Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"The Lord is at the center"

The theme running through just about everything I've ever posted here about worship is "It's not about you" [or me, for that matter], it's about Almighty God. Two things happen [or ought to] in a typical Christian "worship service": worship and teaching. Teaching is what the pastor does in the sermon. Worship is at least as important and shouldn't be treated as the preliminary to the sermon. Worship is what believers do when we recognize that we are in the presence of God.

The Gospel Coalition gives us a review by Chris Castaldo of God's Lyrics: Rediscovering Worship Through Old Testament Songs, by Douglas Sean O'Donnell. O'Donnell's attention to what the Scriptures teach us about worship in song also guides us toward principles relevant to every part of worship:
.... With attention consistently focused upon the splendor of God, O’Donnell sets the stage in his introduction, explaining that “many contemporary and some classic lyrics have blurred our perception of God and his work. By showing characteristics of these ‘sacred songs’ (1 Chron. 16:42) within the sacred writings—such as their God-centered yet personal nature, their emphasis on the works of God in salvation history, and especially their joy in judgment—we will offer both a corrective and a call: a corrective to sing lyrics that will not only make us ‘wise for salvation,’ but will also be profitable for ‘training in righteousness’ (2 Tim. 3:14-16), as well as a call to return to the Word of God (the very words of God!) in our worship of him.” ....

From his investigation, O’Donnell elucidates four characteristics that recur in biblical song. In the book’s foreword, T. David Gordon summarizes these points (ix):
  • The Lord is at the center; that is, our God is addressed, adored, and “enlarged.”
  • His mighty acts in salvation history (not merely or primarily our personal experience of redemption) are recounted.
  • His acts of judgments are rejoiced in.
  • His ways of living (practical wisdom) are encouraged.
...O’Donnell uses the four above-mentioned characteristics of biblical song to evaluate classical hymns and contemporary worship music. As O’Donnell waxes eloquent about the kingdom directed nature of praise, one quickly recognizes a disconnection between a biblically principled approach and the self-centered emphasis of many churches today. This may be the most provocative part of the book. Thankfully however, where many such critiques tend to sound crotchety and irritable, O’Donnell is refreshingly constructive. ....

An incisive quote from New Testament scholar Gordon Fee at the start of part three drives home O’Donnell’s point, “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology.”  .... [more]
God’s Lyrics - TGC Reviews

For a more diverse campus

Even the Los Angeles Times better understands how genuine diversity is achieved than the majority on the Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court on Monday sided with the UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco against a Christian group that argued — persuasively, in our view — that it had been denied recognition because it refused to accept members who wouldn't abide by its religious principles. Now that Hastings has won its case, it should take a fresh look at whether student organizations should be required to accept members who don't share their views. ....

Even if it passes constitutional muster, the "all comers" policy could lead to bizarre results, such as a Jewish group having to admit Christians or a pro-life group being required to let abortion-rights activists seek leadership positions. The best argument against the policy is that it actually undermines diversity by making every student group potentially interchangeable in its membership. A better way to promote diversity of viewpoints is to allow groups on campus to define their beliefs — including religious beliefs — and compete for the allegiance of students. Hastings should give it a try.
A poor Supreme Court ruling on Hastings - latimes.com

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Witnessing

Tom Krattenmaker in USA TODAY writes about "How to sell Christianity? Ask an atheist." No one likes to feel manipulated or subjected to emotional blackmail, and yet atheists report that much of the "evangelism" they experience does feel like that.
Jim Henderson is a recovering evangelist. Back in his soul-chasing, church-starting days, he began hearing a grating dissonance between his faith in Jesus and the way he went about winning new converts. Henderson realized he was doing unto others what he would never want done unto him. He was manipulating conversations to set up a pitch. Viewing people as potential notches on his evangelism belt rather than fellow sojourners and prospective friends. Listening only to the extent it could reveal an argumentative opening. He realized he hated the whole enterprise. ....

Conventional evangelism is often accused, and rightly so, of "bait and switch" tactics; think attractive social gathering or sports outing that, unbeknownst to invitees, is really designed to segue into a Gospel pitch. Henderson has a fascinating alternative to propose: all bait, no switch.

Call it promotion by non-promotion, evangelism by attraction, goodwill mongering, or letting one's life speak for itself, but this is what will best represent the faith among the many Americans who do not share the evangelical faith. Henderson and his fellow travelers are right in urging would-be evangelists simply to get to know people, become their friends and let the spiritual chips fall where they may.

This re-imagined form of witness trumpets good news all around — for Christians who, as Henderson puts it, want to be "normal," for the public credibility of Christianity, and for all of the not-yet and never-will-be converts who don't want to be pitied or demonized for (supposedly) living in the dark. .... [more]
Thanks to Mike Pohlman for leading me to the column, which he summarizes: "So, how does one sell Christianity? You don’t."

The occasions when I know that anything I did was used by God I was unconscious of any effort to evangelize.

How to sell Christianity? Ask an atheist. - USATODAY.com

"A new bigotry with moral pretensions"

Universities and colleges are already among the most intolerant of places, although that intolerance is justified as being in the interest of tolerance — college students being such delicate flowers that they require protection from views that might cause them discomfort. Yesterday the Supreme Court — in the interest of preventing discrimination — has decided that public universities may discriminate against religious groups with unpopular convictions unless those groups permit membership for, and leadership by, "all comers," including those who disagree with the group's organizing purpose. Hadley Arkes predicted the likely consequence of the decision before it was rendered:
.... If the Christian Legal Society loses, the lesson drawn from the case is likely to be the one that proved to be decisive even though it was never fully argued: that it was indeed legitimate to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and that it is legitimate for law schools and colleges and universities to make a moral insistence on that rule even if it means virtually pushing off the campus, and stamping as illegitimate, any groups that proclaim openly the orthodox teaching of Christianity and Judaism that has been woven into the life of this country from its beginning.

That prospect is at once staggering and yet quite real, and it is not to be dismissed out of hand. We have already seen the inclination to deny standing and legitimacy to Christian groups at Tufts University and other places. No one with any familiarity with elite schools in the East can doubt that this rejection of the seriously religious is already in the air. At my own college, Amherst, the new students often are counseled to free themselves from any inhibitions on plunging into a sexual life happily free of commitments. And they usually are instructed with a moral severity to recede from any objections to the homosexual life.

