Friday, December 15, 2017

December 15, 2017: Christmas as the Season of Giving, Modeled on the Greatest Gift of All: And Some Gift Recommendations (Part I)

Friends,

We are yet in the Season of Advent, but Christmas will soon be upon us, and as beautifully illustrated in the ancient Roman liturgy, our hopes and anticipation rise as we approach closer to that wondrous day celebrating the birth of Our Savior, the Incarnate Christ Child—one of two critically significant days that changed forever human history and destiny (the other being Easter).

From time immemorial it has been the custom in Christian lands to give gifts, to give presents to our loved ones and dear friends. In a sense, that custom mirrors the Greatest Gift of All, the coming of Our Blessed Lord in a lowly stable in Bethlehem of Judaea a little over two 2,000 years ago. On our human level we express and share that joy with other humans.

Yesterday, as I scurried about searching for some age-appropriate gifts for my two young grand-nephews, fighting the crowds and the horrific traffic, I got to thinking about this wonderful tradition and just what it means, or, at least should mean: not just the onerous obligation “to get something” for Uncle Bill or Cousin Jane, not just the requirement to get out in all the hurly-burly and swirl of frantic last minute shoppers. But the very real joy of showing Our Savior’s love in us by sharing it with someone we love. Indeed, the joy occasioned by our giving in some ways outweighs the joy in the eyes and expressions of the recipients of our gifts.

Is this not what Christmas’ “spirit of giving” is all about?

Forty years ago when I was studying in seminary in Switzerland, I had a professor of dogmatic theology, Dominican Father M. L. Guerard des Lauriers, OP, an internationally-famous theologian. One of his finest classes had to do with how we define “love,” “amor.” “Our love,” I remember him saying, “is the joy we receive at the other person’s good, his happiness.” The “other” is affected by our actions and words, and the joy received by that person is also reflected back in us. But to actually be “love” it also carries the impetus and origin of God’s grace working in us and guiding our steps and actions. As its “glow” and strength come from God, it is able to overcome and surmount challenges; as it binds us to the “other,” it also shares with the “other” both good times and not so good times. And as it is essentially spiritual, it anneals and incorporates the mere physical and sexual, and integrates them into something truly beautiful…a touch of the Divine. Indeed, this is why marriage is sacramental.

Fighting the crowds of anxious Christmas shoppers at Target, I remembered that lesson, and I smiled and relaxed just a bit. And instead of purchasing the sets of Legos my sister had suggested, I ended up getting some model race-tracks…I know my grand-nephews and brother-in-law will have fun setting them up!

Over the past year or two I’ve come across a number of wonderful items that I think would be truly superb Christmas gifts, and today—and tomorrow—I’d like to recommend a few of them and share information about them. We still have eight postal days before Christmas, and Amazon.com or Target or BookFinder can get a chosen gift to whomever we choose in that time…if we hurry.

First, let’s consider some books, six recently published, two that came out a few years back, and one very handsome re-publication of a 1908 classic.

My friend and Southern compatriot Dr. Clyde Wilson heads up the Shotwell Publishing Company out of South Carolina, and his effort now boasts a number of fine volumes dedicated to the South and to the Confederacy. One of the latest and best is Confederaphobia: An American Epidemic, by Paul C. Graham, an excellent examination of the rampant infection of anti-Southern bias and anti-Confederate madness that seems to have gripped the nation in recent years, with some counsel on how to counteract and overcome it.

Along a similar line, historian Philip Leigh published earlier this year a magnificent study, Southern Reconstruction (Westholme Publishing), which should be in the hands of every college student, especially in the hands of those studying American history and the Reconstruction. Leigh’s book is a superb counter-argument against the dominant Marxist/Communist reading of post-War Between the States Southern history. At the very least, it should be required reading in those senior history classes where Marxist Eric Foner’s ideological work is imposed on our hapless sons and daughters (or grandsons and granddaughters).

On too many occasions to count I have mentioned and cited my friend Dr. Paul Gottfried. Paul is the author of well over a dozen superb books, many translated into numerous foreign languages. He is, beyond doubt, the dean of American “Old Right” conservatism, the only form of “conservatism” that can claim aboriginal roots in America. His justly famous trilogy—After Liberalism, The Strange Death of Marxism, and Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt—remains the key to understanding the intellectual contagion that overwhelms and may finally destroy our Western and Christian culture.  This year he has published a new book of his brilliant essays: Revisions and Dissents (Northern Illinois University Press), and it is an excellent (in paperback) sampling of his thinking and philosophy on various topics, including liberalism and democracy, the break-up and failure of the conservative movement, plus some enchanting autobiographical material.

