Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 August 2003

The Meyers-Briggs categories

Is there anyone alive who has not taken a Meyers-Briggs personality inventory test? My wife and I both took one of these during our engagement period to determine the extent to which we were compatible. I am an INTJ, a type apparently common to academics. I wonder whether these have not become the equivalent of signs of the zodiac in some circles: What's your Meyers-Briggs type? Do these categories have any legitimacy? Perhaps, but like everything else in life they have their limitations.

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Lift up your hearts

The historic liturgies of the church have a number of common features, including the sursum corda, or the bidding of worshippers to lift up their hearts to the Lord. We see this as early as the 3rd century Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus in the liturgy of the Lord's Supper:

Bishop: Lift up your hearts.
People: We have them with the Lord.
B: Let us give thanks unto the Lord.
P: It is meet and right.

The Latin Mass continues in this vein:

Celebrant: Dominus vobiscum.
Response: Et cum spiritu tuo.
C: Sursum corda.
R: Habemus ad Dominum.
C: Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.
R: Dignum et justum est.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom expands on the opening benediction:

Celebrant: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Response: And with your spirit.
C: Up with our hearts.
R: We have them with the Lord.
C: Let us thank the Lord.
R: It is worthy and right.

Characteristically, Calvin's liturgy is wordy and didactic, aimed at combatting any superstitions attached by worshippers to the presence of Christ in the eucharist. Moreover, the antiphonal character is gone:

Let us lift our spirits and hearts on high where Jesus Christ is in the glory of his Father, whence we expect him at our redemption. Let us not be fascinated by these earthly and corruptible elements which we see with our eyes and touch with our hands, seeking him there as though he were enclosed in the bread and wine. Then only shall our souls be disposed to be nourished and vivified by his substance when they are lifted up above all earthly things, attaining even to heaven, and entering the Kingdom of God where he dwells. Therefore let us be content to have the bread and wine as signs and witnesses, seeking the truth spiritually where the Word of God promises that we shall find it.

The Book of Common Prayer is basically a straight translation from the Latin:

Priest: Lift up your hearts.
Answer: We lift them up unto the Lord.
Priest: Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
Answer: It is meet and right so to do.

Here is the comparable section from the Christian Reformed Church's 1964 form, which draws on Calvin's approach by way of the Netherlands and the Palatinate. The warnings against adoration of the sacrament are evidently deemed unnecessary at this late date:

That we may be nourished with Christ, the true bread from heaven, let us lift up our hearts to Christ Jesus, our advocate, at the right hand of his heavenly Father. Let us firmly believe all his promises, not doubting that as surely as we receive the bread and wine in remembrance of him we shall be nourished and refreshed with his body and blood through the working of the Holy Spirit (PH, p. 986).

In the Christian Reformed Church's 1981 form ("Service of Word and Sacrament") the antiphonal character of the liturgy is restored:

Minister: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
M: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P: It is right for us to give thanks (PH, p. 973).

In recent decades there has been an extraordinary convergence of the churches on a number of elements in the liturgy, including the sursum corda. The restoration of this part of the liturgy in those traditions where it had been lost has served to demonstrate our common roots in the early church of nearly two millennia ago.

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30 August 2003

Obsolescent technology

I have long had a certain affection for obsolescent technology, particularly those implements that so marked the industrial age of the 19th and into the late 20th centuries.

First and foremost, this has made me a railfan. I like all trains but particularly the electric railways that crisscrossed much of North America during the first quarter of the 20th century. Today our family made the annual pilgrimage to the Halton County Radial Railway, located nearly an hour from here south of Guelph. It's a wonderful place to spend a summer saturday, and it's ideal for picnic lunches.

This is the second such trolley museum we managed to visit this summer, the first being the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin (pronounced "EL-jin" by the locals), Illinois. Both are tributes to an era when a clean and efficient form of public transportation had not yet been overtaken by the now ubiquitous (and air-polluting) internal combustion engine.

