Monday, January 31, 2011

Grant us grace to love as we ought.

Via By Every Word:
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills & affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command & desire what you promise; that among the swift & varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives & reigns with You & the Holy Spirit. One God, now & forever, Amen
- A Book of Common Prayer
By Every Word...: Order our unruly wills...

Who owns the term "Seventh Day"?

Julia Duin writes about a recent issue regarding who has the right to use a particular religious designation:
.... On Monday, this blog ran a report that mentioned an Adventists for Life Facebook page for Seventh-day Adventists who oppose abortion.

The SDA headquarters, based in Silver Spring, Md., reacted quickly, asking Facebook to remove the offending page. I contacted Facebook on Wednesday to ask why no one checked with the folks behind the page before killing it. I received a copy of their policy that says once someone lodges a plausible claim of trademark infringement, Facebook removes or disables access, no questions asked. ....

I called SDA spokesman Garrett Caldwell to see what was up. He told me his organization had complained about trademark infringement; that is, the unauthorized use of the SDA brand.

"We are working hard to try to protect the name and organization associated with the name," he said. "Both 'Adventist' and 'SDA' are trademarked and registered names. We want to make sure the use of the name is connected with our organization." .... [more]
One of commenters wondered whether anyone had registered or trademarked "Baptist" and then listed some fifty Baptist denominations or associations in North America, the last of which was the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference, my denomination. He then adds:
Let's hope too that the SDA hasn't trademarked the term, "Seventh Day", or else that last Baptist organization is going to have a fight on its hands!
Under God: Who owns the word 'Adventist,' or 'Catholic'? - Julia Duin

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Integrity

One of the best things that can be said about a person is that he seems to be what he is, and he is what he seems to be. And the best thing that can be said about a hypocrite is that he wishes to be seen as what he ought to be.

Epiphany IV: By Thy help we overcome.

God, which knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that for man's frailness we cannot always stand uprightly; Grant to us the health of body and soul that all those things which we suffer for sin, by Thy help we may well pass and overcome; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
WHEN he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou anst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.
[Matthew 8]
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven,
Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

Lord, I trust Thy mighty power,
Wondrous are Thy works of old;
Thou deliver’st Thine from thralldom,
Who for naught themselves had sold:
Thou didst conquer, Thou didst conquer,
Sin, and Satan and the grave.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee.

[William Williams, 1745]

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sound judgment

Irving Kristol, from a 1984 essay reprinted in a new collection of his essays, via Bill McGurn at Ricochet.com:
[F]or myself, I have reached certain conclusions: that Jane Austen is a greater novelist than Proust or Joyce; that Raphael is a greater painter than Picasso; that T.S. Eliot's later, Christian poetry is much superior to his earlier; that C.S. Lewis is a finer literary and cultural critic than Edmund Wilson; that Aristotle is more worthy of careful study than Marx; that we have more to learn from Tocqueville than from Max Weber; that Adam Smith makes a lot more economic sense than any economist since; that the founders had a better understanding of democracy than any political scientists since; that ... well enough. As I said at the outset, I have become conservative, and whatever ambiguities attach to that term, it should be obvious what it does not mean.
Missing Irving - Ricochet.com

"One death is a tragedy..."


"One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic." Josef Stalin

Timothy Snyder asks "Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Was Worse?", which amounts to a nonsense question as he acknowledges. We now have a much clearer accounting of how many each of them murdered, and both are among the most horrific mass-murderers in history. A paragraph from Snyder makes this point:
Discussion of numbers can blunt our sense of the horrific personal character of each killing and the irreducible tragedy of each death. As anyone who has lost a loved one knows, the difference between zero and one is an infinity. Though we have a harder time grasping this, the same is true for the difference between, say, 780,862 and 780,863—which happens to be the best estimate of the number of people murdered at Treblinka. Large numbers matter because they are an accumulation of small numbers: that is, precious individual lives.
It has seemed to me that the theological problem posed by mass murder, or any other horrible event resulting in mass death or suffering, is no greater [and no less] than that posed by a single instance.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reading old books

Skye Jethani explains why he reads dead people:
People ask me all the time, “Who do you read?” In most cases they’re looking for book recommendations. (Some people, particularly Calvinistas, are trying to determine if I’m safe--are my ideas and my theology grounded in what they see as credible sources.) But my answer usually surprises them: “I read dead people.” ....

.... If someone has been dead for a while and his book is still in print and widely read, then it’s probably worth reading. And, if we’re honest, there are precious few books written by Christian authors today that will still be read in 24 months, let alone 24 years. I want to use my reading time to immerse myself in powerfully formative material, and not just flash-in-the-pan trends. Does this mean I never read living authors? No, of course not. But if they’re not dead, I like them to be pretty close. I can usually trust that they’re not going to waste what time they have left on this earth writing sappy Hallmark card sentimental Evangelical fluff. ....
Jethani quotes from an interview with author Steve Samples:
Of the hundreds of thousands of things that men and women have written 400 years ago or before, only about 25 to 50 are widely read today. So there's something very special about these 25 to 50 texts. They influence everything that is written and spoken in our society to an unprecedented degree.

You can usefully spend your time reading any of the supertexts, even over and over again, because they probably tell us more about human nature than anything else we have at our disposal. But for books that are not the supertexts, I think a person has to be very, very selective.
Earlier, C.S. Lewis [a dead person very much worth reading] made much the same point:
...[I]f he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. .... The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity ("mere Christianity" as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. .... [more]
I Read Dead People | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders, JOLLYBLOGGER: C. S. Lewis on the Reading of Old Books

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hollywood discovers the GULAG

Peter Weir makes good movies. Master and Commander and Witness come immediately to mind. One of the things he does really well is recreate the world of his story authentically and down to the last detail. Today, in the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about Weir's most recent project, a film about the GULAG and some men who escaped from it. Applebaum wrote GULAG: A History, and was consulted by Weir about the Soviet camps in preparation for the filming.
.... The Way Back is based on a book called The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, a Gulag survivor who "borrowed" his escape story: Three Poles crossed the Himalayas from Siberia into India in the 1940s; the Polish consulate recorded their arrival; one of them told his story to Rawicz. But the film is "true" in every way that matters. Many of the camp scenes are taken directly from Soviet archives and memoirs. The starving men scrambling for garbage; the tattooed criminals, playing cards for the clothes of other prisoners; the narrow barracks; the logging camp; the vicious Siberian storms. Among the very plausible characters are an American who went to work on the Moscow subway and fell victim to the Great Terror of 1937, a Polish officer arrested after the Soviet Union's 1939 invasion of Poland and a Latvian priest whose church was destroyed by the Bolsheviks. ....

