Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Fallow ground (a personal reflection)


When I read Isabella Alden's 19th century novels about the "Chautauqua Girls," one in the series absorbs me in a special way. "Ruth Erskine's Crosses" features one of the four young girls whose visits to Chautauqua set in motion lives lived for Christ. Heroine Ruth struggles with the reality of a sanctified life, mostly due to her refusal to heed the gentle, warning voice of the Lord. Now, "Pansy" (Alden's pen name) has a way of digging around in the reader's heart and asking uncomfortable questions that linger long after the book closes. That's probably why about a week ago, as I reading about Ruth's dilemma, I felt the Lord whispering that verse about anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back isn’t worthy of Him. I filed it under “Wuh?” and asked Him to enlighten me. Yesterday, an old Chas Stanley message came to me about how God won’t give you any further direction until you act on the last one He told you—and that “hand to the plow” phrase echoed. I was willing to listen but confused. Was there something I was looking back on, hanging onto and making myself unworthy of Him? I started asking Him to show me what He was talking about…and this morning, He did.

Gently but firmly, the Holy Spirit pointed out what I was looking back on, what I was holding on to that made it awkward (if not impossible) to put my hand fully to the plow—my ultra-fulfilling past as a Christian wife and mother. This past week would have been my 40th wedding anniversary; I still mourn the wrenching death of my marriage and wish I could re-enter that season I always refer to (usually with tears in my eyes) as the happiest time of my life. I know now He’s telling me I must let go of that in order to take hold of His plow and start putting down some serious furrows in my corner of His field. And stop looking back.

I got that “air sucked out of the room” feeling that presages His presence in a very distinct way. Again I heard, “Put your hand to the plow, daughter, and don’t look back…” A slideshow of images started flipping through my mind’s eye and His choice of object lessons was interesting: Lot’s wife, the prophet Samuel, and Dicken’s Miss Havisham.

Mrs. Lot: a wife being mercifully led to a new place of peace and safety who couldn’t help looking back towards her former “beautiful” life. Her longing backwards glance transformed her into a pillar of salt—bitter, immobile, useless except as a warning about the dangers of not moving on, not yearning for a past that’s busily being consumed by God.

Samuel: God rebuked Samuel when the old prophet kept weeping over King Saul’s dethroning. “Now the LORD said to Samuel, ‘You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem.’” God told me my apron-clad married life had become my Saul. Saul, God's chosen king, was rejected because of his disobedience and Samuel, who had a vested interest in him because he had anointed him, kept clinging to that glorious moment. Because of my ex-husband’s disobedience, my happy Christian lady married-with-kids life is no more. Like Samuel, hanging onto my dead hopes and memories is threatening to destroy my present joy in Him and my future harvest in His field. Trying to return to a place God has departed is dangerous and foolish, just as surely as Saul’s murderous javelins threatened David’s life when the shepherd boy kept trying to sing peace within that disgraced palace. It’s over. Leave already. And shut the door behind you. God’s got something else for you to do.

Charles Dicken’s Miss Havisham: This pathetic character from Great Expectations unexpectedly loomed up, entombed in her wedding finery, cobwebbed and crippled by her reaction to betrayal, unable to do anything but sink deeper into herself and mourn for what could never be and, in actuality, never was. Another vivid object lesson.
So, I’m filing my flask with oil and going to Bethlehem to discover what God has anointed for me. From His birth, Jesus took no thought of His former “happy life” in Heaven, but put His hand to the plow of humility and discomfort, suffering all kinds of indignities and trials in order to bring me to God. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light,” He says. I’m asking Him to help me drop what’s in my hand, grab the plow, stop looking back, and work in whatever field He’s laid out for me.  

“Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” Hosea 10:12

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Thus far, but no father


If you really want to start a bench-clearer, gather a Victorian scientist and a Victorian theologian in a room—or wait, what’s this? They’re working together?!? Despite the popular (Hollywood-fueled) understanding of the 19th century, there was a strange rapport between these natural enemies. Chautauqua, the 19th century think tank, Sunday School campground, and cultural watering hole, welcomed free-thinkers of all stamps and promoted lively discussions under the main tent. W.W. Kinsley’s compact-but-chewy 1893 discourse on the uh-duh compatibility of science and religion, Science and Prayer, combines the era’s high-flown, flourishing prose with microscopic research and mind-over-matter theories.

