Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Salvation by self-help

Chuck Collins [guest posting for Tullian Tchividjian] on "My Biggest Regret":
.... Perhaps my biggest that for much of my 30 years of ordained ministry I have not preached “the gospel.” By-and-large I have been a nice man standing in front of nice people, telling them that God calls them to be nicer (S. Brown). And just about none of it was life-changing.

I have come to see that there are really just two ways to preach: one is the gospel, the other is get-better messages. The first is based on God’s goodness; the second on self-improvement. ....

For more years than I care to think I preached get-better messages. I cringe thinking about my old sermons. I regret the lost opportunities of those messages that pounded home the idea that we just need to be better, try harder, pray and give more, read the Bible every day, attend church every week, and be nicer. It was plain ole Phariseeism, works-righteousness under the guise of preaching – “an easy-listening version of salvation by self-help” (M Horton). ....

When you get to church to find out that the preacher is in the third of a 10-sermon series on “10 steps to cure depression” get up and run out of there as fast as your depressed legs can take you. It’s self-help, not the gospel. Chalk it up to a well meaning preacher who hasn’t yet realized that our real hope is in God, in the sufficiency of his work on the cross and in the salvation that is not found in get-better sermons. [more]
Thanks to Bob Spenser for the reference.

My Biggest Regret – Tullian Tchividjian

"And all will be well..."

Peter Berger writes about demographic studies indicating that "the more intensely religious have more children." He speculates here about at least one possible reason:
.... For a believing Jew, Christian or Muslim, the future of the world, his own future, and that of his children lies in the hands of a compassionate God. Every mother, of any faith or of no faith at all, will get up in the night to comfort a crying child. She may not speak. Her presence and her holding the child may be enough comfort. If she does speak, it is likely to be some variation of saying “everything is all right” or “everything will be all right”. This may well be true at the moment. In a purely secular perspective, these formulas are finally not true. The mother, the child, and everyone and everything they care about are fated to perish. Religious faith gives a cosmic validation to the mother’s comforting words. It is no accident that the most famous lines of Julian of Norwich, that elusive medieval mystic, are reminiscent of a lullaby: “And all will be well. And all will be well. And every manner of thing will be well”. [more]
Why do Godders have so many kids? | Religion and Other Curiosities

Monday, June 27, 2011

"People, get ready..."

Telling nonsense

An early and important insight gained as a teacher was the importance of being willing to admit error. A review by James V. Schall of Johnsonian Miscellanies [1897], includes this account of the great man:
.... In one of the short accounts, a niece of Sir Joshua Reynolds, a Miss Johnson, no less, was dining with her uncle, Johnson, and a large crowd. This young lady loved music. The conversation turned to music. “Johnson spoke very contemptuously of that art.” He added: “No man of talent, or whose mind was capable of better things, ever would or could devote his time and attention to so idle and frivolous a pursuit.”

At this view, Miss Johnson whispered to her neighbor: “I wonder what Dr. Johnson thinks of King David?” So it helps to know Scripture to understand conversations of our culture. Johnson overheard this whisper. He responded with “good humor and complacency.” He said to the young lady: “Madam, I thank you; I stand rebuked before you, and promise that, on one subject at least, you shall never hear me tell nonsense again."

The time probably will never come when great men do not sometimes “tell nonsense.” But it is the mark of a gentleman also to accept rebukes, especially literary ones from young ladies. King David sang and danced before the Lord. Johnson’s disparagement of music needed correction. He thanked the young lady and promised not to “tell such nonsense again.” ....
The University Bookman: Memories of Johnson

Take me to the water...

Craig Blomberg on the importance of baptism:
.... I don’t for one minute want to argue for baptismal regeneration—the belief that you must be baptized to be saved. But I do want to insist that, if not normative, believers’ baptism by immersion as soon as feasible after conversion was the normal practice of the New Testament church and it should be ours also.

My concern in this blog, however, is not so much to debate those friends of mine who practice infant baptism, not for salvation but as a ritual on the part of parents and a congregation indicating their intentions to do their best to raise a child as a Christian, while recognizing that some day he or she will have to confirm it for themselves with their own saving faith. Most Baptists believe that should be done too, and many even dedicate babies with almost the identical theology that paedobaptists use at infant baptism. The only debate is whether the water should be applied earlier, in small drops, or later, in larger doses!

My concern here is rather the inordinate number of young adults (and a few older ones) I meet these days who seem to think baptism is just no big deal. And if they weren’t raised in a church that prescribed a certain way for it to be done, they may never have been baptized at all. And if they have had faith in Christ for many years already, it really seems to them to be unnecessary. Or, if they do go through with baptism, it is just, they say, “ because Christ commanded it and we need to obey him.” But they can’t give any particular reason for why he should have commanded it. ....

With or without words, baptismal immersion testifies to our identification with the crucified and risen Christ. With words, with the appropriate “pledge of a clear conscience toward God” (1 Pet. 3:21), produced by already existing saving faith, baptism includes a promise to follow Jesus all the days of our lives. .... [more]
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom. 6:4 NIV)

Denver Seminary > Blog

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Klavan's "The Final Hour"

I enjoy Andrew Klavan. I like his political videos, his columns, his adult thrillers, his sense of humor, his Christian convictions, and I have particularly enjoyed his first series of thrillers intended for younger readers, especially, I would think, boys. The books are best read in order. The first three books in his "Homelander" series are already in print: The Last Thing I Remember, The Long Way Home, and The Truth of the Matter. The fourth, and final, book in the series, The Final Hour is about to be published. I will read it, and then I will pass it along to someone else much older than the target audience, because adults can enjoy them, too. The books are a suspenseful fast read ["Action sequences that never let up...wrung for every possible drop of nervous sweat." Booklist], and affirm good values without being preachy - a combination not all that common in books for readers in the early teens [School Library Journal suggests grades 7-10].

Klavan, at his website provides The Final Hour, Chapter One:
Most people have to die to get to hell. I took a shortcut.

