It’s Always Zero Hour

Photo by Elias Schupmann on Unsplash

I’ve been a faithful reader of Os Guinness for years, and most of his more recent titles have concerned themselves with America specifically or the West more broadly: Impossible People, The Case for Civility, A Free People’s Suicide, Last Call for Liberty, The Magna Carta of Humanity, and now Zero Hour America: History’s Ultimatum over Freedom and the Answer We Must Give (InterVarsity Press, 2022)1. I heard him speak at The University of Kansas in 2006. He was one of several speakers in a series called “Difficult Dialogues on Knowledge, Faith, and Reason.” I met him briefly after his presentation and asked him to sign a copy of Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Spin. He was winsome and kind.2

In his latest book, Guinness is very concerned for America and for the state of the American experiment. Guinness writes, “America will fall–unless.” He says this book is not a “doomsday pronouncement” but a wake-up call to the internal movements, ideas, and forces that will lead to America’s implosion if left unchecked. Guinness warns that the enemies are already inside the gates. Sounds like gloom and doom to me.

In these types of rhetorical political debates gloom and doom is pretty common, and memory is always pretty short. If we’re in a battle for America’s future, the stakes are high. I think Guinness rightly diagnoses the paradox of freedom as a major source of America’s strife (“the fact that the greatest enemy of freedom is freedom“), that freedom is understood more in negative than positive terms in this country (freedom from and not freedom for), that apart from faith we are under-resourced in the forgiveness and reconciliation department, and that civics education is important (not the self-loathing kind, but the sober and judicious kind that acknowledges past wrongs while maintaining and preserving good and central truths and traditions). I think these are all worthwhile points of concern and debate. I just don’t think these fault lines mean that it is “zero hour,” the absolute moment of decision. It is quite possible that zero hour has already passed, and may soon come again.

Besides, it is always zero hour.

In his final chapter, Guinness cites Friedrich Hegel’s famous statement, “What experience and history teaches us is this–that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.” That’s a dramatic overstatement. But Hegel gets away with it because, as Guinness observes, “nothing lasts forever, and each society contains the seeds of its own destruction.”

In Top Gun: Maverick, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is told by an admiral, “The end is inevitable, Maverick. Your kind is headed to extinction.”

Maverick replies, “Maybe so, sir, but not today.”3

America, as an experiment in ordered liberty, must say something similar every day. There are 330 million people in this country. We are geographically enormous and regionally diverse. We’re not nearly as bad as our critics say, nor as spotless as our apologists claim. But we’re a pretty good place. Millions of people migrate to this country each year, most of whom wish to stay. And plenty of our citizen go about their lives quietly, doing their jobs, going to Little League games, and playing Bunko with their friends. But I guess Bunko doesn’t test well in focus groups, while apocalyptic messaging does.

While it might be politically advantageous and rhetorically effective to claim that the end of the world is near, isn’t it always so?

Yes, it is. We just don’t know how near. Which is why reading a prophet like Guinness is helpful, at least for me, in understanding our times, tracking intellectual currents, diagnosing problems, and assisting me in thinking through America’s history, ideals, values, and possibility, and advocating for a vision of our common life that aligns more closely with what is best about this place, while also works to address present wrongs and move us toward a greater approximation of justice.

That’s the work of politics. We all have a part to play. I try to play mine, not only as a voter, and not only as a citizen, but also as a person of Christian faith.


1. Amazon affiliate link.
2.He also signed a copy of Time for Truth to Molly and I. We attended the talk together.
3. I’m really glad I saw this movie. You should see it, too.

A Review: Spurgeon and the Psalms

From Thomas Nelson, a new issue of the Psalms with devotions from C. H. Spurgeon, the “prince of preachers.”

One mainstay of baptist piety that has stuck with me over the years is the daily quiet time. I begin each day with a reading from Scripture, a selection from the Psalms, a devotional reading, and prayer.

Thomas Nelson has released a new edition of Spurgeon and the Psalms [affiliate link], and with this volume, plus a cup of coffee, I have all I need to begin my day in meditation on God’s wonders and works.

In his preface, Charles H. Spurgeon said of the Psalms:

No one needs better company than the Psalms; therein we may read and commune with friends human and divine, friends who know the heart of people toward God and the heart of God towards people, friends who perfectly sympathize with our sorrows, friends who never betray or forsake. Oh, to be shut up in a cave with David, with no other occupation but to hear him sing and to sing with him! Well might a Christian monarch lay aside his crown for such enjoyment and a believing pauper find a crown in such felicity.

Spurgeon loved the Psalms and found much sweetness in them. We can, too.

A Leathersoft cover, with gold gilding.

This volume contains each of the one hundred and fifty psalms–the complete psalter–plus the brief reflections of Spurgeon on each psalm. Of his time in reflecting and writing on these portions from Scripture, Spurgeon wrote:

The delightful study of the Psalms has yielded me boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure; common gratitude constrains me to communicate to others the benefit, with the prayer that it may induce them to search further for themselves. That I have nothing better of my own to offer upon this peerless book is to me a matter of deepest regret; that I have anything whatever to present is subject for devout gratitude to the Lord of grace. I have done my best, but, conscious of many defects, I heartily wish I could have done far better.