Like many of his contemporaries, Kinsley relies heavily on the ponderous logic of the time—establishing one argument in a chain he’s sure will lead the reader inextricably to the correct conclusion—his, of course. He sets up his case in the first chapter—his five-fold goal: 1) to convince us “that phenomena and the producing forces with their laws or modes of working, brought to light by scientific investigations in the fields of physics and of metaphysics, harmonize perfectly with the Scriptures view of payer, and abound in suggestions of how God can interfere in nature without destroying any force or abrogating a single law.” (see what I mean about the prose? Whew!) 2) that, as a fact, he has thus actually interfered again and again. 3) that it is not only not presumptuous, but most natural and reasonable, for us to expect that he will interfere for us, insignificant though we may seem to be. 4) that he will interfere because we ask him, doing for us what otherwise he would not have done. 5) And, lastly, that he will not in a single instance withhold any real blessing which is asked for in the right spirit, and the bestowal of which lies within the compass of his power.” (pg 10)

And by golly, he does it! His swaggering scholarship is breathtaking, if flawed. It’s clear there’s not the slightest doubt in his mind that any rational, reasonable person will be convinced by his bulletproof responses. A juggernaut of iron-clad arguments accompanies each of his points, culminating with a literary “ta dah!” after each.

It’s the scarcity of his Scriptural references that surprised me most. Waxing eloquent for ages (and pages), Kinsley nestles gingerbread-embellished quotes from contemporary sages and pulls proofs from many disciples of science with magician-like flourishes, but, when it comes to laying out arguments based on Scripture, he oddly falls back on “common sense.” My CLSC reading list teems with authors who do the same in an attempt to pacify leery, “modern” readers. I figure they assume Bible verses immediately nullify their arguments and their books should be banned with other moth-eaten credos to the boneyard of traditional faith.

His main argument--that God isn’t QUITE as omniscient as many credit Him to be and ergo, doesn’t see some of our free will-based decisions coming--must have stirred up a lot of dust in his world. But he sticks to his guns on the basis of rational reasoning, with nary a Bible verse in sight. (Personally, I could think of about twenty verses that countered his argument, but to what end? He went to his grave secure in his belief and many who wrestled with him are no doubt also shaking hands in Heaven now.)  

In lieu of Bible verses, Kinsley unleashes beautifully penned, Tennyson-like flights of fancy—a sort of literary smoke-and-mirrors, perhaps. Speaking of atoms, for example, he writes: “Over the nature of their being, as well as over the cradle of their birth, there has been thrown a veil of mystery through whose closely woven meshes there comes no ray of revealing light to the anxiously peering eyes of science, and whose hiding folds no hand on earth has power to lift, except the reverent hand of faith.” (p 30) These “angel-winged expectancies” presage the point where his lively imagination steps back. After such verbal flourishes and in the face of truly impenetrable mysteries, he usually cries “uncle” and retreats, heeding the voice of God who instructs “thus far, but no farther…”.

Like many of his contemporaries, Kinsley glories in the century itself, despite its trademark cynicism bred from its passion for all things scientific. He celebrates: “A reaction from this paralyzing skepticism has already set in. A faith fervent as that felt before science had birth, seems destined again to prevail, and to be the outcome of this very spirit of inquiry…Reappearing this time as the ripe result of this nineteenth century’s tireless and fearless research into time’s deepest mysteries, I cannot see how ever again it can lose its hold on the hearts of men.” (pg 111)

Wouldn’t he be surprised?

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Game of Thrones



What I knew about the Crusades was limited to Robin Hood movies, Ridley Scott’s rip-roaring Kingdom of Heaven, and a few black-and-white films (notably, Cecil B. DeMille’s historically off-base The Crusades, starring the luminescent Loretta Young). My Hollywood glasses quite effectively obscured actual facts and I’m not the only one suffering from Crusades confusion.