I was in Abingdon State Prison. Locked away for a murder I didn’t commit. Waiting for the men who were coming to kill me. With nowhere to run.

It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

I’d been there for two weeks. Two weeks of smothering boredom and strangling fear. When I was locked in my cell, the minutes seemed to lie like dead men, to decay like dead men—so slowly you could barely tell it was happening. When I was out in the exercise yard or in the cafeteria or in the showers, there was just the fear, the waiting. Waiting for the killers to make good their threat, the words one of them had whispered in my ear as I stood in the dinner line one night:

"You’re already dead, West. You just don’t know it yet."

Alone in my cell, I stared at the tan wall. I felt a black despair surrounding me, closing in on me. I did everything I could to fight it. I did push-ups. I read my Bible. I prayed. The prayer gave me some comfort, some relief.

But then the buzzer would sound, loud and startling. The cell door would slide open. A guard would shout from the end of the tier:

“Yard time!”

Then the waiting and the fear would begin again. .... [Chapter 1 of The Final Hour]
The Final Hour, Chapter One

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Trinity I: Help us to serve Thee

O GOD, the strength of all those who put their trust in Thee; Mercifully accept our prayers; and because, through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without Thee, grant us the help of Thy grace, that in keeping Thy commandments we may please Thee, both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
BELOVED, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. [I John IV]
If thou but suffer God to guide thee
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He'll give thee strength, whate'er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days.
Who trust in God's unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move.

Be patient and await His leisure
In cheerful hope, with heart content
To take whatever thy Father's pleasure
And His discerning love hath sent,
Nor doubt our inmost want are known
To Him who chose us for His own.

Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving,
Perform thy duties faithfully,
And trust His Word: though undeserving,
Thou yet shalt find it true for thee.
God never yet forsook in need
The soul that trusted Him indeed.

[Georg Neumark, 1641, translated by Catherine Winkworth]

Friday, June 24, 2011

C.S. Lewis online

Via Joe Carter's "Thirty Three Things" today, a site that has collected links to online editions of works by C.S. Lewis as of October last year. Below are a few that I have looked up — all the links I checked were still good. Lots of good stuff:

The message and the medium

Read Mercer Schuchardt, a professor of "media ecology" at Wheaton, on "Taming the Image":
The band is rockin', arms are swayin', and you're about to come on screen in high definition with such stunning visual clarity that even people in the nosebleed seats can see your perfect smile.

Is this a rock concert? A beer commercial? Or just a typical Sunday morning?

These days, it could be any of the above.

Whether you're a questioning congregant, a concerned pastor, or a perplexed professor studying the effects of media on religious practice (like me), the use of technology in the worship setting is worth considering.

Media are not neutral. Like ideas, they have consequences, especially in the church. And some of these consequences should give us pause. In Technopoly media theorist Neil Postman writes, "A preacher who confines himself to considering how a medium can increase his audience will miss the significant question: In what sense do new media alter what is meant by religion, by church, even by God?" ....
After noting quite a few ways that the medium affects the message, Schuchardt concludes:
While our culture is dominated by Image, historically the church has always been dominated by Word. Image has an undeniable immediacy, but it tends to reveal only the surface of things. The Word is better able to cultivate deep reflection and precise, critical thought. Trading the Word for the Image is no incidental move. It changes what we say, as well as how we say it. Yet given the culture's wholehearted adoption of the Image, does the church have any choice but to follow suit? Must we accommodate the culture by imageizing our churches? Or do we defy the spirit of this age and do something truly countercultural—reinvest in the Word at a time when it is becoming less and less popular? [emphasis added] .... [more]
There have always been images in the Church, of course — statues, stained glass, paintings — and for the illiterate those may have had more immediacy than the words they heard, especially when the words were in languages they didn't understand. But Protestantism was critical of that and re-emphasized the the importance of the Word, in some cases by eliminating images altogether.

Taming the Image | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders

"Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy"

John Piper thanks Pascal:
Blaise Pascal was a French mathematical genius who was born June 19, 1623. After running from God until he was 31 years old, on November 23, 1654 at 10:30 pm, Pascal met God and was profoundly and unshakably converted to Jesus Christ. He wrote it down on a piece of parchment and sewed into his coat where it was found after his death eight years later. It said,
Year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, feast of St. Clement...from about half past ten at night to about half an hour after midnight, FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certitude, heartfelt joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. God of Jesus Christ. "My God and your God."...Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy...Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. May I never be separated from him.
.... Here’s how Pascal blew away my resistance to joy.
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
I suspected this was true. But I always feared that it was sin. That wanting to be happy was a moral defect. That self-denial meant renouncing joy, not renouncing lesser joys for greater joys. ....
Via Jared Wilson

Thank you, Blaise Pascal - Desiring God

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Discussing Sabbath

Fred G. Zaspel reviews a book that may be of particular interest to Seventh Day Baptists: Perspectives on the Sabbath, in fact, four perspectives, each presented by an advocate:
  • Skip MacCarty, pastor, Pioneer Memorial Church, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, representing the Seventh-day Adventist position;
  • Joseph A. Pipa, president and professor of historical and systematic theology, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, representing the “Christian Sabbath” position;
  • Charles P. Arand, chairman, department of systematic theology, Concordia Seminary, representing the confessional Lutheran position;
  • Craig L. Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary, representing the fulfillment view.
Following the established “views” and “perspectives” approach, each author’s case is presented in turn, followed by responses from the others. One helpful innovation in this book is the space given to the author, then, to give a final word of response, rounding out the discussion well. ....
And his review is interesting, given his confession of bias [i.e. Blomberg is right]. Later, Zaspel suggests something he wishes Blomberg had addressed:
It might have been helpful to Blomberg’s case if he had addressed more fully the question of why Christians worship on Sunday. He highlights this up front in his article, and in most respects his answer is sufficient. However, more would be helpful for those looking on from a Sabbatarian perspective. There are of course good reasons for “going to church” on Sunday, even if these reasons are not tied to the Sabbath command. It would serve a non-sabbatarian position well to cover this base as thoroughly as possible in order to satisfy questions and concerns Sabbatarians inevitably will have. ....
Indeed, why choose any particular day? And if one must be chosen, whether as a Sabbath or simply a day to go to church, why not the one for which God has indicated a preference?

