Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My CHS Students Win 9 of 18 Awards!

CHS Writers NOT in the dog house!
In the regional Writing and Art contest, Our Own Expressions, sponsored by the Pierce County Library Foundation and the Morning News Tribune, with more than 1,200 entries, my writing students managed to win 6 of 12 awards in the short story and poetry categories. And over-all CHS students won 9 of 18 high school cash prize awards (including sweeping the drawing category for 9th and 10th grades--way to go Eva Battle, CHS art teacher extraordinaire!). 
CHS students will read their winning short stories and poetry and comment on their drawings at an awards ceremony held on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University later in May. 
Note below that Hana Jang, 1st Place in the short story category, is writing fiction in English as a second language; special congratulations to you, Hana!

Grades 9 and 10
1st Place - Abbie Welch, Covenant HS
2nd Place - Noah Peever, Home School
3rd Place - Karli Stevenson, Covenant HS
Grades 11 and 12
1st Place - Hana Jang, Covenant HS
2nd Place - Jessi Pitts, Emerald Ridge HS
3rd Place - Casey Morrison, Covenant HS

Grades 9 and 10
1st Place - Fiona Macdonald, Gig Harbor HS
2nd Place - Myles Moulton, Bellarmine Preparatory
3rd Place - Claudia Speakes, Kalles Junior HS
Grades 11 and 12
1st Place - Claire Summa, Gig Harbor HS
2nd Place - Matthew Pfefferle, Covenant HS
3rd Place - Christina Lyro, Covenant HS

Grades 9 and 10
1st Place - Bao Nguyen, Covenant HS
2nd Place - Abbie Welch, Covenant HS
3rd Place - Nani Woodard, Covenant HS
Grades 11 and 12
1st Place - Chelsie Conroy, Bonney Lake HS
2nd Place - Hanbi Hyon, Lakes HS
3rd Place - Cole Maurmann, Home School

Friday, April 25, 2014

INKBLOTS--Unexpected endings, pig wars, and gut-level writing

"O my head!" I sometimes feel the same when writing
Inkblots on a spring evening, rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, rain, rain, sun, rain. Five gentlemen and Dr Rogland joins us this evening and the humor already has begun, former colleague of mine, now retired, author of two published books and several manuscripts stewing away in their juices. Welcome. I propose that we try to keep our comments tight and our reading and explanatory to our ten minutes (okay, give or take). And that we continue the dialogue and comments on the blog comments below, which has the added benefit of bringing our distance 'Blots into the discussion. Had a reader from Denver just this week interested in joining us by skype (we haven't figured out logistically how to pull that off within time constraints) and others want to participate in some way. We invite 'Blots and others to comment below with thoughts or questions on writing.

Patrick is in the dock. We decided last week in the interest of getting more of the big picture that we would have Patrick attach a short story to us all and that we would read and critique his whole story tonight. Alan commented on Patrick's mastery of dialogue, is the man as bad as he appears, genetic engineering and zombies, and a weird twist at the end. I thought he should exploit the computer journal dialogue more; started with a more significant role for the Dante or Beatrice and then it faded. Use this far more, in my opinion. Have interruptions from Mary or Dianne, or Nick (by the way, you need to develop Nick more fully; he came out of nowhere near the end, for me). I felt like there were some awkward transitions and a difficult entry to the story. With your explanatory last meeting, it made sense and we were hooked right off, but when I read it on my own, I felt like it was too clipped a beginning, like I needed more context at the gate. Patrick kind of likes it that readers don't entirely know what is going on (more like real life?). Okay, but the contrivance must work for the reader or it won't get finished or reread. Alan compared this piece to Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground, sort of a short story prelude to Crime and Punishment.

Alan read a blog entry (what he does when he doesn't feel the forward momentum on one of his poetry or fiction projects). This one about a commemoration of the Pig War. We are being Pacific Northwest heavy these days, not by design, just is what it is. The blog begins with a summary of the history leading up to the Pig War conflict, launched when an American settler shot a Hudson Bay pig rooting in his potatoes on San Juan Island. The 1859 dispute was on. The proposed commemoration meal? Pork and potatoes, what else? Alan writes in a chatty manner that flows naturally and is easy to listen to, and filled with fascinating information, in this case, about our local history. Alan is one of those high achievers who are intrigued by everything around them, and never weary of learning new things. Bob pointed out that it could have slipped into broad satire but Alan wisely steered clear of this. Flippancy in print as well as in speech rarely works. As Lewis observed, flippancy "builds up the finest armor plating against the Enemy [God]." Alan is our man who uses a manual typewriter but has not figured out how to practically manage using when he blogs (though he told us some guys are doing it).

