; and in them walked many men, with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps, to sing praises withal.

There were also of them that had wings, and they answered one another without intermission, saying, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord. And after that they shut up the gates; which, when I had seen, I wished myself among them.

This quotation is taken from the online edition found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

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Literary Golf (Updated)

Sometimes even the game of golf can have a literary element to it.

Yesterday, as part of our annual two-day golf outing with men from church (Faith & Zion PRCs ), we played Pilgrim’s Run near Pierson, Michigan.

According to the will of the Christian man who developed the course, each hole is named after a scene in John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The men seemed to think I would enjoy this course. They were right, for more than one reason. 🙂

It is a beautiful course, and the descriptions match the layout.

Today we returned to play the course again for our final 18-hole scramble. That’s when I took this picture of my morning golf partner Jim Van Overloop at the neat starter booth (above).

This morning at Tullymore course we also saw this doe with her days-old fawns.

Published in: on May 24, 2017 at 6:24 AM  Leave a Comment  

The Attraction of the Psalms – W. R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017From the first chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), W. Robert Godfrey gives us four (4) points about “The Attraction of the Psalms”:

Several features of the Psalms have been especially attractive to me. The first is the beauty of the language and the poetic expression of the great truths of the faith. Consider the simple words, ‘The LORD is my shepherd’ (Ps.23:1. How much comfort they have brought to many, many souls in distress.

…The second attraction is the discovery that the more you dig into the Psalter, the more you discover. Like all great poetry, the Psalms are like a mine with ever new depths to reach and ever more gold to find. They reward abundantly whatever effort we make to know them better.

Third, there are psalms for all occasions. The Psalms … mark all the important spiritual moments and emotions in the lives of the people of God. As John Calvin said, ‘I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul:” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.’ The Psalms teach us how to express our emotions to God in all the circumstances of our lives.

Fourth, the Psalms are full of Christ. They not only explicitly prophesy the coming of Christ…, but the message of the Psalms always pulls the soul to Christ and His great saving work. As was said in the ancient church, ‘Always a psalm in the mouth, always Christ in the heart.’ …The Psalms intensify our fellowship with Christ [pp.3-4].

*Note: This book is available for review in the Standard Bearer if you are interested, as I received a review copy from Ligonier last week.

If you wish to hear some beautiful Psalm music from the Psalter used by the PRC (as well as some other psalmody traditions, such as the Scottish Psalter), visit the YouTube channel of the PR Psalm Choir, directed by Mr. Josh Hoekstra (a sample video is provided below).

And don’t forget that TONIGHT is the second of the Psalm Choir concerts in the Grand Rapids, MI area – at First PRC in GR, beginning at 8:15 p.m.

Verbs as Engines and Steering Wheels: How Does Your Car Drive?

hero-blue-bookLast week’s GrammerBook.com email (May 10, 2017) about writing and proper use of English grammar focused on the healthy use of verbs. Employing the metaphor of a car, the grammar lesson spoke of verbs as the “engine and the steering wheel driving our languages.”

Today as you speak and as you may sit down to write something, think of how you use verbs, and how you can use them better. After reading this “lesson” I am sure we will all think of ways to make our verbal cars run well and steer better.

Tightening Verb Phrases for Making an Engine That Purrs

Imagine the English language as a car that can keep its body and performance pristine if driven and maintained correctly.

Think of nouns as the wheels that keep it rolling; adjectives as the chassis riding the wheels; adverbs as the paint job (some say the less flashy the better); and all other parts of speech (prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) as the vehicle’s other components (e.g., windows, trunk, mirrors, hood).

That leaves us with verbs, which form both the engine and the steering wheel driving our language. Without them, our language, like a car, would sit still and take us nowhere.

For this reason, verbs need tune-ups for optimal function. You can achieve this by tightening verb phrases.

Opportunities to do so appear throughout our writing:

Substitute a single word for “is” phrases that can be instantly shortened  Instead of writing “he is in violation of,” go with “he violates.” Rather than express “the petition is a representation of the community’s wishes,” state “the petition represents…”

Pare verb-object phrases to the core verb   Have you ever written that you “made the decision”? “I decided” is leaner and so will use less gas in taking your sentence further more quickly. Perhaps you’ve expressed in an e-mail that “the meeting came to a close” and “all who attended took the matter into consideration.” If so, next time you can adjust your linguistic belt a notch and write “the meeting ended” and “all who attended considered the matter.”

Delete redundant modifiers   We don’t need to write “hoist up” and “plunge down” when a simple “hoist” and “plunge” will do. Likewise, why use page space to say we “mix together” ingredients and “merge together” documents? The careful writer confesses the two words just don’t belong together. (These verb phrases also can be defined as tautologies; to learn more about this topic, review our recent article (Striking the Surplus from Tautologies.)