In Canada these railways were called "radials," because they radiated out of Toronto in several directions. In the States they were called "interurbans," and they often connected small towns in addition to the large urban centres. Most of these railways went under in the years immediately following the Great War, when the automobile was becoming more affordable for ordinary people.

However, some held on for much longer if they connected with a large city, such as Chicago. For example, the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee (the North Shore Line), the Chicago Aurora and Elgin, and the Chicago South Shore and South Bend (the South Shore Line) lasted into the post-World War II era and were able to take advantage of the population shift into the suburbs. The North Shore Line ceased operating in 1963. The CA&E suspended passenger service in 1957 and folded completely in 1961. Only the South Shore is still running today. I used to ride it on occasion between South Bend, Indiana, and Chicago while a grad student at Notre Dame.

Second, I have long liked to listen to shortwave radio, by which one can hear distant programmes broadcast from all over the world. I began listening to shortwave when I was around 12 years old. This hobby became a near obsession around 1989 when communism was in the process of collapsing. Listening to Radio Moscow during the attempted coup d'état in August 1991 gave one an early sense that it was not going as its plotters intended. I even brought in a radio for my students to listen to on more than one occasion.

Needless to say, as a means of keeping up with developments around the globe, shortwave radio has been far outpaced by the internet, where information is available instantaneously and where one needn't wait until 2 hours UTC for, say, Radio Deutsche Welle to begin its nightly broadcast in English.

Third, there are the old watches. Nearly 20 years ago I became fascinated by the old Elgin National Watch Company, which made watches for a full century between the 1860s and the 1960s in their factory on the banks of the Fox River on National Street in Elgin, Illinois. I especially like the pocket watches with their beautifully crafted movements. To be sure, quartz watches are more accurate, but the old Elgin pocket watches have an enduring quality that keeps them running, often more than a century after their production.

Fourth and finally, I still have an old phonograph, along with my collection of vinyl records that it took me so many years to acquire. (I sometimes wonder whether younger people still understand what it means if someone tells them they sound like a "broken record." Somehow "defective CD" just doesn't cut it as a colourful metaphor.)

Do bow ties qualify as obsolescent technology? A piece of cloth around the neck probably doesn't fit anyone's definition of technology. It certainly isn't a time-saving device, particularly if you use the tie-it-yourself variety. Nor is it exactly on the cutting edge of fashion. But it is a personal idiosyncracy, so in that respect it would probably go along with some of the other items listed above.

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EU flexes muscles on food labels

If the European Union has its way, we will no longer be able to buy champagne from California, or feta cheese from Canada, or sherry from Chile or Australia. On thursday the EU released a list of 41 products whose geographically-specific names it wants protected. If it gets its way, in future the only products labelled champagne or cognac will come from France, the only scotch whiskey from Scotland, &c. Generic imitations from elsewhere will have to adopt different names.

Perhaps we should force Americans to quit selling what they persist in calling Canadian bacon. And perhaps the United Kingdom will force us to change the name of British Columbia.

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29 August 2003

Check-in day

Many of our students were back on campus today checking in. There is already a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air.

I spent the morning working through the piles on my desk, which my wife will also be using on monday, wednesday and friday afternoons when she's teaching. Some of these piles contain work to be left for my TA next week. Let's hope he's off his crutches by then. Otherwise I may have to request a second student worker to wheel him around.

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George Gershwin

One of my all time favourite composers is George Gershwin (1898-1937), the American composer whose music shaped the popular culture of the interwar era.



In fact, Gershwin is known for his popular songs, his concert music and for his one opera, "Porgy and Bess." Born in Brooklyn, New York, just before the end of the 19th century, George broke into the big time in 1919 with his song, "Swanee," which singer Al Jolson made famous. From then until his untimely death at 38 from a brain tumour, Gershwin churned out one song after another, many for stage musicals on Broadway which have attained the status of classics. Many, if not most, of these were done in collaboration with his lyricist brother, Ira (1896-1983).