John is going to read a little thing he wrote. Parable of the foolish shepherd. As I listen to this, knowing some of the background and the catalyst to John writing it, I am reminded of what Lewis says is the best motive for writing, the motive that will produce the most honest and authentic literature: "Write what you need." If you will allow me to say it, I think John was largely motivated by what he thought someone else needs instead of writing what he needs. We all do this, at least in first draft; that's why the key to good writing is three-fold (at least) rewriting. Patrick suggested using a fable structure, like the three little pigs, three efforts to solve a problem, with three different outcomes. An intriguing organizational structure. John felt like it was a bit harsh, and commented that he wrote it a while ago and might alter and revise it. John realized that he made the servant too perfect and the shepherd the bad guy, almost always an over simplification (like all generalizations). Reminds me of Steinbeck's The Pearl, which he lays out and declares up front to be a parable, a story told with a didactic purpose. We discussed what parables are. Metaphor, this is like that, a story that is like the perceptual truth under consideration, the common thing (vehicle of the metaphor) being something that we know, the high thing (the tenor of the metaphor) being the upper-story meaning, the thing we know less, often in the metaphysical realm of reality. Bible is replete with this. A story that illustrates the instruction being given. Poe, on the other hand, thought that poetry in any case ought not to have a didactic purpose, "The heresy of the didactic," he termed it. But then he was referring to poetry (arguably all imaginative literature) and he was Poe... not the Holy Spirit. I restrained myself from getting into this, but I have engaged in lengthy discussion with other authors about how the best literature penned by pagans or confessed Christians is always purposeful, instructive, is informed by the author's deep concerns about the big issues of life (and if it appears that there is no instructive purpose, that too is indicative of how the author's presuppositions about life and meaning. Being devoted to secularism is no less religious than being devoted to Jesus Christ). 

I read from my Noble Savage novel on the Indian War of 1855-6 in the Pacific Northwest, which I have not touched for a month (with the UK tour to lead and then get back in the saddle and attempt to stay in it). My particular concern is getting dialect right at this point. Noclas is the minor hero (or it may be more major but he is not the principal protagonist), black and a lover of the Bible, and he needs to sound like a black man in the mid eighteen hundreds. Tough one, but I got some valuable input from my brother 'Blots on getting closer to achieving the verisimilitude in his voice that I'm after. Alan pushed back very helpfully on Junebug being too clever, gifted, and hard working for an eight year old. We discussed the way frontier children who had no parents in the picture were forced to grow up really fast--or die. I have some work to do and appreciate so much the critique of these gentlemen. A useful (and fun) 'Blots and welcome again to Bob Rogland for joining us; hope to see you again in the future.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

INKBLOTS, arrogant scientist, Russian governess, Indian culture, and Vietnam

Dr. Wolfe, scientist devoid of humility
Inkblots with five gents this evening, warm sunshine and spring birds flitting and singing on the wisteria at the Bond's gate. Maryhill red and Columbia Crest Amitage all around.

I commented about authentic integration of our writing. Writing what we need rather than trying to please either secularist (and so feel like we need to paste in sketchy material), or the story somehow does not include a gospel priority but the writer feels like it ought to, so he pastes in some Christian lingo to check that box. None of this is good for fiction writing, for compelling story telling, nor is it good for the gospel. I believe the gospel is absolutely my highest priority when I write anything, and I hope that that means it is so integral and essential to where I'm going in the fiction, every detail subordinate to the glory of God, that the story would not be complete, would not work, would be empty and shallow, without leaving the reader longing for truth, heart sick for it. Imagine Jesus telling a parable to titillate secularists or to paste in a Christian message as an obligatory afterthought. Christ's parables, his story telling, was a unified whole, every imaginative device, every detail, marshaled to unmask the problem and placard its only solution.

Alan leads off with a poem he has written that reminds me of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha from the shores of Gitche Gumee, musical and lyric. Alan read without prelude, no explanation, just launched in. It was magical. After he told us it was autobiographical, inspired by an incident in his life, an uncle who passed away and at his funeral just this week he met another relative; conversation with him led to this prose experiment in an effort to find his way into his fiction work shared recently. Patrick commented on balsam and rock, used repetitively, so it seemed but maybe intentional. All this led into a discussion of Indian culture then and now.

