Saturday, July 30, 2011

Trinity VI: Newness of life

O GOD, who hast prepared for those who love Thee such good things as pass man's understanding; Pour into to our hearts such love toward Thee, that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Thomas Cranmer]
KNOW ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Romans VI]
O happy day, that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.

Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing every day
Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.

[Phil­ip Dod­dridge, 1755]

Friday, July 29, 2011

PG Wodehouse and Christian readers

Suzannah at the delightful In Which I Read Vintage Novels has been observing "Favorite Novelists Week" and today comes PG Wodehouse, about whom she finds virtues above and beyond superb writing and wonderful entertainment:
....It has long been my firm belief that Wodehouse's books are as much a product of Christendom as is Westminster Cathedral—and in much the same tradition. There are clues everywhere. Kindly clergy. Benificent bishops (addressed by the plucky young curate-hero as “Bish”). Rollicking revival meetings. Sweet young Salvation Army officers. Bertie Wooster's Bible Knowledge prize and the resultant proliferation of quotes from the Authorised Version of the Bible. The Reverend Harold “Stinker” Pinker, a lovable curate who must be seen to be believed on the rugby field. Even the interior decorating of Wodehouse's country estates is Biblical in tone:
I could see that she was looking for something to break as a relief to her surging emotions ... and courteously drew her attention to a terra-cotta figure of the Infant Samuel at Prayer. She thanked me briefly and hurled it against the opposite wall. --The Code of the Woosters
Plot points and jokes from Wodehouse's works further anchor his books within Christendom. Engagements and marriages end each successful romance, all of which are squeaky clean. When a girl turns up to stay at Bertie Wooster's lonely country cottage at midnight, the unfortunate but chivalrous Bertie tries to get a rest first in his motor-car and then in his garden-shed. When Monty Bodkin's prospective father-in-law refuses to let his daughter Gertrude marry a young man who doesn't work for a living, the independently wealthy Bodkin immediately gets a job as a secretary, anxious to qualify properly. Although not all of them are very bright, Wodehouse's young men are often physically courageous and always, always scrupulously chivalrous and honourable. Masculine Christianity (such as the Rev. Stinker's) is favourably compared with melting, emotional sentimentalism (such as Madeline Basset's, whose theology fails to extend beyond a firm belief that the stars are God's daisy chain). And the delightful subplot to The Mating Season tells the touching story of a devout housemaid separated from the man she loves by his staunch atheism. .... (more)
In Which I Read Vintage Novels: Favourite Novelists: PG Wodehouse and What He Taught Me

"The Three Little Pigs"

Who knew that "The Three Little Pigs" fostered disdain for ethnic groups in the majority world? It's getting harder and harder to raise children who are free of ethnocentric prejudice. One would have hoped that by now we would have made more progress. Kyle Olson:
.... Ellen Wolpert, a longtime “early childhood educator” in Massachusetts, penned an article entitled, “Rethinking ‘The Three Little Pigs.’”

You’re probably familiar with the story: a big, bad wolf threatens to destroy the homes of three individual pigs. There’s a lot of huffing and puffing on the wolf’s part, but he can only blow over the two homes that were constructed with straw and sticks.

The house left standing is made of brick, leaving readers to conclude that careful planning and hard work (as represented by the brick house) leads to success. The pigs’ definition of success, of course, is to avoid being eaten by the wolf. ....

Having been properly “sensitized by the movement for a multicultural curriculum,” Wolpert began to realize that:
“ …one of the most fundamental messages of ‘The Three Little Pigs’ is that it belittles straw and stick homes and the ‘lazy types’ who build them. On the other hand, the story extols the virtues of brick homes, suggesting that they are built by serious, hardworking people and are strong enough to withstand adversity.

“Is there any coincidence that brick homes tend to be built by people in Western countries, often by those with more money? That straw homes are more common in non-European cultures, particularly Africa and Asia?”
Who knew the story had such a hateful, Eurocentric message? .... (more)
I'm doubtful about the advisability of identifying non-Western peoples with pigs. And, of course the villain of the piece is a wolf, an endangered species (although perhaps not in northern Wisconsin), portrayed in a distinctly unfavorable light.

» Indoctrination Fridays: ‘Three Little Pigs’ Slaughtered by Leftists - Big Government

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Love and obedience

From Justin Taylor's "The Relationship Between 'Love' and 'Commandments' in the Writings of John":
Jesus keeps his Father’s commandments and abides in his Father’s love

“I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10b)

Jesus keeps his Father’s commandments so that the world will know Jesus loves his Father

“I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” (John 14:31)

Jesus’ new commandment: Love one another as you are loved by Jesus

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (1 John 3:23) “And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another.” (2 John 1:5)

If you love Jesus you will keep Jesus’ commandments

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

Whoever keeps Jesus’ commandments loves Jesus and is loved by the Father

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)

If you keep Jesus’ commandments you will abide in Jesus’ love

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. . .” (John 15:10a) .... [more]
The Relationship Between “Love” and “Commandments” in the Writings of John – Justin Taylor

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

John R.W. Stott, RIP

John R.W. Stott, author of Basic Christianity and some fifty other books, one of the most influential evangelicals of the 20th century, died today. John Robert Walmsley Stott, 27 April 1921 – 27 July 2011. "...Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."

Justin Taylor on Stott .

And David Koyzis at First Things:
The two most influential figures on English-speaking evangelicalism in the 20th and 21st centuries were, not Baptist or Pentecostal, but members in good standing of the Church of England: C.S. Lewis and John R.W. Stott.... He will be greatly missed.

Standing athwart history, yelling Stop!