Choose the right verb to shorten an idea   Did the book “give the people hope”? You could write that it “inspired” them and buy room you might need elsewhere on your page. Someone sharing a passionate opinion might say a statement “flies in the face of” the facts. He could also state that it “counters,” “contradicts,” “refutes” or “opposes” them and lessen the risk of flying spittle.

Use these techniques as your tools for your tune-ups. If you apply them often, you’ll find out just how far and fast your writing can go.

Published in: on May 17, 2017 at 6:38 AM  Leave a Comment  

A Godly Mother

Mothersday2011

A Godly Mother

A special gift that God prepared for me –
‘Twas given me ere I saw the light of day;
This gift was someone specially prepared
To guide my footsteps in His holy way.

Day after day she cared for me and taught
Not just the skills I’d need for daily living;
She taught me first of all to seek His face
In joy and sorrow, working, playing, giving.

She held before me God’s own word, that it
Could be a light upon my pathway ever.
She helped me learn to sing Jehovah’s praise,
And told me of the love that naught can sever.

She taught me to confess my sins, and seek
to flee from evil thoughts and words and deeds,
To follow righteousness; stand firmly in the faith;
Turn from the wrong and follow where He leads.

So through the years, her godly walk has been
A source of strength – a life to emulate.
I thank the Lord for His gift of a mother
Who taught me reverence for His name so great.

A Mother’s Day poem written by Mrs. Thelma Westra, a fellow church member at Faith PRC. They may be found in her  collection of Christian poetry titled Poems of Praise (self-published), p.44.

Today may we rise up and call our godly mothers blessed, even as we bless the God who gave them to us (Prov.31:28). I am thankful for my own godly mother, for the godly mother of our children (my wife), and for her godly mother. You are truly beautiful women and your price is “far above rubies” (v.10). May you hear God’s honor and praise through us and your children today.

For another encouraging word to godly mothers and women in Israel, read Rev. Josh Engelsma’s post on the RFPA blog yesterday. Here’s the first part of it; find the rest at the link above.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. The stores are stocked with “World’s #1 Mom” cards. The greenhouses are filled with husbands and children picking out hanging baskets and flower pots. Mothers and grandmothers everywhere are receiving hugs and text messages of thanks.

They are not likely to be forgotten.

And this is perfectly appropriate. For many of us we have had faithful, loving mothers. We are appreciative of their devotion, hard work, and self-sacrifice, and we want them to know it.

But there are some for whom this day is not one of rejoicing. Rather it’s a day of sadness. It’s a day in which they hold their pain close and pretend like everything is alright. It’s a day they wish would be over again for another year.

Sadly, these women are likely to be forgotten.

They might be forgotten because we don’t know about their struggle. It’s too private, too personal, and they aren’t ready to share it. They also might be forgotten simply because, well, we forgot. We didn’t stop to think about what they’re going through.

But they’re there. They’re present among us, shouldering silently a heavy burden.

The Ultimate Goal of Reading the Bible

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017So, first, what does the Bible tell us is the ultimate goal of reading the Bible?

…The Bible itself shows that our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation. In other words, each time we pick up the Bible to read, we should intend that reading would lead to this end.

The way that we as individuals are caught up into this ultimate aim as we read the Bible becomes clear as we spell out six implications that flow from this proposed answer to our question. When we say that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation, we imply that:

  1. the infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe;
  2. that the supremely authentic and intense worship of God’s worth and beauty is the ultimate aim of all his work and word;
  3. that we should always read his word in order to see this supreme worth and beauty;
  4. that we should aim in all our seeing to savor his excellence above all things;
  5. that we should aim to be transformed by this seeing and savoring into the likeness of his beauty,
  6. so that more and more people would be drawn into the worshiping family of God until the bride of Christ – across all centuries and cultures – is complete in number and beauty.

Taken from the “Introduction to Part 1” of Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017), p39.

In light of these thoughts, we may ask ourselves on this Saturday night: Has our Bible reading of this past week (including today) made us see and savor the infinite worth and beauty of our God, such that we are ready to fill tomorrow (the Lord’s Day) with “white-hot worship” along with our fellow blood-bought members of Christ’s bride?

The Internet Is Not a Library

As a librarian in an academic institution (PRC Seminary), I appreciated these brief but pointed thoughts of pastor Kevin DeYoung yesterday about the fact that the Internet is not to be viewed or treated as a library.

He takes his starting point in a new book by Tom Nichols, which is one I would like to pursue.

Below are a few paragraphs from his post. I encourage you to read the rest, especially the next paragraphs, because there he states rather bluntly how the Internet is to be viewed and used.

I’ll have more to say about Tom Nichols’s excellent new book The Death of Expertise in the days ahead, but for now I want to underline one important observation he makes.

Namely: “The Internet . . . is nothing like a library” (110).

In the recent conversation about who’s in charge of the Christian blogosphere, I saw in at least one place that the blogosphere was likened to a great big library—a place where diverse viewpoints are housed, a place where people come to seek truth, a place where ideas are not censored and readers need discernment. Without wanting to deny these general points as they relate to Christians in the blogosphere, I believe it is a necessary part of discernment that we realize the internet (of which the Christian blogosphere is a part) is nothing like a library.

