A room with a view

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In E. M. Forster’s novel A Room with a View, Mr. Emerson recalls a sentiment of his father: “Men fall into two classes — those who forget views and those who remember them, even in small rooms.” The view from my room at the Ensleigh Hotel in Devon, England was unforgettable. And I will transport myself there on days when the spirit needs to become verdant and tranquil again.

Afternoon tea

What would a vacation to England be without a traditional afternoon tea? Our family enjoyed this quintessentially English ritual at our accommodations. To unwind after our transatlantic flight, we relaxed in the elegant drawing room of the Duke’s London with a spread of H. Forman’s smoked Scottish salmon, ham and tomato, cream cheese and cucumber, coronation chicken finger sandwiches, a selection of pastries, and warm fruit and plan scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam.

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Once we left the topsy-turvy of urban life behind, we had a pared-down afternoon tea on a lovely courtyard overlooking the gardens at the Ensleigh Hotel in Devon.

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Recommended Book

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Description
Who would not want to sit down with Jane Austen and join her in a cup of tea? Here for the first time is a book that shares the secrets of one of her favorite rituals.

Tea figures prominently in Jane Austen’s life and work. At the centre of almost every social situation in her novels one finds tea. In Emma, does Miss Bates drink coffee? Of course not: ‘No coffee, I thank you, for me-never take coffee.-A little tea if you please.’ In Pride and Prejudice, what is one of the supreme honours Mr. Collins can envision Lady Catherine bestowing on Elizabeth Bennet and her friends? Why, drinking tea with her, naturally.

Tea with Jane Austen begins with tea drinking in the morning and ends with tea in the evening, at balls and other gatherings. Each chapter includes a description of how tea was taken at a particular place or time of day, along with history, recipes, excerpts from Austen’s novels and letters and illustrations from the time.

Author
Kim Wilson is a writer, editor, and gardener who lives in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and is a longtime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her other titles for Frances Lincoln are In the Garden with Jane Austen and At Home with Jane Austen.

How should you relate to other Christians when your consciences disagree about disputable matters?

In this unique and horrible election year, when Christians and conservatives are at odds with each other about whether to vote and for whom, we need biblical wisdom about how to disagree on disputable matters. Andy Neselli, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary and author of Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differdelivered an excellent sermon at Bethlehem Baptist Church on Romans 14:1-15:7.


12 Principles for Disagreeing with Other Christians
:

  1. Welcome those who disagree with you (Rom. 14:1-2).
  2. Those who have freedom of conscience must not look down on those who don’t (Rom. 14:3-4).
  3. Those whose conscience restricts them must not be judgmental toward those who have freedom (Rom. 14:3-4).
  4. Each believer must be fully convinced of their position in their own conscience (Rom. 14:4).
  5. Assume that others are partaking or refraining for the glory of God (Rom. 14:6-9).
  6. Do not judge each other in these matters because we will all someday stand before the judgment seat of God (Rom. 14:10-12).
  7. Your freedom to eat meat is correct, but don’t let your freedom destroy the faith of a weak brother (Rom. 14:13-15).
  8. Disagreements about eating and drinking are not important in the kingdom of God; building each other up in righteousness, peace, and joy is the important thing (Rom. 14:16-21).
  9. If you have freedom, don’t flaunt it; if you are strict, don’t expect others to be strict like you (Rom. 14:22a).
  10. A person who lives according to their conscience is blessed (Rom. 14:22b-23).
  11. We must follow the example of Christ, who put others first (Rom. 15:1-6).
  12. We bring glory to God when we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us (Rom. 15:7).

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Vote your character and your conscience

Matthew J. Frank, Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, and Andy Naselli, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary, have written the most clear-sighted reflections that I have read on the ethics of voting in the “electoral annus horribilis of 2016.”

Here are excerpts from Frank’s article in Pubic Discourse, A Vote’s Consequences and a Voter’s Conscience“:

The question—“If your vote were decisive, what would you do?”—invites us to think of the civic function of voting as though everything hung on that one vote each of us casts. This invitation, to vote as if the weight of the world were on my shoulders alone, is what I refuse to accept.