According to author Rodney Stark, there’s been a smear campaign in place for centuries that assigns total blame to the European Crusaders and excuses the beleaguered and besmirched Muslims on the ground of self-defense. This Euro-bashing view has gained wide acceptance, especially recently, as Western Civilization retreats from anything resembling criticism towards the Eastern religions in general and especially Muslims in particular. God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades examines infrequently cited yet indisputable historical facts to expose a fresh (and undoubtedly unpopular) perspective, detailing ways pre-Crusade Muslims (led by jihadist, land-grabbing rulers) invaded Europe (seriously, who knew?) and set in motion a deadly rotation of retaliation and revenge.  

I stumbled into this blazing controversy, all unawares, simply looking for a 21st Century perspective on the Crusades. I’d just finished reading the Chautauqua-listed, compulsively fascinating 19th century novel In His Name by Edward Everett Hale. This page-turner was set in medieval Europe, in the days of the final Crusade (see last post here). Hale’s novel focused on those left behind in France; Stark’s book jumps the channel, leaves fiction behind, and takes us to “bridle-high blood” Jerusalem and surrounding holy lands. Although the pace of this book drags at times, hindered by having to pick our way through heaps of corpses and complicated battle plans, the professorial author neatly bundles hundreds of years into simple, non-academic segments.

Stark makes a compellingly solid, if non-PC, case for the Crusades to be more about a heartfelt response to infidels in Jerusalem/Holy Land than a landgrab by disinherited younger sons. Using reams of historic documents (including property transfers, birth records, ship lading invoices, etc), Stark traces the makeup of the Crusades crews—and they were largely nobility (many, many of them intertwined family units) who sold off inherited land, property, and the family jewels and sewed crosses on their tunics for the dubious glory of swathing through Muslim hordes and more than likely, dying in the process. Amazing. Egged on by barefoot prophets and Papal promises of reduced Purgatory time, armor-encrusted royals by the thousands boarded ships and sailed to glory in the Holy Lands. They were joined by indulgence-seeking rabble—these rarely made it to Palestine’s shores, dying of disease, drowning or picked off by Muslim bandits along the way. The ever-intriguing Knights Templar come in for some particular notice—good and bad—as does the famous warrior-king Saladin (turns out he's not exactly the gentleman portrayed in popular fiction).  
As is often the case in these heroic times, superstars emerge. While Hale celebrated mostly fictitious protagonists, Stark turns a lowkey spotlight on bruisers like Norman Crusader Prince Bohemond, named for his massive physique. When Bohemond, with his wickedly strategic mind and audaciousness, strides from dusty history to vibrant life, somehow, you can’t help dashing over to Google and seeing if anyone snapped a selfie with him. Sadly, we’ll have to be content with literary portraits, although today's cartoonists have discovered him (see hilarious cartoon below). Medieval contemporary Anna Konmene, fourteen-year-old Byzantine princess and historian, penned this about him: “For by his nostrils nature had given free passage for the high spirit which bubbled up from his heart. A certain charm hung about this man but was partly marred by a general air of the horrible.” Can a Game of Thrones-style epic starring Chris Hemsworth be far behind?


Atrocities abound in this centuries-long conflict—on both sides—and facts support that no one was innocent and everyone was guilty and the whole thing was truly horrible and a gigantic waste of life.

So, I ask myself—what if I lived then and heard that the places where my precious Lord Jesus walked were overrun with those making it their special task to deface and defile (in some pretty horrendous ways) everything that Christianity held sacred? Would I unload my heritage and leave my homeland to defend these sacred sites? Or would I, by God’s grace, be able to recognize that the more important defense was to keep my heart—and the Name of Christ—from being defiled by hate and bloodletting?




"For 'the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' just as it is written." Romans 2:24 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Where's Waldo?