I haven't found any reviews, so far, that hail this as Hollywood's first Gulag movie, perhaps because hardly anyone noticed that there weren't any before. Weir told me that many in Hollywood were surprised by the story: They'd never heard of Soviet concentration camps, only German ones. "If you need to explain what a film is about," the film is in trouble - and this one almost was. Weir had difficulties getting it distributed and some problems explaining the final scene to his financial backers.

Yet that final scene is exactly what makes this movie "real": Instead of returning home at the end of his harrowing journey, the hero is shown "walking" across time - across the Soviet occupation of Central Europe, across the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Prague Spring of 1968 - finally returning home to Poland only after communism collapses. The absence of an instant happy ending also bothered some of the film's reviewers, even though, in "real life," there were no happy endings for anyone who lived in the eastern half of Europe after the end of the Second World War. People who escaped from the Gulag, survived the war or evaded the Holocaust didn't necessarily live happily ever after. Perhaps that's a truth too difficult to learn from a movie. [more]
Anne Applebaum - A real-life look at the Gulag

The old faith for a new day

I just ordered Don't Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day, edited by Kevin DeYoung. It is designed, according to DeYoung's introduction:
...to introduce young Christians, new Christians, and underdiscipled Christians to the most important articles of our faith and what it looks like to live out this faith in real life. I'll be the first to admit that we are not aiming for originality in these chapters. In fact, we hope that what we are saying has been said by many before us and will be said by many after us. But if we are not claiming any new discoveries, we are eager to communicate Christian faith and practice in a way that resonates with teenagers, college students, young adults, and any others who need to have a better grasp of what they believe and why they believe it. We are all young Christians—in our twenties and thirties when this project began—who want to see the next generation of Christians learn to think, live, and worship in ways that are heartfelt, biblical, and unapologetically theological. We want to see the next generation joyfully embrace and winsomely articulate the truths that matter most.

The second aim of the book is to reassert the theological nature of evangelicalism. In recent years the term evangelical has lost almost all its meaning. It has become a political category or a term used by sociologists for Christians affiliated with certain denominations or institutions. Evangelical has come to mean everything and nothing. But we think there is still merit to the label, provided it can be infused with theological meaning that manifests itself in some key ethical, social, and ecclesiastical stances and practices. ....
Justin Taylor provides the table of contents:
Part 1: Evangelical History: Looking Forward and Looking Back
1. The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation (Kevin DeYoung)
2. The Story of Evangelicalism from the Beginning and Before (Collin Hansen)
Part 2: Evangelical Theology: Thinking, Feeling, and Believing the Truths That Matter Most
3. God: Not Like You (Jonathan Leeman)
4. Scripture: How the Bible Is a Book Like No Other (Andy Naselli)
5. The Gospel: God’s Self-Substitution for Sinners (Greg Gilbert)
6. New Birth: “You Must Be Born Again” (Ben Peays)
7. Justification: Why the Lord Our Righteousness Is Better News Than the Lord Our Example (Jay Harvey)
8. Sanctification: Being Authentically Messed Up Is Not Enough (Owen Strachan)
9. Kingdom: Heaven after Earth, Heaven on Earth, or Something Else Entirely? (Russell Moore)
10. Jesus Christ: The Only Way and Our Only Hope (Tim Challies)
Part 3: Evangelical Practice: Learning to Live Life God’s Way
11. It’s Sometimes a Wonderful Life: Evangelicals and Vocation (Ted Kluck)
12. Social Justice: What’s God Got to Do, Got to Do with It (Darrin Patrick)
13. Homosexuality: Grace, Truth, and the Need for Gentle Courage (Eric Redmond and Kevin DeYoung)
14. Abortion: Why Silence and Inaction Are Not Options for Evangelicals (Justin Taylor)
15. Gender Confusion and a Gospel-Shaped Counterculture (Denny Burk)
16. The Local Church: Not Always Amazing, but Loved by Jesus (Thabiti Anyabwile)
17. Worship: It’s a Big Deal (Tullian Tchividjian)
18. Missions: The Worship of Jesus and the Joy of All Peoples (David Mathis)
Don’t Call It a Comeback! – Justin Taylor

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Weep with those who weep"

I am one of those who, in situations like this, is apt to say something  really stupid, or at least cliched [which embarrasses me just as much]. And I don't deal with sympathy very well either. Elizabeth Bernstein provides good advice:
How can you comfort someone grieving the death of a loved one? What can you say that might adequately offer solace? "I'm sorry" doesn't seem to cut it. ....

Here are some suggestions, culled from grief experts and people who have lost a loved one:
  • Say something simple. "I am sorry to hear the news" will suffice at first. Then, on an ongoing basis, "I am thinking of you."
  • Admit that you don't know what to say, says Ms. Walker, the grief educator.
  • Don't ask, "What happened?" "You are making the grieving person relive pain," says Ms. White, who lost her husband.
  • Don't launch into a detailed account of your loss of a loved one. "Give them just enough to let them know that you can relate," says Ms. Walker. "What you are trying to say is, 'I lost my mother, too. What is it like for you?' "
  • Avoid clichés. That includes, "Good things come from bad," "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "He's at peace now." Ms. Walker says they're "preachy, presumptuous and impersonal."
  • Don't claim to know how the grieving person feels. You don't. Don't suggest that the mourner "move on." Stay away from words such as "ought," "should" and "need." You may want to say, "I can only imagine what you are going through."
  • Follow the mourning family's lead regarding Facebook. Have they posted about the death? If they haven't, don't expose their grief. Should you decide to use Facebook, simply express condolences or share a memory. Do not discuss circumstances of the death.
  • Keep your religious beliefs to yourself unless you are sure that the person you are trying to comfort shares them. (It is OK simply to say that you will keep the family in your prayers.)
  • If you are reaching out or offering help, don't expect a response. Explain that you are checking in but understand that the mourner may not be able to get back to you and so you will call again.
  • Promise to be there in the coming weeks and months. And keep your promise.
How to Express Sympathy to a Friend Grieving the Death of a Loved One - WSJ.com