One of the Gershwins' most famous songs, "Our Love is Here to Stay," is one which I find myself singing almost unconsciously while doing things around the house. Consequently Theresa knows it and can sing it through quite easily. (By the time she's reached her three score years and ten, that song will be about 150 years old.)

My favourite Gershwin music, however, is his concert works, of which there are not nearly enough. The best known of these are his "Rhapsody in Blue" (1924), the "Concerto in F" (1925), and "An American in Paris" (1928). These are brilliant works, filled with all the nervous energy of the jazz age. The "Concerto in F," in particular, breathes something of the spirit of a busy urban centre in the post-World War I era, when the automobile was quickening the pace of life.

Lesser known concert works include the "Second Rhapsody" (1932) and the "Cuban Overture" (1932).

George Gershwin died far too young. It is remarkable that his achievements were made in his 20s and 30s when most other people are just getting started.

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Radical Islamism in Nigeria

Here is an article by my friend Paul Marshall on the growth of radical Islamism in the most populous west African state: "Sirens over Africa." He persuasively shows how islamist efforts to enforce Sharya law in Nigera are blatantly destructive ("discriminatory" is too mild a word) of women. The long-range danger is that Nigeria could become one more seed bed for terrorism.

I did not include a chapter on Islamism in my book on ideologies, but others have written on it elsewhere, including Marshall. Islamism is clearly subject to all the distortions characteristic of other ideologies. Its unjust treatment of women is only one indication of this.

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28 August 2003

Just can't wait

Six more days until classes begin at Redeemer University College. Time to get my bow ties out of summer storage.

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"Imposing" versus "proposing" in the public square

Mary Ann Glendon makes a point similar to Hoy's in her article, "The Women of Roe v. Wade," published in the June/July 2003 issue of First Things:

I remember asking the former dean of Boston College, a Jesuit priest, “Father, what do you think about this abortion issue?” He said, “Well you see, Mary Ann, it’s very simple. According to Vatican II, abortion is ‘an unspeakable moral crime.’ But in a pluralistic democracy, we can’t impose our moral views on other people.” “Oh,” I said, “OK.”

I know this story doesn’t reflect any credit on me, but I mention it to show that many of us just didn’t focus on the issue all that closely. I know now that I should have questioned the word “impose.” But it took some time before growing numbers of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews stepped forward to point out that when people advance their moral viewpoints in the public square, they are not imposing anything on anyone. They are proposing. That’s what citizens do in a democracy — we propose, we give reasons, we vote. It’s a very strange doctrine that would silence only religiously grounded moral viewpoints. And it’s very unhealthy for democracy when the courts — without clear constitutional warrant — deprive citizens of the opportunity to have a say in setting the conditions under which we live, work, and raise our children.

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The “imposition” of religious beliefs

Here is an excellent op-ed piece by Claire Hoy in today’s National Post: “Eves is right to invoke his religion.” Writes Hoy:

When Brian Mulroney campaigned in 1988 on free trade, his intention was clear: If he won, he intended to "impose" free trade on Canada.

Fair enough. Canadians had the chance to accept or reject his position, so when he won, he did indeed "impose" free trade, even though millions of voters didn't want it.

But that's the political process. You state your platform. You run on it. And if you win, you're entitled to impose it.

With one giant exception -- that's when your views are based on religious beliefs. Then, suddenly, it becomes improper to "impose" your views on others.

But every legislative act is an imposition on someone. This is simply part and parcel of what law is: an enforceable rule binding on an entire community. Furthermore, every such act is rooted in an underlying worldview of some sort, whether or not it is acknowledged to be religious. Hoy continues:

Every view, every law, is an imposition by somebody on somebody else. It's also based on a belief system of some kind, whether it is economic, social, secular, religious, whatever. But it is only religious views which are widely condemned.

Unfortunately, I somehow doubt that Hoy’s arguments, however well articulated, will persuade the convinced secularist.

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27 August 2003

A psalm in a window

At First Presbyterian Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where Nancy and I were married and Theresa baptized, they have recently put a stained glass window in the foyer devoted to Psalm 150. It shows trumpets, tambourines, dancing, singing and a number of activities recounted in the psalm. Theresa loves stained glass windows in general and enjoyed this particular window during our visit last month. As we looked at it we both sang Psalm 150, as I pointed out each activity referred to in the text.