Hearing a politician say that those he disagrees with are "on the wrong side of history," Peter Berger "noted that being on the wrong side of history is not just a deplorable condition, but a morally reprehensible one. It is a disease—call it OTWSOH—for which the patient is responsible. Sort of like cirrhosis of the liver." Berger did a Google search for the phrase and discovered 1,380,000 results in 0.12 seconds. And, although he didn't do a count, he is pretty certain who is most likely to use it:
...I think it is likely that the phrase “on the wrong side of history” comes more naturally to those on the left. Progressives, almost by definition, think that they know where history is going. After all, they are children of the Enlightenment and thus inheritors of the idea of progress. Marxists have been most cocksure about this. They knew where things were headed, in the long run. Like all believers in predestination some of them were willing to wait more or less patiently for the inevitable culmination, others wanted to speed up the process by violent efforts of their own. Of course the story of Marxism is one of false predictions. Less grandiose versions of a philosophy of progress have not been much better in discerning the “right side of history.” There were indeed some conservatives who also claimed to know the inner logic of events. Hegel, no less, thought that history culminated in the Prussian state. In the first half of the twentieth century, miscellaneous fascist movements were convinced that they embodied the irresistible wave of the future. But conservatives tend to be much more cautious in the way they look at the future. They are instinctively suspicious of grand assertions of historical inevitability, especially the idea of progress. They are typically more pessimistic. This inclination was classically expressed by William Buckley’s definition of the conservative attitude as “standing astride history and yelling, Stop!”. Heimito von Doderer, a twentieth-century Austrian writer, had a more whimsical definition of conservatism: the insight that “the old aunts were right after all”.

It seems to me, though, that there is a fundamental recognition that can be shared by reasonable people on both sides of the ideological divide: We cannot say who or what is on the wrong side of history, because we cannot know who or what is on the right side. This postulate of ignorance need not lead to paralysis. It necessarily leads to a measure of humility. [more]
The Buckley quotation was actually from his mission statement for National Review in 1955: "It stands athwart history, yelling Stop..." It is a sensibility that refuses to believe in the inevitability of "Progress." Oddly enough, it is optimistic, believing that even the worst trends can be reversed, that as T.S. Eliot wrote "There are no lost battles because there are no won battles."

On The Wrong Side of History | Religion and Other Curiosities

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Rikki-tikki felt his eyes growing red..."

"Could the mongoose be a type of Christ?" asks Jordan Ballor, having just finished reading Kipling's "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" to his son. Ballor describes several convincing parallels but observes:
That's not to say that Kipling is himself a Christian, or that this is a Christian story, or anything like that. John Derbyshire has said that Kipling's religion was "extremely peculiar," and this paper, "The Religion of Rudyard Kipling," explores some of that peculiarity.

But even pagan literature, or non-Christian literature formed in the twilight of western Christendom, is informed by what Lewis called "True Myth." Or as Husain puts it, Kipling is "profoundly influenced by Christianity and often uses Christian symbols, but he is not a Christian."
Finally, of course, it is just a very good story, one of the best in The Jungle Books. It was read to me before I could read and I have always remembered the story of the brave mongoose who protects his human family from the cobras in the garden. I just read it again. [Thanks, Mr Ballor, for reminding me of it.] By now it is, of course, in the public domain and can be read here, nicely illustrated with what appear to be the original illustrations. An excerpt:
.... Rikki-tikki went out into the garden to see what was to be seen. It was a large garden, only half cultivated, with bushes, as big as summer-houses, of Marshal Niel roses, lime and orange trees, clumps of bamboos, and thickets of high grass. Rikki-tikki licked his lips. “This is a splendid hunting-ground,” he said, and his tail grew bottle-brushy at the thought of it, and he scuttled up and down the garden, snuffing here and there till he heard very sorrowful voices in a thorn-bush.

It was Darzee, the Tailorbird, and his wife. They had made a beautiful nest by pulling two big leaves together and stitching them up the edges with fibers, and had filled the hollow with cotton and downy fluff. The nest swayed to and fro, as they sat on the rim and cried.

“What is the matter?” asked Rikki-tikki.

“We are very miserable,” said Darzee. “One of our babies fell out of the nest yesterday and Nag ate him.”

“H’m!” said Rikki-tikki, “that is very sad — but I am a stranger here. Who is Nag?”

Darzee and his wife only cowered down in the nest without answering, for from the thick grass at the foot of the bush there came a low hiss — a horrid cold sound that made Rikki-tikki jump back two clear feet. Then inch by inch out of the grass rose up the head and spread hood of Nag, the big black cobra, and he was five feet long from tongue to tail. When he had lifted one-third of himself clear of the ground, he stayed balancing to and fro exactly as a dandelion tuft balances in the wind, and he looked at Rikki-tikki with the wicked snake’s eyes that never change their expression, whatever the snake may be thinking of.

“Who is Nag?” said he. “I am Nag. The great God Brahm put his mark upon all our people, when the first cobra spread his hood to keep the sun off Brahm as he slept. Look, and be afraid!”

He spread out his hood more than ever, and Rikki-tikki saw the spectacle-mark on the back of it that looks exactly like the eye part of a hook-and-eye fastening. He was afraid for the minute, but it is impossible for a mongoose to stay frightened for any length of time, and though Rikki-tikki had never met a live cobra before, his mother had fed him on dead ones, and he knew that all a grown mongoose’s business in life was to fight and eat snakes. Nag knew that too and, at the bottom of his cold heart, he was afraid.

“Well,” said Rikki-tikki, and his tail began to fluff up again, “marks or no marks, do you think it is right for you to eat fledglings out of a nest?”

Nag was thinking to himself, and watching the least little movement in the grass behind Rikki-tikki. He knew that mongooses in the garden meant death sooner or later for him and his family, but he wanted to get Rikki-tikki off his guard. So he dropped his head a little, and put it on one side.

“Let us talk,” he said. “You eat eggs. Why should not I eat birds?”

“Behind you! Look behind you!” sang Darzee.

Rikki-tikki knew better than to waste time in staring. He jumped up in the air as high as he could go, and just under him whizzed by the head of Nagaina, Nag’s wicked wife. .... (the story: "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,")
The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling

Monday, July 25, 2011

Christian fundamentalist?

After the horror of the mass murders in Norway last Friday and then the discovery that they were apparently committed by a single individual, there was an understandable desire to know what could conceivably have motivated him. The deputy police chief of Oslo provided one of the early answers: "Mr. Breivik belongs to a Christian, fundamentalist, extreme-right environment in Norway" and almost immediately the news media went with the "Christian, fundamentalist" bit. We now know more, and it isn't that simple. Arne H. Fjeldstad, identified at as someone with "30 years experience in the mainstream Norwegian press — best known as an editor at the influential Aftenposten," has been reading Breivik's fifteen hundred page manifesto. His findings are here: "The Norway Massacre: Born of Ideology or Belief?"