Zaspel has provided an interesting review of a book which he compliments as a genuinely good model of civil discourse: "I should mention something also in regard to the pleasant tone that prevails in this volume.... Their interaction is direct and pointed at times, as it must be in a book like this, but the mutual respect remains. The disagreements among Christians on this issue are not likely to go away, but in this regard the authors helpfully model ongoing discussion"

Since the position, a seventh day [i.e. Saturday] Sabbath, is here represented by an Adventist, one does wonder whether it is argued as a Seventh Day Baptist would present it.

Perspectives on the Sabbath - TGC Reviews

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is cannibalism just a matter of taste?

Peter Wehner has been re-reading Isaiah Berlin and considering where human rights come from. He argues that Isaiah Berlin, although he believed in them, couldn't offer a convincing justification for their existence:
.... In what is morality grounded? For Berlin, it was grounded in general principles of behavior and human activity, in norms, in a consensus of what constitutes decency and right and wrong. That can work for a time, as people act on an existing moral accordance and intuition. But in the end that is never enough. Norms need to be grounded in permanent rather than provisional truths. Otherwise, we have only our own cultural consensus on what constitutes human rights, which makes it next to impossible to define a universal set of such rights. It also means we have no good justification for telling other societies, or for that matter even our own children, why they should hold to our particular consensus.

As Michael Gerson and I argue in City of Man, philosophers have tried for centuries to formulate a firm, secular theory of human rights. None has gained broad, much less universal assent, and none seems equal to the challenge of Nietzsche: if God is really dead, what is to stop the radical, destructive human will?

Berlin’s theory – liberalism without natural rights – is hung on a peg in midair. To care for and to sacrifice for the rights of other human beings, merely because they are human beings, requires an immutable moral and even metaphysical basis.

So why do human beings possess inherent value? People of the Jewish and Christian faith have an answer: Men and women are created equal in worth, in the image of God. They believe in a human nature, which demands human rights.

Without some transcendent basis, human rights as a doctrine cannot defend itself from attack. Strauss understood the fallacy of historicism – the belief that all standards are determined by cultural circumstances and each society should be judged in its own terms rather than measured against a universal standard – was both self-contradictory and relativistic. For historicists there is no ground on which one could prefer a liberal regime over a totalitarian one. Everything, including justice, is arbitrary. “If all values are relative,” Strauss famously said, “then cannibalism is a matter of taste.” For Strauss, a refugee from Nazi Germany, this debate was not simply an abstract one. .... [more]
Rights Must Be Grounded In Eternal Truths « Commentary Magazine

This is the victory

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5, ESV)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Today is the first day of summer. I just wish it would really come and stay.

Norman Rockwell, 1923

Church humor

I've always been a bit suspicious of these collections of bloopers that "actually appeared in church bulletins." [Who is it that mines the bulletins collecting these things?] But they are the kind of humor my father loved—and remembered, and repeated. I laughed aloud several times as I read the selection here. A few examples of bloopers that "actually appeared in church bulletins":
  • The sermon this morning: "Jesus Walks on the Water." The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus."
  • Our youth basketball team is back in action Wednesday at 8 PM in the recreation hall. Come out and watch us kill Christ the King.
  • Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands.
  • Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again," giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
  • Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
  • At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What Is HELL"? Come early and listen to our choir.
  • The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
  • Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
  • The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM . The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
  • The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new tithing campaigns slogan last Sunday: "I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours." [many more]
The Wittenberg Door: A little Levity: Church Bulletin Bloopers

Politics from the pulpit

Good counsel from Peter Wehner about politics from the pulpit. It is usually better to do less political advocacy than the law would allow. From "When Churches Play at Politics":
.... Over the years, for example, liberal and conservative churches and their pastors have damaged their credibility by taking stands on issues to which they brought no special competence or insight. In addition, there is a strong temptation to simplistically connect the dots between moral principles and particular public policies. Most issues, however, involve prudential judgment about which honorable people can disagree. And even on matters on which pastors may believe a biblical principle is clear, it’s not self-evident what the proper course of political action might be. ....

The role of the church and its leaders, at least as some of us interpret it, is to provide its members with a moral framework through which they can work out their duties as citizens and engage the world in a thoughtful way. It is one thing for a minister to speak about the inherent worth of every human life, our obligations to care for the poor and persecuted, and the importance of sexual fidelity and creation care; it is quite another to offer opinions on legislation and partisan battles. ....

.... The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are not governing blueprints, ministers are not policy experts, and the church is not a place for political advocacy. It is a place to minister to souls, to heal wounds, and to dispense grace. So while ministers certainly have a First Amendment right to express their political views, they should realize that there are substantial costs when the faith to which they have declared their allegiance is seen, with some justification, as merely a tool of a specific political ideology or subordinate to a political party.
When Churches Play at Politics « Commentary Magazine

Monday, June 20, 2011

When all hope is lost

Daniel M. Harrell, Senior Minister of The Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota, on the "Poet of the Descending Road: T.S. Eliot":
.... He lost all hope in civilization's progress or humanity's capacity for self-redemption. This loss of hope affected him not only ideally, but personally too. His acute disillusionment threw him into the arms of God.

He converted to Christianity in 1927 having become convinced that redemption for persons or peoples had to be in Jesus; the only one in whose historical dying and rising any actual redemption had ever actually happened. Christ was the only one in whom water had ever sprung from a rock. Following his conversion, Eliot's poetry and plays took on decidedly religious tones.