In case anyone hasn't figured it out by now, I love the psalms.

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Names and identities again

This issue has come up over the years in international relations, as states claim a certain identity that their neighbours cannot accept. During the cold war era, a number of countries were divided by ideology, each side making a certain claim to speak for the whole. For example, Germany was divided into the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, or what we generally referred to as West and East Germany respectively. East Germany was a communist country, and its relationship with the noncommunist west was strained at best.

The People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (better known as Taiwan) both make a claim to being the legitimate government of the whole of China. War has been narrowly averted several times between the two claimants over the rather basic issue of which is the real China.

In the Balkans after 1991 Greece objected to the southernmost republic of the shattered Yugoslav federation calling itself Macedonia, because this would seem to constitute a claim to Greece's own province bearing the same name. Greece preferred to call it by its capital city of Skopje, but eventually was persuaded to accept a compromise by which its northern neighbour would go by the name, "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," or FYROM.

It would be nice if we could settle the issue by calling countries what they wish to be called, but it's rather more complicated than that in the real world. This is not likely to change any time soon.

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Gelineau psalmody

Fifty years ago the French priest, Fr. Joseph Gelineau, developed a way of singing the Psalms that preserved the poetic and rhythmic structure of the original Hebrew. This resulted in the Psautier de la Bible de Jerusalem, a predecessor of the English-language Jerusalem Bible and New Jerusalem Bible. Although the JB and NJB did not follow the same metrical structure in their versions of the Psalms, The Grail subsequently translated them into English following Fr. Gelineau's patterns. The Grail Psalter came into widespread liturgical use in Catholic churches in the English-speaking world after the reforms of Vatican II. Catholics learned to sing these to the very few tunes originated by Gelineau. These tunes had the flavour of both metrical and chanted psalmody.

Curiously, the old Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada included a number of Grail Psalms for antiphonal recitation, but it provided no way actually to sing them.

The Grail Psalter is most appropriately used in the cycle of daily prayer practised in the monasteries.

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Knowing and singing the Psalms

Something wonderful happened as I was sitting with Theresa last evening reading to her from her bible story book. The book includes three of the biblical Psalms (which is far too few, but that's another post for another day) paraphrased in language children can easily understand. I read the 23rd Psalm to her. She looked up at me and said, with the brightness of recognition illuminating her face, "There's a song about that!" I began singing Psalm 23 to her. "Yes, that's it," she said excitedly. Then I read the Psalm 150 paraphrase. "There's a song about that one too," Theresa exclaimed. So I began to sing Psalm 150, which she immediately recognized once again. I've sung both of these to her since she was a baby.

I was happy that my own psalm versifications are close enough to the versions in her book that she is able to acknowledge them as genuine psalms. Nothing could make me happier than my daughter growing up singing and loving the biblical Psalms.

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26 August 2003

Lost opportunity

At this morning's faculty council meeting I decided after all not to propose that our auxiliary generator be connected to the exercise equipment in the athletic area. Yet I still think it might be a good idea. In the event of another blackout, I have a few colleagues who are frequently on the stationary bicycles and could conceivably keep the rest of us going through sheer muscle power.

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Latest Christian Courier column

The following is my latest "Principalities & Powers" column from the 25 August issue of Christian Courier, which is now in print:

The UN, NATO and international order


Four months ago in this space I wrote of the influence of the Project for the New American Century within the Bush administration. Members of this group have largely given up on the United Nations and believe that the time is right for the United States to assert its considerable power – unilaterally, if necessary – to achieve some degree of international order. Although I believe this strategy cannot be sustained over the long term, it must nevertheless be admitted that it is occasioned by the genuine incapacities of the United Nations.