The message to the religious is, in short: You had best be silent, or be careful about mouthing your objections. For you must understand, at the outset, that your moral outlook is not respected here. One of my students posted on his door a sign that ran a bar through the words “same-sex marriage.” He was warned, by his resident adviser, that he was coming near the edge of an actionable offense. His offense was to express in public a view held by most of the American people on a matter of controversy in our current politics.

The Supreme Court may produce, in the case of the Christian Legal Society, a decision suitably qualified, narrowed, muffled. But if it comes down in favor of the law school against the students, we can expect that decision to be trumpeted and amplified. We can expect that the “best” schools will lead all others in claiming a high moral stance as they purge Christian fellowships from the recognized life of colleges and universities. And we can expect that this lesson, taught from the most prestigious schools, will ripple outward, spreading widely in the land: a new bigotry with moral pretensions—an animus to religion driven by a religious passion but serenely detached, now, from both revelation and reason. [more]
Vast Dangers in a Small Place | First Things

Monday, June 28, 2010

"We hear about those as just went on..."

Perhaps my favorite passage from The Lord of the Rings is the exchange in the Mines of Moria when Frodo says to Gandalf “I wish none of this had happened,” and Gandalf responds, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” This is one of Tolkien's themes. The most important heroes in LOTR are ordinary people who, when placed in extraordinary circumstances, do what is necessary. Yesterday Ray Ortlund provided another quotation from those books: Samwise on "the tales that really mattered":
"....The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on — and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same — like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’”

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Boston, 1994), page 696.
The tales that really mattered – Ray Ortlund

Cloud cuckoo land

Walter Russell Mead reminds us that the times we live in are not protected from tragedy and that every bad thing that happens isn't a problem that has a solution:
.... Brought up in a soft and candy colored consumer paradise, most Americans today aren’t psychologically prepared for a world that, in critical respects, doesn’t live up to our standards. This is only a sign of how out of touch we have allowed ourselves to become: we have constructed a bubble of affluence and optimism for ourselves and told ourselves that the bad old days of existential threats, tragic trade offs and agonizing choices were over for good. Like credulous investors plunging into a fizzy and exuberant stock market at the peak, we console ourselves with the mantra that “This time is different.”

Previous generations would laugh us to scorn. Our ancestors lived in a world of mysterious terrors, subject to forces that they did not understand and could not control; so do we. The difference between us is that our ancestors saw this more clearly; in our days, blinded by the extraordinary scientific and technological progress of the last two hundred years, many of us start with the assumption that ‘progress’ has cured history of tragedy and tamed Mother Nature. But that is just where we are wrong: the western enlightenment did not produce a stable world order in which the forces of science and good government could protect us from every ill. It has produced a wild new world filled with unprecedented dangers and extraordinary challenge. The scientific revolution eliminated smallpox and cured polio — and gave us the nuclear bomb.

...[T]he alternative to living in a world of danger and challenge isn’t the idyllic existence we sometimes imagine. While people sometimes reject and fear change, risk and uncertainty — rude forces that disrupt our routines, challenge our assumptions, and threaten our cherished plans — those are exactly the conditions required to make us grow and to become our fullest selves. We would be dull people, and this would be a dull world, without adventure and change. To venture out on the great seas is in our nature; without this kind of challenge and risk, we become small and petty people.

Neither religion nor the living God Himself is about protecting and sheltering us from danger, disruption and disturbance. God wants us out there on the open seas; faith is the quality that gives us the courage to confront the great storms of life. As Cowper put it, “He plants His footsteps on the seas and rides upon the storm.” That is where we must be, too and in those storms we will need the kind of faith that enables people to feed on tumult, to grow on storms — rather than being overwhelmed and submerged by the tempests and tumult of the wild and woolly times into which we are called. [more]
One of his commenters quotes Kipling:
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Faith Matters: For Those In Peril On The Sea - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Write with the ear"

Responding to a request from an American schoolgirl, C.S. Lewis offered these eight rules for good writing:
  1. Turn off the radio.
  2. Read good books and avoid most magazines.
  3. Write with the ear, not the eye. Make every sentence sound good.
  4. Write only about things that interest you. If you have no interests, you won’t ever be a writer.
  5. Be clear. Remember that readers can’t know your mind. Don’t forget to tell them exactly what they need to know to understand you.
  6. Save odds and ends of writing attempts, because you may be able to use them later.
  7. You need a well-trained sense of word-rhythm, and the noise of a typewriter will interfere.
  8. Know the meaning of every word you use.
Thanks to Kevin Butler at SDB Exec for the reference.

8 Writing Tips from C.S. Lewis- ChristianWritingToday.com

The cult of the Providential State

Walter Lippmann was there early in the history of American Progressivism but by the middle of the New Deal he had come to have serious doubts. The logic of an older liberalism seems to have reasserted itself. Lippmann, quoted by Paul Rahe: "Walter Lippmann on Progressivism," from An Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society [1937]:
Although the partisans who are now fighting for the mastery of the modern world wear shirts of different colors, their weapons are drawn from the same armory, their doctrines are variations of the same theme, and they go forth to battle singing the same tune with slightly different words. Their weapons are the coercive direction of the life and labor of mankind. Their doctrine is that disorder and misery can be overcome only by more and more compulsory organization. Their promise is that through the power of the state men can be made happy.

Throughout the world, in the name of progress, men who call themselves communists, socialists, fascists, nationalists, progressives, and even liberals, are unanimous in holding that government with its instruments of coercion must by commanding the people how they shall live, direct the course of civilization and fix the shape of things to come. They believe in what Mr. Stuart Chase accurately describes as “the overhead planning and control of economic activity.” This is the dogma which all the prevailing dogmas presuppose. This is the mold in which are cast the thought and action of the epoch. No other approach to the regulation of human affairs is seriously considered, or is even conceived as possible. The recently enfranchised masses and the leaders of thought who supply their ideas are almost completely under the spell of this dogma. Only a handful here and there, groups without influence, isolated and disregarded thinkers, continue to challenge it. For the premises of authoritarian collectivism have become the working beliefs, the self-evident assumptions, the unquestioned axioms, not only of all the revolutionary regimes, but of nearly every effort which lays claim to being enlightened, humane, and progressive.

So universal is the dominion of this dogma over the minds of contemporary men that no one is taken seriously as a statesman or a theorist who does not come forward with proposals to magnify the power of public officials and to extend and multiply their intervention in human affairs. Unless he is authoritarian and collectivist, he is a mossback, a reactionary, at best an amiable eccentric swimming hopelessly against the tide. It is a strong tide. Though despotism is no novelty in human affairs, it is probably true that at no time in twenty-five hundred years has any western government claimed for itself a jurisdiction over men’s lives comparable with that which is officially attempted in totalitarian states.