Most significant of his post-conversion works was The Four Quartets written in 1943 amidst yet another World War. By the time Eliot wrote it, he had come to the conclusion that authentic faith must occur according to the pattern set forth by Christ himself; namely, dying (figuratively as well as physically) in order to fully live. Eliot advocated a descending road to redemption. For Eliot, the end of the descent was that place where all hope in self or others was lost. Entering into a deep darkness of hopelessness forces an awareness of our sinful presumptions and powerlessness. This final darkness, deeper than mere doubts or disillusionment, is what is colloquially meant when we speak of hitting rock bottom.
O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
. . . And we all go . . . into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.
. . . I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light,

. . . In my end is my beginning. . . . The end is where we start from.
As Eliot's poem hints, rock bottom is where you finally discover the Rock who is Christ. When death to self occurs, life in Christ begins. Ending in order to begin, dying in order to live, this is fundamental Gospel. Christians celebrate Jesus' death inasmuch as it negates death; but Christ's death never eliminated dying, it only transforms the meaning and purpose of dying. As Paul wrote, the "old self is crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin." Because all have sinned, dying is not an option. Whether or not you stay dead, that's the option. The choice becomes one between what kind of dying are you going to do, or as Eliot puts it, what sort of fire are you going to face? The Pentecost fire that refines you or the Judgment Day fire that kills you? You have to pick your fire. And both will hurt. ....

I'm always struck how people will watch other's suffering and feel their faith toward God wobble. "How can God coexist with such evil in the world? How can he let these bad things happen? Is the Lord even there?" However these same people, in the midst of their own suffering, suddenly find their faith and find their voice:
Dead upon the tree my Savior
Let not be in vain Thy labor
Help me Lord, in my last fear
Dust I am, to dust am bending
From the final doom impending
Help me Lord for death is near.
Such is the way of descent. No one wants rock bottom, but everyone wants solid rock. "You must lose your life to save it," Jesus said. And so you must. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live," Paul wrote to the Galatians, "but Christ lives in me. Whatever life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."  [more]

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"This is where choice leads."

"Pro-choice" has, of course, always meant the elimination of the possibility of any choice, ever, for the unborn. A new book makes clear that in many cultures "pro-choice" is also anti-woman. Jonathan Last reviewing Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men by Mara Hvistendahl:
.... In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. This ratio is biologically ironclad. Between 104 and 106 is the normal range, and that's as far as the natural window goes. Any other number is the result of unnatural events.

Yet today in India there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls. In China, the number is 121—though plenty of Chinese towns are over the 150 mark. China's and India's populations are mammoth enough that their outlying sex ratios have skewed the global average to a biologically impossible 107. But the imbalance is not only in Asia. Azerbaijan stands at 115, Georgia at 118 and Armenia at 120.

What is causing the skewed ratio: abortion. If the male number in the sex ratio is above 106, it means that couples are having abortions when they find out the mother is carrying a girl. By Ms. Hvistendahl's counting, there have been so many sex-selective abortions in the past three decades that 163 million girls, who by biological averages should have been born, are missing from the world. Moral horror aside, this is likely to be of very large consequence. ....

...[I]f "choice" is the moral imperative guiding abortion, then there is no way to take a stand against "gendercide." Aborting a baby because she is a girl is no different from aborting a baby because she has Down syndrome or because the mother's "mental health" requires it. Choice is choice. One Indian abortionist tells Ms. Hvistendahl: "I have patients who come and say 'I want to abort because if this baby is born it will be a Gemini, but I want a Libra.'"

This is where choice leads. This is where choice has already led. .... [more]
Book Review: Unnatural Selection -

If you don't write on walls, you're empty headed - or something

Photographed this morning with my cellphone on my walk through campus:

It reads "If the wall is blank, so too the mind." Although not exceptionally more illogical than much graffitti ["War is not the Answer" - answer to what?], this one struck me because of the blanket insult toward those of us not inclined to indulge in vandalism.

The Thinking Machine

I've been watching Prison Break on NetFlix Streaming and tonight it brought to mind one of the classic crime short stories about escaping from prison. "The Problem of Cell 13," by Jacques Futrelle, was first published in 1905 and re-published in any number of omnibus collections of detective/crime fiction since. The protagonist is Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen [who would have been a contemporary of Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown], known as the Thinking Machine. Here is the set-up for the story:
It was only occasionally that The Thinking Machine had visitors, and these were usually men who, themselves high in the sciences, dropped in to argue a point and perhaps convince themselves. Two of these men, Dr. Charles Ransome and Alfred Fielding, called one evening to discuss some theory which is not of consequence here.
"Such a thing is impossible," declared Dr. Ransome emphatically, in the course of the conversation.
"Nothing is impossible," declared The Thinking Machine with equal emphasis. He always spoke petulantly. "The mind is master of all things. When science fully recognizes that fact a great advance will have been made."
"How about the airship?" asked Dr. Ransome.
"That's not impossible at all," asserted The Thinking Machine. "It will be invented some time. I'd do it myself, but I'm busy."
Dr. Ransome laughed tolerantly."I've heard you say such things before," he said." But they mean nothing. Mind may be master of matter, but it hasn't yet found a way to apply itself. There are some things that can't be thought out of existence, or rather which would not yield to any amount of thinking."
"What, for instance?" demanded The Thinking Machine.
Dr. Ransome was thoughtful for a moment as he smoked.
"Well, say prison walls," he replied. "No man can think himself out of a cell. If he could, there would be no prisoners."
"A man can so apply his brain and ingenuity that he can leave a cell, which is the same thing," snapped The Thinking Machine.
Dr. Ransome was slightly amused.
"'Let's suppose a case," he said, after a moment. "Take a cell where prisoners under sentence of death are confined — men who are desperate and, maddened by fear, would take any chance to escape — suppose you were locked in such a cell. Could you escape?"
"Certainly," declared The Thinking Machine.
"Of course," said Mr. Fielding, who entered the conversation for the first time, "you might wreck the cell with an explosive — but inside, a prisoner, you couldn't have that."
"There would be nothing of that kind," said The Thinking Machine. "You might treat me precisely as you treated prisoners under sentence of death, and I would leave the cell."
"Not unless you entered it with tools prepared to get out," said Dr. Ransome.
The Thinking Machine was visibly annoyed and his blue eyes snapped.
"Lock me in any cell in any prison anywhere at any time, wearing only what is necessary, and I'll escape in a week," he declared, sharply.
Dr. Ransome sat up straight in the chair, interested. Mr. Fielding lighted a new cigar.
"You mean you could actually think yourself out?" asked Dr. Ransome.
"I would get out," was the response.
"Are you serious?"
"Certainly I am serious."
Dr. Ransome and Mr. Fielding were silent for a long time.
"Would you be willing to try it?" asked Mr. Fielding, finally.
"Certainly," said Professor Van Dusen, and there was a trace of irony in his voice. "I have done more asinine things than that to convince other men of less important truths."
The tone was offensive and there was an undercurrent strongly resembling anger on both sides. Of course it was an absurd thing, but Professor Van Dusen reiterated his willingness to undertake the escape and it was decided upon.
"To begin now," added Dr. Ransome.
"I'd prefer that it begin to-morrow," said The Thinking Machine, "because — "
"No, now," said Mr. Fielding, flatly. "You are arrested, figuratively, of course, without any warning locked in a cell with no chance to communicate with friends, and left there with identically the same care and attention that would be given to a man under sentence of death. Are you willing?"
"All right, now, then," said the Thinking Machine, and he arose.
"Say, the death-cell in Chisholm Prison."
"The death-cell in Chisholm Prison."
"And what will you wear?"
"As little as possible," said The Thinking Machine. "Shoes, stockings, trousers and a shirt."
"You will permit yourself to be searched, of course?"
'I am to be treated precisely as all prisoners are treated," said The Thinking Machine. "No more attention and no less." .... [the story]
The Problem of Cell 13