Patrick says his problem is too much material, very fertile times for his imagination lately, it sounds like to me. He has been inspired by author Gene Wolfe. Wolfe wrote a series of stories with key words woven in throughout. Dr. Wolfe and Island of Death, is the name of the story. Felt like it should be a journal but doesn't like the style because it lacks the interactive character of dialogue. What a crack-up! Programmed dialogue between a computer Dante and a pompous scientist, about another scientist who has been stealing or plagiarizing from Dr. Wolfe. Reporters and journalists are found to be the most unreliable witnesses. Willingly deceive. I love the fluidity of your prose, personality coming through clearly through tone of voice, asides, and witty quips. This is one in a series of intriguing short stories, maybe a bit longish for short stories, the largest being 13,000. Alan suggested that his reading group (Who, what, when, where, and wine) read Patrick's short stories and offer their thoughts and reactions.

Doug Mc suggested that we can reconfigure what we do at least some of the time. What if one guy sent out a chapter or short story to all and then we read and came together to critique and comment on the whole story rather than just a ten minute read. Doing Patrick's yarn first this way. Dougie is doing a further episode in his Vietnam yarn, Bruce the hick is reading World Book Encyclopedia then distilling it in his colloquial drawl. Vietnam peasant featured in this episode. What is raspberry and cinnamon that is French in the pastry department? The French and German conversation is a good idea, but I'm not sure if you got everything out of it that was there. The prayer and the Amen came out of order to my thinking. He went on asking for a speedy conclusion to the hostilities, and then the Amen at the end, not first. The background to the history of the conflict does drag a bit in my opinion. I think you need to tighten it up a bit, give us the essential facts only. Maybe you're trying to give us too much all at once here. Could you spread it out, parse it out over more conversations than just this one? Avoid the history bomb, laying out a body of historical context but that is not actually a genuine part of the fiction. Give the reader only what is essential to know at this point in the yarn, the reader wanting more, will read on, then give them more as it is essential to the tale itself. Have the listener receive it, disagree with it, push back in his thinking. Make the history background essential to the fiction you're telling.

I commented about authentic integration of our writing. Writing what we need rather than trying to please either secularist (and so feel like we need to paste in sketchy material), or the story somehow does not include a gospel priority but the writer feels like it ought to, so he pastes in some Christian lingo to check that box. None of this is good for fiction writing, for compelling story telling, nor is it good for the gospel. I believe the gospel is absolutely my highest priority when I write anything, and I hope that that means it is so integral and essential to where I'm going in the fiction, every detail subordinate to the glory of God, that the story would not be complete, would not work, would be empty and shallow, without leaving the reader longing for truth, heart sick for it. Imagine Jesus telling a parable to titillate secularists or to paste in a Christian message as an obligatory afterthought. Christ's parables, his story telling, was a unified whole, every imaginative device, every detail, marshaled to placard the problem and its only solution.

John reads from his Russian yarn. Working on altering the governess so she could be a Huguenot working for a Russian family. Problem of getting Russian down fluently when coming as a French speaker. What is your narrative objective for developing her character? What is her primary role in the story line? All fiction is a contrivance; it is the author's task to convince the reader that the contrivance is authentic, that it works, all skepticism gone.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Oxford: student reflections on the tour

CJ led off with appreciation for the time of singing Saturday night with host families in Scotland 

Playing British monopoly Libby found unique with all the British locations

Sarah D was particulate moved by the rich heartfelt praying of Scottish Christians

Shauna was impressed by God's creation seen at Hadrian's Wall. "Made you feel small but safe in the Creator."

Host family tried to replicate an American thanksgiving dinner for Sarah W

Anne appreciated Churchill's Chartwell. And expressed gratitude for Mr. Hannula and Bond

Isabel and Breah appreciated seeing the Holy Spirit at work at Cambridge Presbyterian, and the contrast with the rote formalism at Anglican Canterbury service

Don loved seeing the students interacting and enjoying each other and the leaders guiding them (one of our great parent chaperones, couldn't do it without you)

Evangeline enjoyed the chaperone times together and seeing God's providence bringing us all together for such a warm and enjoyable time spent together

Gareth believes he can sleep anywhere after the night crossing to France

And prayers of heart-felt thanksgiving offered by many conclude our last devotion time of the tour

Off to CS Lewis' church, grave, and his home the Kilns in Headington Quarry

Thanks for all your prayers! God our Heavenly Father has wonderfully answered them. 