Few books I read in junior high affected me as deeply as “A Man Without a Country” by Edward Everett Hale. You remember it---a fiery Revolutionary War traitor was banned forever from setting foot on American soil, eventually constructing and worshipping at a virtual shrine to the United States. This manly tear-jerker isn’t Hale’s only “brash man lives to regret his words/actions” tale. “In His Name” is an 1873 Christmas novel about Jean Waldo, a Crusades-era merchant-prince in Lyons, France (Richard the Lion Heart is mentioned, of course). 
 
Waldo’s daughter, Felice, the darling of all who meet her, is accidentally poisoned and the race is on! This surprising page-turner is a sort of 19th-century four-legged “The Great Race” with a surprising spiritual aspect and a history lesson neatly tucked into its beautifully illustrated pages.
 
It’s like this: Jean Waldo shares a last name with Pierre Waldo, who (who knew? I certainly didn’t!!) was one of the first to translate the Bible into French so the common folk could read the Scriptures on their own. This spiritual movement, called the Waldensians, didn’t go down too well with the reigning French bishops (even though Pope Innocent gave this endeavor the okay), so they excommunicated Pierre Waldo and his disciples. Since Jean Waldo’s theme is “I take care of myself. My business is not his and his is not mine”, he’s kind of up a creek when he realizes he desperately DOES need someone’s help.
 


And can you guess whose help he needs?? You’re close. No, not Pierre, but his equally infamous and banned for life from Lyons translator-priest, Father John of Luigo. It’s Father John who possesses the antidote/cure that’s kept in a Crusade-rescued Saracen vial that resides in Father John’s secret laboratory. Right??? But can the Arabian-steed mounted couriers (who meet with all sorts of maddening delays and challenges) make the impossible trek to the Alpine foothills in Italy to fetch back Father John in time to save Felice?


Simple? Maybe. Juvenile? By modern criteria, probably. But I learned more about the covert and suppressed translation of the Scriptures from this lively pre-Google saga than I’ve ever learned before. I’d never even HEARD of Pierre Waldo! As in many Victorian-era novels, Hale doesn’t hesitate to throw in some pretty grim details (Felice’s poison reaction is pretty graphic) and the specter of death looms near. This book reminds me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s boy-centric adventure novels with the wonderful etching illustrations, the relentless, exciting action, the page-turning suspense and the vividly sketched characters. The songs and poetry interruptions were probably skipped or ignored by the original audience (I certainly tried not to, but verse 10 of a medieval ditty gets a bit wearing).


But, this is much more than a history lesson or a rip-roaring chase—at its core, it’s a celebration of the long, rich history of Christian charity, forgotten heroes of the faith, and true Christ-like living. The couriers and other helpers are recruited out of their initial reluctance when the one pleading for help makes the mystic sign of the Maltese cross in the air or draws it on a door and once the compelling words “In His Name” are evoked, covert Christians immediately spring into action. Like the man without a country, Jean Waldo, a man without a god, is forced to realize his self-created world has a poverty he never suspected until his narrow, selfish world collided with Truth.
 


“…that at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow..” Philippians 2:10

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Brainwaves at dawn


Philosophers are funny people. They live in a sort of literary Spy Vs. Spy world—sniping at each other from behind the covers of their latest works. This Cold War of words is a longstanding tradition—literary critics since the days of Alexander Pope routinely took potshots at each other in the daily papers, each playing “Can You Top This” with a vitriol-dipped pen.

Last post, I examined (rather gingerly) James B. Walker’s 1889 The Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation. Bluntly put, while I admired the consistent logic of the work, I had no hope that it was responsible for converting a single soul from a godless state to one of grace. I feel very much the same way about that book’s 21-Century counterpart (at least, one of them) Ravi Zacharias’ pocket dynamo, The End of Reason. Ravi Zacharias is the premier Christian apologist of the age--he routinely hosts Q&A sessions at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and around the world. They're wildly popular and the Q&A line typically extends out the door.
This compact, very focused book is a page-by-page destruction of one of the most popular, depressing atheistic credos: Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. Harris pulls out all the stops, offering his own hybrid of yellow journalism arguments and time-tested questions (i.e. "if God is a god of love, why does He permit pain?").  Ravi calls him on every subjective swerve from pure logic or reason as he dismantles Harris' work.