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trinity, unity and a dance

Much of the Church will observe this Sunday as Trinity Sunday. At Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike considers "Our Relational God":
The Church’s belief in the triune God—we believe in one God who is three persons in one essence—is foundational for Christian faith. This teaching is fully spelled out in the Athanasian Creed. Of course, this doctrine is a mystery, transcending human mathematical logic. However, it is perhaps the most practically important fundamental teaching of the faith, for it clarifies who the true and living God is, and what he is like. In particular, it reveals that he is a personal, relational God.
This God who acts is not only a God of energies, but a personal God. When humans participate in the divine energies, they are not overwhelmed by some vague and nameless power, but they are brought face to face with a person. Nor is this all: God is not simply a single person confined within His own being, but a Trinity of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom ‘dwells’ in the other two by virtue of a perpetual movement of love. God is not only a unity but a union.

• Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Dioklesia), The Orthodox Church, p. 209
This mutual indwelling of the Persons of the Trinity has been known as “Perichoresis.” We use a word that comes from this—”choreography”—to describe the art of dance. The image brought out in the term perichoresis is that of dynamic movement and loving interaction, as in joyful dancing. As Peter Leithart describes it:
The unity of the Tri-unity should not be understood as “sitting together,” as if the Persons were merely in close proximity. Nor should perichoresis be understood as a static containment, as if the Son were in the Father in the way that water is in a bucket.

Rather, perichoresis describes the Persons as eternally giving themselves over into one another. It is not that the Father has (at some “moment” in eternity past) poured Himself out into the Son, but that He is continually pouring Himself into the Son, and the Son into the Spirit, and the Spirit into the Father, and so on. To talk about God’s “perichoretic” unity is to talk about a dynamic unity, and to talk about a God who is always at work, always in motion, pure act. It is to say that the life of God is peri-choreographed.

More about the Trinity here, here, and here.

Our Relational God |

Trinity: "No man hath ascended...but he that came down"

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hast given unto us Thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity; We beseech Thee that Thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
THERE was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. [John III]
Glory be to God the Father,
Glory be to God the Son,
Glory be to God the Spirit,
Great Jehovah, Three in One!
Glory, glory, glory, glory,
While eternal ages run!

Glory be to Him who loved us,
Washed us from each spot and stain!
Glory be to Him who bought us,
Made us kings with Him to reign!
Glory, glory, glory, glory,
To the Lamb that once was slain!

Glory to the king of angels,
Glory to the Church's king,
Glory to the king of nations!
Heaven and earth, your praises bring;
Glory, glory, glory, glory,
To the King of glory bring!

"Glory, blessing, praise eternal!"
Thus the choir of angels sings;
"Honor, riches, power, dominion!"
Thus its praise creation brings;
Glory, glory, glory, glory,
Glory to the King of kings!

[Horatius Bonar, 1866]

Friday, June 17, 2011

North Loup

Discovered on Google: "Early Day Street Scenes of North Loup, Nebraska." The scans were taken from postcards. Many Seventh Day Baptist families have had some connection with North Loup, for instance, an uncle and several good friends have been pastors of the Seventh Day Baptist church there.

This picture is identified as the "Seventh Day Baptist Church, North Loup. Before the fire."

This one is "Main Street, North Loup. c. 1913":

This one connects North Loup to my hometown in Wisconsin. "All aboard for Milton, 1916":

There are several more pictures at the site.

Early Day Street Scenes of North Loup, Nebraska.

The conversion of David Mamet

David Mamet, playwright, scriptwriter and director, [and writer/director]* is a recent defector from political liberalism. Peter Robinson is reading Mamet's recent The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture and taking notes. Two of the quotations he chose:
"My revelation came upon reading Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. It was that there is a cost to everything, that nothing is without cost, and that energy spent on A cannot be spent on B, and that this is the meaning of cost—it represents the renunciation of other employments of the money....[M]oney spent on more crossing guards cannot be spent on books. Both are necessary, a choice must be made, and...this is the Tragic view of life."

"The great wickedness of Liberalism, I saw, was that those who devise the ever new State Utopias, whether crooks or fools, set out to bankrupt and restrict not themselves, but others."
And quoted elsewhere from the book:
“Liberalism is a religion. Its tenets cannot be proved, its capacity for waste and destruction demonstrated. But it affords a feeling of spiritual rectitude at little or no cost.”
Is he a rigorous or original thinker? I doubt it. But he does entertain and I'll enjoy him more knowing that he dissents from Hollywood's political culture.