The reason I decline the invitation is not just that the weight is not on my shoulders. It is that this is really an invitation to a kind of consequentialism in the ethics of voting. I don’t intend to plunge into the philosophical debate between consequentialist and deontological ethics, which is not in my field anyway. I mean to make a much more informal and homely point: it is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.

***

We conservatives are not in an ordinary political situation. In past elections, some of us might not have had our first or even our second choice among Republican candidates on the November ballot for president. . . . This time is different. “Not making the perfect the enemy of the good” is not the right adage for calculating what to do in our present predicament. Nor is “choose the lesser of two evils” the right way to think. That way of thinking really only works when at least one of the choices is in fact not really evil.

***

Now, however, we really do have two evils to choose between—or to decline choosing. Neither Trump nor Clinton has a single redeeming characteristic that recommends him or her to the presidency of the United States—at least none that is not decisively outweighed by some other damning characteristic. Clinton’s much vaunted “experience” is a career record of ghastly misjudgments in foreign policy, paired with a consistently authoritarian and illiberal “progressivism” in domestic policy, seemingly intent on unraveling the social fabric that makes a decent society. And there is no need to rehearse her and her husband’s history of dishonesty, corruption, and irresponsibility, capped most recently by her obvious breach of the statutes protecting national security secrets.

As for Trump, was there ever a candidate more obviously unqualified for high public office, as measured by his dearth of relevant knowledge and experience, his willfulness and self-absorption, his compulsive lying and inconsistency, his manipulative using of other people, his smash-mouth rhetoric and low character? For anyone professing conservative principles, the first problem with Trump is that he is not one of us, has never been one of us, shows no sign or capacity of becoming one of us, and hardly cares to pretend to be one of us. Even “what about the Supreme Court?” has no grip on my conscience when I try to imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I cannot trust him to choose judicial nominees wisely, and there are other things whose cumulative weight is greater even than this variable.

We haven’t even the consolation of thinking of Trump as a certain kind of Republican who is not actually conservative but who at least recognizes our vocabulary when he hears it. No, Trump would not know a conservative principle if it kicked him in the shins. This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.

***

After a lifetime of studying politics, I have finally, thanks to the electoral annus horribilis of 2016, arrived at an ethic of voting that I can defend against all rival ethics. It is simply this: Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.

Neselli organizes his blog post, “Can You Vote for Donald Trump With a Clear Conscience?“, around various questions:

  1. Does Donald Trump have good character and policies?
  2. What does voting entail?
  3. What is a clear conscience?
  4. So can you?

Here is an excerpt answering the third question:

Your conscience is your consciousness of what you believe is right and wrong. You have a clear conscience when your conscience does not accuse or condemn you for doing “wrong” but instead commends and defends you for doing “right.”

I placed quotation marks around “wrong” and “right” because your conscience could be wrong. Conscience is not infallible. It operates according to your moral standard, and your moral standard could be wrong. Some people support and practice abortion with a clear conscience, but their conscience is based on an immoral standard, namely, that it is not wrong to kill a baby in a mother’s womb if that baby’s mother so chooses. It is possible to sin with a clear conscience.

So can a person vote for Donald Trump with a clear conscience? Yes. But that doesn’t make the action right in God’s sight. Your conscience may tell you that voting for Trump is right while another person’s conscience may tell them that voting for Trump is wrong.

Sometimes you need to calibrate your conscience. Just like you need to calibrate a scale if it registers 150 pounds when you actually weigh only 145, sometimes you need to adjust or train your conscience to function according to God’s moral standards. You do this primarily by educating your conscience with truth. Some people may support and practice abortion with a clear conscience because they don’t understand scientifically that human life begins at conception.

But abortion is a relatively easy issue. It’s like the big E on the eye chart. Many ethical issues are more complex, such as whether and how to practice capital punishment or just war. Or whether to vote for Donald Trump if his opponent is Hillary Clinton.