Found through the GetReligion site

The Norway Massacre: Born of Ideology or Belief? | The Media Project

John Buchan and Christian readers

I've been exploring the site I discovered a couple of days ago, In Which I Read Vintage Novels, and enjoying it thoroughly especially since Suzannah's six favorite authors are also among my favorites. One of those authors is John Buchan. In her review of his The Thirty-Nine Steps, she explains one of the reasons Christian readers may particularly enjoy the books:
.... His characters may rarely mention it and they certainly never preach, but they, like their creator move within the paradigm of the Bible, the Pilgrim's Progress, and the kirk (Scots for 'church'): it is a part of their lives in an unobtrusive, all-encompassing way: if it isn't an off-hand quotation of Scripture, it's a reference to the hero being an elder of the Free Kirk (like Dickson McCunn). .... How many fictional church-going people do you know that are as interesting as the real kind? Either they're too heavenly-minded to be any earthly use, or they are slimy evil hypocrites (depending on whether the author is religious or not). I have already mentioned that Buchan made virtue deeply beautiful to me; and he did so in large part by depicting an active, masculine, un-pietistic Christianity that lives rather than preaches what it believes. ....
In another post she expands upon that point:
.... In my review of The Thirty-Nine Steps I tried to explain why I so deeply love Buchan's casual references to his characters' Christianity. The reason why I love it so is that it seems the dead opposite of the internal pietism that plagues Christian literature today. I did not have space to fully develop it then, so by your leave I'll try it again here.

Buchan, like most devout Christian writers until this century, refused to turn his novels into tracts: instead of preaching to his audience, he draws them into a Lewisian Enjoyment of Christendom. It is much more powerful to mention that your brave, honourable, plucky, and humble hero is an elder of the Guthrie Memorial Kirk than to have him stop mid-story and deliver a short sermon on Psalm 15. And never does Buchan list or preach the attributes of a godly man. He simply depicts them ceaselessly: courage, valour, strength, perseverance, fortitude, chastity, humility, loyalty, honesty. He depicts these virtues as admirable things, embodied by capable men, and then by casual references peppered throughout his works lets the reader know that the homeland of these good qualities is Christendom. It is Christian perseverance that gives Buchan's heroes the ability to stand fast and quit themselves like men, whether charging into wartime Germany or street brawls.

The result is that the reader is drawn into the experience and enjoyment of faith, rather than exhorted to study it; and both the Christian and the secular readers are presented with a persuasive argument of the delightfulness of Christian virtue. ....
In Which I Read Vintage Novels: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, In Which I Read Vintage Novels: John Buchan Week: Envoi

Not enough Scripture

Steve Holmes begins his essay, "How much Scripture to preach on?" with a comment about the use of Scripture in worship:
...[O]ne of the (fairly few) things that annoy me about the contemporary, ‘soft-charismatic’ style of worship that represents the British Baptist mainstream these days is the relative lack of Scripture heard in the services. I’ve written elsewhere about my desire to return to, at least, ‘Old Testament, Epistle, Gospel’ patterns of lectionary reading as opposed to just reading the passage preached on. ....

I observe further a strange phenomenon, that in contemporary church life in Britain, the more a particular church/preacher trumpets their high view of Scripture, the less actual Scripture we hear read in their services. .... [more]
Most of his argument, however, is about expository preaching and, interestingly, how giving too much attention to too little Scripture can turn "exposition" into something else entirely.

Thanks to Kingdom People for the reference.

How much Scripture to preach on? « Shored Fragments

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Christianity 101: "All is grace"

Michael Potemra reminds us all that "All Is Grace":
The lectionary used by millions of Christians today offered hearers the great passage of Romans 8:26-39. I was fortunate enough to hear this proclaimed at Manhattan’s St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue .... “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” ....

One of the most striking developments of our ecumenical age is that Catholics and Protestants alike are realizing that they are not divided on the issue of “Amazing Grace”: The hoary debate on faith vs. works has been eclipsed by a common understanding that God’s grace, unmerited by the receiver, is the essential factor in mankind’s hope. ....

.... Christianity, then, is not a white-knuckle attempt to “win the future” but an act of gratitude for what God has already done, in the past and present and always. It is a religion not of good people basking in their self-achieved goodness, but of bad people who accept with joy the forgiveness of God. Why, then, it might be asked, does Paul also speak of “fear and trembling”? In short: Because those here on earth are not immune to fear and doubt. But even in that very same passage in Philippians, Paul goes on to remind his readers that when they are “working out [their] salvation with fear and trembling,” it is actually God Himself “which worketh in you.” It is, finally, as St. Thérèse said: “All is grace.” .... [more]
All Is Grace - By Michael Potemra - The Corner - National Review Online

But why not a name that means something?

Walter Russell Mead entirely approves of the decision by Campus Crusade For Christ to change its name to "Cru" primarily because by eliminating "Crusade" from the name avoids giving unnecessary offense. Mead:
“Crusade” and “jihad” are very similar words. Both can mean a holy war against the infidel; both can mean a struggle against social evil. But whenever Christians talk about crusades, and whenever Muslims bring up jihad, hackles rise.

Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical group that works primarily with young people, picked the name at a time when few Americans thought about Islam. (The Orthodox also don’t like the name; a crusade gone even more awry than usual sacked Constantinople in 1204.) ....
Some of the controversy about the name change has centered on the suspicion that it represents a diminished commitment to the gospel. Nothing I have read supports that. The reason "Cru" gives is a fine reason for making a name change. But why the change they decided to make? Why change to "Cru"? Why change from a name that means something to one that is entirely meaningless? A clue appears on a page announcing the change. The email address for contact takes you to the "brandmanager." "Branding" has occurred. "Branding" is a marketing term. Try a Google search and after an article or two about cattle, everything else is about business and corporate image, and particularly the logo. At least after the meaningless new name, the logo includes a cross....