Any adults and families eager for a similar adventure, I have a few places left in our Knox @ 500 Scotlad Tour in June. Visit www.bondvoyage.webs.com

We just saw Queen Elizabeth--video

Coming out of Runnymede, suddenly a helicopter went over, blue lights flashing a vanguard of official motor cycles roared by, a flurry of other official looking vehicles--and then a custom black Rolls Royce (I think) passed in front of the coach; wearing one of her lovely hats, sat the queen in the back seat. Notice on the video her (a) hand about to be raised in an English wave. Now if only she had invited CHS students to tea at Windsor Castle. Maybe next time.


CHS at Runnymede 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Oxford, where oxen forded the river

 "It is easy to forget," Lewis writes in
A Preface to Paradise Lost, "that the man who writes a good love sonnet needs not only to be enamoured of a woman, but also to be enamoured of the Sonnet." 

 In The Allegory of Love, Lewis observes
that his ideal day "would be to read the Italian epic - to be always convalescent from some small illness and always seated in a window that overlooked the sea, there to read these poems eight
hours of each happy day." 

Our associations with the word "puritan" have to be almost entirely corrected, he writes; "Whatever else they were they were not sour, gloomy, or severe; nor did their enemies bring any such charge
against them." He goes on to argue that Puritan Christians of the sixteenth century
were accused of being "not too grim, but too glad to be true." 

Lewis made the case that every instant of history is significant to the whole and defined history as "a roaring cataract of billions upon billions of such moments: any one of them too complex to grasp in its entirety, and the aggregate beyond all imagination." 

Companion of Fools or Friend of God?

Devotions on the road to Oxford


Why have we been doing what we are doing for the last two weeks? Why go to all the trouble and expense to see all that we have seen and experienced in the UK and Normandy the last days? If we could boil it all down, there might be no better way of putting it than to say it the way the writer of Proverbs put it. "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm."

I wonder if Shakespeare was thinking of this verse and this pervasive biblical truth about human nature when he created Falstaff and Prince Hal, making concerted schemes to become a companion of fools, and then to imagine that he could be with them and not suffer harm in doing so? I think Shakespeare got this right, on some level.


The Apostle Paul put it better to the Corinthians, "Bad company corrupts good morals."


Most of us nod in agreement, but I wonder if we take the Scriptures as seriously as we should here. Clearly the Enemy does not want us to take it very seriously. Remember what Lewis has Screwtape tell his nephew regarding tempting the patient with new friendships? Make him believe that his friendship with these bright, witty, sophisticated, superficially intelligent folks is "trivial and revocable." No big deal, what's wrong with... In other words, whatever you do, don't let him "be cautious in friendship."


Elsewhere in Proverbs we are told that "the righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the foolish leads him astray."


The Apostle James tells us that if we want to be friends with the world we become enemies of God. Enemies. Jesus often referred to his disciples as children and as his friends. That is an amazing thing, isn't it, to be called a friend of One who made the universe, who humbled himself, came to earth, lived a life in perfect obedience to his Father's will, imputed that perfect righteousness to my account, and then laid down his perfect life for my wretched and unworthy life?


"He who walks with the wise grows wise." That is what we have been doing for these important days in your lives. We have been walking with the venerable dead, the truly wise, though far from perfect, from previous centuries. Rehearse back through them in your mind... Bunyan and Bilney, bishop martyrs we will be thinking about in a few hours time in Oxford, Lewis, French Huguenots, Knox and the Covenanters, and now our dear and very much living friends in Newmilns, Scotland.


Friendship with the wise, with the people of God costs something. It cost many of the heroes of the faith their lives. But make no mistake about it, friendship with the world costs you something too. It costs eternity.


John Owen, the Calvin of England, whose grave we saw at Bunhill Fields London said that for most of us our problem is not a lack of instruction, but a lack of careful consideration and application of instruction. We want you to consider and apply all that you have learned about this reality: friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God, that the companion of fools suffers harm, that if you walk with the wise you will grow wise, that bad company corrupts good morals.


So what do we do with it all? How do we consider this? How do we apply this experience so that it sticks, it works, it lasts, it actually changes you?


