Becoming part of the “bigger story” – A. McGrath

Lunch-with-Lewis-McGrathLewis deftly shows how the stories of the individual children – particularly Lucy, who is in many ways the central human character of the series [Chronicles of Narnia] – become shaped by the story of Aslan. Lucy’s love for Aslan is expressed in her commitment to him. She wants to do what he wants; she wants her story to reflect who he is. As a result, Lewis speaks of Lucy feeling ‘lion-strength’ flowing within her. She has become part of the story of Aslan. But – and this is a hugely important ‘but’ – she has not lost her own identity. Her story remains her own. However, her story now makes more sense because Lucy has gained a sense of value and meaning. By embracing the story of Aslan as central to her story, she has gained a new sense of identity and purpose.

This McGrath further explains biblically in the next paragraph:

Lewis here develops a New Testament theme which has a long history of exploration within the Christian faith. It is stated with particular clarity in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: ‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:19-20). Faith involves putting to death the old self and rising to a new life. We do not lose our individuality; rather, we gain a new identity while still remaining individuals who are loved by God. In other words, we become new individuals without ceasing to be individuals.

And then he shows again how this works out in the Narnia series:

Lewis reworks this theme in his Chronicles of Narnia. …Lucy and the other children realise there is a ‘bigger story,’ and long to become part of it. And they die to themselves, in that they relocate and recontextualise their own stories within this ‘grand narrative.’ They die to themselves, and live for Aslan. They surrender a self-centred story, and replace it with an Aslan-centred story. This not only makes more sense of things, it also gives them purpose, value, and meaning.

Taken from If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis by Alistair McGrath (Tyndale, 2014), a Kindle book I am continuing to read this summer. This is part of chapter 3, “A Story-Shaped World,” where McGrath treats “C.S. Lewis and the Importance of Stories.”

At the beginning of this chapter the author quotes Lewis in The Horse and His Boy: “Child,” said the Voice [of Aslan], ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

Published in: on August 9, 2017 at 7:23 AM  Leave a Comment  

Summer Grammar Check! Verb-Car Passengers (Those Important Particles)

hero-blue-bookIn a recent GrammarBook.com post verbs were featured once again, only this time what are called verbal particles. Or, continuing the car/driving figure, they are referred to as “verb-car passengers.”

So today, as a follow-up to that previous post on verbs, we feature this one. Because, yes, though it is the middle of summer, we must still keep our grammar straight. No grammatical slouching allowed! Buckle-up, here we go!

Understanding Verb Particles

As noted in a recent GrammarBook e-newsletter article, verbs form both the engine and the steering wheel driving our language. They determine the direction and speed of a sentence.

Sometimes, we’ll spot other words riding with them in the passenger seat. They’re not verbs, but they still attach themselves with seat belts secured. We accept and use those words because we know the main verb needs them for where we want to go in expressing ourselves.

These verb-car passengers are referred to as verb particles. Verb particles are the add-ons in verb phrases with idiomatic meanings—i.e., their definition is not obvious from the words creating the phrase.

Consider a sentence such as “She looked up the number in her cell phone’s contact list.” The verb is “looked.” The verb particle is “up.” A literal, non-idiomatic reading of the words alone would lead us to think she was physically looking up, perhaps toward the sky or a ceiling. Idiomatically, however, we understand she is retrieving the number from her phone.

Some other common verb particles are “in,” “off,” “down,” “over,” and “out,” as used in the following examples:

Facing constituent pressure, the governor gave in to the Senate’s proposed legislation.
Would you please break off a piece of that chocolate bar for me?
Analysts agree the company’s bold marketing campaign will beat down the competition.
That’s a tough question. Let me mull over my answer for a while.
Will you be checking out of your room soon?

Here are several more verbs that include particles to achieve their meaning:

bog down shape up
break away single out
burn down sleep in
flip out sum up
head out wind up
hold up wrap up


As shown here, the verb particle is often needed to convey the right idea. At the same time, we need to watch for particles that seem like they belong but make the phrase a tautology—e.g., continue on, close down. These examples would not lose meaning or clarity without the particle and thus are not idiomatic.

In certain other cases, a particle might create a tautology, but we still need it for proper writing and speech. One such instance involves the verb “sit,” which by definition does not need the particle “down” for clarity. However, imagine using “sit” instead of “sit down” when addressing a person instead of a dog.