Honestly, Ravi's title says it all—he contends (and I’m with him) that our century, and particularly our country and this generation is so far removed from the classic debate formulas as to reduce the arguments for and against God’s existence to the subjective. There’s nothing reasonable about it.

Ravi’s brilliant logic echoes his 19th century predecessor in several key arguments, the crucial one perhaps being that something cannot come from nothing. Any flimsy arguments to the contrary are crushed under the juggernaut of Zacharias’ relentless conclusions. Ravi dismantles Harris’ feeble claims about Eastern religion with (it seemed to me) particular zeal, probably because he was RAISED on them and has studied them and actually knows what they mean when they say things—something Harris is really just speculating on. It is at this point that Ravi, normally very polite, inches towards sarcasm. He’s clearly disgusted with someone who doesn’t flinch at using illustrations and examples he obviously doesn’t fully understand.

Ravi states his case and attacks the hidden angry substrate of Harris’ work, blow-by-blow. He never swerves as he ruthlessly labels Harris’ examples what they are, even calling attention to those Ravi fingers as crass and vulgar, implying that Harris is not only poorly prepared but a boor and a shadow-boxer.

I suppose if my children had been led down the primrose path of ugly atheism by Sam Harris’s blockbuster, this book might be the perfect stocking stuffer. Alas, as Ravi acknowledges, atheism is an emotional reaction and a willful rejection. It’s not based on a one-two punch of science and logic—it’s a defiant stance, a raised fist to a God whose nature as Creator requires a response.

 “Science and religion do not have to be enemies,” says Ravi, “they are facets of one truth, whose source is God.” For me, that sums it up neatly. I’ll leave the pistols-at-dawn crowd to argue over the fine points while I watch the sunrise in the background and bless the Lord who created it all.

"Lean not to your own understanding..." Proverbs 3:5

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Almost persuaded


“That to the heighth of this great argument I may assert eternal providence, And justify the ways of God to men…” John Milton, Paradise Lost

“Mansplaining” reaches dizzying height of hubris with poet John Milton, who figured several walloping stanzas of his epic poetry should sufficiently “justify the ways of God to men.” Really? The very idea of trying to justify God’s ways—as if we could ever truly figure out the Creator of the universe with our puny human brains—is borderline nuts. Nevertheless, Milton dove in headfirst and was lauded for his efforts. He had a 19th century apprentice in James B. Walker, D.D., author of “The Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation” (1889)—the CLSC book under discussion here. Walker’s goal: explain God’s plan in a way that would knock the legs out from under his era’s highly literate critics of Christianity. That first generation of Chautauqua logisticians must have wrestled mightily with this assigned text; I know I did.

 Walker attempts to lay out, in sequential logic, exactly what God had in mind when He constructed His plan of salvation. He tackles his subject with supreme confidence, building arguments and presenting conclusions with literary flourishes worthy of the courtroom “…it follows, therefore, legitimately and conclusively…” (pg 118). While I admire the Victorian philosopher’s zeal for corralling dogma and doctrine (not to mention the Old Testament’s ferocious bloodletting) into fitted-and-bolted frameworks, I struggle with its inevitable reverse engineering aspects.

Starting with his era’s elaborate “scientific” anthropology, for example, he posits that God orchestrated the grand scheme of holiness, priesthood, sacrifice, and temple worship because the ancient Jews could best understand God via object lessons and displays of power (i.e. Mt. Sinai, parting of the Red Sea, et al.). He called them “preparatory steps that led...to the light” (pg 116). Tribal Judaism, in his theory, wobbles along on religious training wheels until evolved enough to understand the “perfect system of religion.” (pg 109). Enter Jesus. We don’t require these sorts of spiritual pyrotechnics now, because we’ve culturally progressed. No miracles needed, thanks. We’ve got enough intellectual prowess in the new dispensation.

For me, Walker’s book somehow reduces the wondrous passion of God’s heartfelt redemption to a series of inescapable logical steps. His respectful, emotionless discourse perhaps anticipates the predictable Victorian recoil against overly emotional religious sentiment (labeled, with disgust, “cant”).