Last night Pastor Kenneth Ross called you to be faithful, urged you to faithfulness. But do you remember what he said next? If you look to yourself you will not be faithful. Recall Ian Hamilton last Lord's Day in Cambridge: stop looking within yourself, look out and up to Jesus Christ.


What does that actually mean to look to Jesus? Jesus on every page, the whole of the Bible is one story, the story of Jesus Christ. And that means that the book of Proverbs is about Jesus Christ too. We could hear these words of instruction about being cautious in friendship from Proverbs and take a deep breath, clench our teeth, and try harder, make new resolves, become more self disciplined, determine to be more upright. But it won't work. You will be back to your old ways and friends and influences soon enough. I promise you this. It will not work.


And then there is the still worse outcome. Resolving to change and be good, setting about on your own self-salvation enterprise, you actually do make moral progress, you do appear on the outside to become wise. Why is this worse than going back to the trough of worldy friends and influences? Because it will make you become like the self-righteous elder brother, externally obedient and faithful but as Jesus put it, "a white-washed tomb," looking good on the outside but internally dead, rotten, putrefying, and lost.


Proverbs is about gaining wisdom, but, remember, we make an enormous mistake when we read the book if we don't realise, on every page, that wisdom comes down from above, that Jesus himself is the wisdom that has come down to save us, that wisdom is not a thing you add to yourself by self-discipline. Wisdom is a Person, the God Man, Jesus Christ.


The Lord must have things for us to learn in the book of Hebrews. Uncoordinated by us, but orchestrated perfectly by the Providence and wisdom of our Heavenly Father, last Sunday in Cambridge and here again in Newmilns we heard sermons on Hebrews. Chapter 6 and chapter 10.


Consider with me for a moment what chapter 11 is all about. It gives us a panoply of heroes of the faith; we are shown the great cloud of witnesses we are surrounded by, or put another way, the friendships we are to have if we are to be wise. But who are these people? Are they great models of virtue? Abraham, Noah, David...? The history of redemption in which they appear reveals them as pretty messed up folks. So to what are they witness?


Grace. They desperately needed grace and so do we.


And then comes chapter 12 of Hebrews. "Fix your eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of faith."As if to say, don't stop at merely looking at Abraham or David, mere me who miserably failed to obey and be faithful; look beyond them to the one who fulfilled all the conditions of the covenant for us, on our behalf, for our salvation.


"He who walks with the wise grows wise..." Why have we done all this these two weeks? To give you wise friends for life, certainly, but only as a means to a far more important end. Knox, Latimer, Bunyan, Newton--the only thing that made these men worthy objects of our travels was they grasp of the grace of Jesus Christ in the gospel. Why are we doing this. So that you, like all of these, might know, as it says in Proverbs,the "Friend who sticks closer than a brother," Jesus Christ.

Look out and up to him, eyes off of you, eyes off of the world, your heart, soul, strength, and mind agog with the Wisdom that has come down from above, in love with the friend of sinners, slack-jaw in wonder--all your days--at the Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Knox's first job--teaching squirrelly boys

An excerpt from THE THUNDER (pictures from Knox's Edinburgh below)

Chapter one

Dead Bishop’s Castle

I was born in a castle. Hugh Douglas, Laird of Longniddry, was my father, and the only home I had known was the Douglas ancestral keep. Yet it makes too free with veracity to call it a castle. It was not a proper castle, one queens and fine ladies strut about within. In truth, it was a damp, smelly, crumbling fortified house, more akin to a vertical stone casket than a lavishly appointed bishop’s castle.

Here in late April, 1547 I found myself—for good or ill—hemmed in by the fortification of St. Andrews Castle, a proper castle, a veritable palace bedecked for a bishop, now a dead bishop. Much of the luxury of the place, so it seemed, had died with him. Cowering behind the crenellation that day, I mentally attempted to calculate the thickness and stoutness of the stones that made up the dead Bishop’s battlements facing the town. I breathed shallow so as to avoid the full force of the pinching odors of amassed humanity that hung palpably in the air.

The town rumbled with activity: shouting men, bawling oxen straining at their carts laden with timber and stone, and with victuals for the soldiers, spades and barrows, and laden with other things—cannons, barrels of gunpowder, ball, shot, and the like—ordnance, I’d heard it termed. Above all, there were the shouts and cries of men. My shallow breathing, in truth, came less from the stench and far more from gnawing anxiety at the deadly preparations surrounding me and St. Andrews Castle.