Monday, January 24, 2011

The theology of Calvin and Hobbes

"The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes," posted at First Things, directs our attention to the work on that subject by Richard Beck, who explains:
Last school year I wrote a series of essays for an "online book" about The Theology of Peanuts. I had such fun with that project and so many of you enjoyed it that I thought I'd offer up this sequel, The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes.
Later Beck writes:
.... Watterson has stated that he's never attended any church. And yet Watterson clearly has theological sensibilities. He has described some of his strips as "little sermons" and he uses the Christmas strips for "Calvin to wrestle with good and evil." Calvin's school teacher, Miss Wormwood was named after the character in C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. Further, many strips themselves bring up theological questions:

And, finally, we can note the obvious: Watterson explicitly named his lead character after "a sixteenth-century theologian who believed in predestination."

And yet, it must be stated stated that Calvin and Hobbes does not present an overt and systematic theological worldview. Rather, Calvin and Hobbes is best read as posing theological questions rather than providing answers. ....
I have yet to read either of his extended essays [well illustrated with cartoon strips] but if you find the titles interesting the contents are available here in their entirety:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Place thyself in God's presence"

From the first chapter of The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living by Jeremy Taylor [1651]:
In the morning when you awake, accustom yourself to think first upon God, or something in order to His service; and at night also, let Him close thine eyes: and let your sleep be necessary and healthful, not idle beyond the needs and conveniences of nature; and sometimes be curious to see the preparation which the sun makes when he is coming forth from his chambers of the east.

Begin every action in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; the meaning of which is: that we design it to the glory of God: and that it may be so blessed that what you intend for innocent and holy purposes, may not, by any chance, or abuse, or misunderstanding of men, be turned into evil, or made the occasion of sin.

In the beginning of actions of religion, make an act of adoration, that is, solemnly worship God, and place thyself in God's presence, and behold Him with the eye of faith; and let thy desires actually fix on Him, as the object of thy worship, and the reason of thy hope, and the fountain of thy blessing.

God is in every place: suppose it therefore to be a church; and that decency of deportment and piety of carriage which you are taught by religion, or by custom, or by civility and public manners, to use in churches, the same use in all places.

God is in every creature; be cruel towards none, neither abuse any by intemperance.

He walks as in the presence of God that converses with Him in frequent prayer and frequent communion; in all his necessities, in all doubtings; that opens all his wants to Him, that weeps before Him for his sins; that asks remedy and support for his weakness; that fears Him as a Judge; reverences Him as a Lord; obeys Him as a Father; and loves Him.

O Almighty God, infinite and eternal, Thou art in the consciences of all men. Teach me to walk always as in Thy presence, to fear Thy majesty, to reverence Thy wisdom: that I may never dare to commit any indecency in the eye of my Lord and my Judge; that I, expressing the belief of Thy presence here, may feel the effects of it in eternal glory; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), Holy Living.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Epiphany III: "Ye who follow, shall not fall"

Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities, stretch forth Thy right hand to help and defend us; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
BE not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
[Romans 12]
All my hope on God is founded;
He doth still my trust renew,
Me through change and chance he guideth,
Only good and only true.
God unknown,
He alone
Calls my heart to be his own.

Daily doth th' Almighty Giver
Bounteous gifts on us bestow;
His desire our soul delighteth,
Pleasure leads us where we go.
Love doth stand
At his hand;
Joy doth wait on his command.

Still from man to God eternal
Sacrifice of praise be done,
High above all praises praising
For the gift of Christ his Son.
Christ doth call
One and all:
Ye who follow shall not fall.

[Joachim Neander/Robert Bridges]

Friday, January 21, 2011

Exegesis

"When a man is discussing what Jesus meant, let him state first of all what He said, not what the man thinks He would have said if He had expressed Himself more clearly."
[G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types, 1908]

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"No theology here..."

My favorite book last year—and the one that taught me the most—was Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. This week it was reviewed by Alan Wolfe for The New Republic. The review is long and interesting, especially since it is written by someone apparently unsympathetic to Bonhoeffer's Christian convictions but nevertheless impressed by what those beliefs impelled him to do. Much of the review is about Bonhoeffer's resistance to Hitler and the Nazis. Metaxas is very good on that subject, but new to me was Bonhoeffer's distaste for American liberal theology, described here by Wolfe:
.... Bonhoeffer’s second visit to the United States lasted only twenty-six days. The reason was in part theological. Union was committed to a form of religious liberalism fully at odds with the fundamentalist versions of Protestant faith growing in places such as Oklahoma and Georgia; but if Niebuhr and his colleagues thought that in welcoming Bonhoeffer they were adding another liberal modernist, they were quite mistaken. Bonhoeffer simply could not abide the liberalism he found at Union. On his earlier trip to New York, he had written home that “there is no theology here.... They talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria.” The only church that had moved him in New York was the black church, and in particular Abyssinian Baptist, where Adam Clayton Powell Sr. was the pastor. Once he discovered Abyssinian, Bonhoeffer spent every remaining Sunday of his youthful sojourn in Harlem teaching Sunday school and absorbing the living presence of Christ in its midst. Upon his return to Germany, he brought with him records of black gospel music that he played to his European friends every time he could.

Bonhoeffer’s disappointment proved to be even greater when he returned to the States in 1939. Niebuhr might be considered a deep thinker in the United States, but Bonhoeffer, we are told by his able biographer Eric Metaxas, got little or nothing from reading his books. “No thinking in the light of the Bible here,” he wrote in his diary during his second visit to Union.  ....