But it is even more significant that in other lands where men shrink from the ruthless policy of these regimes, it is commonly assumed that the movement of events must be in the same direction. Nearly everywhere the mark of a progressive is that he relies at last upon the increased power of officials to improve the condition of men. Though the progressives prefer to move gradually and with consideration, by persuading majorities to consent, the only instrument of progress in which they have faith is the coercive agency of government. They can, it would seem, imagine no alternative, nor can they remember how much of what they cherish as progressive has come by emancipation from political dominion, by the limitation of power, by the release of personal energy from authority and collective coercion. For virtually all that now passes for progressivism in countries like England and the United States calls for increasing ascendancy of the state: always the cry is for more officials with more power over more and more of the activities of men.

Yet the assumptions of this whole movement are not so self-evident as they seem. They are, in fact, contrary to the assumptions bred in men by the whole long struggle to extricate conscience, intellect, labor, and personality from the bondage of prerogative, privilege, monopoly, authority. For more than two thousand years, since western men first began to think about the social order, the main preoccupation of political thinking has been to find a law which would be superior to arbitrary power. Men have sought it in custom, in the dictates of reason, in religious revelation, endeavoring always to set up some check upon the exercise of force. This is the meaning of the long debate about Natural Law. This is the meaning of a thousand years of struggle to bring the sovereign under a constitution, to establish for the individual and for voluntary associations of men rights which they can enforce against kings, barons, magnates, majorities, and mobs. This is the meaning of the struggle to separate the church from the state, to emancipate conscience, learning, the arts, education, and commerce from the inquisitor, the censor, the monopolist, the policeman, and the hangman.

Conceivably the lessons of this history no longer have a meaning for us. Conceivably there has come into the world during this generation some new element which makes it necessary for us to undo the work of emancipation, to retrace the steps men have taken to limit the power of rulers, which compels us to believe that the way of enlightenment in affairs is now to be found by intensifying authority and enlarging its scope. But the burden of proof is upon those who reject the oecumenical tradition of the western world. It is for them to show that their cult of the Providential State is in truth the new revelation they think it is, and that it is not, as a few still believe, the gigantic heresy of an apostate generation.
» Walter Lippmann on Progressivism - Big Government

Festing

I just returned from spending three days in Milwaukee with my brother. I've been going to Summerfest with him since sometime in the mid-seventies, not long after he moved to Milwaukee to work for Northwestern Mutual. He is now retired but we're still going to Summerfest — not in the evenings when the big acts appear, but from shortly after  it opens at noon until the crowds begin to impede movement. We sit, we listen, we eat and drink, but mostly we watch. Summerfest is one of the great people-watching opportunities of the year.

Posting now resumes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"We certainly don’t want to offend anyone"

In the interest of inoffensiveness New Haven makes a minor change on its high school diplomas:
All it took was one complaint for the school district to make a small but significant change to diplomas that will be handed out at graduations this week.

For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, diplomas for New Haven high school students were printed without the phrase “in the year of our Lord.”

It’s a small change that could easily go unnoticed, but Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo feels it was a necessary one.

“It’s a religious thing,” he said Tuesday. Then, regarding the deleted language: “I’m surprised it took this long for someone to notice it. We certainly don’t want to offend anyone.”

This will be the first year without the language. For example, diplomas from last year state that the diploma was awarded “this twenty-fifth day of June in the year of our Lord, Two Thousand Nine.”
When will someone notice why the year is counted as 2010?

New Haven high school diplomas drop phrase ‘in the year of our Lord’- The New Haven Register - Serving New Haven, Connecticut

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Knowledge without knowing

E.D. Hirsch is not a political conservative, but he has become an educational conservative. Terrence O. Moore explains why:
For 60 years or more public school teachers have avoided instruction in what they refer to dismissively as "mere facts," training students instead in supposedly more useful "skills." As a professor of education once told me, "It's not so important that children know things as that they know how to know things." Predictably, students graduate from public schools without either skills or knowledge since, as Hirsch has explained in dozens of ways, skills are dependent on knowledge. A person who is unfamiliar with the basic outline of Western history or the principal works of literature will, when reading a fairly complex text involving rich metaphors and subtle references, simply be unable to grasp the author's meaning. Any college professor who has let freshmen read a Federalist paper on their own knows that these high-school graduates might as well be reading Sanskrit.

Never content with merely exposing the dangerously low levels of Americans' reservoir of knowledge, Hirsch has worked tirelessly to get actual facts—whether stories, historical events, common metaphors, or rudiments of grammar—into young people's heads, beginning with his list of "What Literate Americans Know" (with entries from "1066" to "Zurich") at the back of Cultural Literacy. Since then, he has published dictionaries of cultural literacy, the popular What Your X-Grader Needs to Know series, and, through his non-profit Core Knowledge Foundation, created an exemplary curriculum for grades K-8, supplemented with excellent materials such as adaptations of the more difficult works of literature taught in the early grades. ....

Among the several other reforms presented in The Making of Americans, the most noteworthy is Hirsch's re-labeling "Progressive education" the "anti-curriculum movement." So-called Progressive educators have been united not so much by a common agenda as by their hostility to any form of traditional subject matter and learning method. If only the new name would stick! Hirsch also attempts to fend off the criticisms of the multicultural Left, which claims that traditional content oppresses or marginalizes minorities. Every hyphenated-American group is entitled to enjoy its own rich culture in private, writes Hirsch, but the common school should concentrate on those things Americans hold in common. What's more, he insists that education must remain anchored in tradition, a point that has not always been clear in his thought, since "cultural literacy" could be imagined to shift considerably over time. As he explains,
I am a political liberal, but once I recognized the relative inertness and stability of the shared background knowledge students need to master reading and writing, I was forced to become an educational conservative.... Logic compelled the conclusion that achieving the democratic goal of high universal literacy would require schools to practice a large measure of educational traditionalism.
.... For more than two decades this political liberal and educational conservative has been among the very few professors eloquently calling for a solid curriculum in order to rebuild public education. If one tenth of this nation's professors gave one tenth the attention to the issue that E.D. Hirsch has, the schools would be fixed by now. Until then, we continue to build higher education on a foundation of sand.
The Claremont Institute - The Making of an Educational Conservative

Ruthlessness and conscience

When Christians are confronted with the question of war a few adopt a position of strict pacifism but most make judgments about the justice of the cause and how it is pursued using some variation of ancient just war theory. I used to include an explanation of Just War in a unit of the elective high school international relations class I taught. Students understood and appreciated that there could be just and unjust reasons for going to war but there were always severe doubts about the attempt to enforce rules about how a war should be fought. Paul Johnson reviewing Michael Burleigh's Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II—about a war during which all sides largely disregarded just war standards—discusses the history of efforts to limit the killing of the innocent, in the ancient world as well as more recently.
.... There may or may not be such a thing as a "just war". But we can be sure that war, which means the abandonment of reason, justice to individuals, and proportion, cannot be fought justly, as Burleigh demonstrates time and again. All that a morally self-respecting society can do is to try to ensure that obvious excesses are prevented. ....