It’s always easier to use and ride with a particle in your verb car when you know what it is, why it’s there, and, equally important, if it belongs. Just determine if together the verb and particle are idiomatic and not tautological. If so, leave them connected and keep your content cruising along.

If not, pull over, let the passenger out, and wish it the best in finding another good sentence.

John Calvin and his Institutes – “Refo Thursday”

On this Thursday night, it is time for another “Refo Thursday” feature.

As we have mentioned several times here already this year, the Christian History Institute (which also publishes the magazine Christian History – issue #120 is about Calvin and the Reformation – cf. image here) has a special post each week featuring various aspects of the Reformation.

It is called “Refo Thursday” (“your weekly throwback to the Reformation” [in their words] – connected to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017), and usually features a quote from one of the major Reformers and a brief video on an aspect of Reformation history.

Today’s short video, featuring Karin Maag from the Calvin Meeter Center and Michael Horton from Westminster Seminary (West-CA), focuses on John Calvin’s attempts to bring reformation to Catholic France, his home country, by writing his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion – from Basel, Switzerland.

Listen in and learn about how Calvin viewed himself and the other Reformers as more “catholic” than the Roman Catholic Church.

The 19th-Century Lithuanians Who Smuggled Books to Save Their Language

This fascinating “book-smuggler” story was included in the posts sent by email from “Atlas Obscura” this week. Discover a clever means these Lithuanians devised to preserve their language against Russian attempts to dominate them and control their lives and religion.

Two editions of the same prayer book. The book to the left is Cyrillic and was printed by Russia. The book to the right is Latin Lithuanian and was illegal under the ban

Here is part of the story as it relates to the language issue and how these “book smugglers” saved the true Lithuanian language:

Language had long been a point of contention in Tsarist Lithuania. In the middle of the 19th century, in order to assimilate the peasant class, the Russian scholar Alexander Hilferding proposed that the Lithuanian language, which uses a Latin alphabet, be converted to a Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

The Lithuanian press ban was therefore an attempt to eradicate the Lithuanian language and promote loyalty to the Russian cause. Lithuanian children were also required to attend Russian state schools, where they would learn the Cyrillic alphabet through books printed by the Russian government.

According to historians, Russia thought little of the ban when they first initiated it. They didn’t see Lithuanians as belonging to a unique nationality, and they assumed that resistance, if anything, would be minimal.

They were wrong.

Almost immediately, individuals sprung up to spread Lithuanian writing. Since they couldn’t publish books in their homeland, many Lithuanians began printing them abroad and smuggling them back into their own country.

Thus appeared the first of the knygnešiai—or book-carriers—who, in a desperate bid to save their language, transported books across the border and illegally disseminated them throughout Lithuania.

Initially, the knygnešiai worked alone. They carried books in sacks or covered wagons, delivering them to stations set up throughout Lithuania. They performed most of their operations at night, when the fewest guards were stationed along the border. Winter months—especially during blizzards—were popular crossing times.

Lithuanians went to great lengths to conceal their illegal books. TheForty Years of Darkness by Juozas Vaišnora reports of female smugglers who dressed as beggars and hid books in sacks of cheese, eggs, or bread. Some even strapped tool belts to their waists and pretended to be craftsmen, disguising newspapers under their thick clothes.

Find the full story at the link below, along with several related images and maps.

Source: The 19th-Century Lithuanians Who Smuggled Books to Save Their Language – Atlas Obscura

Published in: on July 22, 2017 at 7:14 AM  Leave a Comment  

“The Cubs Way” – My 2017 Summer Baseball Read

Now that summer is officially here, it is time to introduce my annual summer baseball book. And – surprise! – it is a book about the World Champion Chicago Cubs.

Cubs-way-Verducci-2017

After browsing several of the new titles available this year on the Cubs, I decided on Tom Verducci’s The Cubs Way; The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse (New York: Crown Archetype, 2017). Tom is the senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated and two-time National Sportswriter of the Year (I heard tonight while watching the Detroit Tigers game for a bit that he was just awarded it a third time – for 2016). He is a gifted author and I like his style. Besides, you will also see and listen to him at the games doing analysis for Fox Sports and MLB Network. He knows the game well, and it shows in his writing.