Something more pressing than his disappointment with Union’s liberalism also cut short Bonhoeffer’s visit to Manhattan. God spoke to Bonhoeffer in ways that ran counter to the traditions of academic theology in which he had been trained. ....

The Bible for him was a holy work, written by a living and vibrant Supreme Being who had sent His son to live among us and atone for our sins. Christianity, properly understood, was in his view not a religion, that is, not a set of moral precepts about the right way to live. God, not religion, is all that matters. We can do nothing to reach God, but He can reach out to us. Through our obedience to him, we may prepare ourselves to hear what He has to say. “I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions,” Bonhoeffer wrote to his brother-in-law in 1936. “One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books.... Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it.” .... [much more]
Wolfe's approval of the book and his obvious admiration for Bonhoeffer leads him, later in the review, to reflections on faults of both liberalism and contemporary evangelicalism. And also reflection about his own convictions. He does however manage to avoid the implications in the final paragraphs of the review.

Alan Wolfe On Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy By Eric Metaxas | The New Republic

Monday, January 17, 2011

"For valour"

The Victoria Cross is the "highest decoration for valour in the British armed forces," roughly comparable to our Congressional Medal of Honor. Lord Ashcroft has made a collection of them and they are currently on exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London. In The Telegraph he provides accounts of "Fifty great heroes," awarded the VC. Those familiar with the Flashman books may recall a fictionalized account of this one:
William McDonell is one of very few civilians to have been awarded the VC. As a member of the Bengal Civil Service, he was involved in trying to quell the Indian Mutiny as the rebellion spread in 1857. In July of that year, the British were determined that the city of Arrah should not fall because the entire Bihar region might then be seized. McDonell was sent to guide a steamer carrying a military force to the city.

On July 29, a force of more than 400 men marched on Arrah House, but they were ambushed by rebel forces. McDonell was fearless in battle, during which he was wounded. Outnumbered, the British force had to retreat to the River Sone, where McDonell helped the soldiers into small boats so that they could reach the safety of their steamer. It was only when McDonell and his comrades got into the final boat – under heavy fire – that they discovered the rebels had removed the oars and tied the rudder to the side.

With the 35 men in the boat unwilling to get out to cut the rudder free, the injured McDonell braved the fire himself. Miraculously, he was uninjured by a hail of bullets. A Royal Warrant of 1858 extended the eligibility of the VC to civilians who were under the orders of an officer – and McDonell was eventually awarded the decoration in February 1860. .... [more here and here]
Fifty great heroes: 1-25 - Telegraph, Fifty great heroes: 26-50 - Telegraph

"I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart"

Via Justin Taylor:
“Clarence Macartney told the story about Dr. John Witherspoon...a signer of the Declaration of Independence and president of the (then) College of New Jersey. He lived a couple of miles away from the college at Rocky Hill and drove horse and rig each day to his office at the college.

“One day one of his neighbors burst into his office, exclaiming, ‘Dr. Witherspoon, you must join me in giving thanks to God for his extraordinary providence in saving my life, for as I was driving from Rocky Hill the horse ran away and the buggy was smashed to pieces on the rocks, but I escaped unharmed!’

“Witherspoon replied, ‘Why, I can tell you a far more remarkable providence than that. I have driven over that road hundreds of times. My horse never ran away, my buggy never was smashed, I was never hurt.’

“So we must beware of thinking that God is only in the earthquake, wind, and fire; of thinking that manna but not grain is God’s food. Most of God’s gifts to his people are not dazzling and gaudy but wrapped in simple brown paper. Quiet provisions of safety on the highway, health of children, picking up a paycheck, supper with the family—all in an ordinary day’s work for our God.”

—Dale Ralph Davis, Joshua: No Fallen Words (reprint: Christian Focus, 2000), pp. 48-49
Do You Recognize the Extraordinary in God’s Ordinary Providence? – Justin Taylor

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The city of God and the city of man

Naomi Schaefer Riley reviews one of the best recent books about Christians and politics, City of Man, by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner:
.... City of Man—its title taken from Augustine’s formulation of how man should act here on earth—is a kind of response to both internal and external voices criticizing religious conservatives.  ....

As Gerson and Wehner write, “Unlike Moses or Muhammad, Jesus of Nazareth did not set out a political blueprint or ideal of any kind. He specifically rejected the political utopianism of some of His followers. He lived within a Roman Empire whose existence he hardly mentioned.” And yet that does not mean that religion must live apart from politics. “As all human activity—from the mundane to the profound, from personal lives to professional careers—falls under God’s domain, so authentic Christian faith should be relevant to the whole of life; it ought not to be segregated from world affairs,” they write. ....

Gerson and Wehner want Christians to remember that there is a morally significant role for government in the Christian worldview and it does not involve the creation of a theocracy, as some critics suggest. The authors emphasize, for instance, the importance of maintaining order in creating a moral society. And so that is how, in the middle of a book about religion and American politics, one finds discussion of a famous philosopher supporting the “broken windows” theory of policing. “Public disorder,” Gerson and Wehner write, “is evidence of a permissive moral environment. It is a signal that no one cares. As Plato framed the same point, it suggests ‘corruption in the very souls’ of those charged with keeping order.” ....