Campus Crusade For Christ To Change Name | Via Meadia

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Books and children

While looking for bloggers who seem to enjoy the same kinds of books I do I came across In Which I Read Vintage Novels. The Suzannah whose site it is offers lots of good comment about a lot of good reading. A recent post, "Books for Boys" provides a long list of good books, after which she offers some advice about getting children to read. Her first point reminded me that my father read to me even after I could. When he asked why I wanted him to, apparently my response was "because I can hear better when you read."

This seems like very good advice:
  • Read to your children aloud. This will help you coach them in worldview discernment. It'll also help them through books that they might not try reading on their own.
  • Never categorise books as “too hard,” “too boring,” or “too girly.” They'll never know that Shakespeare is too hard to read unless you tell them. Nothing wrong with getting footnoted editions, though. Or make it really easy for them: read one of the comedies aloud with funny voices. Don't categorise Austen as a romance writer. For one thing, it's not true, and for another, it'll put them off. All the men I know who've tried Austen sincerely enjoyed her and you might as well give your boys that enjoyment early.
  • Encourage them to read books above their level. When I was four my mother read the Chronicles of Narnia aloud to me. I still remember the line “Let the vermin be flung into a pit” from Prince Caspian. I didn't know what “vermin” meant, I didn't know what “flung” meant, and I had only the shadowiest notion of a “pit.” It didn't impair my enjoyment of the story one bit, and it introduced me to new words. In fact, the best way to build vocabulary is to learn words from context, encountering them in books. After all, that's how you learned as a baby.
  • Focus on the fun of reading. Nobody reads a book if they think they won't enjoy it, especially not ten-year-old boys.
  • Have high expectations, throw out the TV, and don't let anyone kid them into thinking that Edmund Spenser or Shakespeare or Beowulf is above their heads.
In Which I Read Vintage Novels: Books for Boys

Trinity V: Order your lives

GRANT, O Lord, we beseech Thee, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by Thy governance, that Thy Church may joyfully serve Thee in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
BE ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. [I Peter III]
No chilling winds or poisonous breath
What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

[Elisha A Hoffman, 1887]

Friday, July 22, 2011


I was once told that someone didn't trust me because I smile too much. Claire Berlinski, who lives in Turkey, writes about the American propensity to smile a lot. Do we smile too much? And are our smiles insincere? Her comments were inspired by photographs of Secretary Clinton:
The photos I've posted are of our Secretary of State, who two days ago was in Turkey to discuss, among other things, strategic cooperation on terrorism. This was in the wake of a devastating attack that claimed the lives of 13 Turkish conscripts.

I'm looking at those photos and I know that what our highest public ambassador thinks she's conveying is, "friendship, unwavering solidarity, support, strength and optimism."

And I also know that many Turks, looking at this, will feel, even if they can't quite say why, "Americans are phony and they don't care about us. I don't trust them." They'll feel this no matter what she actually says, because the facial expression will look so odd to them. .... (more)
From the comments following the post:
  • Perhaps my favorite story about Leo Strauss: when he arrived in England from Nazi Germany, the English customs official had to blow his nose and said "excuse me." Strauss knew then and there he had come to remarkably different civilization (as no German official would ever do such a thing)....
  • ...[M]y first Estonian girlfriend told my parents that Americans come off as vapid and superficial, because they smile a lot, and ask "how are you," but don't really care. ....
  • Personally, I prefer the forced smile and enthusiastic greeting to the dour, morose customer service I often get. At the latter, I often feel like an intruder, where the employee wished I hadn't shown up, and was happy that I finally left. At the former, a phenomenon occurs that I'm not sure has ever been confirmed by any study, but that I am convinced exists - forced friendliness usually leads to actual friendliness. ....
  • Feeling follows behavior in many cases, especially in marriage. Hug your wife even when you don't much feel like hugging your wife, and, almost without fail, the feeling soon enough catches up with the act.
  • Few customers will buy anything from a jerk, so you have to be polite and kind at all times. Even if you're having a bad day.

    At first, you may just be putting on a show, but eventually, the forced politeness and sincerity becomes, well, sincere. I also noticed that just being nice to my customers made me feel better about my job and myself.
Does feigning friendliness lead to genuine friendliness? I think C.S. Lewis once said something to the effect that if you do the right thing you will come to feel as you ought.

How Strange America Looks -

Remembering the Civil War

The American Civil War began in 1861 and so we are observing its 150th anniversary, although very few seem to be aware of that fact. Much more was made of it during the 100th anniversary — or perhaps I think that only because during those years I was a teenage guide at what had been a stop on the Underground Railway. I recall reading Bruce Catton's Centennial History of the Civil War and buying the enormous illustrated American Heritage History of the Civil War, with, once again, Bruce Catton providing the text. The Milton College Library, where I worked part-time, had a plaque recognizing the service of college students in the conflict. Just down the street from my parents' home was the house that had belonged to Hosea Rood, a veteran of that war and founder of the Civil War Museum that used to be in Wisconsin's capitol building — the predecessor of today's Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

Several online sites are follwoing the events of 150 years ago day-by-day, including:
The picture is of "Old Abe," mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The very last note

World War I changed a great many things, mostly for the worse, setting the stage for terrible events in the 20th century. Peter Berger reflects on the recent death of the last pretender to the Habsbrg throne of Austria and Hungary: "The Fading Shadow of the Habsburgs":
.... Otto von Habsburg was the eldest son of Charles I, the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Otto died on July 4, 2011, aged 98, in Poecking, Bavaria. If the monarchy had survived, he would have succeeded to the throne after his father. I read about his death in both The New York Times and The Boston Globe. The latter paper had picked up the news from the Associated Press, and I assume that other American newspapers carried it. I doubt whether many readers in this country, or for that matter in Europe, were moved by it. I was. It seemed to me like the silence that follows the very last note of a powerful piece of music which probably will never be played again. It is a silence that invites reflection.