With a shudder, I turned my back on the cacophony and eased myself away from the scene. Crossing the paving stones of the inner-court of the castle, I mounted a narrow stairway that led up to the battlements of the dead bishop’s castle jutting into the North Sea.

As I climbed, I tried to divert my eyes from the blackened stones of the blockhouse that contained the Bottle Dungeon. My abhorrence for enclosed places sent a shudder down my frame. The place was a veritable hell hole, a constricting cavern into which condemned prisoners were lowered on a rope, there they crouched amongst the putrid filth of former occupants, surrounded by the foul scratching and gnawing of rats, there to await the rack or the stake. For Mr. Wishart, as I had often heard, it had been the stake.

I broke into a run on the last few treads, leaving the dungeon behind me. Through a notch in the wall, I squinted into the distance where the gray water met the gray skyline. I’d heard talk that the Queen Regent had petitioned the French to send their navy, thereby hemming us in by both land and sea.

Since first hearing of her scheme, I often studied that horizon, my mind troubled. But as with other days, I saw no ships bearing toward St. Andrews in the grayness—not today. Perhaps they would not come. Navies were in much demand these days, so I had been told. Perhaps the French were occupied with busting down other castles, too busy for St. Andrews.

Inching my feet forward, and steadying myself with my hands against the stone battlements, I eased closer to the edge. With my eyes clamped shut, I breathed in the salty air and listened to the foamy shying of the surf. I felt a lurching of my insides as I forced my eyes open and looked down the castle wall direct into the sea. My fingernails clawed the stone edge. A gull hovered in the breeze above me, wings spread wide in flight but going nowhere. It mocked me with its screeching. Far below, and surrounding three sides of the castle, the frigid North Sea pummeled the walls. In the backwater of that pummeling, the sea churned like boiling tar in a vast caldron. My stomach did much the same.


For an instant my heart halted—so it seemed--and then thundered back to life. I nearly sank to me knees in fright.

“George, where’ve you been?” asked my brother. “And do be tending of your eye balls, lad. They’re a-bulging out of your head again. I swear, one of these days you’ll be making them so wide and gogglee they’ll come a-popping out of your sockets like when farmer McAllister is wringing the necks of his chickens and--”

I’d heard this all before and cut him off. “Francis, if you do that sort of thing again, I’ll end up tottering clean over the battlements and splitting my crown on them rocks. And if there’s anything left of me, I’ll be drowned and battered in the sea. It’ll be all your doing, Brother.”

”And eaten by a haddock,” he added, clamping me on the back in what he intended to be a good-natured gesture, but one that I felt nearly launched me over the wall. “You’re always fretting yourself, George. Eyes goggling out of your head. That’s your problem.”

There was no denying of what he said. For weeks now I had felt myself in a perpetual state of fretfulness.

“Now, you must come along with me,” he continued. “Master Knox’ll be expecting us in the chapel for our lessons.”

“There’s time,” I said.

“Which is what you always say,” said Francis. “Which is why you’re always late.”

“I’ll not be late.”

This being besieged was all a game to my brother Francis and Alexander Cockburn our childhood friend and fellow student. To me it was no game. Dutifully, I began following him down the narrow stone stairs.

“Why did they do it?” I blurted after him.

Francis stopped and turned slowly toward me. He heaved a sigh. “If you don’t ken the answer to that, you’ve gone daft. ‘Why did they do it?’ you ask. They did it because fornicating Cardinal Beaton was a monster. His vows of chastity notwithstanding, his holiness fathered no less than seven bastard offspring. If anyone in God’s universe had it coming to him, Beaton did. That’s why they did it.”

“Who counted?”

He scowled and shook his head. “Counted what?”

“His… well, his offspring?”

“Brother, there you’ve gone and clean missed the point again,” he said....

 Order a signed copy of THE MIGHTY WEAKNESS OF JOHN KNOX for yourself or for a friend.

Haggis--intestinal fortitude

What must the origins be of a national dish that consists of chopped up sheep innards crammed in a sheep stomach with some oats? My theory is that with a history of a raiding and pillaging southern neighbor who would descend on the people and slaughter all their animals and spoil their grain in the muck, leaving behind scattered oats trampled in the mud--and gut piles. From these meager remains came HAGGIS! Perhaps this is the source of Scottish intestinal fortitude.