His tightly woven arguments do force conclusions—but only if the reader accepts certain baseline truths and cares about cohesive, rational deductions. “The preceding premises being established, the following conclusions result...” (pg 139) Alas, his cherished conventions of ordered logic are nowhere to be found in today’s highly subjective, post-Truth society. His arguments may have been compelling in the 19th c. (“..and so you see”, “…you must admit,” etc.), but today’s skim-and-scan readers dismiss logical progression as belonging to a stodgy egghead crowd. Logic isn’t the final authority—one’s feelings are. As a result, in our day, the antiquated structure of formal logic is lumbering inexorably towards the sheer cliff of “who cares?” Walker is essentially preaching to the choir and writing in a sealed chamber—each logical argument is based on the precarious belief that there’s a one-size-fits-all human behavior pattern. Ergo, God created a system of religion to maximize its effectiveness based on that predictable and in fact, God-designed pattern. It’s all a fine-tuned, inevitable cosmic cause-and-effect where God Himself is logically constrained by His own decrees and creation.

Most cornered atheists would probably admit they’ve never taken the time to construct experiential proof for their belief system. Their spiritually null state often stems from shattered illusions, painful family trauma and/or a hedonistic discarded of the repressions that represent God. It’s a “Santa suit in the basement” moment for many. Once setting forth on a godless sea, no amount of rational discourse is going to turn that ship around.

The problem isn’t a lack of logically presented information—Walker’s stance notwithstanding—it’s spiritual deafness. 1 Corinthians 2:14 clearly states: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

Convincing someone they need a Savior via higher criticism, as the apostle Paul discovered, can be disappointing work. After listening to Paul’s irrefutable logic, King Herod Agrippa witheringly remarked, “You almost persuade me, Paul.” Another rationalist listener, Judean governor Festus, reacted less calmly. “You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane." (Acts 26:24)

Let’s see if the 21st century rationalist approach of Ravi Zacharias, the foremost Christian apologetic of the age, fares better. I’ll be reviewing his response to the foremost contemporary atheistic text in my next post.