Otto was only six years old when he accompanied his family into exile. He was not allowed to return to Austria, even for a visit, until he formally renounced all claims to the throne. .... [more]
And, from The Economist:
.... He became a member of the European Parliament in 1979 when that body was just a talking shop, seeing it as a harbinger of bigger things to come.

A family history going back to the eighth century helped him see the continent’s destiny in grand terms, with the European Union a wider and better version of the Holy Roman Empire (his family had headed that lamented outfit until history caught up with it in 1806). He was no fan of the Brussels bureaucracy, but promoted the integration his name epitomised: common culture, open borders and, above all, no more wars. ....
The Economist lists his titles had the empire survived and had he ruled:
“Emperor of Austria; King of Hungary and Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia and Lodomeria; King of Jerusalem, etc; Archduke of Austria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow; Duke of Lorraine, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukowina; Grand Prince of Transylvania; Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Silesia, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Guastalla, Auschwitz and Zator, Teschen, Friaul, Dubrovnik and Zadar; Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca; Prince of Trento and Brixen; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia”. His other titles were more minor.
The Fading Shadow of the Habsburgs | Religion and Other Curiosities, Otto von Habsburg | The Economist

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord

Russell Saltzman is a Lutheran pastor who feels inadequate when attending those about to die. He says "I rely on the prayer book, old words that are not my own, wondering always if they are enough." In "Death Beds," he recounts some of his experiences, from which I select two:
  • After completing the Lord’s Prayer I leaned over, took Margaret’s hand, and spoke gently, “Remember, Jesus knows you and whatever happens, he is with you always.” A look of irritation crossed her face and she opened her eyes and snapped at me, “I already know that.” Then her expression softened a bit, and with a small smile she said, “But thank you for saying it anyway,” as she patted my hand. I should have stopped with the prayer.
  • The woman was ninety-four. Suddenly she awakened and announced, “We have to change our teaching! There’s not supposed to be any pain in Heaven!” “Grandma,” her granddaughter told her, “you’re not in Heaven yet; you’re still here with us.” “Oh,” the old woman said, “then it’s all right.” .... [more]
Death Beds | First Things

Not so long ago

This describes the end of the Victorian Era and the pre-WWI 20th Century, the time when my parents were born - not so terribly long ago. Most of these aspects of British life  were true in the US, too — but our taxes were even lower. Via Daniel Pipes at NRO, quoting a passage from A.J.P. Taylor's English History, 1914-1945 [1970]:
Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-14, or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. … broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.
And crime was low even though guns were ubiquitous.

Living Freely in England a Century Ago - By Daniel Pipes - The Corner - National Review Online

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jesus wept

"Chaplain Mike," who works with hospice and with grief support groups, writes about "The Grieving Process" at After discussing how grief affects those who have lost a loved one and how we respond to our own grief and to that of others, he closes with this:
.... Perhaps the most cruel words I have ever heard were spoken by a pastor to a grieving woman. She had lost her teen son. A couple of weeks later she came to worship and remained in the sanctuary after everyone else had left. There she sat in the pew and wept. The pastor came up the aisle, paused as he saw her crying and said, “Now Laura, remember your testimony.”

As if the only attitude that can testify to the Man of Sorrows is that of soaring with a smile over all our circumstances!

Christian groups that honor history, tradition, and liturgy have more resources to deal with the path of grief than those who don’t.
  • These groups tend to have a better theology of creation and the significance of life and vocation in this world. Evangelicals are often more world-denying and dualistic in their approach, which can lead to the kind of comment the pastor made above.
  • These groups tend to value the Psalms more highly and have spent centuries praying them, hearing them read in worship, singing them, and praying them. Evangelical and other a-historical expressions of the faith are unpracticed in words of lament.
  • These groups tend to have more depth with respect to pastoral theology, and so ministries of pastoral care and compassion ministries are valued more. Evangelicals value church growth and activism primarily, and so their view of the pastor is more of the preacher and CEO who inspires the church to go forth in mission.
  • These groups have more resources to commemorate life passages through liturgy and formal prayer. As Walter Brueggemann once wrote, there is a “formfulness” that we need in times of grief and sorrow. The chaos of our spirits quieted in the structure of familiar, formal words.
Read your Bible, pray, and get busy is, to say the least, an insufficient model for dealing with the chaos that comes to our lives through grief. And yet that is what many churches promote and many Christians lean on to get them through.
I think the absence of "formfulness," was what I missed most as the church dealt with my brother and me when our parents died. Structure and settled expectation are particularly important when a significant part of life becomes shaky.

Ask Chaplain Mike: The Grieving Process |

Monday, July 18, 2011

The law of love and the fact of sin

Daniel J. Mahoney reviews a short new book about Reinhold Niebuhr by John Patrick Diggins, Why Niebuhr Now? President Obama has called Niebuhr one of his "favorite philosophers" and he is also appreciated by many conservative writers. From the review:
.... Niebuhr came from the left (he helped found Americans for Democratic Action) but directed much of his ire at the “stupidity” of the “children of light.” These were democratic humanitarians and sentimentalists who underestimated the power of evil in human affairs and who had unreasonable faith in the inevitable forward march of History. In classic works like his 1939 Gifford Lectures, The Nature and Destiny of Man, and 1944’s The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, Niebuhr forcefully rejected the utopian delusions of modern thought, as well as the adequacy of a pacifist response to the totalitarian enemies of civilization. There is an unmistakable pathos that informs his reflections on the self-deceptions of the “children of light,” who are all too vulnerable to manipulation at the hands of the cynical and nihilistic enemies of modern democracy. ....

In Niebuhr’s view, Christianity put forward a compellingly paradoxical view of humankind as existing at the “juncture” of nature and spirit, “perilously caught,” in Diggins’s paraphrase, “between its freedom and its finitude.” The Christian account of man did not reduce human beings to either pole and thus avoided the extremes of utopian optimism and debilitating pessimism. Diggins pungently summarizes Niebuhr’s position: “The law of love is normative, but the fact of sin is universal.” .... [the review, which is behind National Review's subscription wall]
The Niebuhrian Mean by Daniel J. Mahoney - National Review Online

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Get in touch with your inner twelve-year-old

Ross Douthat enjoyed Deathly Hallows: Part II. The trick, he seems to be saying, is to have the appropriate expectations. From his review:
.... What Deathly Hallows the book proved, in the overplotted and underwhelming way it wrapped things up, is that the Potter saga is best appreciated without the Tolkien-Shakespeare-Dickens baggage that some of its more enthusiastic adult admirers tried to pile on top. That’s not an insult to Rowling, whose work will certainly outlast its small coterie of highbrow haters. It’s just a warning that future readers should approach her books as children’s books, rather than freighting them with unreasonable grownup expectations.