That’s Spurgeon’s way of saying, “Thanks to God for the good relayed here and for the grace leading to my writing any truth found in these words. All errors remain my own.”

Charles H. Spurgeon lived from 1834 to 1892, and was the best known preacher of his day. He was a Baptist, and pastored New Park Street Chapel (more widely known as the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for thirty eight years.

The volume open, containing a bookmark. At right, you can see Spurgeon’s short reflection, followed by the psalm.

Spurgeon and the Psalms contains readings from the New King James Version translation of the Bible. Spurgeon’s prose continues to sing out with melody, a fitting accompaniment to a Bible translation that both seeks to maintain the lyric nature of the KJV while making it more accessible to the modern reader.

You can find a copy of this book at Amazon, linked above, or by visiting the FaithGateway store. I received this volume for review, for free, as a member of Bible Gateway’s Blogger Grid. Bible Gateway continues to be a valuable resource for me in reading and researching the Scriptures.

I enjoyed holding, reading, and exploring this new volume of Spurgeon and the Psalms. I found one error, within, on a dog-eared corner of Psalm 129, folded prior to the manuscript being cut and then bound. It’s nothing scissors and a steady hand can’t fix–and, I trust, an anomaly in the printing process.

If you’re looking for a new daily devotional and a faithful guide through the psalter, consider this one.

Summer Reading List for Kids

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

This summer I’m asking my kids to read. I’m also incentivizing the program. For every book on this list my kid reads, they earn a little money. Not only must they read the book, they have to write three sentences in response to this question: “What’s the book about?” That way, they’re not only reading, but they are reading toward the aim of writing. They’re thinking about how they’d introduce or explain the book to someone else. That’s higher level stuff.

In order for me to pull together a list of books they could choose from, Molly and I asked friends and acquaintances to share titles, series, and authors we should consider. If you are someone who recommended a book, thanks! We appreciate your help. I did not include every book that was suggested. If you see something missing, and you’d like others to know about it, leave a comment on this blog post.

For the sake of parents out there, I’ve linked to Common Sense Media reviews for these titles, where available. I haven’t read all of these books. I couldn’t offer a definitively judgment on many of these titles. Some of these books are more appropriate for my preteen daughter than for my elementary age son. At home, I screen accordingly, and if you are a parent I trust you to do the same. You’re responsible for your children; I’m responsible for mine.

Also, the links below are to Amazon. If you click and purchase, a small credit returns to me. It’s not necessary or even expected. You can search the title on your own! Or, if you live in Waco, you can shop locally at Fabled, and if you live elsewhere, you can buy books at your favorite bookstore. Most of these titles are likely available as well at your local library.

Happy reading!

Every Moment Holy: A Collection of Liturgies, Prayers Worth Having

A few weeks ago Molly and I stopped by our local bookshop, and as we browsed the shelves we came across a little book called Every Moment Holy [affiliate link]. I’ve linked to the pocket edition. There is a full-sized edition as well. It is published by Rabbit Room Press. This collection of prayers are written by Douglas Kaine McKelvey, and the book is illustrated by Ned Bustard.

You can visit the Every Moment Holy website to download sample liturgies, to purchase prints, and to learn more about the book. If you like what you see, you could also pick up Every Moment Holy, Vol. 2: Death, Grief & Hope [affiliate link]. The pocket edition of Vol. 2 releases later this month.

The prayers contained in Vol. 1 include liturgies for window washing, changing diapers, fiction writing, and meal preparation. Those are “Liturgies for Labor and Vocation.” You can view the contents here. There are prayers of petition, lament, for recreation, for relationships, for the table, for laughter, for thoughts of another…and for so many common occurrences of life, which, when bathed in prayer, take on a new frame.

I’ve only held Vol. 1 in my hand. This book contains compelling liturgies and prayers; it is also pleasant to hold. Not all books these days are.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” These prayers help us see that every moment, every occasion, can be conducted while in communion with God. The heart can be set, fixed upon God’s presence and activity. Words help us direct our attention and sharpen our focus. Every Moment Holy is a tool, one that can be put to edifying use.

Check it out.

2021: My Year in Reading

Last year was a blur. When we rang it in, I was glad to welcome it. When we rang it out, I was glad to say goodbye. Here’s hoping to a better 2022, which I’m kicking off with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Off to a solid start! And I’m fine. One overnight sinus headache. Not bad. I’m thankful I received the vaccine and that I caught a mild case. Onward.

My media log from 2010 and every year since is found here.

Please note: all links to Amazon are affiliate links. Clicks and purchases kickback to me. Support the blog and my reading habit. If a book in this post interests you and you plan to make a purchase, follow the hyperlink from this page. All the fun people do. Be fun.

How Many Books Did I Read This Year?