Another good friend, Dr. Jack Kerwick, has just published his latest volume, Christianity and the World: Essays Philosophical, Historical & Cultural (Stairway Press), which offers a number of his fine examinations of critical issues affecting both our historic Christian faith and culture in 2017. Like G. K. Chesterton before him, Jack combines a trenchant power of analysis (he is a professor of logic and philosophy) with a wide and developed understanding of our Christian civilization and what created it, and why it is under such severe pressure today.
Among current fiction writers the Alabamian Tito Perdue stands out, and I would be remiss not to mention his major work: William’s House (Arktos Media). It’s in four engrossing volumes, true page-turners. Perdue is in a long line of great native authors and novelists, and William’s House will not disappoint that eager fiction-reader you know or in your family.

Another more recent volume I recommend is the incredibly rich and thought-provoking study, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition (Harper Collins Publishers), by Dr. Douglas Axe, who heads the Biologic Institute in Seattle. Like scholars Michael Behe (in Darwin’s Black Box) and Phillip E. Johnson (in Darwin On Trial) before him, Axe examines Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Darwinism in general with the eye of an accomplished scientist and finds them wanting. Indeed, he begins with basic physical and philosophical concepts, in a sense returning to older concepts of causation and movement, and the eventual illogicality of Darwin’s theory. And once again, this is a volume that not just college students should have, but we all can profit from. After all, such charades as the “new theology” of climate change and extreme environmentalism use Darwin as the essential building block for their dogmatic ideologies.

In the past I have cited two remarkable books about contemporary, post-Communist Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. And I recommend them strongly to those who actually wish to discover more in depth what has been going on in Russia since the final expiration of Soviet Communism in August 1991. First, there is the remarkable volume,Vladimir Putin and Russian Statecraft (Potomac Books), by Dr. Allen C. Lynch, Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and former head of the school’s Center for Russian & East European Studies. Lynch’s volume, although published several years ago, still offers one of the best correctives to all the absolutely insane and false Russophobic disinformation that continues to bubble up within the modern “(neo) conservative movement,” on Fox, or in the pages of National Review and Weekly Standard. And he doesn’t resort to a tendentious, pro-Putin viewpoint to accomplish it:  he simply goes back and sifts through the facts, the original documents and statements and actions. After reading this scholarly work, you will never watch the Fox All Stars or the Neocon apparatchiks in the same way again.

A second book on Russia, or, rather, on the re-emergence of the Christian, specifically, Russian Orthodox, faith in Russian lands equally demands consideration. It is Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia (Princeton University Press). It's a careful and comprehensive overview of how Christianity in Russia in the form of the Orthodox Church has emerged from seventy years of oppression to become the major motivating force not only for a vast majority of Russians, but also for the Russian government.

One last book, a biography, should be noted and must be recommended, and certainly for those interested in the development of pre-War Between the States Southern thought and for understanding the foundations of American constitutionalism. It is William E. Dodd’s Life of Nathaniel Macon (Scuppernong Press), which remarkably has been the only study of that incredibly important American political figure published in the last 109 years.  Scuppernong Press, located in Wake Forest, North Carolina, has brought out a handsome newly-formatted printing of the original 1908 edition, complete with an illuminating Foreword by Dr. Clyde Wilson. Macon was the critical link between the American Founders and the Framers of the Constitution and men of the caliber of John C. Calhoun, but also for much of originalist constitutional thinking;  yet, he remains largely unknown to contemporary historians, and even more so to conservatives.

Dodd was something of an old-school progressive, and thus, his biography takes on that hue, of attempting to stress Nathaniel Macon’s more populist views. Even so, given the utter decay and perversion in our modern times of even the definition of “democracy,” not to mention its miserable and lurid reality, Macon’s ideas on Jeffersonian democracy—true Old Republicanism—are an antidote to nearly all the talk, the ceaseless ideological blabber, we hear about that term these days.

Tomorrow I hope to recommend and discuss some DVDs and compact discs, a varied assortment that ranges from good old Southern humor (Lewis Grizzard and Archie Campbell), to a recording of the US Marine Band, to the classical music of Jan Sibelius, to classic films that most of you will know, even to a delightful Russian Christmas opera on film (!), and maybe a few that will be new to you. Stay tuned.

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