People who try to wage war righteously are almost bound to be inconsistent. And recent post-war experience shows that attempts to limit bomb-loads and differentiate between target areas on a moral basis, as practised by both Anthony Eden in the 1956 Suez War and Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, do not work from any point of view and, in retrospect, are liable to seem ridiculous as well as hypocritical. Burleigh's book should be read, and reflected on, by anyone inclined to take a high moral line on Afghanistan and Iraq. And by those who have to take decisions on getting in, or getting out. It would be interesting to know what Tony Blair, for instance, thinks of it. But then he never reads books, poor fellow. [more]
Moral Fog of War | Standpoint

Finding freedom and joy in ministry

Via Internet Monk, Skye Jethani on what makes a truly successful ministry:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Good grief!

Adults can really screw up kids' lives. Why is it that the reaction to a perceived problem is so often at the idiotic extreme? A kid is sent home from school because he pointed a finger and said "bang!" Schools and cities try to make playgrounds so safe that all fun [part of which is risk] is eliminated. Teachers insist on games that no one can lose because losing makes the loser sad. And now, apparently because of fear that someone might feel left out, an undoubtedly futile — but inevitably damaging and hurtful in itself — effort to eliminate "best" friends. "The End of the Best Friend":
...[F]rom Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, the childhood “best friend” has long been romanticized in literature and pop culture — not to mention in the sentimental memories of countless adults.

But increasingly, some educators and other professionals who work with children are asking a question that might surprise their parents: Should a child really have a best friend?

Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago.... [more]
More, 6/23, Jonah Goldberg at NRO:
As a result of this thinking, best friends are broken up. Buddies are put on separate teams, assigned to different classes, etc. It’s not quite the sort of thing cult leaders and North Korean prison guards do, but in principle it’s not too far off either.

The response from across the ideological spectrum on the Web has mostly been outrage and disgust. Among the objections: Why ban successful, positive relationships in an effort to wean out negative ones? Why value the superficial over the meaningful? Why lie to kids that they can be friends with everyone? What about the damage to shy and introverted kids who particularly benefit from having a kindred spirit?

All good points, but it is a bizarre symptom of our hyper-rationalist age that people are forced to articulate why best friends are valuable to kids. For the record, I think removing best friends from childhood is a barbarous and inhumane act, akin to amputating a limb from an athlete. You can still have a childhood without a best friend, just as you can still be an athlete without a leg. But why would you voluntarily make someone’s life so much harder? Having someone with whom you can share the joys and discoveries of early life is a gateway into not just adulthood, but humanity.

The most offensive part of this whole enterprise is that it is aimed at making life easier for administrators, not better for kids. The social life of childhood is frustrating and unwieldy for educators, so they respond by making childhood less complicated.
The End of the Best Friend - NYTimes.com, The Latest Thievery: Best Friends - Jonah Goldberg - National Review Online

"The singing turned them into love"

The Christian Century has an ongoing series of essays in which theologians are asked to explain how they have changed their minds over the course of time. Mark Noll, who is best known as a historian of Christianity, particularly North American Christianity, responded with an essay, "Deep and wide: How my mind has changed," that especially focused on how Christian fellowship, hymns, and celebration of the Lord's Supper have deepened his faith. From the section about the influence on him of hymn-singing:
Hymns did not exactly take on new meaning; rather, I began to sense more clearly why the best had been so consistently moving since at least the early adult years of self-conscious faith. Regarded simply as texts, they could offer unusually evocative communications of strong theology. But the gripping force of the hymns lay in their affect and not simply in their words alone, in the more-than-rational conviction they communicated through the combination of careful writing and effective music. It could not have been a coincidence that in these years J. S. Bach became, as he has been for so many others, a kind of fifth evangelist. Sometime in this period I was also delighted to discover that Charles Hodge, the 19th-century lion of Princeton Seminary who has been so often criticized for writing theology as an exercise in scientific biblical rationalism, suggested on several occasions that hymns and devotional writings from the far reaches of the church could construct an entirely sufficient account of the Christian faith.

A significant bonus in thinking about why the best hymns worked so powerfully at cognitive, emotional and spiritual levels lay in recognizing where these particularly gripping hymns came from. As basically a Calvinist myself, I nonetheless saw immediately that the best hymns came from many points on the Christian compass. Some were ancient (for example, Ambrose of Milan: "O splendor of God's glory bright, from light eternal bringing light"), some were contemporary (Margaret Clarkson: "He, who in creation's dawning brooded on the lifeless deep, still across our nature's darkness moves to wake our souls from sleep"). Some were heavy (Johann Herrmann: "Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended . . . I it was denied thee: I crucified thee"), some were light (Fanny Crosby: "Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save"). They came from fellow Calvinists ("I greet thee who my sure Redeemer art"), but also from the winsome and zany Count von Zinzendorf ("Jesus, thy blood and righteousness"), from Mennonites, Disciples of Christ, Catholics, Pentecostals, independents, and especially from the implacably Arminian Charles Wesley ("Arise, my soul, arise, shake off thy guilty fears, the bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears. . . . My name is written on his hands").

Such effective hymns went deep because they communicated the core dogmas of the Nicene Creed with unusual force. Concentration on those core dogmas made them singable by believers almost everywhere; the singing turned them into love.

A further broadening effect of the great hymns took me longer to comprehend. With the help especially of Andrew Walls's account of how the once-incarnate Christ has been, as it were, incarnated afresh wherever Christianity enters a new culture, I came to see something else. While the dogmas of these hymns were universal, the music that played such a powerful part in quickening the dogma was particular. Isaac Watts's "When I survey the wondrous cross" remained fairly inert words on the page without the tune "Rockingham," by Edward Miller, or "Hamburg," by Lowell Mason. I might find singing this hymn with a rock-and-roll melody or accompanied by a five-toned Thai xylophone an intellectual curiosity, but it would not be heartfelt worship.