This year’s goal was to read 60 books, and I landed just short at 59. The first book I finished was C. J. Sansom’s mystery novel Tombland, the latest Matthew Shardlake story. The last book I read was John McWhorter’s Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. I continue to read comic books: Detective Comics: BatmanGuardians of the Galaxy, Kang the Conqueror, X-Men, and Wolverine.

I logged 93 movies and 11 television series. There are a few comedy specials I watched, too, that I didn’t record near the date of viewing. I walked my kids through the Marvel Infinity War saga, which we began as 2020 drew to a close, and completed in early 2021. My favorite movies this year included The Hunt, Mortal Kombat (2021), Tenet, Chasing Amy, Nobody, Old, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. Kevin Smith was a major factor in my viewing choices. I watched a lot of his work.

I watched a lot of documentaries, too, and my favorites were about Thomas Sowell, ZZ Top, and David Lynch. I watches some stinkers, too.

I didn’t really like Wonder Woman 1984 or Black Widow or Ocean’s 8, or Jolt, Kate, or Bright. I didn’t like Parker or The Old Guard, Snake Eyes or Suicide Squad (2021). But in television, I liked He-Man: Revelation, The Expanse, and Chernobyl.

What Were My Favorite Books This Year?

This is a tough one. My reading choices this year were slightly constrained by review obligations. I also took on some really challenging books. I read Horace and Marcus Aurelius, and I’m still reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. I read more history.

My favorites were Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night, Timothy Keller’s Hope in Times of Fear, Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream, David Byrne’s How Music Works, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, and John McWhorter’s Woke Racism.

I also think Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure is a book with important things to say.

Did You Hate Anything?

I hung in with, but did not enjoy Daniel Worster’s biography of John Muir, A Passion for Nature, or James S. A. Corey’s Leviathan Awakes.

What Are You Reading Right Now?

I’m very slowly progressing through Russell F. Weigley’s The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy. I’m reading Donald M. Lewis’ A Short History of Christian Zionism: From the Reformation to the Twenty-First Century (it’s over 350 pages!) and Miguel De Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

What Did I Learn from My Experience Reading This Year?

This year I picked up a lot of American history. Why? I want to understand the people and the ideas that have made this country what it is, both the good and the bad. The more I read, the more I come to believe that the founding ideals of the Republic are unparalleled in history, and despite the loud voices on the internet that persist in telling us how bad everything is, we live at a pretty incredible moment in time. Our moments most persistent doomsday preachers are more secular than they are traditionally religious. It might be a good time for Christians to emphasize the great good news of what God has done in and through Jesus Christ, and the great good work we have been invited into as participants in Jesus’ kingdom this side of the Lord’s Day.

I’ve also become more deeply convinced that daily habits add up to a lifetime of faithfulness, growth in holiness, and deepening of character. Reading is a key daily habit. Every day, I begin my morning with four chapters from the Bible, the appointed reading from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost from His Highest, and meditation on a selection from the Psalms. My morning reading takes anywhere from ten to twenty minutes, includes a few moments for prayer, and sets the tone for my day.

Another lesson: physical media is far better than e-books. I read a little on my Kindle, but nothing beats the feeling of a book in my hands.

What are you reading, and what should I add to my list?

The Impact of Reading on the Soul

I’m reading along with 100 Days of Dante, and learning new things each canto.

Dr. Jane Kim provides a helpful analysis of the Inferno’s Canto V. Her concluding remarks struck me powerfully. In Canto V, a woman named Francesca reveals to Dante that her descent into hell was a consequence of reading the story of Lancelot alongside her lover, Paulo. In that story, the two found inspiration for the fall that led to the tragedy of their death, and now, the two find themselves forever confined to hell’s second circle, where those who fell victim to lust now dwell.

Reading is formative. I am being formed as I read Dante in community with others. I probably wouldn’t be following this journey at all if not for my friend, Matt.

The same applies to reading the Bible, or any other great text, with others. What we read shapes us. Who we read with, likewise, has the power to transform. Therefore, choose what, and with whom, you read wisely.

Who to Read

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Alan Jacobs might be right. I certainly resist reading those who are polemical and partisan. I do not find it helpful to feed the fire of my own self-righteous anger. I know it is in there. I know I harbor hatred; I know I have enemies. I also know there are some writers who capitalize on these impulses. They stoke fear and inflame passions.

Jacobs’ advice here helps us to eliminate options, making us think more carefully about what not to read. But how do we decide what to read?

What if we asked, “Does this writer help us to better love one another?”

That would mean we would read books that would help us:

  • Gain a greater understanding of the human condition.
  • Have compassion for a broader diversity of the human family.
  • Develop a consistent ethic.
  • Inspire creative action.
  • Communicate more clearly.
  • Have courage.
  • Differentiate between truth and falsehood.
  • Become aware of the mistakes of the past and how to avoid repeating them.
  • Grow in wisdom and knowledge.
  • And, last but not least, encounter God, or experience the divine.

There is something worthwhile in reading books that address current controversies, or pulp fiction that can help us pass the time. But the more books I’ve read, the more discriminating I’ve had to become. The sands are running out of the hourglass. My time reading must be worthwhile. Every pick counts.