I enjoyed a wonderful dinner out with our dear friends the MacCallums at the Cochran Inn, a classic Scottish eatery, it's stones completely covered with vines.

Knox's Pen dipped not in venom but in comfort

My hastily scribbled notes  with my friend Eric MacCallum at the Reformation Society Knox conference at Faith Mission Edinburgh (encouraged not to applaud so as to spare the speakers of embarrassment).

The conferences (organized by the dear man who invited me to attend John Murray holding his new EP book on Knox) commenced with the singing of Psalm 124. Without ornament or artifice, one man rose to his feet and began singing. One phrase into the Psalm everyone joined in without accompaniment, without "the tinsel of eloquence." And then one of the men prayed, a prayer full of gospel grace and truth, theological and deeply passionate and Christ-exalting. There is a certain solemnity about the gathering, and it is possible to imagine how moderns devoted to materialist secularism might dismiss these dear folks as "dour Scots Presbyterians," but no one could fault them for their heart-felt passion for Christ and his gracious gospel.

Matthew Vogan: Was Knox a writer? No. He did not consider himself a writer per se. Published writings were comparatively few, yet Knox did leave six volumes of substantial material. He seemed aware that compared to continental reformers he was producing little written material. Self effacing comments we must look past to the substance itself. He also considered himself not a good orator of the cause, which he most definitely was. He used imaginative comparison powerfully. Odiferous herbs send forth their pleasing aromas when they are disturbed, touched. And many maritime metaphors, perhaps from his months as a galley slave.

Even CS Lewis commended Knox for his skill with his pen, words put forth with passion. Rugged authenticity marks his prose. Writing was a form of preaching in print.

Knox as a preacher: the caricature of Knox as a preacher as a cross between Ian Paisley and the Ayatollah Khomeini. False. His goal was to feed sheep not terrify the populace. Thundering against the obstinate but not to the tender hearted. He thundered to himself. Never exalted himself. 

Comfort as key theme of Knox:
His was a ministry of. Encouragement. Remembered as the light of Scotland and the comfort of the kirk. Hs pen was not dipped in venom but in comfort. Confessional and consolation focused. Pastor of souls he was called. 

Exposition of Psalm 6:
Historical context, near the end of his time in England, when Mary Tudor is about o ascend the throne. In Buckinghamshire and Kent, came his sermons based on Psalm 6. Written to his mother in law who was often troubled and anxious. Perhaps finished in Dieppe. 1554, addressed to his mother in law, but clearly intended for a wider audience.

Penitential concluding with praise and confident of God arising and bringing his enemies to heel. A Fort for the Afflicted was the title given by the printer not by Knox. He seemed to use the Great Bible of 1535, associated with Miles Coverdale. The Psalmist breaks out in a seeming anger to God, sobbing unto God, and Knox argues for the legitimacy of this kind of address to God. Elizabeth Bowes was often in despair and he uses this exposition of the Psalm to encourage her, to take heart as one of Gods elect, to be encouraged by her afflictions that God loves her and will deliver her. We are encouraged and called to cry out to the Lord in our troubles. The Psalm calls for spiritual perseverance, an effectual medicine to heal. We place our confidence in the enduring goodness of God alone. 

Conclusion: Knox as a writer has been seriously underestimated. Our biblical convictions have been treated as beneath contempt. We will need this comfort in days ahead.

Dolorous, grief grievous. Common Knox word.

Gavin Beers on Knox and his political implications.

The relation between church and state. Richard Kyle observes the dearth of writing on this critical topic.

General views of church state relation:

RRC 11th century view that the church has authority over the state.

Erastian principle, state dominates the church, reformation in England is example

Anabaptist view where there is no relation between church and state, the voluntary principle

National principle, establishment principle, two distinct entities, independent, two gov divinely appointed and church, no encroachments, church cannot wield the sword of justice, the state cannot interfere in church in any way. The state, however, can and must support the moral law, not be opposed to it.

The establishment principle was Knox's view. Scottish kings and nobles as secular rulers used their power to appoint their favorites to clerical offices. John Major taught at St Andrews, so Knox might have studied under him. Major denied the civil authority of Rome. Major taught that the church had the right to depose unjust rulers. Major must have played some role in the formation of Knox's views.