Equipped with a more appropriate sense of what the Potter saga is and isn’t, I had a lot of fun at Deathly Hallows: Part II. Directorial competence, British thespians, digital dragons — what’s not to like? ....

When Deathly Hallows the book came out four years ago, the entertainment writer Dan Kois marshaled a battalion of perceptive criticisms and then added: “I freely admit that 12-year-old me would have thought this was about the greatest book ever written.” Get in touch with that inner 12-year-old, and Deathly Hallows the movie will seem pretty awesome too. [the review, probably behind a subscription wall]
Film: The Sunset of Magic by Ross Douthat - National Review Online

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Seventh Day Baptist General Conference

The annual sessions of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference begin two weeks from tomorrow on the campus of Hope College in Holland, Michigan. The theme chosen by this year's president, Stephen Rogers, is "Living in the Fruit of the Spirit" [Galatians 5:22-23] and all of the teaching and worship that week will be related to that subject. If you're in that area the week of July 31-August 6 consider a visit. All of the sessions are open and free.

“…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….
If we live by the Spirit,
let us also walk by the Spirit.”
Galatians 5:22-23, 25

Trinity IV: The hope of glory

"O GOD, the protector of all that trust in Thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us Thy mercy; that, Thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
I RECKON that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. [Romans VIII]
No chilling winds or poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore;
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,
Are felt and feared no more.

When I shall reach that happy place,
I’ll be forever blest,
For I shall see my Father’s face,
And in His bosom rest.

[Samuel Stennett, 1787]

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Being "heavenly-minded"

Aaron Armstrong is grateful for "The Gift of Dead Mentors" and particularly for one of them:
.... While I’ve learned much about the sovereignty and majesty of God from Calvin and the centrality of holiness from Ryle, it’s from Spurgeon I’ve learned the most. I’m gaining a greater understanding of the absolute necessity of having a mind set on “the things above” (Col. 3:2). Spurgeon’s heavenly-mindedness allowed him to persevere in the ministry in spite of unbearable criticism, deep depression and serious illness. Were his focus on anything but his heavenly citizenship and were he waiting for anything other than Christ his Savior, I don’t know that he would have been able to continue. In all likelihood, the burden of his responsibilities combined with the cruelty of his detractors would have crushed him.

And his example allowed me to come through the trial of losing a child and nearly losing my wife not with a battered spirit, but with a hope resting firmly in assurance that Christ’s kingdom will come and He will make all things right as He ushers in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

This is something that no modern day popular level book has been able to provide, even the best ones. There are many very good and God-honoring books being published today, but the newest works are not always the ones we need. And my fear is that if we, pastors and laity alike, neglect the works of the past—if we take for granted Calvin, Spurgeon, Luther, Ryle, Augustine and so many others—we will become spiritually anemic. .... [more]
"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, 
where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
(Col 3:1-4, KJV)

The Gift of Dead Mentors : Kingdom People

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Röpke and the price of things

At Crisis Magazine John Zmirak, author of Wilhelm Ropke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist [Röpke was an economist of the Austrian school and one of the architects of West German economic recovery after World War II], offers a mini-tutorial about how the economic value of things is determined, his primary illustration of which is the purchase and consumption of bourbon [you have to read the essay]. Zmirak:
.... There is no better way to sum up the life work of Wilhelm Röpke, whose encyclopedic knowledge of European history and profound commitment to human dignity made him the best expositor of economic science in the 20th century. No other theorist understood so deeply the complexity and fragility of Western civilization, which alone made possible the invention of political liberty and a free economy. No other defender of Western values had such a clear empirical and theoretical account of what recent thinkers had learned about how men pool their labor and work to steward the goods of the earth.....

Röpke was at once a social conservative and an Austrian economist. It’s worth taking the time to unpack the latter unfamiliar epithet. Austrian economics was born as a brave dissent against the deterministic, materialistic theories of human work that arose in the 18th and 19th centuries, with their roots in Hegel, Marx, or a number of radical nationalists. While its insightful analyses of how men work together to build wealth for their families in many ways echoed the “classical” economics of Adam Smith and Frederic Bastiat — which social Darwinists had shorn of its moral content and made into something monstrous — the new economics was a vast improvement over its ancestor in that it rejected a key intellectual error that had beguiled previous thinkers: the labor theory of value. Given that prices are the essential “data” by which consumers inform producers how much of something to make, they are at the very heart of human cooperation. It’s critical to understand why some things cost more than others. Since man’s work and thought are what transform things like inedible wheat into fettucine alfredo, it seemed only natural to thinkers like Ricardo and later Marx that we should value objects based on how much of this work and thought had gone into them — as if work were the gold content that was added to an otherwise valueless coin.

However, this theory did a poor job of explaining the actual prices that emerge in an open market; some items that required comparatively little effort (let’s say, suddenly fashionable hats) in fact command higher prices than the fruit of enormous labor (for instance, brilliant but difficult novels). .... While those of us on the outside may detect an apparent injustice here, in fact such outcomes are merely the fruit of adults making their own decisions about which products they really want.

In other words, economic value is subjective — it’s determined by each of us, as free and morally responsible subjects. This fact is one of many that Marx overlooked or would not accept. Because he believed that the value of a product was objective, and could be quantified by adding up the labor of those who’d helped to make it, when the real market prices didn’t match up with what the workers deserved, Marx considered this an injustice. Still worse were the profits that entrepreneurs collected on top of what it cost them to pay the workers and keep the lights on at the factory; whatever business owners gained beyond that he dubbed “exploitation.” In a socialist economy, he promised, such exploitation would end. The workers would control the means of production and reap all the profits, and prices would be set by the state to properly reward human efforts.