I am enjoying The Cubs Way much, and provide you a few excerpts from it today to show you why. Describing what the 2016 World Series championship meant to the fans of Chicago, Verducci says this in the opening chapter:

Nowhere, though, would the scope of the catharsis be better understood than at the championship parade, held the day after the morning after. An estimated five million people, almost all of them in Cubs blue, would turn out for the team’s victory parade. It would look as if a seven-mile river of fountain pen ink spilled across America’s third-largest city. The crowd would be estimated to be the largest gathering of humanity ever in the Western hemisphere, and the largest in humankind’s history for any nonreligious event, though to see the rewarded faith on the faces of the supplicants was to believe something very much ecclesiastical was going on here [p.13].

In Chapter 2, “Ready for Change,” the author focuses on how new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts sought out the “perfect” man to rebuild the Cubs and restore a championship to Chicago after 100-plus years of drought. He chose Theo Epstein, the upstart stats guru who had led the Boston Red Sox to two world championships.

As Verducci writes in detail about Epstein’s rise to baseball glory, he also goes back to his childhood in New York and Boston (By the way, his first name was given in honor of Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch art dealer and younger brother of Vincent.). Interestingly, Epstein grew up in a literary family, and so books would play a major role in his life (especially, later on, Bill James’ Baseball Abstract). This is how Verducci describes that important place:

Books would play an important role in shaping the future general manager. Leslie Epstein [his father] made sure that Russian novelists, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and the other great authors were as much a part of Theo’s childhood as the Red Sox. An Epstein house rule stipulated that every minute spent watching baseball on television had to be equaled by reading books.

‘A doubleheader’, Theo said, ‘was a lot of reading.’ [p.24]

And listen to what impact this reading would have on him as a person:

The reading material, nuanced and evocative, nurtured what would become one of his greatest traits as a general manager: empathy [p.24].

So, you see, even a great book on baseball leads to the world of books and its influence on readers. What’s on your book table this summer? 🙂

Published in: on July 1, 2017 at 7:37 AM  Leave a Comment  

Grammar Check! “I” vs. “Me”

Today’s GrammarBook.com email (June 21, 2017) about writing and proper use of English grammar focuses on the right use of the personal pronouns “I” and “me”, though it includes other pronouns too.

Since this is always a sticking point with writers – and especially speakers (we get even lazier when we speak)! – we should work on getting this right, both in our writing and in our speaking.

I remember my dear mother correcting me over and over on this as a child, until it was drilled into my stubborn Dutch noggin. Today I thank her for those daily grammar lessons. I believe they finally sunk in. Check my grammar in the previous sentences. 🙂

If you visit the blog post on this at the end of this post, you can even take a pop quiz to check yourself.

Source: I vs. Me – Grammar & Punctuation | The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

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  

An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writings and Significance — A Hillsdale College Online Course

 

Reserve your spot in Hillsdale College’s free Online Course, “An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writings and Significance.”

In the last week I received this notice from Hillsdale College about a free online course on C. S. Lewis. I pass it on in case there are those who may be interested in pursuing it.

Hillsdale is a conservative liberal arts college with a strong academic record (consistently ranked among the top colleges in the country). It offers other free online courses as well, such as one on the U.S. Constitution. Check out the online course page and the courses offered in the areas of politics, literature, history, and religion.

Below is the introduction to the course that was sent with the email.

I’d like to invite you to join me in Hillsdale College’s newest free course studying the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis, best known as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, also authored works on apologetics and philosophy, including The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity. This free online course will study both Lewis’s apologetics and his fiction, as well as his philosophical and literary writings, and their continuing significance today.

I have the privilege of delivering three of the nine lectures, and I will be joined by Michael Ward, a leading expert on the works of C.S. Lewis, and Hillsdale professor of English and Provost, David Whalen. I hope you enjoy the course.

Source: An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writings and Significance — A Hillsdale College Online Course

Published in: on April 27, 2017 at 10:38 PM  Comments (2)  

“Ta-ta” to Tautologies

hero-blue-bookToday’s GrammerBook.com email about English grammar is too good to pass up. It fits in well with our “Word Wednesday” feature, besides teaching proper English grammar.

Isn’t it time you say “ta-ta” to tautologies?

Read on, my friends! And you don’t even have to go above and beyond. Just beyond.

Striking the Surplus from Tautologies

The English language includes the tools it needs to communicate with beauty, depth, and precision. Like any other healthy entity, it also moves most swiftly without extra weight. In the world of words, flabby noun phrases are known as tautologies.

Merriam-Webster online defines a tautology as “1a: needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word.”

Common English is rife with such excess. It often occurs because of needless descriptive emphasis or a simple lack of grammatical economy.