Fundamentally his views on church and state were grounded on the word of God. He refused to deviate from the Bible. Though Calvin was a clear influence on Knox, Knox deviates from his contemporary in somer respects, based on his hermeneutic, his way of interpreting the Bible. Gavin makes the argument that Knox had an integrated view of the Old Testament, his equating of Israel and Scotland. Knox is sometimes criticized for failing to subordinate the Old Testament to the New. National application of moral law. Law is not cut in half giving half to state and half to church. Continuity of both civil and moral law to all nations.

Knox's doctrine of the church. Preaching, sacraments, and discipline. The church had a prophetic function to the state, hence, he was duty bound to proclaim the whole counsel of God to all men, including the unbelieving in the nation, and its magistrates. All human authority was derived from God. So Knox had a high view of civil authority, and that it was to be by the authority of the church, required to conform to the Word of God.

The promotion of true religion, is required of just civil government. Suppress all disobedience to God's law in the realm, is the role of civil government. Civil nobility are obligated to uphold the moral law in society. But we are not Jews, not kings? But all are to kiss the Son lest hebe angry. 

So was Knox Erastian? Problem of historians not getting the theology, and theologians not getting the history.  But Knox is imminently clear that neither sphere is to dominate the other. No Erastian. Christ is head of the church, not the state head of the church. And Christ is head of civil authority.

Hence, for Knox idolatry was a capital offense, the murder of the soul. So he urged the civil government to condemn and punish idolatry. It is to be treated as a capital offense.

So was Knox a tyrant? What about toleration? In the modern mind this is extreme. How do we present this to a post Christian world? Not by dismissing Knox as a man of his day. So are we, of our day. God is Lord of the conscience. Mary Queen of Scots resorted to her own individual conscience. Conscience requires knowledge, Madam, of which you have none. 

Knox saw it as the requirement of the state to act and punish idolatry when it publicly impugns on the law of God. Liberty yes, but within the boundaries of God's reviewed will. He envisioned a state that was under the authority of God, including the establishment of Christian schools throughout the realm, Christian schools. Rejected entirely the idea of a civil sphere that was secular. Establish a Christian commonwealth. 

Knox would say to us today. Make sure your political theory is biblical, which has a great deal to say to nations about their responsibilities to his law. Our political structure must kiss the Son. Whois king? Jesus! 

In a disestablishment age, keep the ideal in view. Yes, the reality is other, but hold fast to the ideal as given in the Bible. We must not over emphasize this because it is not essential to the role, mission, and authority of the church. The church is built by God through the means of evangelism, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in all the world.

Pray for the reformation of both church and state. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Thundering Scot in rainy St Andrews rainy visit

Ian Hamilton, Minister, Cambridge Presbyterian Church, Cambridge, England

"I am delighted to recommend Douglas Bond's latest book, "The Mighty Weakness of John Knox". Douglas Bond has written many, mainly children's, books on sixteenth and seventeenth century Scottish church history. He writes with the passion of a man who believes that the church today needs, for its spiritual good and sanity, to learn about the church of yesterday. In choosing to write a book on John Knox, Doug Bond has done the church today a great service. Knox was the towering figure of the Scottish Reformation. In many ways he was a reluctant hero, conscious as he was of his own weaknesses. However, as the title of the book makes plain, Knox's sense of weakness was overwhelmed by his sense of God's greatness. Indeed, as Doug Bond shows us throughout his book, it was Knox's constant sense of his own weakness that enabled the Lord to use him so mightily in his service. When Knox was asked to account for the wonderful success of the Scottish Reformation, he replied, "God gave his Holy Spirit in great abundance to simple men". Read this book. Learn from this book. Thank God for men like John Knox. Above all, pray that God would raise up like-minded and like-hearted men in our own day, and once again give his Holy Spirit in great abundance to men who are deeply conscious of their own weakness".

 (Ian's off-the-record response to RT endorsement request: "I will be delighted to do this, on two counts: First, Doug Bond is a good friend of many years. Second, John Knox has been a good friend for many more years!")


Dr. David P Murray, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

"Though I love John Knox, I rarely enjoy reading about John Knox. Most biographers leave me feeling like a pathetic worm beside this mighty lion of Scotland. But, to my great surprise, this book lifted my spirits and even inspired me! Why? Because Douglas Bond has captured and communicated the secret of John Knox's power - a genuinely felt and openly confessed weakness that depended daily and completely on the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Mighty weakness! What an encouraging message for all worms who want to be lions!"