Yes, a library has many different volumes. And yes, we can go there to search for answers and acquire knowledge. But a library is a highly curated collection of knowledge. We have a Michigan State University librarian in our church. She has a master’s degree in library science. She oversees a section of materials related to European history. She is constantly reading through journals and periodicals to find the most important new books to purchase. She also gets rid of old stuff that has proven to be relatively worthless. She is also a wealth of information when people have questions about where to find the best, most important stuff. She doesn’t have an ideological grid when it comes to what goes in the library, but she does have an expertise grid. Almost all the books that get into a library like MSU’s are by people with credentials, with academic positions, or with institutional legitimacy.

Source: The Internet Is Not a Library | TGC

His comments reminded me of the coffee cup I keep on my library desk. I believe I showed you this once before, but this post gives me opportunity to do so again. 🙂

Reset: Relax by Reading

Reset-DMurray-2017Yes, Dr. David Murray does indeed recommend reading (daily!) as a way to relax in the next chapter of his book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

Taking us into “Repair Bay 5”, Murray points to the importance of taking time to relax in order to prevent burnout in the mad rush of life we experience in our modern culture. His call is to experience the reality of God’s Word in Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God.”

But how can we experience this stillness and silence of God’s presence with so much pressure on us from work, family, and church, so many activities screaming for our attention, and such great noise and distraction from our technological world?

Murray does indeed tell us to mute our phones and device notifications, to limit our use of social media, texting, and emails, and to shut things down in the evening and weekends. But he also points us to the benefits of reading in order to experience true relaxation. Here is part of what he says:

The last daily bump I want to recommend is reading, which may sound strange given that we are trying to rest and relax the mind. There is something about reading, however, especially reading real paper books, that can be especially health giving. In “How Changing Your Habits Can Transform Your Health,” Michael Grothaus says, ‘Reading doesn’t just improve your knowledge, it can help fight depression, make you more confident, empathetic, and a better decision maker.’

…But Grothaus’ further research revealed that such transformation through reading wasn’t weird, but was ‘the norm for people who read a lot – and one of the main benefits of reading that most people don’t know about’ (97-98).

And so Murray gives us his own reading regimen and experience:

I try to set aside thirty minutes each evening for reading non-work-related books – usually biographies, works on history or fitness, New York Times nonfiction bestsellers, and so on. It’s amazing how many fantastic books you can get through – maybe two or three a month – with just that short time every day. And for all my fellow type A’s, remember that the point is not to chalk up ‘books read’ or to use the time for sermon prep if you’re a pastor, but to relax and enjoy (p.98).

There is no question that as Christians we ought to read for a variety of reasons. But let’s not forget this one either – simply to slow down and relax. And if we are reading for the growth of our souls, for knowing and drawing near to God, then by all means let us keep our mind’s eye on Psalm 46:10.

Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Reading

Today on the RFPA Blog Rev. Ryan Barnhill had a fine post on the importance of Christians being readers, as part of the spiritual disciplines that mark the believer’s life and walk with the Lord.

After explaining what kind of reading makes for a spiritual discipline, Pastor Barnhill gives three reasons why we should read and read diligently:

Why do we read? Why do we read when Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, podcasts, Snapchat, and games seem so much more exciting, real life, and convenient? I provide three reasons below, readily recognizing that these reasons can be multiplied.

First, we read to sharpen our Reformed, biblical worldview: a worldview that includes doctrine, application of doctrine, and history. Do we not want to learn more about the signs of Christ’s coming, or justification by faith alone (two recent RFPA publications)? Do we not desire to evaluate world events through a Reformed, biblical lens (“All around Us” rubric in the Standard Bearer)? Do we not love our brothers and sisters overseas, longing to become better acquainted with them (recent article on Myanmar in Beacon Lights)? What do we believe? Are we anchored in it? Are we able to teach it to the generation following? Reading is crucial!

Second, and closely related to the first, is that reading is a means God uses for growth in godliness. Whatever we take in shapes our thinking. How blessed is the man, then, who enjoys a steady diet of sound, God-glorifying literature! These books and magazines edify, instruct, warn, comfort, and encourage. Reading holds an integral place in our life of sanctification.

Third, we read to become better readers of the Bible. Reading more makes us better Bible interpreters. This is not to minimize the work of the Holy Spirit, but only to say that reading helps our ability to comprehend words and thoughts, sharpens our grammatical skills, and improves our critical thinking. If only for this reason, reading is important!

You may read the rest of this blog post at the RFPA link below. And while you are reading about this spiritual discipline, check out Rev. Barnhill’s other posts on this vital subject.

Source: Reformed Free Publishing Association — Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Reading

Published in: on May 9, 2017 at 10:36 PM  Leave a Comment