The book’s authors are political strategists who are also men of faith. Their advice—that this is not the time for Christians in America to retreat from public life—is heartfelt and sincere. Before Christians run off to join the religious left or the Tea Party movement, they would do well to consider the arguments in City of Man. Whatever they decide, they can’t but benefit from Gerson’s and Wehner’s advice: “One trap for Christians is to begin to believe that they and their cause are indispensable and that God can’t accomplish His purposes without them....The struggle many of us face is to keep from believing that God depends on us instead of the other way around.”
Commentary: City of Man, by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Epiphany II: Assurance and peace

Almighty and everlasting God, which dost govern all things in heaven and earth: mercifully hear the supplications of Thy people, and grant us Thy peace all the days of our life. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
THE beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; and preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
[Mark 1]
'How long, how long, will you keep saying "To-morrow"?' 'Why not now?' 'Why not an end to my shame in this very hour?' This was what I was saying, and with bitter contrition in my heart, when suddenly from a house close by I heard the voice of a boy or girl, I don't know which, singing and constantly repeating the words 'Take and read, take and read.' Instantly my look of sadness changed, and I began to consider intently whether there was any kind of game in which children used to repeat a song with words like that in it, and I could not recall having heard them anywhere at all. Stifling my tears I rose, reckoning that this was nothing less than a command from God to open the book and read the first passage I came upon. ...I went back to where Alypius was sitting, and where I had put down the book of St Paul's Epistles when I got up. I seized it and read in silence the first passage my eyes fell upon: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof [Romans 13:13]. I had no wish to read further, and there was no need. The moment I came to the end of this sentence, the light of certainty flooded my heart, as it were, and every cloud of hesitation rolled away.
[St. Augustine, 386 AD]

Friday, January 14, 2011

"What have I to dread, what have I to fear..."

If I were to list my ten favorite films, two or three of them would certainly be films made by the Coen brothers, and most of the rest of their films would easily make my top fifty. Armond White, in "The Coens Keep the Faith," explains why they are more than simple entertainments:
.... Common as agnostic pronouncements are in faddish Hollywood, where stars routinely embrace cults and exotic, indulgent philosophies, the Coens take a different route by regularly—steadily—examining their characters’ principles and their own ethnic-cultural roots. The lack of honor among thieves in Blood Simple, the post-Carnegie corporate ethics in The Hudsucker Proxy, the lapsed 1960s radicalism in The Big Lebowski, the Washington, D.C., conspiracies in Burn After Reading, the commercial exploitation of marriage vows in the legal comedy Intolerable Cruelty—all show the Coens reflecting on fundamental social values as a way of taking the contemporary moral temperature. That return to basics explains the genius of updating Homer’s Odyssey to the pre-civil-rights era American South in the Coens’ folk-music operetta O Brother Where Art Thou?; refracting film-noir codes in Miller’s Crossing and pulp-fiction fantasy in The Man Who Wasn’t There; the Yiddish folktale prologue of A Serious Man; and the collision of a black Southern Baptist woman with an unscrupulous white con artist/professor and his gang in The Ladykillers. ....

The classicism of the Western permits the Coens to reiterate the strange longing that was almost inchoate in No Country for Old Men, when Tommy Lee Jones, after witnessing the abyss, recounted a dream about seeing his father in the hereafter—a monologue that puzzled horror-movie habitués keyed up by the film’s cavalcade of senseless, unstoppable violence. They could not comprehend Jones’ belief in the hereafter but expected fashionable nihilism. Yet this longing—recurring as it does in the heartfelt twang of True Grit’s score (“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” sung dulcetly by the great folk artist Iris Dement) and in the film’s blasted landscape, which describes America’s long fall from paradise—is also what distinguished the Coens’ modern spiritual search in A Serious Man. The Coens’ most Jewish film holds hands with True Grit and its Christian fundamentalism. Both films reveal the brothers’ richest, most ecumenical meaning—and without a single snarky moment. Who knew America’s coolest filmmakers would turn out to be its most openly spiritual? [more]



The Coens Keep the Faith| First Things

"Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it so"

Abraham Lincoln asked: “How many legs will a sheep have, if you call the tail a leg?”
“Five,” was the response.
“No,” said Lincoln. “Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it so.”

Sitting in a waiting room the day before yesterday, I was enjoying pleasant conversation with some of the others there when the news reported the appearance of members of the "Westboro Baptist Church" in Tucson. I was soon explaining, once again, that I, a Baptist, had nothing in common with those folks. Today I read Thomas White of Southwestern Seminary explaining better why the Westboro group is neither Baptist nor a church:
.... According to the Bible, a church is a gathering, but a gathering with a purpose ... an ecclesia. This Greek word is a compound word from "ek" and "kaleo" meaning the "called" "out" ones. The church is made up of those called out for God's purposes. There are other assemblies in the New Testament. People called out and gathered for political reasons which may form assemblies but not churches. You see, a church has a special mission, which is the mission of Christ. Christ came to offer love and hope, and saving grace to those who were hopeless, unloved and sinners.

So it really upsets me when a group calls themselves a Baptist church and then conducts themselves disgracefully. As a member of a Baptist church, I want to go on record as saying that the group calling itself "Westboro" is neither Baptist nor a church. They are not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention or any other denomination. They do not follow the New Testament or the commands of Christ. They act nothing like a church should act and they do not demonstrate the characteristics of a true church. They should do everyone a favor and change their name to reflect reality. They appear to me as nothing more than a hate group with an extreme agenda. God will set things right on judgment day, and I would not want to be in their shoes.
Baptist Press - Westboro: a hate group, not a church - News with a Christian Perspective

"You make known to me the path of life..."

One of my struggles [and I know I am not alone here] has been maintaining consistency in my daily devotions. This year I decided to try one of the approaches offered at the English Standard Version [ESV] Online site delivered by RSS to my browser every morning. The choice I made was the Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary and it has been a pleasure thus far, requiring very little discipline from me. I recommend it. But there are many other options there as well. For instance:
  • Every Day in the Word. The popular reading plan features a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs each day. This plan divides the text into 365 sections, so you can read through the entire Bible in one unforgettable year—in as little as 15 minutes a day. In one year, you read the Old Testament, New Testament, and Proverbs once, and the Psalms twice.
  • One-Year Tract Bible Reading Plan. This plan is based on the M'Cheyne reading system, featuring four different readings for use in both family and personal devotions. Each day has two passages from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and one from either the Psalms or the Gospels. In one year, you read the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.
  • Chronological. Read the events of the Bible as they occurred chronologically. For example, the Book of Job is integrated with Genesis because Job lived before Abraham.
  • Literary Study Bible. Readings every day from the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, Pentateuch and History of Israel, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles.
  • ESV Study Bible. Readings every day from the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, Pentateuch and History of Israel, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles.
I've also been profitably reading, usually just after midnight, the scripture and devotion offered by the Seventh Day Baptist Board of Christian Education, delivered by e-mail, also using the ESV.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A decent respect

Most of the commentary I've read today about the President's speech last night in Tucson has been favorable — and that includes comment by those usually critical of him. I didn't watch the speech. I read it this morning and it read well. A lot of dismay, though, has been directed at the behavior of the crowd made up mostly, I gather, of Arizona university students. John Podhoretz's column this morning is representative. It might have been appropriate beforehand to instruct those attending that a memorial service is not the same as a political or a sports rally.
Never before in the annals of national moments of mourning have the words spoken been so wildly mismatched by the spirit in which they were received.