.... Instead of looking at the economy as a vast, mysterious machine intended to build up the wealth of an abstraction (like the race or the nation), the Austrians started small — with the factors that influence each one of us in his daily decisions of how and where to work, which products to buy, how much to save or invest. Even though human behavior can often prove irrational, such decisions can be analyzed and to a large degree understood, because there is indeed (as the great philosophers taught) a stable human nature, with a hierarchy of needs and wants, and broadly predictable patterns of behavior. ....


Indeed, in a little irony, the Austrian school tends to be rather dogmatic about insisting that its tenets are logically provable. In other words, the fact that prices reflect our subjective choices is objectively true, whether Marxists like it or not. An economic system that refuses to acknowledge how human beings express their moment-to-moment preferences will massively fail to help them achieve their goals. Applied consistently, it will yield only famines and tyranny; cobbled together piecemeal, as in the programs of European socialists and American liberals, such a system grows an ever-larger apparatus of government, hiring ever more managers to tamp down the chaos created by its irrationality and waste. The more holes you drill in the bottom of the boat, the more sailors you need to bail. [more]
Why Things Cost Money | Crisis Magazine

Psalm 111:10

Timothy Dalrymple asks "What Ever Happened to Wisdom?":
.... One of the best pieces of advice my father ever gave me was, as I was about to depart for my freshman year at Stanford University, I should seek people of wisdom and not merely intelligence. Intelligence is a capacity — or, more accurately, a collection of capacities. We call a person intelligent when she is able to process vast amounts of information, penetrate it with analysis, bring clarity from confusion, or attain new insights or fashion new syntheses of knowledge. Like most capacities, intelligence is value-neutral. If you have the capacity of drive cars well, you can use that capacity to be a cop or a robber. Intelligence, likewise, can be employed to manufacture biological weapons or it can be employed to develop cures, to create internet viruses or to fight against them.

As predicted, I found many at Stanford who possessed extraordinary intelligence, but quickly came to see that intelligent people were a dime a dozen. I was surrounded by intelligent people, some of them breathtakingly intelligent, and yet they did and believed some of the most foolish things imaginable. Wisdom is far rarer than intelligence, and far more valuable as well. Wisdom is directional, or value-positive. You can be immaculately intelligent and utterly deceived in your beliefs. But wisdom implies that your beliefs, to the extent you are wise, reflect the truth. Wisdom implies that you have gained some insight into the true, the good and the beautiful, that you have listened to Life and learned some of what it teaches.

Why do we speak so little of wisdom today? Kierkegaard wrote that Christ shows us the Truth in the form of Life. Christ shows us what it means to live with wisdom. The American church, and the evangelical church in particular, by and large does an excellent job explaining why a person might receive the gospel and what he might do to begin growing in Christ. Yet it does very little, appallingly little (I think), to help mature Christians grow into men and women of wisdom. The world is longing for it. ....

So, look for men and women of wisdom. They’re hard to find, because they make no effort to draw attention to themselves. They’re not concerned that everyone learn what wise people they are. But if you look for people of everyday faithfulness, people who have gone through the ups and downs and emerged with peace and clarity, people whose hearts and minds are thoroughly transformed by the gospel, you will find them. They’re out there. [more]
What Ever Happened to Wisdom? | Philosophical Fragments

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of making many bibles there is no end

Bob Smietana, in The Tennessean, reports on another new translation of the Scriptures:
Changes in the new Common English Bible start on page one.

Instead of the familiar "In the beginning," the book of Genesis starts with, "When God began to create the heavens and the earth."

Other changes include calling Jesus "the Human One" instead of the more familiar "Son of Man."

And while older translations tell believers in Exodus not to mistreat aliens or foreigners, the new Bible reads, "Don't mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt."

A USA Today story reports that the sponsors of this new translation are "a coalition of Protestant denominational publishing houses owned by the United Methodist Church, one of the nation's largest denominations, and the Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ." The story also notes another modification:
Adam is simply lower case "human" until Eve comes along in Genesis 2:23

"The human said, 'This one finally is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She will be called a woman because from a man she was taken.'"
New Bible aims for readability, broader appeal, New Bible gives Jesus a 'Human' touch - Faith & Reason

Church camp

Church camp for young people is something my denomination has emphasized at least since the 1920s. Every association sponsors summer camps. I have many good memories of fun times at camp, but not so many about any real growth in spiritual formation. At Between The Times, Alvin Reid expresses his views about summer youth camps and one of his concerns is something I have also felt, and not just in this context.
.... If parents expect children who attend a football camp or basketball camp to come back with demonstrably greater knowledge of and capability in their given sport, students returning from a church/ministry camp should return with a demonstrably greater knowledge of and capability in living for Jesus.

Too often in the church youth are treated like they are ten instead of teens. So, there is a shift, at least among many, from silliness to seriousness in student ministry, and that includes camps. Don’t get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with having in a five day camp times to relax, to play, and to build teams. But youth camps should not be obsessed with rec time or the annual talent show; they should be possessed with a passion for Jesus. ....
And Reid keeps coming back to that point:
  • I believe the reason we lose many of our students after high school comes from how little we expect from them up until that point.
  • Students learn trigonometry in high school, so they can learn theology in camps. No, do not set up a boring teacher with a 2-hour lecture daily. You need people who can communicate!
  • Play time, especially if you give a lot of truth to students (many of whom quite honestly are accustomed to baby food at church), does matter. But I love camps that have a purpose to that as well.
I spent thirty-five years teaching that age group in public schools.  Required 9th grade history classes made up at least half of my teaching load each year and up to a third of the students in those classes were mainstreamed special ed kids. They were fully capable of grasping complex ideas if they were presented well. Low expectations result in boredom and ignorance. And that is just as true with youth groups and camps.