People may reasonably disagree about how to strategically vote in America’s democratic republic:

  1. Will your conscience condemn you for not voting—for failing to act as a responsible citizen for the good of your family, community, and country?
  2. Will your conscience condemn you for voting for Hillary Clinton—for supporting someone who is arguably worse than Donald Trump (e.g., enthusiastically pro-abortion)?
  3. Will your conscience condemn you for voting for Donald Trump—for supporting the person I describe in the first part of this essay?
  4. Will your conscience condemn you for voting for someone else—for essentially “wasting” your vote on someone who has no chance to win?

There isn’t a good option. That’s what makes this a quandary. But is there a least bad option? Some conservatives will argue that we must choose the lesser of two evils. Others will argue that they can’t vote for Trump based on principle (we must not vote for evil, even if one candidate is not quite as evil as the other) and strategy (take a long-term view and rebuild the conservative movement rather than let Trump destroy it under the banner of the GOP).

What should you do? It’s in a theological category called “disputable matters.” Disputable matters aren’t unimportant, but fellow Christians who are members of the same church should be able to disagree on these issues and still have close fellowship with each other.

But remember: It is a sin to violate your conscience—even if your conscience is mistaken. If your conscience tells you that it is wrong to vote for Donald Trump and you vote for him anyway, then you sinned. So unless you can vote for Donald Trump without your conscience condemning you, then you should not vote for him.

It’s also worth thinking about how your conscience has worked in the past. Many conservatives argued in 1998 that the Lewinsky scandal disqualified Bill Clinton as president, but some of those same people are planning to vote for Trump. What changed?

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Christmas: 1924

During our family’s tour of Thomas Hardy Country, I asked the guide these questions: “How would you characterize Hardy’s relationship to Christianity? Was he a man of faith or a skeptic?” He answered by reciting this short poem that left me aghast with its piercing truth.

Christmas: 1924

‘Peace upon earth!’ was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We’ve got as far as poison-gas.

Along with Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and W.H. Auden, Thomas Hardy belongs to those “artists who lived somewhere on the margins of belief even though they may have longed to rest at its center,” as literary critic Roger Lundin wrote in his book Believing Again. Note the date of Hardy’s poem. Knowing that he endured the horrors of the Boer War (1899-1902) and World War I (1914-1918), we can better understand the writer’s agnosticism about whether a Prince of Peace reigns in the modern world. With such meaningless carnage, anyone might question if Isaiah was mistaken when he prophesied that “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Judging by the poem above, I imagine Hardy’s outlook was not much different than Dickinson, who wrote near the end of her life: “On subjects of which we know nothing, or should I say Beings — we both believe, and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps Believing nimble.”

Charles Dickens’ London

When I studied abroad at the University of London as a junior undergraduate student, I explored the nooks and crannies of the elegant city with London Walks, “the oldest urban walking tour company in the world.” Owing to their excellent guides, I have probably seen more of London than many lifelong Londoners. In July my family elected to take the walk called Charles Dickens’ London, starting at the Temple Underground Station.

Dickens and London? “He knew it all,” recalled a friend, and here are remarkable survivals from his life and works. Pip’s lodgings in Great Expectations (“who enters here leaves noise behind”) and the bank which employed “resurrection man” Jerry Cruncher in A Tale of Two Cities. Tulkinghorn’s chambers (“where lawyers lie like maggots in nuts”) from Bleak House, even the original Old Curiosity Shop (or is it?). Dickens’s immortal Sam Weller had “extensive and peculiar” knowledge of London, and this walk continues the tradition. Tradition and peculiar being the watchwords. Because this walk’s a sojourn into a lost city – an Atlantis. A London of nooks and crannies and alleyways and gas lamps and 18th- and 19th century houses – and no cars! Yes, this London – Dickens’s London – has kept the 20th century at bay. It’s an eye-opener. And a mind opener. The thought that this is where he lived and worked and despite the passage of nearly two centuries he’d feel right at home here. It’s “Inimitable” – like Dickens himself. Let alone the 21st century! 