Founded in 1945, the United Nations Organization represented a second attempt at international governance in the wake of the League of Nations’ failure six years earlier. It was hoped that the UN would provide a measure of collective security for its members, thereby lessening the prospect of general warfare. For a variety of reasons this failed to work properly.

First, there was a tension between the UN Charter, with its guarantee of state sovereignty and noninterference, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which held out norms for the treatment of citizens within these states. Second, the UN Security Council, whose permanent members included the US, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China, quickly became anachronistic as the political importance of Britain and France declined while Germany and Japan gained in especially economic influence.

More seriously, the fact that the Soviet Union and later China were dominated by Marxist-Leninist ideology meant that the UN could not act in concert in a number of areas of potential conflict, especially if the actions of a communist state were at issue. The subsequent independence of the large number of former European colonial territories more than doubled the size of the UN’s membership, bringing nonwestern cultures into the world body, further complicating its ability to function as a single responsible agent. Finally the presence in the UN of rogue states sponsoring, or at least tolerating, terrorism leaves it virtually immobilized in the face of international aggression.

By contrast, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been one of the most successful international organizations ever. Established in 1949 to contain communism, it has now outlasted its former opponent by more than a decade. Yet far from outliving its usefulness, central and east European countries are clamouring to be admitted into the alliance. Why?

For more than half a century NATO has successfully created a secure space free from the scourge of warfare. It is now functioning primarily to keep its members from fighting each other, much as it has prevented Greece and Turkey, which joined in 1952, from going to war on at least three occasions.

The problem with NATO, however, is that its zone of peace has been established primarily by American military dominance. Both during and after the cold war, its non-American members, including Canada, have been largely content to live under the American security umbrella. Although this has led to a certain order and absence of conflict, it is an unbalanced order badly in need of being rectified.

Over the long term it is in no one’s interest, including that of the US, that NATO be so heavily dependent on American power. Americans will not tolerate their young people dying on distant battlefields to protect Slovenians and Estonians. Canadians and Europeans will not wish to subordinate their own legitimate interests to those of the US. Ultimately the rest of us will have to build up our own defensive capabilities to make NATO’s zone of peace a balanced one in which military burdens are more equitably shared.

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25 August 2003

Names and identities

This morning a speaker at our annual faculty retreat alerted us to one of the good contributions of political correctness, namely, to remind us to call people what they prefer to call themselves. Indeed it would seem to be simply a matter of common courtesy. For example, we nowadays refer to our northern peoples as Inuit rather than Eskimo. And our other aboriginal peoples we tend to call First Nations rather than the geographically misleading Indians.

However, what might seem a good rule of thumb is not without its difficulties.

First, it does not take into account obvious linguistic differences. Should we call the French les Français since that’s what they call themselves? Although Germans call themselves Deutschen, French, Italians and Poles each call them something that is etymologically unrelated to what Germans call themselves.

Second, and more significantly, one group’s favoured label may imply the assignment of an identity to outsiders which the latter do not accept. For example, in 17th-century Russia the Patriarch of Moscow, Nikon, pursued a series of ecclesiastical reforms that effectively alienated millions, who subsequently broke with the official church. We now know them as Old Believers. The Russian Orthodox call them Raskolniki (schismatics), while they know themselves to be simply Christians. Were we to call them Christians, what would we be implying about other Russians, and indeed about ourselves?

The other day I was asked by our registrar’s office to evaluate for transfer credit a course from another university titled Politics of the Third World. The “Third World” designation would seem not to be politically correct, as it presupposes a priority of the industrialized “First World,” and even of the now defunct communist “Second World.” “Third World” in effect means “everyone else,” or perhaps what Jews describe as the goyim, or gentiles, and ancient Greeks called barbaroi, or barbarians. More recently, people have referred to this large swath of the globe as the “Two-Thirds World,” which makes geographic sense but still manages to compress a huge amount of cultural and political diversity into a single one-size-fits-all identity.

My guess is that it really is impossible entirely to conform to the politically correct dictum mentioned above, however hard we try. This is primarily because identities are always in some fashion relational, and not merely self-chosen. We are not solely responsible for deciding who we are; others inevitably have a share in this. Only when such externally-assigned identities are demeaning or insulting do they become oppressive. Otherwise they are unavoidable.