Thoughts on Youth Camps « Between The Times

Monday, July 11, 2011

"A sense of awe and reverence, mystery and transcendence"

"Chaplain Mike" revisits Robert E. Webber's Worship Old and New and describes "Nine Proposals" resulting from the discussions Webber had with his students at Wheaton about worship. The proposals and summaries can be found here. A selection:
PROPOSAL TWO: Acknowledge the distinction between services for worship and services for teaching.
At the time, it was observed that the sermon held such a prominent place in evangelical, Bible-believing churches, that the emphasis was on teaching or evangelism and not on worship as understood traditionally. At the time, students suggested having at least one meeting a week devoted to worship, using other gatherings for teaching and outreach.

Since that time, it would be my opinion that what has happened is this: the seeker and other church-growth movements have created a new portion within the service itself—the “worship set”—meaning a more extended period of singing led by a praise and worship band. In other words, instead of building upon the history and tradition of Christian worship, the “contemporary” church has come up with a new, more limited definition of worship. The sermon remains prominent in the service, and to it was added a new component understood as “worship.” ....

PROPOSAL FOUR: Orient worship toward God rather than human beings.
Here’s a quote from Webber’s book: “Many students felt that the worship of their church was more oriented toward human beings and their experience than toward God. They pointed to the current trend in Christian music that emphasizes a near narcissistic self-interest and to the entertainment approach in worship that attracts the crowds but fails to lead them into the praise of God’s person and work.”

What does it say that we are still engaged in discussing these same issues thirty years later?

PROPOSAL FIVE: Restore a sense of awe and reverence, mystery and transcendence.
Students in Webber’s classes were concerned about the casual atmosphere in evangelical churches. What would they say today about an entire movement that uses the concept “casual” as a way of attracting people and telling them it is the very reason should come to our church? ....

PROPOSAL SEVEN: Restore congregational involvement in worship.
One weakness of typical evangelical worship pointed out by Webber’s students was the lack of active participation in the service. The pattern was: sit or stand, sing, and listen while those up front do most everything. From my perspective, the main difference today is that the congregation sings more, but not much else. .... [more]
"Chaplain Mike" writes that Webber "...studied, participated in, and learned to appreciate a wide variety of Christian worship expressions. One of his goals was to encourage the church to come to some fundamental understandings about worship and then let the Holy Spirit build upon those within each tradition." Another of Webber's early books was Common Roots: A Call to Evangelical Maturity  — the first of his that I read — arguing that Evangelicals need to recover a connection with the historic Church. Two chapters address "The Meaning of Worship" and "The Form of Worship" and were, when read, the first time I had thought seriously about the subject.

Worship: Robert Webber’s Proposals |

Against sprawl

Public Discourse gives us an essay that resonates with the kind of arguments with which Russell Kirk and other traditional conservatives would be sympathetic; an argument for the kind of town I grew up in and the kind of urban neighborhood that encourages community: "A Realist Philosophical Case For Urbanism and Against Sprawl" by Philip Bess, a professor of architecture at Notre Dame. His argument is not that urban sprawl should be prohibited but that zoning and other regulation should be revised to make it easier and more economical to build traditional towns and urban environments. Those of you who know me well will understand, in addition, some of the personal reasons I have for sympathy with his arguments. From Part 1 of the essay:
For many years, I have lectured and written that post-1945 sprawl suburbs are a peculiarly modern mistake, one both long aborning and now itself a cause of further significant and unhappy environmental and cultural consequences. I have argued that human beings should not make sprawl and that, as a hypothetical natural law precept and as we did always and everywhere prior to about 1950, human beings should make walkable mixed-use settlements. ....

.... Across political and religious lines, the propositions themselves have been affirmed by both liberal humanists and social conservatives, and been found objectionable by both environmentalists and avant gardists on the left and by libertarians on the right. Today’s generally leftist environmental regulations and modernist design orthodoxies would make it impossible and unthinkable to build pre-1930 Washington, D.C., or Boston or Savannah or Cooperstown; but so, too, would a Libertarian regime make it impossible to build pre-1930 Washington, D.C., or Boston or Savannah or Cooperstown, all of which would be decried by many on the right as “planning.” ....

.... The primary arguments against sprawl are 1) that sprawl is unjust; 2) that sprawl is culturally and environmentally unsustainable; and 3) that sprawl is aesthetically problematic, even (dare I say it?) ugly. Specifically, simply as a physical pattern of development:
  • sprawl makes it impossible for people of different generations and different incomes, even in the same (extended) family, to live in proximity to one another, and to work, shop, play, learn, and worship in the same neighborhood;
  • sprawl injures the common good in three inter-related ways: as the primary means by which both wealth and poverty are physically concentrated and isolated; by separating people according to income, age, and race; and, perhaps most importantly, by failing to provide a genuinely public realm shared by all;
  • sprawl, by separating housing settlements according to class, promotes extreme inequalities of educational opportunity;
  • sprawl effectively de-mobilizes and deprives of their independence persons without cars and those unable to drive, most notably the poor, children, and the elderly; ....
  • sprawl hastens the loss of agricultural lands and wilderness in exchange for a bad combination of ephemeral buildings and inflexible infrastructure; ....
  • sprawl, consistent with the fact that nothing in an individualist culture properly can be deemed either ugly or beautiful, produces nothing in the public realm that prompts or warrants sustained, shared aesthetic contemplation. [....]
A traditional town or urban neighborhood is by definition a walkable and mixed-use environment. “Walkable” necessarily implies walkability, but it does not necessarily imply no cars. Living in a traditional town or neighborhood simply means that 1) you do not need a car for every task or destination of your daily life; 2) if you have a car, you possess a great convenience; and 3) the formal order of human settlements should be designed for pedestrians, may be designed to accommodate cars, but should not be designed for cars alone. In short, owning a car should be a convenience rather than a necessity. .... [more]
The author indicates that Part 2 of his essay "will address some questions about urbanism, modernity, and human nature."

Update, 7/14/2011: Part Two.

A Realist Philosophical Case For Urbanism and Against Sprawl: Part One « Public Discourse

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Trinity III: Cast all your care

O LORD, we beseech Thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom Thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may, by Thy mighty aid, be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Thomas Cranmer]
ALL of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. [I Peter]
Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.[Dostoevsky, 1880]