Over time the obvious became clear: the hymns did their great work for me as they were sung with music originating from only about 200 years of Western musical history (1650-1850). With music not from the West and with later or earlier Western music, the affect simply was not the same. Extension was the next step: if I was experiencing the universal gospel through a particular cultural expression, it followed that the same gospel could be as powerfully communicated through other cultural expressions, even if those expressions were alien or foreign to me. The experience of those who could be moved by a rock-and-roll rendition of "When I survey the wondrous cross," or by a five-toned Thai version of a similar hymn, was, in principle, just as authentic as when I sang these words set to "Rockingham." Understood in this way, the hymns were making me at the same time both a cultural relativist and a stronger Christian dogmatist. .... [more]
The Christian Century: Mark A. Noll: Deep and wide: How my mind has changed

Monday, June 21, 2010

Political correctness and moral outrage

Shelby Steele is unimpressed with the response of "world opinion" to the Gaza flotilla incident, and especially the response of the West. He suggests one reason for Western demoralization in "Israel and the Surrender of the West."
.... Somehow "world opinion" has moved away from the old 20th century view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a complicated territorial dispute between two long-suffering peoples. Today the world puts its thumb on the scale for the Palestinians by demonizing the stronger and whiter Israel as essentially a colonial power committed to the "occupation" of a beleaguered Third World people.

This is now—figuratively in some quarters and literally in others—the moral template through which Israel is seen. It doesn't matter that much of the world may actually know better. This template has become propriety itself, a form of good manners, a political correctness. Thus it is good manners to be outraged at Israel's blockade of Gaza, and it is bad manners to be outraged at Hamas's recent attack on a school because it educated girls, or at the thousands of rockets Hamas has fired into Israeli towns—or even at the fact that Hamas is armed and funded by Iran. The world wants independent investigations of Israel, not of Hamas.

...[T]he entire Western world has suffered from a deficit of moral authority for decades now. Today we in the West are reluctant to use our full military might in war lest we seem imperialistic; we hesitate to enforce our borders lest we seem racist; we are reluctant to ask for assimilation from new immigrants lest we seem xenophobic; and we are pained to give Western Civilization primacy in our educational curricula lest we seem supremacist. Today the West lives on the defensive, the very legitimacy of our modern societies requiring constant dissociation from the sins of the Western past—racism, economic exploitation, imperialism and so on. .... [more]
That last paragraph reminded me of this from Bernard Lewis: "Imperialism, sexism, and racism, are not European inventions, but European words, without which the evils they refer to would never have been challenged." The West has been guilty of much evil, but also has been the source of much good, and there are few other cultures or societies with the historical standing to condemn it. All moral authority seems to flow to those who can assume the role of victim — and their objectionable behavior is seldom subjected to the same moral standard as that of the putative "oppressor."

Israel and the Surrender of the West - WSJ.com

Stand by those principles

Frederick Douglass:
  • Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
  • I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.
  • One and God make a majority.
  • To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.
  • In regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us... I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! ... And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! ... your interference is doing him positive injury.
  • Experience proves that those are oftenest abused who can be abused with the greatest impunity. Men are whipped oftenest who are whipped easiest.
  • What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.
  • The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history — the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny. Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.
  • No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.
  • The honor of a nation is an important thing. It is said in the Scriptures, "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" It may be said, also, What doth it profit a nation if it gain the whole world, but lose its honor? I hold that the American government has taken upon itself a solemn obligation of honor, to see that this war—let it be long or short, let it cost much or let it cost little—that this war shall not cease until every freedman at the South has the right to vote.

"Good intentions are not enough"

Addressing his granddaughter and her fellow graduates in the class of 2010, Justice Antonin Scalia:
[A] platitude I want discuss comes in many flavors. It can be variously delivered as, "Follow your star," or "Never compromise your principles." Or, quoting Polonius in Hamlet — who people forget was supposed to be an idiot — "To thine ownself be true." Now this can be very good or very bad advice. ....

And indeed, to thine ownself be true, depending upon who you think you are. It’s a belief that seems particularly to beset modern society, that believing deeply in something, and following that belief, is the most important thing a person could do. Get out there and picket, or boycott, or electioneer, or whatever. I am here to tell you that it is much less important how committed you are, than what you are committed to. If I had to choose, I would always take the less dynamic, indeed even the lazy person who knows what’s right, than the zealot in the cause of error. He may move slower, but he’s headed in the right direction.

Movement is not necessarily progress. More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody — remember this — neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, "Now, let’s create a really oppressive and evil society." Hitler said, "Let’s take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order." And Lenin said, "Let’s take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world."

In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, you will be headed in the right direction.
Thanks to Betsy Newmark for the reference.

Advice for a new grad - NYPOST.com

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Living at the intersection

Walter Russell Mead has spent the last week reading a new book about the life of Charles II. In an essay that is mostly devoted to an interesting and favorable review of that book, Mead explains what, for him, is the value of reading biographies:
I’m a sucker for biography. This isn’t because I believe in the ‘great man’ theory of history and think that the decisions and character of certain individuals determine the flow of history as a whole. That’s not what I get from biography, even from the biography of great world historical figures like Winston Churchill. As often as not, it is the flow of history as a whole that makes great individuals, or gives them the circumstances that make them more or less great. If Churchill had died in 1938 he would be largely forgotten today, seen at best as a brilliant but erratic and fatally flawed politician much like his father. If Abraham Lincoln had lived out his second term, it’s quite possible that history would remember him with less reverence than it does now. The scandals, quarrels and failures of Reconstruction might well have tarnished his image, and Lincoln’s instincts to treat the defeated (white) south kindly might look less like charity and more like racist solidarity with fellow whites against newly freed slaves. Had Mikhail Gorbachev been assassinated by some furious communist in 1990 he might be revered today all over the world, and people would still be saying that if Gorbachev the Great had only survived, Russia would never have descended into post-communist chaos and misery — and he would have steered the country into a bright, democratic future.