* For instance, among his films I have enjoyed: The Verdict, The Untouchables, Black Widow, Ronin, The Winslow Boy, Heist, Spartan

David Mamet and the Tragic View of Life -

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What William Jennings Bryan understood

In early July, 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee, the trial of John Scopes began. He was charged with violating a Tennessee law against the teaching of evolution in the public schools. He was guilty — he had intentionally violated the law. In this essay, "Revisiting The Scopes Trial," Peter Berger contends that one consequence of the trial "was to fortify a secularist worldview in the American intelligentsia, with a concomitant perception of Evangelicals as backwoods illiterates. The intellectual decline of Evangelicals has stopped. The secularist bias of intellectuals has not. It may be a good time to revisit the event."
The Scopes Trial took place in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. John Scopes, a high school biology teacher, was tried for having violated the state’s Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution. It was a staged event, with Scopes volunteering to test the constitutionality of the law. The American Civil Liberties Union (then as now an ardent defender of free speech and of the separation of church and state) played an important role in the staging. It organized his defense. It recruited the star defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), who stole the show. To counteract Darrow, the prosecution recruited William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925)—a leading Evangelical with an impressive political profile, and a liberal who had three times been a Democratic candidate for the presidency, as well as having served as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson. Darrow was widely known as a brilliant lawyer, an outspoken agnostic, and a strong opponent of capital punishment.

Not surprisingly, the trial attracted wide attention. It became a regular media circus. .... An army of journalists descended on the obscure provincial town, including some from Europe. H.L. Mencken reported on the trial for the Baltimore Sun (which, by the way, paid Scopes’ bail). Mencken’s account has become iconic, although (perhaps because) it was very prejudiced. He described the denizens of the town as “yokels” and “morons” (initiating what has been an elite view of Southern Evangelicals ever since). He called Bryan “a buffoon”, spouting “theologic bilge”. By contrast, he was full of admiration for the eloquence and wit of Darrow. Mencken and Darrow not only shared a contempt for the unwashed masses. They also had similar views of religion. Darrow once remarked that he did not believe in God for the same reason he did not believe in Mother Goose. Mencken wrote that the world was a gigantic ferris wheel, man a flea sitting on the wheel, religion as the flea’s belief that the wheel was constructed for the purpose of transporting it. Mencken’s account of the Scopes Trial formed the basis of a successful Broadway play, “Inherit the Wind” (1955), and of an even more successful film of the same name (1960 – there have been at least two later films).

Darrow was the clear winner in his duel with Bryan. History is written by the victors. Mencken’s narrative, enormously enhanced on stage and screen, has become dominant—a dramatic victory of reason over superstitious ignorance. There is another way of looking at this. ....

A year before, in 1924, Darrow headed the defense of the Leopold-Loeb trial in Chicago. That trial too has become well known. It concerned the murder of a fourteen-year old boy by two affluent young men who fancied themselves “supermen” as (they thought) glorified by Nietzsche. (Curiously, this was also a philosopher greatly admired by Mencken.) They wanted the thrill of committing the perfect crime. In this, they failed—they were promptly caught. Darrow realized that he had a “hanging jury” to contend with. .... Darrow’s main argument for the defense, an eloquent plea for mercy, has been deemed one of the great speeches in American legal history. He succeeded in avoiding a death sentence....

I find it very interesting that Bryan actually referred to Darrow’s role in the Leopold-Loeb case during the Scopes Trial. He quoted a rather revealing sentence from Darrow’s argument in the earlier trial: “This terrible crime was inherent in his [that is, one defendant’s] organism, and it came from some ancestor”. Bryan rightly saw this as a reference to evolution. Bryan then proposed that such crimes are the logical result of teaching children that humans are just one species of mammals, descended (he added sarcastically) “not even from American mammals, but from old world monkeys”. Let me paraphrase Bryan’s understanding of Darrow’s argument: We are all animals. Therefore, we should be merciful, and we should not impose the death penalty. ....

There are a number of reasons for revisiting the Scopes Trial. There is a sociological reason—looking at the origins of a conflict between the elite and the religious populace, which a half century or so later erupted into a “culture war” that is still with us. There is a powerful example of the absurdities to which a literal understanding of the Bible leads (and not only regarding the Book of Genesis)—Darrow was quite right about this—and these and similar examples still exist today among surprising numbers of Americans. But Bryan was right for a very profound reason. Religious faith is not the necessary foundation for the quality of mercy. Darrow’s agnosticism did not prevent his passionate conviction about the inhumanity of capital punishment. But this conviction cannot be derived from science. It is derived from a distinctive perception of the human condition that can neither be validated nor falsified by science. Faith is not the only source of this perception. But it is an important one (historically a very important one). The Biblical view of the human condition, in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, teaches the dignity of every human being as created in God’s image. Bryan, with all his untenable fundamentalist views, understood this. Darrow (and Mencken) did not. [more]
An excellent history of the trial is Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion.

Revisiting The Scopes Trial | Religion and Other Curiosities

Either, or...

Peter Kreeft, co-author of my favorite resource for apologetics, the Handbook of Christian Apologetics, and surely one of the best apologists writing today, gives us "Who Do You Say I Am?", a classic argument for the divinity of Jesus Christ excerpted from his Fundamentals of the Faith:
.... The argument, like all effective arguments, is extremely simple: Christ was either God or a bad man.

Unbelievers almost always say he was a good man, not a bad man; that he was a great moral teacher, a sage, a philosopher, a moralist, and a prophet, not a criminal, not a man who deserved to be crucified. But a good man is the one thing he could not possibly have been according to simple common sense and logic. For he claimed to be God. He said, "Before Abraham was, I Am", thus speaking the word no Jew dares to speak because it is God's own private name, spoken by God himself to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus wanted everyone to believe that he was God. He wanted people to worship him. He claimed to forgive everyone's sins against everyone. (Who can do that but God, the One offended in every sin?)