On the walking tour, I felt like Pip in Great Expectations, who received an unexpected fortune that permits him to leave the “marsh country” of Kent for the “nearest town” of London.

No more low, wet grounds, no more dikes and sluices, no more of these grazing cattle,—though they seemed, in their dull manner, to wear a more respectful air now, and to face round, in order that they might stare as long as possible at the possessor of such great expectations,—farewell, monotonous acquaintances of my childhood, henceforth I was for London and greatness; not for smith’s work in general, and for you!

Pip’s first stop was the “most dismal” office of Mr. Jaggers located at Little Britain. By contrast, there is a dignified area of London known as The Temple, which has been associated with the legal profession for centuries. When we strolled through Pump Court Chambers, which houses some of the city’s leading barristers, I imagined Mr. Jaggers and his clerk Mr. Wemmick carrying out their hurried business.

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Pump Court Chambers, The Temple

Dickens scholar David Parker addresses of the importance of the Temple in Great Expectations:

Pip’s final London residence is in the Temple, a complex of buildings between the Thames and Fleet Street, housing two of the Inns of Court I’ve spoken of, the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple.  For a significant part of his writing career, Dickens was a member of the Middle Temple.  He first resolved to be called to the bar in 1834, was admitted to the Middle Temple as a student in 1839, was still intending to be called in 1846, and petitioned to withdraw only in 1855.  He would have known that persons other than lawyers could become tenants of legal chambers.  Buildings in the Inns of Court were often erected or refurbished at the expense of members proposing to occupy them.  In return, they were granted long leases on favourable terms, which they were able to assign to whomever they chose.  

A legal centre from about 1320, the Temple was originally developed in the twelfth century by the Knights Templar.  It’s organised on the mediaeval collegiate model: an enclosed complex in which communal needs are met by chapel, hall and library, private needs by squares and courts of terraced houses.  The sense of enclosure fascinated Dickens—a sense he dramatically violates with the message left by Wemmick with the porter at Whitefriars Gate: ‘Don’t go home.’

Pip’s chambers are in Garden Court—in the building that preceded the late Victorian one standing today—at ‘the top of the last house … down by the river.’  It’s a mark of the topographical precision of Dickens’s imagination that he took friends to see the actual chambers where, in his mind’s eye, Pip had lived.

Middle Temple Hall

Middle Temple

Pip began his London odyssey at Barnard Inn, which he described as having “the most dismal trees in it, and the most dismal sparrows, and the most dismal cats, and the most dismal houses,” but moved his chambers to “Garden Court, down by the river” (photographed below). It was here when Abel Magwitch, his secret benefactor, makes himself known to Pip on a stormy night.

Alterations have been made in that part of the Temple since that time, and it has not now so lonely a character as it had then, nor is it so exposed to the river. We lived at the top of the last house, and the wind rushing up the river shook the house that night, like discharges of cannon, or breakings of a sea. When the rain came with it and dashed against the windows, I thought, raising my eyes to them as they rocked, that I might have fancied myself in a storm-beaten lighthouse. Occasionally, the smoke came rolling down the chimney as though it could not bear to go out into such a night; and when I set the doors open and looked down the staircase, the staircase lamps were blown out; and when I shaded my face with my hands and looked through the black windows (opening them ever so little was out of the question in the teeth of such wind and rain), I saw that the lamps in the court were blown out, and that the lamps on the bridges and the shore were shuddering, and that the coal-fires in barges on the river were being carried away before the wind like red-hot splashes in the rain.

Milford Lane

Milford Lane

Finally, Lincoln’s Inn Fields made an impression upon me during the walking tour. Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin explains its role for the Victorian novelist.

Charles Dickens’s first job was as a lawyer’s clerk with offices in Holborn in the 1820s: he amused himself by spitting cherry stones from the windows on to the heads of passers-by. Chancery Lane, Lincoln’s Inn and the other Inns of Court figure greatly in his novels, most notably in Bleak House. His closest friend, John Forster, lived at 58 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the house Dickens gave to the sinister lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn, and where he had him murdered. 

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Lincoln Inn’s Fields, Holborn

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