In any case, I note that even the most fanatical adherents to the ‘Great Man’ theory (yes, Thomas Carlyle, I’m thinking of you), spend a lot of time writing about circumstances and forces that act on their heroes. Carlyle might be right that the French Revolution would have proceeded differently if Mirabeau had lived longer or Lafayette been less of a blockhead, but the whole grandeur of his extraordinary history is his depiction (in terms often taken from classical epic) of the more-than-human forces that were shaking France to its foundations, dissolving the old order, and forcing people to grope blindly and frantically about in search of some new foundation on which they could build.

Biography isn’t about our mastery of history; it is about living in history, being shaped by as well as shaping culture and events, about charting paths through a wilderness, about living at the intersection of historical forces and trying to make do. .... [more]
Literary Saturday: A Gambling Man - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest

Splender in the ordinary

Reflecting on what makes a film "Christian," Ben Dueholm observes that the gospel accounts differ greatly from the pagan literature of that day, and suggests that difference had an enormous effect on what kind of story subsequent Christian cultures have found interesting:
.... Look at almost any episode from the life of Jesus between the departure of the Magi and the days before his execution and people he encounters are, by the standards of classical pagan drama, quite unremarkable. They are even pathetic. Consider last week's Gospel lesson about the sinful woman who drenches Jesus's feet in her tears and kisses and dries them with her hair. Or this week's lesson, about the demoniac and the swineherds. These are the people whose stories intersect with the life of Jesus. Their problems are the ones he chooses to address, their sins the ones he chooses to forgive, their bonds the ones he chooses to break—if he even had a choice to make in the matter. They are the heart of the story. The governors and potentates come on stage only to move the action along, much as servants and lower gentry do in a proper aristocratic tragedy. ....

Not that this is without its downside—namely, kitsch. As Auden's Herod points out, the people will call on God to
'Leave thy heavens and come down to our earth of waterclocks and hedges. Become our uncle. Look after Baby, amuse Grandfather, escort Madam to the Opera, help Willy with his home-work, introduce Muriel to a handsome naval officer. Be interesting and weak like us, and we will love you as we love ourselves.'
But even such kitsch is often just a mangled version of the kind of thing that ended up in Dickens. It testifies to a real and enduring yearning, not for an alien nobility but for the possibility of nobility, beauty, and grace that is latent even in the smallest life. [more]
The Private Intellectual: Christianity on Film

"Faith without works..."

Via By Every Word, "Trust and Obey," from A.W. Tozer:
In the New Testament there is no contradiction between faith and obedience. Between faith and law-works, yes; between law and grace, yes; but between faith and obedience, not at all. The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith.
- A.W. Tozer, Paths to Power

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A cup [or four] of coffee a day...

I always knew there was a good reason for the quantity of coffee I consume:
Drinking several cups of tea or coffee a day appears to protect against heart disease, a 13-year-long study from the Netherlands has found. ....

Those who drank more than six cups of tea a day cut their risk of heart disease by a third, the study of 40,000 people found.

Consuming between two to four coffees a day was also linked to a reduced risk. ....

"It's basically a good news story for those who like tea and coffee. These drinks appear to offer benefits for the heart without raising the risk of dying from anything else," said Professor Yvonne van der Schouw, the lead researcher. .... [more]
BBC News - Tea and coffee 'protect against heart disease'

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Let us therefore brace ourselves..."

Seventy years ago, today:
What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The only thing not preached

I just reached Chapter 7, "Bonhoeffer in America," in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has come to New York City in 1930 to study for a year at Union Theological Seminary. The chapter begins with these quotations:
[The Union students] talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria... They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level.

In New York they preach about virtually everything, only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Ministry of Truth

Apparently no one will fess up to doing it, but the motive was obvious. "How today's PC censors airbrushed out his cigar":
The face is instantly familiar, the two-fingered salute unmistakable.

But are these actually the same photograph of Sir Winston Churchill?

In the original photograph the war leader has his cigar gripped firmly in the corner of his mouth.

But in the other image - currently greeting visitors to a London museum - his favourite smoke has been digitally extinguished.

It seems the man who steered Britain through the most dangerous period of its recent history may have fallen victim to the modern curse of political correctness. ....
An earlier example of modifying history representing a more sinister kind of political correctness [the original photograph is the one on the right - Yezhov was removed from the picture after Stalin had him shot]:


Thanks to Kevin Staley-Joyce at First Things for the reference.

Churchill as a non-smoker: How today's PC censors airbrushed out his cigar | Mail Online

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?"

Bob Spencer in "Two Bloggers Speak Honestly of Dying," [here and here], quotes from the second by David Wayne and then reinforces the point:
The crux of David's post is this: "I find that very few Christians are able to accept that we live in a fallen world." Thus, they are surprised and even affronted by death, when it touches their lives. David adds some wise words from a book called I Told Me So, by Greg Ten Elshof:
Terminal cancer wards are full of patients who believe things we all know to be radically improbable. They believe that they will be one of the very, very few who fight back and win—or that they’ll be the recipient of a miracle healing in response to the prayers of friends and family. It’s not just that they believe that they could get better—that God could perform a miracle on their behalf. In this they’re surely correct. No. They believe they will get better—that God will perform a miracle on their behalf. Nearly all of them are wrong. And anyone familiar with the statistics is well situated to see that they are. But—and this is the most salient part for our discussion—nobody corrects them. In fact, they are encouraged to persist in these highly improbable beliefs.
I know this so well, and have observed it often: Christians confused and dismayed about suffering. Surely it's not God's will, they say, as if they'd never read Genesis 3 or heard it preached.

I know a fellow who has sat by the beside of many dying people, and he tells me that there's no way to predict how someone will pass through that portal—as if the faithful should always "pass" with beatific smiles, while the unbeliever goes in abject fear to the grave. Sometimes, my friend has told me, it's quite the other way around. But it is a horribly maimed understanding of the world, of life, and of God that so many of us feel surprised to discover that death is not more friendly to Christians, when it arrives at our doorstep, than to non-Christians.

I have heard Christians say, "Surely it is not God's will that His children should suffer." Besides completely ignoring Genesis 3, a piece of Scripture that is foundational to our understanding of the world, they ignore Jesus' own words recorded at Matthew 16:24-25. Their rose-colored glasses only do themselves and others harm.