The sentences and paragraphs of President Obama's speech last night were beautiful and moving and powerful. But for the most part they didn't quite transcend the wildly inappropriate setting in which he delivered them.

There was something about the choice of place, a college arena with the appropriate name of the McKale Memorial Center, that made the event turn literally sophomoric.

If there is one thing we expect from occasions of national mourning, it is, at the very least, a modicum of gravity. That gravity was present in the president's speech from first to last....

But the president's stunning speech was marred by the feeling of the evening that surrounded it and the appalling behavior of the crowd in Tucson listening to it.

It was as though no one in the arena but the immediate mourners and sufferers had the least notion of displaying respectful solemnity in the face of breathtaking loss and terrifying evil. ....

Worst of all, there was the crowd, which bubbled over with excitement and enthusiasm. The tone of the event came to resemble a pep rally, no matter the monstrous fact of the six dead and the many injured. ....

Even Obama's lovely peroration about little Christina Green — "I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it" — was greeted by the listeners as though they were delegates at a political convention, rather than attendees at a memorial service. ....

There's been a great deal of talk in the wake of the massacre about the need for a national conversation about civility. Maybe what we need is a national conversation about elementary manners. [more]
The president was pitch-perfect at Arizona service, but audience members were a rabble - NYPOST.com

Anger at God

The President's very good, and appropriate, speech in Tucson last night included these words:
Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "when I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.
This morning, as I thought about the events that resulted in the tragedy about which he was speaking, and perhaps also about the reference to Job, I came across this. Joe Carter is responding to a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The Exline referred to below is Julie Exline, the lead author of the study, "When Atheists Are Angry at God":
.... Exline explains that her interest was first piqued when an early study of anger toward God revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward him than believers.
At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalyses of a second dataset revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation.
Exline notes that the findings raised questions of whether anger might actually affect belief in God’s existence, an idea consistent with social science’s previous clinical findings on “emotional atheism.”
Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence.
The most striking finding was that when Exline looked only at subjects who reported a drop in religious belief, their faith was least likely to recover if anger toward God was the cause of their loss of belief. In other words, anger toward God may not only lead people to atheism but give them a reason to cling to their disbelief. ....

Many atheists do, of course, proceed to their denial of God based solely on rational justifications. That is why evidentialist and philosophical approaches to apologetics will always be necessary. But I'm beginning to suspect that emotional atheism is far more common than many realize. We need a new apologetic approach that takes into account that the ordinary pain and sufferings of life leads more people away from God than a library full of anti-theist books. Focusing solely on the irate sputterings of the imperfectly intellectual New Atheists may blind us to the anger and suffering that is adding new nonbelievers to their ranks. [more]
When Atheists Are Angry at God | First Things

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Baptists, slavery, and the Civil War

The American Civil War took place between 1861 and 1865. We are upon the 150th anniversary of the conflict and over the next five years those interested in that war and its consequences will find much to read and watch. Baptists, particularly, may be interested in "Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words", a site created by Baptist historian Bruce Gourley. A quick review of the material already on the site shows a concentration on the experience of Baptists in the American South.

Excerpts from one of the articles, "Yes, It Was About Slavery":
Baptists in the South during the Civil War-era were unequivocal: Secession, the Confederate States of America and the Civil War were primarily about slavery.

Foreshadowing the Civil War, white Baptists in the South withdrew fellowship from their northern counterparts on May 10, 1845, in order to better defend the South’s practice of black slavery. The denominational schism did not happen in a vacuum. Whereas prior to the 1820s, many Baptists North and South were anti-slavery, by the mid-1840s Baptist sentiment in the South – at least as expressed in denominational leadership – was of the consensus that the enslavement of blacks was ordained of God and must be defended.

.... Renowned Baptist preacher and denominational leader Richard Furman, while president of the South Carolina State Convention of Baptists in 1823, wrote on behalf of South Carolina Baptists to the governor of South Carolina about slavery. His letter, a response to an attempted slave uprising the previous year, is considered a watershed event in the beginning of a movement toward consolidation of white Baptists in the South to the pro-slavery position.
“… because certain writers on politics, morals and religion, and some of them highly respectable, have advanced positions, and inculcated sentiments, very unfriendly to the principle and practice of holding slaves;.…These sentiments, the Convention, on whose behalf I address your Excellency, cannot think just, or well founded; for the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” (read the entire document)
.... On January 27, 1861, before a standing room only audience Ebenezer W. Warren, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia, delivered a sermon entitled “Scriptural Vindication of Slavery,” here partially quoted:
“Slavery forms a vital element of the Divine Revelation to man. It’s institution, regulation, and perpetuity, constitute a part of many of the books of the Bible …. The public mind needs enlightening from the sacred teachings of inspiration on this subject …. We of the South have been passive, hoping the storm would subside …. Our passiveness has been our sin. We have not come to the vindication of God and of truth, as duty demanded …. it is necessary for ministers of the gospel … to teach slavery from the pulpit, as it was taught by the holy men of old, who spake as moved by the holy Spirit …. Both Christianity and Slavery are from heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time …. Because Slavery is right; and because the condition of the slaves affords them all those privileges which would prove substantial blessings to them; and, too, because their Maker has decreed their bondage, and has given them, as a race, capacities and aspirations suited alone to this condition of life ….”
.... Decades later, many white southerners, including Baptists, would deny that slavery was the cause of the war. This denial remains widespread today among many white southerners of the twenty-first century. Yet the record is clear. Slavery was the primary cause of the American Civil War. [more]
Seventh Day Baptists had no churches in the deep South until some time after the Civil War [the farthest south churches were in what became West Virginia] and the denomination was not riven by the issue of slavery. Like most northern Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists were largely abolitionists. Information about Seventh Day Baptists, slavery, and the war can be found here, here, and here.

Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words, Yes, It Was About Slavery … | Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words

"Where have all the active verbs gone?"

The murders and attempted murders in Tucson have dominated news coverage since the weekend and almost immediately a large part of the discussion became political. [Why, in Heaven's name, do the networks interview political consultants about this kind of tragedy?] Kevin DeYoung liked Ross Douthat's column about the controversy but felt that even he avoided a central issue:
.... “Politicians and media loudmouths,” Douthat writes, “shouldn’t be held responsible for the darkness that always waits to swallow up the unstable and the lost.” True enough, but who should be held responsible? My vote is for Loughner who, by all accounts, appears to be not only the accused killer but also the real killer. Certainly darkness is appropriate imagery, but I’d argue it’s more appropriate to say he committed a dark deed rather than to imply darkness swallowed up an unstable young man. ....

I have no doubt Loughner is messed up, crazy, off his rocker, and out to lunch. It seems that he’s needed help for a long time. By why jump to conclude that this is a “Tragedy of Mental Illness”? To be sure, mental illness is real but it does not honor those who endure it to rush a diagnosis and start naming disorders every time an anti-social, nihilistic, solipsistic young man with guns and grudges sins in the worst possible ways. Where have all the active verbs gone?

.... Whenever a public tragedy like this occurs everyone on the right and the left struggles to find some cause, and that cause is almost always outside the self—video games, strange novels, mistreatment by friends, a culture of hate, the second amendment, heated political rhetoric. And when an internal cause is suggested it almost always points away from personal responsibility to some element of us that doesn’t really belong to us—like a mental disorder or our own personal demons.

We instinctively resort to passive speech, unable to bear the thought (let alone utter the words) that a wicked person has perpetrated a wicked crime. The human heart is desperately sinful and capable of despicable sins. Of course, no one commends the crime, but few are willing to condemn the criminal either. In such a world we are no longer moral beings with the propensity for great acts of righteousness and great acts of evil. We are instead, at least when we are bad, the mere product of our circumstances, our society, our upbringing, our biochemistry, or our hurts. The triumph of the therapeutic is nearly complete. ....

The world, and to a large extent the church, has lost the ability to speak in moral categories. We have preferences instead of character. We have values instead of virtue. We have no God of holiness, and we have no Satan. We have break-downs, crack-ups, psychoses, maladjustments, and inner turmoil. But we do not have repugnant evil as the Bible has it. And this loss makes the world a more dangerous place. For the words may disappear, but the reality does not. [more]
The Tucson Tragedy and God’s Gift of Moral Language – Kevin DeYoung

Monday, January 10, 2011

What's wrong with the world?

Via Elizabeth Scalia
[W]hen a British paper queried a variety of writers, Chesterton answered the question “What’s Wrong With the World” quite succinctly and accurately:
Dear Sirs;
I am.
Sincerely,
G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Lay down your soul at Jesus' feet"

Via RightWingBob.com:


The sun is slowly sinkin'
The day's almost gone
Still darkness falls around us
And we must journey on
Like a shepherd out on the mountain
A-watchin' the sheep down below
He's coming back to claim us
Will you be ready to go
The darkest hour is just before dawn
The narrow way leads home
Lay down your soul at Jesus' feet
The darkest hour is just before dawn
The darkest hour is just before dawn
The narrow way leads home
Lay down your soul
Let Jesus in
The darkest hour is just before dawn
The darkest hour is just before dawn

Emmylou Harris, Darkest Hour Is Just Before Down Lyrics, RightWingBob.com » Just before dawn

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Being adult

Peggy Noonan believes the failure of the new captain of the USS Enterprise to behave appropriately is connected to a more general decline in our society, a decline placed into perspective by The King's Speech. I saw that film this week and she has a point. Noonan:
.... [I]t's a great mistake when you are in a leadership position to want to be like everyone else. Because that, actually, is not your job. Your job is to be better, and to set standards that those below you have to reach to meet. And you have to do this even when it's hard, even when you know you yourself don't quite meet the standards you represent.

A captain has to be a captain. He can't make videos referencing masturbation and oral sex. He has to uphold values even though he finds them antique, he has to represent virtues he may not in fact possess, he has to be, in his person, someone sailors aspire to be.

A lot of our leaders—the only exceptions I can think of at the moment are nuns in orders that wear habits—have become confused about something, and it has to do with being an adult, with being truly mature and sober. When no one wants to be the stuffy old person, when no one wants to be "the establishment," when no one accepts the role of authority figure, everything gets damaged, lowered. The young aren't taught what they need to know. And they know they're not being taught, and on some level they resent it. ....

[The King's Speech is] about someone being a grown-up, someone doing his job, someone assuming responsibility. It is about a time when someone was taking on the mantle of leadership, someone was sacrificing his comfort for his country.

Someone was old-school. Someone wasn't cool. .... [more]
Noonan: The Captain and the King - WSJ.com

Epiphany I: How then should we live

Lord we beseech Thee mercifully to receive the prayers of Thy people which call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
I BESEECH you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
[Romans 7]
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, who hatest nothing that Thou hast made, nor desirest the Death of a Sinner, look down with mercy upon me, and grant that I may turn from my wickedness and live. Forgive the days and years which I have passed in folly, idleness, and sin. Fill me with such sorrow for the time misspent, that I may amend my life according to Thy holy word; Strengthen me against habitual idleness, and enable me to direct my thoughts to the performance of every duty; that while I live I may serve Thee in the state to which Thou shalt call me, and at last by a holy and happy death be delivered from the struggles and sorrows of this life, and obtain eternal happiness by Thy mercy, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Samuel Johnson, 1765]

Friday, January 7, 2011

"...mostly a true book, with some stretchers..."