GrammarBook.com touched on this issue similarly before in Pleonasms Are a Bit Much. In that entry, we defined a pleonasm as deriving from pleonazein, a Greek word meaning “more than enough.” “The jolly man was happy” is one such example of adding a pound made more of fat than muscle.

We return to this subject and call it by its other namesake so you might recognize this intruder of our language by either ID card it carries.

Tautologies will never be fully edited from spoken language simply because of inherent informality; only a well-trained and -disciplined mind will omit extra words during a conversation in motion.

Careful writers, on the other hand, have the time and the will to infuse their linguistic diets with protein. They cut the sugar and carbs that add calories without nutrients to their thoughts.

They avoid composing phrases and sentences such as:

each and every one  Choose “each one” or “every one”–both are clear when standing alone.

above and beyond   “Beyond” is all you need in a statement such as “Her report went beyond expectations.”

vast majority   You hear it all the time, and you might even use it yourself. If you do, you now recognize that “majority” means the largest part of the group, so you can cast the “vast” and not lose your meaning.

forward planning   If “plan” means “to devise or project the realization or achievement of” or “to make plans” (as in “plan ahead”), is it possible to plan backwards?

mass exodus   Yet another pudgy phrase we hear or use all the time. An “exodus” is defined as “a mass departure,” so we know which word need not join the evacuation.

Trained expert, violent explosion, invited guest, identical match: The line continues out the door and winds its way to the streets of congested communication outside.

You have the power to improve the speed and flow of traffic in English. Just say “ta-ta” to tautologies by reviewing word choices and ensuring you enhance your meanings rather than duplicate them.

Published in: on April 26, 2017 at 9:00 PM  Comments (1)  

Photocopy of Rare Sir Isaac Newton Letter in T. Letis Collection

Today Kevin Rau and I stumbled on a rare find while browsing in the Dr. Ted Letis collection at the PRC Seminary.

We were on a mission to find some possible correspondence between Gordon Clark and Letis for a contact who will be publishing the letters of Clark in his next book (cf. Doug Douma’s The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark; Eugene, OR, Wipf & Stock, 2016).

GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689While we did not find any new correspondence between Letis and Clark in the boxes of containing much of the personal research of Letis, we did find an amazing photocopy of a letter of Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1726)- yes, that Newton, the famed mathematician and scientist.

Newton was also a professing Christian, and in 1690 he wrote a letter to a friend expressing his views on biblical-textual matters, which is why the late Dr. Letis was interested in what he had to say. In that letter, Newton wrote to John Locke about two disputed texts in the Bible – I John 5:7 (on the Trinity – “For there are three that bear record in heaven”) and I Timothy 3:16 (about Christ being “God …manifest in the flesh.”).

The letter was published posthumously first in 1754 (in English) and came to be called (from the title Newton himself gave at the top of the letter – cf. below) An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Sacred Scripture, in a Letter to a Friend, from which title you can judge what Newton’s views were. Although Newton was accused of holding anti-trinitarian views because of this, and even claimed by the Arians, the charge does not hold according to this section found on the Internet:

Even though a number of authors have claimed that the work might have been an indication that Newton disputed the belief in Trinity, others assure that Newton did question the passage but never denied Trinity as such. His biographer, scientist Sir David Brewster, who compiled his manuscripts for over 20 years, wrote about the controversy in well-known book Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, where he explains that Newton questioned the veracity of those passages, but he never denied the doctrine of Trinity as such. Brewster states that Newton was never known as an Arian during his lifetime, it was first William Whiston (an Arian) who argued that “Sir Isaac Newton was so hearty for the Baptists, as well as for the Eusebians or Arians, that he sometimes suspected these two were the two witnesses in the Revelations,” while other like Hopton Haynes (a Mint employee and Humanitarian), “mentioned to Richard Baron, that Newton held the same doctrine as himself”.[67]

The letter went through several published editions, the title page of one of which Letis also had in the sleave with the copy of Newton’s letter. Both of these items I scanned and show you here.

INewton-letters-1754

The photocopied first page of these letters is what Letis had, and he got it from the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford (England), which holds the original letters and their copyright (evident from the stamp on back of photocopy). Below is that copy.INewton-letter-1690-2

For more on the fascinating history and contents of this letter of Newton, visit this page.

presence-of-creator-inewton

As an added note (now that I have checked the Letis collection again), the library of Letis contained at least five (5) biographies on Isaac Newton, including this one. So, Letis’ interest in Newton was not a passing one.