Now what would we think of a person who went around making these claims today? Certainly not that he was a good man or a sage. There are only two possibilities: he either speaks the truth or not, If he speaks the truth, he is God and the case is closed. We must believe him and worship him. If he does not speak the truth, then he is not God but a mere man. But a mere man who wants you to worship him as God is not a good man. He is a very bad man indeed, either morally or intellectually. If he knows that he is not God, then he is morally bad, a liar trying deliberately to deceive you into blasphemy. If he does not know that he is not God, if he sincerely thinks he is God, then he is intellectually bad—in fact, insane.

A measure of your insanity is the size of the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. If I think I am the greatest philosopher in America, I am only an arrogant fool; if I think I am Napoleon, I am probably over the edge; if I think I am a butterfly, I am fully embarked from the sunny shores of sanity. But if I think I am God, I am even more insane because the gap between anything finite and the infinite God is even greater than the gap between any two finite things, even a man and a butterfly. ....

What, then, do people say when confronted with this argument? Often, they simply confess their prejudices: "Oh, I just can't believe that!" ....

But if they know some modern theology, they have one of two escapes, Theology has an escape; common sense does not. Common sense is easily convertible. It is the theologians, now as then, who are the hardest to convert.

The first escape is the attack of the Scripture "scholars" on the historical reliability of the Gospels. Perhaps Jesus never claimed to be divine. Perhaps all the embarrassing passages were inventions of the early Church (say "Christian community"—it sounds nicer)

In that case, who invented traditional Christianity if not Christ? A lie, like a truth, must originate somewhere. Peter? The twelve? The next generation? What was the motive of whoever first invented the myth (euphemism for lie)? What did they get out of this elaborate, blasphemous hoax? For it must have been a deliberate lie, not a sincere confusion. No Jew confuses Creator with creature, God with man. And no man confuses a dead body with a resurrected, living one.

Here is what they got out of their hoax. Their friends and families scorned them. Their social standing, possessions, and political privileges were stolen from them by both Jews and Romans. They were persecuted, imprisoned, whipped, tortured, exiled, crucified, eaten by lions, and cut to pieces by gladiators. So some silly Jews invented the whole elaborate, incredible lie of Christianity for absolutely no reason, and millions of Gentiles believed it, devoted their lives to it, and died for it—for no reason. It was only a fantastic practical joke, a hoax. Yes, there is a hoax indeed, but the perpetrators of it are the twentieth-century theologians, not the Gospel writers.

The second escape (notice how eager we are to squirm out of the arms of God like a greased pig) is to Orientalize Jesus, to interpret him not as the unique God-man but as one of many mystics or "adepts" who realized his own inner divinity just as a typical Hindu mystic does. This theory take's the teeth out of his claim to divinity, for he only realized that everyone is divine. The problem with that theory is simply that Jesus was not a Hindu but a Jew! When he said "God", neither he nor his hearers meant Brahman, the impersonal, pantheistic, immanent all; he meant Yahweh, the personal, theistic, transcendent Creator. It is utterly unhistorical to see Jesus as a mystic, a Jewish guru. He taught prayer, not meditation. His God is a person, not a pudding. He said he was God but not that everyone was. He taught sin and forgiveness, as no guru does. He said nothing about the "Illusion" of individuality, as the mystics do.

Attack each of these evasions—Jesus as the good man. Jesus as the lunatic, Jesus as the liar, Jesus as the man who never claimed divinity, Jesus as the mystic—take away these flight squares, and there is only one square left for the unbeliever's king to move to. And on that square waits checkmate. And a joyous mating it is. The whole argument is really a wedding invitation. [more]
Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: "Who Do You Say I Am?" | Peter Kreeft on the Divinity of Christ

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Basic Youth Conflicts

I never attended one of Bill Gothard's seminars but many of my friends back in the 1970s did. Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk did, too, and wonders "Whatever Happened to...Bill Gothard?":
...[I]n the aftermath of our spiritual awakening in the early 1970′s, the natural thing for our youth leader to do was to herd a bunch of us onto an old school bus to head to Philadelphia for the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, where we were issued our red padded three-ring binders and forced to sit and listen to a short guy with short hair in a dark blue suit lecture us for three hours a night over the course of six days.

We loved it. At least I did.

“The Bill Gothard Seminar” we called it. It was an “experience,” and more than anything, that was what I was after. Sitting in a darkened room with thousands of people learning “God’s principles,” this became a significant annual element of my Christian discipleship. Gothard was savvy in his use of media, even though it was elementary in those days, and his charts and diagrams and words up on the big screen seemed to carry an authority far more powerful than anything we received in church or Bible study (though we loved those settings too).

Looking back, I liken what I felt in those arenas to what many feel in megachurch settings today—a sense of being part of something “big,” a sense of intimacy with a “celebrity” through a media event (even though I was but one of a huge crowd), a sense of expectancy that my life could be changed by an overwhelming experience.

I remember going home after Gothard seminars determined to apply what I had learned. I asked forgiveness from those that I had offended or sinned against. I tried hard to submit to my parent’s authority. I took up devotional practices advocated at the seminar (his teaching on meditating on Scripture is still a part of me). However, like most “mountaintop” experiences, our week long marathons of spiritual intensity quickly lost their power to affect what happened in my daily life. ....
He is far less enthusiastic today and wonders how others who were influenced by Gothard's teaching feel about the effect of "Basic Life Principles" on their lives.

Whatever Happened to . . . Bill Gothard? |

A cafeteria Randian

GetReligion is a site where journalists comment on journalism about religious subjects. The premise is that a great many of those who write about religion don't know enough about it to "get religion" resulting in a lot of faulty reporting. Here, Mollie Hemingway discusses an article about the accusation that Paul Ryan's budget proposals were influenced by Ayn Rand:
Ayn Rand died years ago but her influence has been tremendous. She is known for her two best-selling novels and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism. She’s also a really bad writer. But, hey, that doesn’t stop Dan Brown from making a lot of money.