But the Biblical truth about suffering—that God hides himself in suffering—which David delineates so well in his post, runs exactly counter to the "you gotta believe" form of Christianity, where faith is reduced to a confidence that one's desired outcome will surely come to pass here and now. Trusting God is reduced to trusting Him to give you what you most desire here and now. What else can a God be for, if not to satisfy our desires, such as they are. For these people, it seems that God looks at your confidence level, which is the key to all his promises, and rewards you accordingly. .... [more]
Wilderness Fandango: Flash: Two Bloggers Speak Honestly of Dying

A profound mystery

Via Christopher Benson at Evangel, "The threefold purpose of sex," quoting from Lauren F. Winner's Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity:
Christian tradition has historically articulated a threefold purpose for sex: sex is meant to be unitive, procreative, and sacramental. That means, in simpler language, that sex is meant to unite two people, it is meant to lead to children, and it is meant to recall, and even reenact, the promise that God makes to us and that we make to one another in the marriage vow—that is, we promise one another fidelity, and God’s Spirit promises a presence that will uphold us in our radical and crazy pledge of lifelong faithfulness.

Each of these ends of sex has a basis in scripture. The unitive aspect is hinted at in Genesis 2:23, when Adam says that Eve is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The procreative purpose is also spelled out in Genesis, in God’s instruction to be fruitful and multiply. Finally, the sacramental end of sex is implied in Ephesians 5:32, when Paul, having offered a set of guidelines for how husbands and wives should relate to one another, says, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” At first blush, it seems like something of a non sequitur. But, in fact, it tells us what marriage, and marital sex, is: a small patch of experience that gives us our best glimpse of the radical fidelity and intimacy of God and the church.

These three purposes—the unitive, procreative, sacramental, and procreative—are deeply interwoven with one another. Openness to children reshapes how we experience and understand sex ....

Of course, it is possible for sex without procreation to be incarnate, sacramental, and other-directed. Consider a husband who is sterile, or a wife who is past menopause—these marriages can be as open and hospitable as a marriage that produces children (although that openness and hospitality may require a different level of intention). Nonetheless, experience, nature, and scripture suggest that there is a deep connection between the work of sex and the possibility of procreation.

Technologically effective birth control has severed those connections. We can reaffirm them without necessarily landing at the Roman Catholic position—we can, for example, say that the whole of a married couple’s sex life needs to be open to procreation, but each and every sex act need not be. And we can worry about technology’s separation of sex and procreation because we see that it does violence to what sex is finally about (pp. 65-67) [more]
The threefold purpose of sex » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Unearned emotion

Writing about "Thomas Kinkade’s Cottage Fantasy," Joe Carter [and Alan Jacobs] clarify a distinction important not only in art, but, I think, in how we approach worship:
Sentimentality, as literary critic Alan Jacobs says in a recent interview with Mars Hill Journal, encourages us to “suspend judgment and reflection in order to indulge deliberately in emotion for its own sake.” Reflection reinforces and strengthens true emotions while exposing those feelings that are shallow and disingenuous. Sentimentalists, however, try to avoid this experience of reality and try to keep people from asking questions by giving them pleasing emotions they have not earned. The shameless manipulation of our emotions, says Jacobs, is the ultimate act of cynicism.
Thomas Kinkade’s Cottage Fantasy | First Things

Busybodies and interferers

Jordan J. Ballor has been reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to his son. He thought Lewis' description of Narnia's government under the Pevensies more than just a "they lived happily ever after" ending:
...[T]hey made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down, and liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Lewis on Good Government

Monday, June 14, 2010

Jimmy Dean, RIP

Christianity Today notes that "Jimmy Dean, Sausage King & Baptist, Dies at 81." One of his quotations that the magazine provides:
—Being a Baptist won't keep you from sinning, but it'll sure ... keep you from enjoying it.
Jimmy Dean, Sausage King & Baptist, Dies at 81 | Liveblog | Christianity Today

Flag Day

Today is Flag Day. I just put mine out. I thought I would re-post this from last year.


Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,
A flash of color beneath the sky:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!

Blue and crimson and white it shines,
Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines.
Hats off!
The colors before us fly;
But more than the flag is passing by.

Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great,
Fought to make and to save the State;
Weary marches and sinking ships;
Cheers of victory on dying lips;

Days of plenty and years of peace,
March of a strong land's swift increase:
Equal justice, right and law,
Stately honor and reverent awe;

Sign of a nation, great and strong,
To ward her people from foreign wrong;
Pride and glory and honor, all
Live in the colors to stand or fall.

Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,
And loyal hearts are beating high:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!

The Flag Goes By, by H.H. Bennett

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hope and change

For months, since soon after the last Seventh Day Baptist General Conference, I have been working as a member of a committee to propose changes in the organization of the denomination. Today we presented our recommendations to the SDB General Council. These recommendations will be presented to the annual Conference sessions in Springfield, MO, at the end of July. The proposals would bring about an extensive reorganization of the Conference structure. The report is here as a pdf. If you will be a delegate, consider the proposals carefully, consulting with those you will represent.

Bierce

I have been browsing through a book I first discovered in high school: Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary (1911). I remember sitting in a living room after school with other adolescent guys reading its definitions gleefully to one another with great ensuing hilarity. Re-reading it today, I find some of it offensive and some — particularly the casual racism — completely unacceptable. But there is good stuff, too. Here are some of the shorter definitions I particularly like:
Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Dictator, n. The chief of a nation that prefers the pestilence of despotism to the plague of anarchy.

Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

Homicide, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another—the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.

Hypocrite, n. One who, professing virtues that he does not respect, secures the advantage of seeming to be what he despises.

President, n. The leading figure in a small group of men of whom—and of whom only—it is positively known that immense numbers of their countrymen did not want any of them for President.

Self-esteem, n. An erroneous appraisement.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, Dover, 1958. (there are several editions available at Amazon)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Not places to get ... but places to serve

A couple of responses this morning for those disillusioned with the institutional Church, and especially for those inclined to leave.

First, reviewing Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, Trevin Wax finds much to like including what Spencer writes about the failings of the local church, but Wax also feels that there is a contradiction in Spencer's indication that leaving the local church is, for many, a healthy thing:
...Michael rightly teaches that the gospel is for people who recognize they are messed up, rebellious, sinful, broken and dysfunctional. Christianity is for the losers, for the people who recognize their need for salvation outside of themselves. So far so good.

But let’s engage in a bit of logic. If churches are organized groups of these messed up, broken, dysfunctional people, why in the world would we expect the church to always live up to some unattainably high ideal? I’m not saying we shouldn’t shoot high. I’m not saying we should be satisfied with Christless churches. But surely Michael should give groups of broken people (churches) the same patience he gives individual broken people.