Rich Lowry writes about the well-intentioned, but unfortunate, decision by an academic editor to bowdlerize Huckleberry Finn:
.... When I discovered Mark Twain as a kid, I ripped through a bunch of the novels one summer, these musty-smelling old editions in our basement that my grandfather had gotten as part of a newspaper give-away. They’re books you almost regret reading because you’ll never be able to read them for the first time again. In poking around yesterday, I came across this passage from Huck Finn at random, of a lonely Huck ruminating:
I felt so mournful I most wished I was dead. The stars was shining, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful; and I heard an owl away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead, and a whippowill and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die; and the wind was trying to whisper something to me and I couldn’t make out what it was, and so it made the cold shivers run over me.
Anyway, I credit the editor of the NewSouth Books edition for good intentions–he doesn’t want the book’s audience to shrink in the controversy over one hateful word–but I think what he’s done is a mistake at all levels. ....
It has been some time since I read the book but the lasting impression it left with me was the absurdity of racism. And use of the "N-word" accentuated rather than diminished that impression.

Hands Off Huck - By Rich Lowry - The Corner - National Review Online

A nation for all

Christians still living in Islamic countries face challenges few of us can imagine. This time the news is good.
Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had a been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife. ....

Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.

“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

In the days following the brutal attack on Saints Church in Alexandria, which left 21 dead on New Year’ eve, solidarity between Muslims and Copts has seen an unprecedented peak. Millions of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures to the image of a cross within a crescent – the symbol of an “Egypt for All”, and around the city, banners went up calling for unity, and depicting mosques and churches, crosses and crescents, together as one. .... [more]
Egypt's Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as "human shields" - Ahram Online

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What makes for happy kids?

Mercatornet reports a study from England. I suspect few will be shocked because its conclusions confirm common sense.
Who are the happiest kids in England? Twelve-year-old boys who eat meals with their families, according to a survey of 32,000 youngsters.
Researchers at the National Foundation for Educational Research asked the English pupils, aged between 10 and 15, whether they agreed, disagreed or were unsure about the statement: "I feel happy about life at the moment."
Their responses showed that children are most likely to say they feel happy if they are able to talk to their parents about their worries. The second most likely factor was having one or two good friends. Children who have a good diet and often sit down for a meal with their family also more likely (1.6 times more) to say they are happy. Evidently the kids with the highest combined scores on those measures were those 12-year-old boys. ....

.... What will surprise the social scientists and advocacy groups who trace all the ills of children and families back to “poverty” is the finding that economic status made no difference over all to the happiness of children in the study. ....

Study leader Tom Benton said:
"Our analysis confirms that If we are interested in the happiness and wellbeing of young people we need to look beyond how much money they have.

"In particular, growing up in a supportive and safe environment, both within the home and elsewhere appear to be far more important. Parents making the effort to spend time with their children are a major positive influence on their chances of being happy." ....
[more]
Who are the happiest kids in England?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Have you not read this Scripture...?"

At this point in the beginning of a new year many of us are looking for a method to discipline our regular reading of Scripture. Bob Spencer at Wilderness Fandango intends to use "The Daily Office Lectionary" from The Book of Common Prayer. He is using the readings that can be found here online. The selections will always include readings from both testaments as well as one or more selections from Psalms. The site uses the English Standard Version [ESV]. The readings are available as an RSS feed if you'd like to have them delivered to your desktop each day.

Wilderness Fandango: The Daily Office Lectionary, Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary (ESV Bible Online)

"Whoso shall offend one of these little ones..."

Every so often a story appears about some new research discovery, is sensationalized by the media, is subsequently discredited, and then turns out to have done a lot of damage. I'm reminded of all of the trouble, destroyed reputations, and damaged relationships  surrounding "recovered memory." Obviously, many parents, made aware of the "research" referred to below, and believing they were doing the best thing to protect their children, in fact did just the opposite. From CNN:
A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an "elaborate fraud" that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday. ....

"It's one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors," Fiona Godlee, BMJ's editor-in-chief, told CNN. "But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data." ....

The now-discredited paper panicked many parents and led to a sharp drop in the number of children getting the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella. ....

In the United States, more cases of measles were reported in 2008 than in any other year since 1997.... More than 90 percent of those infected had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown, the CDC reported. ....
Retracted autism study an 'elaborate fraud,' British journal finds - CNN.com

Monday, January 3, 2011

The escape of the prisoner

On the anniversary of his birth, a quotation from J.R.R. Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories":
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which "Escape" is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Just so a Party-spokesman might have labelled departure from the misery of the Führer's or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery. In the same way these critics, to make confusion worse, and so to bring into contempt their opponents, stick their label of scorn not only on to Desertion, but on to real Escape, and what are often its companions, Disgust, Anger, Condemnation, and Revolt. Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the "quisling" to the resistance of the patriot. To such thinking you have only to say "the land you loved is doomed" to excuse any treachery, indeed to glorify it.
J.R.R. Tolkien. Tree and Leaf, Houghton Mifflin, 1964, pp. 60-61.

Gay marriage?

Via Insight Scoop, a link to an article from the Winter issue of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, "What is Marriage?" [the paper is available as a pdf download on this page] by Robert George and Sherif Girgis, both at Princeton, and Ryan Anderson of the University of Notre Dame. Those interested in serious argument about gay marriage as a public policy issue will find the article and the exchanges about it worthy of attention. Insight Scoop provides the abstract:
In the article, we argue that as a moral reality, marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together, and renewed by acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction. We further argue that there are decisive principled as well as prudential reasons for the state to enshrine this understanding of marriage in its positive law, and to resist the call to recognize as marriages the sexual unions of same-sex partners.

Besides making this positive argument for our position and raising several objections to the view that same-sex unions should be recognized, we address what we consider the strongest philosophical objections to our view of the nature of marriage, as well as more pragmatic concerns about the point or consequences of implementing it as a policy.
Their argument elicited considerable criticism to which the authors responded. Also from Insight Scoop:
Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: Important debate about the nature of marriage