The RNS piece begins by noting that progressive advocates are trying to tie Rand to the Republican budget:
But in a petition drive, video, ads, and websites, liberal Christians counter that Rand’s dog-eat-dog philosophy is the real inspiration for the GOP budget and its author, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

“You’ve got a guy who is a rising Republican star, and who wrote the budget, saying he’s read her books and Washington needs more of her values,” said Eric Sapp, executive director of the American Values Network, which produced the video. “If you’re a Christian, you’ve got to ask some serious questions about what’s going on here.”

In other words, Sapp argues, you can follow Ayn Rand or Jesus, but not both.
.... Most Christians I know who also enjoy some of Rand’s ideas would tell you that they think she had some bad ideas, too.

The article eventually quotes someone pointing out this same general idea but I wonder if it was handled in a balanced enough fashion. I mean, I know atheists who absolutely adore Martin Luther King, Jr. but strongly disagree with his Christianity. I know lots of non-Confucians who quote Confucius. It was just somewhat weird to not engage that general idea that one can enjoy a particular author without agreeing with every single thing he’s ever written. .... [more]
Congressman Ryan is a practicing Roman Catholic who gets high ratings from conservatives on both economic and social issues. Earlier this year he had an interesting exchange on budgetary issues with Archbishop Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops [Ryan's letter, Dolan's response], which would indicate, at the very least, that Ryan wasn't looking to Ayn Rand's theological opinions as he framed his budget.

Paul Ryan and the atheist bogeyman » GetReligion

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flag Day

Several years ago I was part of an exchange with secondary teachers from Japan. The Japanese teachers spent some time with us in Madison and in our schools and we did the same in Japan. As preparation for the experience, all of us spent some time together in Washington, D.C., learning about each other, getting acquainted, and trying to bridge some of the cultural differences. In one of the sessions a Japanese teacher asked why Americans seemed to place so much emphasis on our flag. Many Japanese are, for understandable historical reasons, very skeptical of anything smacking of nationalism. I explained that in our case we have no national figure—no queen or emperor—who symbolizes the nation. Nor does the flag stand for blood or soil. It stands for our ideals—"the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It stands for what we believe in and aspire to be as a country. We honor the flag because it represents the Constitutional system that protects our freedoms and our rights.

In my files I just came across a pamphlet, undated, published by the Marine Corps, titled How to Respect and Display Our Flag. A stamp on it indicates that it was distributed by the "Marine Corps Recruiting Sub-Station" in Janesville, Wisconsin. Since the flags in the illustrations have forty-eight stars, it must be from the late 1950s. The rules it specifies seem almost quaint after the events of the last half century. The flag has been burned and trampled by Americans. It is flown night and day in good weather or foul—even by those who intend to honor it. A colleague used to put one on the floor of his classroom, inviting students to decide whether to walk on it. How one treats the symbol became partisan, expressing a political rather than a patriotic allegiance.

Here is the section from that pamphlet titled "How to Display the Flag":
Respect your flag and render it the courtesies to which it is entitled by observing the following rules, which are in accordance with the practices approved by leading flag authorities:

The National flag should be raised and lowered by hand. It should be displayed only from sunrise to sunset, or between such hours as may be designated by proper authority. Do not raise the flag while it is furled. Unfurl, then hoist quickly to the top of the staff. Lower it slowly and with dignity. Place no objects on or over the flag. Various articles are sometimes placed on a speaker's table covered with the flag. This practice should be avoided.

When displayed in the chancel or on a platform in a church, the flag should be placed on a staff at the clergyman's right; other flags at his left. If displayed in the body of the church, the flag should be at the congregation's right as they face the clergyman.

Do not use the flag as a portion of a costume or athletic uniform. Do not embroider it upon cushions or handkerchiefs nor print it on paper napkins or boxes.

1. When displayed over the middle of the street, the flag should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street, or to the east in a north and south street.

2. When displayed with another flag from crossed staffs, the flag of the United States of America should be on the right (the flag's own right) and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.

3. When it is to be flown at half-mast, the flag should be hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-mast position; but before lowering the flag for the day it should again be raised to the peak. By half-mast is meant hauling down the flag to one-half the distance between the top and the bottom of the staff. On Memorial Day display at half-mast until noon only; then hoist to top of staff.

4. When flags of states or cities or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States of America, the latter should always be at the peak. When flown from adjacent staffs the Stars and Stripes should be hoisted first and lowered last.

5. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope, extending from house to pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out from the building, toward the pole, union first.

6. When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at any angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should go clear to peak of the staff (unless the flag is to be displayed at half-mast).

7. When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.

8. When the flag is displayed in a manner other than by being flown from a staff, it should be displayed flat, whether indoors or out. When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window it should be displayed in the same way, that is, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street. When festoons, rosettes or drapings are desired, bunting of blue, white and red should be used, but never the flag.

9. When carried in a procession with another flag or flags, the Stars and Stripes should be either on the marching right, or when there is a line of other flags, our National flag may be in front of the center of that line.

10. When a number of flags of states or cities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs with our National flag, the latter should be at the center or at the highest point of the group.

11. When the flags of two or more nations are displayed they should be flown from separate staffs of the same height and the flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.

A federal law provides that a trademark cannot be registered which consists of, or comprises among other things, "the flag, coat-of-arms or other insignia of the United States, or any simulation thereof."

Take every precaution to prevent the flag from becoming soiled. It should not be allowed to touch the ground or floor, nor to brush against objects.

When the flag is used in unveiling a statue or monument, it should not be used as a covering of the object to be unveiled. If it is displayed on such occasions, do not allow the flag to fall to the ground, but let it be carried aloft to form a feature of the ceremony.

On suitable occasions repeat this pledge to the flag:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The pamphlet also has the words of our National Anthem. We almost never sing anything beyond the first verse. The third is particularly good:
Oh, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Power that has made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust";
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

First posted in 2009