 “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Acts 26:28

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Laws of attraction






One of the major justifications for the Chautauqua CLSC scheme was to allow non-collegiate types to live, move, and have their being in an extremely restrictive, stultifying-ly caste-bound Victorian society. The reasoning went thusly: if we can provide a sort of Cliff’s Notes version of a college education—but one that resulted from actual study and earnest work—the student would be able to stand around at a gathering, say, of actual college folks and hold their own in a conversation. Rather than blink stupidly and yawp when Joe College whipped out the latest on Einstein’s theory, our CLSC student would be able to respond with intelligence, thus, hopefully, gain status, reflected glory, and, perhaps, some opportunities heretofore closed to them. The gates of respectability swing wide to welcome the cultured person in that era. You might assume that up-by-ones-bootstraps mentality has disappeared in this Googly age of handheld knowledge, an era when even the dullest high-schooler expects, nay, fights for his right to party with the frat boys at the college of their choice. So, education, not such a big deal these days (check the SAT scores…you’ll see a sad bell curve these days), right? Not so fast, buddy.
My 21st century counterpart to 1882’s Studies in the Stars, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson, tells me otherwise. This highly entertaining slim little volume (it vies for cute points with my pocket pal Studies) has page after page of bite-sized info-snippets, marketed and designed for the contemporary reader’s well-documented flitting and fitful attention span. It’s a sort of highbrow Cliff Notes, designed to be enjoyed while swaying on the subway or tucked in a Christmas stocking, a cerebral box of Godiva chocolates.
"
In this slim volume,” Tyson cheerfully declares in his introduction, “you will earn a foundational fluency in all the major ideas and discoveries that drive our modern understanding of the universe. If I’ve succeeded, you’ll be culturally conversant in my field of expertise, and you just may be hungry for more.” (p12). That sentiment is eerily similar to ones made by Chautauqua founder, Dr. Vincent, as he advocated that familiarity with the great themes of world literature, a good grasp of history's march, the rudiments of fine art and music, the ability to discuss the wonders of science, do some algebra, and speak at least one foreign language were the keys that unlocked opportunity for the left-behind Victorian worker population. 
I genuinely enjoyed Tyson's book and, like many liberal arts majors, find it absolutely impossible not to draw intriguing parallels between scientific phenomena and everyday life on earth. How can you NOT see the link between how lopsided orbits reveal an invisible star’s existence and the way your crazy co-worker behaves in certain trigger situations? And, I’ll bet I’m not the only Christian who reads spiritual truth in the phrase: “When something glows from being heated, it emits light in all parts of the spectrum, but will always peak somewhere.” (pg 50) Isn’t that just like our daily devotional encounters with Jesus? Just coming in contact with Him will produce a glow, but, depending on our receptors and our personal bent, it will definitely peak somewhere specific. This book is FULL of juicy little object lessons like that. Ooh, ooh, or this one: Describing Einstein’s mathematical placeholder for calculating dark energy Omega (Ω), Tyson says, “Nobody had seen the dominating presence of cosmic dark energy, nor had anybody imagined it as the great reconciler of differences.” (pg 110). Well, gee, that reminds this believer of a certain Alpha and Omega who is, indeed, the greatest reconciler.
The coolest part to me, hands down, is Tyson’s candid, nearly continual admission that we, as a race of observant, intelligent, curious beings, have no idea what the heck is going on 90% of the time. Even if you're a Brainiac.This book has so many good-humored admissions of ignorance I lost track. “Their origin continues to be a mystery…”, “…we are essentially clueless.”, “…what remains the longest-standing unsolved mystery in astrophysics…”, “…whose nature we have yet to divine…”, and my favorite: “Scientists are generally uncomfortable whenever we must base our calculations on concepts we don’t understand, but we’ll do it if we have to. And dark matter is not our first rodeo.” He gives an admiring bow to the 19th century, saying “Also in the nineteenth century, we observed stars, obtained their spectra, and classified them long before the 20th-centure introduction of quantum physics.” I really like this guy.

Scripture streaks through Mr. Tyson’s wonderfully clear prose like a random, brilliant comet. Many of Tyson’s chapter heads are subtly or blatantly religious: The Greatest Story Ever Told, Let There Be Light, On Earth as in the Heavens; “In the beginning…” (his kickoff sentence in chapter one…either an across-the-aisle handshake or a territory grab of the Genesis story). Inter-textual references ditto. He even quotes Isaiah 40:4, explaining that a certain gravitational phenomenon sounds “...almost Biblical, in preparing the way for the Lord (his capitalization, not mine).

So, basically, if you’re not biblically literate, you won’t get many of Tyson’s clever, well-written Scriptural allusions. And Mr. Tyson, I smell a church upbringing here; it’s tough to casually sling around biblical verbiage if you’ve never been exposed to it. Not to mention, you can’t appreciate the manifold manipulations of that language if you’ve been sheltered (as so many have in this culturally confused and bereft generation) from the base concepts and Biblical record of the Judaeo-Christian faith.

Tyson enthusiastically lauds Isaac Newton (a devout believer in God) as the brain of the millennium; Einstein comes in second. Now, I happen to know that Newton never found anything that shook his faith, in fact, his discoveries only solidified it, from alpha to omega. “Every few years, lab scientists devise ever more precise experiments to test the theory, (Einstein’s), only to further extend the envelope of the theory’s accuracy.”(pg 96). Sounds to me like Tyson is hinting, sometimes, the truth is Truth. It’s indisputable, even when you grab it by the ears and shake it around. Which begs the question: if Newtonian concepts are the ABC of astrophysics, and Newton was right about gravity, couldn't he be right about the Prime Mover, too? Stands to reason. Especially if, as Tyson repeatedly admits, we're pretty cosmically clueless.



Tyson quotes a ditty by Einstein:
Look unto the stars to teach us
How the master’s thoughts can reach us
Each one follows Newton’s math
Silently along the path..”
Newton would have capitalized the M and said the stars trace a path laid out for them before the world began by the One who called them out, all by name. 



"Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever." Daniel 12:3