So in the end, I want to say, “Michael, you’re right about individual Christians. We’re broken, wounded, sinful and selfish. So why can’t you see that churches are going to be that way too? Please don’t encourage broken people to leave churches that are broken! Just as we need Jesus in us as individuals to slowly remake us into his image, we need Jesus-filled people in churches if there is any hope for the church to reflect the glory of Christ to the world.”

If Christ remains committed to us – as broken and messed up as we are – why would we not remain committed to his followers? Why would we bolt out the door when our church experience becomes a hassle? What looks more like Jesus – to hit the road? Or to stay with a congregation through thick and thin, through good and bad? ....

Though no local church is perfect, and the universal Church often looks more like a cheating spouse than a faithful bride, we are to identify myself with this bungling bunch of believers. The church is home. The church is God’s beloved. The church has been bought with precious blood. Though the presence of the Kingdom is not as intensely felt in the church as I would like, it is the sign of the Kingdom in this age, faults and all. And if Jesus is content to give his life for an unruly Church, we should seek satisfaction in serving his church – warts and all. [more]
If the local church can be frustrating, even more people increasingly feel little connection with denominations. Ed Stetzer, in an article at Christianity Today, "Life in Those Old Bones," considers denominations, non-denominationalism, what denominations have to offer, and concludes:
To paraphrase Churchill's comments about democracy: Denominations are the worst way to cooperate—except for all the others. They are riddled with weak, ineffective, and arrogant leadership, prone to navel-gazing, and often move more slowly than they should. But these aspects are products of human fallibility and sin. Every time churches work together, ego, failure, and inefficiency will arise. And when they don't work together, ego, failure, and inefficiency will arise. People, not denominations, are the source.

Denominations at their best are not places to get something but places to give and to serve. Our gifts, passions, and experience have greater influence through a worldwide denominational network. Through a denomination, we can provide resources to people we will never meet, reach places we will never go, and preach the gospel to lost souls who are beyond our personal reach. We can find what we need and give as much as we want—because the key to cooperation is to both give and receive.

A healthy denomination ultimately gives us strength. It's a home, not a prison. It allows us to share specific theological convictions, practice expressions of ministry relevant to our communities, and serve a common mission in the one thing that brings true unity: the gospel. [more]
Mere Churchianity: A Friendly Critique : Kingdom People, Life in Those Old Bones | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Cognitive dissonance

In an an interview with Maclean's, Ayaan Hirsi Ali comments on a puzzling phenomenon in Western liberalism — how the commitment to multiculturalism effectively results in the defense of thoroughly illiberal attitudes:
Q: ...[A]ccording to Paul Berman in his new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, you’ve received “dreadful treatment” from, and have been trivialized by, the intelligentsia. Do you agree?

A: He’s addressing a debate within liberalism. He is, just like me and I think many others, surprised—and that’s an understatement—that some liberals choose to defend ideas that are very illiberal and choose to look away from practices that are even more illiberal. Why are they excusing radical Islam? That fascinates Berman and it also fascinates me, what the presence of Islam does to the liberal psyche in the West.

Q: What does Islam do to the liberal psyche?

A: Confuses it. The liberal psyche wants to protect minorities, to apologize for imperialism, colonialism, slavery, and the appalling treatment of black people during the civil rights movement. At the same time, they want to continue to defend the rights of individuals. They’ve convinced themselves that the best way to do that in general is to defend the cultures that are non-white. But what they forget, and what they’re being confronted with, is that non-white cultures contain misogynistic, collectivist, tribal, gay-unfriendly and female-hostile traditions. And so they’re confused: on the one hand, they’re looking at minorities as groups they need to save and speak up for, and on the other hand, they’re confronted with the ideas and practices of individuals within those minorities that are very undemocratic and appalling, really. .... [more]
Maclean's provides this description of Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
Born Muslim in Somalia, Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, fleeing to the Netherlands at the age of 22 to escape an arranged marriage. Ten years later, she was elected to the Dutch parliament. A prominent feminist and critic of Islam, she received numerous death threats when she renounced her faith following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2004, Theo van Gogh, the director of a short film she wrote protesting Islam’s treatment of women, was murdered in Amsterdam by a Muslim extremist who threatened that she would be next. Since 2007, the bestselling author of  Infidel, a memoir, has lived in the U.S., where she is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. ....
On why Christians should try to convert Muslims - Books, The Interview - Macleans.ca

Friday, June 11, 2010

"The place on which you are standing is holy ground"

Via Kevin Butler at SDB Exec, David Stovall of Highland Baptist Church in Waco, Texas: "Worship spaces should be sanctuaries":
What has happened to reverence for God and respect for the sanctuary of God?

Before we can answer, we need to understand the meaning of reverence, respect and sanctuary. To have reverence is to have a deep feeling of respect or even awe. Respect is to hold someone or something in high regard or honor.

The sanctuary is designated as the holiest of holies in a place of worship — an especially holy place in the church building.

In this day of multitasking, multimedia and multipurpose buildings, a special place for worshiping God has been pushed out. Either due to budget concerns, practicality or efforts to get the most use out of one building, the sanctuary is being replaced by the multipurpose building. In doing this, we have lost sight of the main purpose of coming to church, which is to worship God. ....

.... I have no problem with having meals and playing games at church in the proper place and at the proper time, but rushing the service and having these activities in a place that should be the holy of holies is not honoring to God or his sanctuary. We are not giving God the proper reverence and respect he deserves. God wants us to have communion with him. He wants us to feel his presence. He wants us to spend time with him as a congregation in worship, praise, listening to the teaching of his word and waiting to hear him.

God is jealous. He wants our devotion to be focused on him, not on rushing to finish the service so we can use the building for something else. God is the Maker of the universe. We should stand in awe of him and give him the highest place of honor. This requires a special place of worship — a sanctuary.

Granted, there are a few exceptions, such as churches that begin in storefronts or houses with expectation of having a sanctuary as they grow.

The Bible says we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. So, some would say we do not need a special building to worship God. As individuals, that is true. But as a congregation, there should be a special place where we can spend time with God — a place totally dedicated to God, where he can be reverenced, respected and honored, where we can feel his presence and see his hand at work through the Holy Spirit in miracles and the changing of lives by spending time with him in the temple or the sanctuary. It is a holy place and is to be treated with utmost respect. ....

...[G]ive reverence, respect and honor to the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. Let us give him the highest and best place in our facilities — a place totally dedicated to worshiping God, the Redeemer of our souls.

Give him a sanctuary.
Associated Baptist Press - Opinion: Worship spaces should be sanctuaries