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“Chicago” and contemporary nihilism

This weekend Nancy and I finally saw the Academy Award-winning film, “Chicago,” which has just come out on video. For those of you who haven’t yet seen it, it’s a cleverly put together musical about two women in the 1920s Windy City who are on trial for murder and have aspirations for stardom on the stage. Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones put on masterful performances as the star-struck killers, while Richard Gere is both amusing and despicable as their unscrupulous, money-grubbing and publicity-hounding lawyer. The songs are true to the frivolous atmosphere of the jazz age. The film is based on a play of the same name that has played theatres for nearly three decades.

Roger Ebert’s review of the film concentrates on the technical aspects, the performances of the actors, the choreography and, of course, the music. There is more than one level on which one could evaluate the film. First, one could see it as a visual and musical extravaganza, similar to the Busby Berkeley films of the 1930s. And if so, then the plot is clearly secondary. One experiences such a film much as one would experience a piece of music or perhaps even a circus performance. Second, one could see it as a satire on the public’s insatiable quest for celebrities, even if the latter have achieved their notoriety through criminal acts.

Third, one could see the plot as evidence of a kind of nihilism that pervades our society at the beginning of a new century. After all, the “heroine” breaks virtually every precept of the decalogue and not only survives, but even prospers. She is utterly shallow and self-centred, willing to use and abuse others to get what she wants out of life. She is loyal to no one, not even to a doting husband willing to take her back after she has betrayed him in numerous ways.

In 1940 Alfred Hitchcock was made to change the ending to his classic “Rebecca” because the Hays Code, in place since 1930, would not allow Hollywood film-makers to leave a murderer unpunished. Apparently audiences would not have stood for a plotline where justice was left undone. Much has obviously changed in the last nearly four decades. Is this progress? I doubt it. If the musical is really on its way back, then I hope there will be some whose plotlines tout the seemingly unfashionable virtues of fidelity and responsibility.

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24 August 2003

Hope for Cyprus arises in north

Here's potentially good news from Turkish north Cyprus: Cyprus: "New Political Party Unveiled in TRNC." The new Solution and EU Party hopes to do well in December's parliamentary elections by working for a bilateral solution to the 3-decade-old Cyprus stalemate and EU membership for the entire island by May of next year. It will be interesting to see how the Greek Cypriot press interprets this development.

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Bush to gut Clean Air Act?

The following is not particularly encouraging for those believing that a major part of government's call to do justice is to care for the commons, including the physical environment: "Bush plans to ease air pollution rules." One would think that a president with seemingly impeccable pro-life credentials would take more seriously the need to seek public justice in this area, given that pollution threatens not only quality of life, but life itself. Unfortunately self-styled conservatives generally tend to be soft on environmental issues.

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23 August 2003

End of emergency in Ontario

Last evening the Premier announced an end to the state of emergency caused by last week's massive power failure.

This morning our family drove out to Kitchener to visit the Doon Heritage Crossroads, a recreated village and two farms set in the year 1914, just before the outbreak of the Great War. At that time, of course, the city was known as Berlin, soon to be renamed for essentially the same reason that St. Petersburg became Petrograd and our own royal family of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became Windsor. (In its new incarnation it would bear the name of a Briton famous for undertaking the first triangulated survey of the island of Cyprus. . . oh, and possibly for a few other things as well.)

While we were in the general store the young lady behind the ancient cash register said that they were at first unaware of the blackout. As electricity was still uncommon in 1914, the actors at Doon Heritage Crossroads cook with wooden stoves and perform a variety of tasks by hand or by a human-powered mechanical device such as a sewing machine. Clothes are washed in wash tubs and hung out to dry. True, the 25-watt bulbs in the store were out, but she assumed there was a problem with the bulbs themselves. I don't know how much time elapsed before they learned the truth, but it was by no means immediate, as it was for the rest of us.

Obviously we cannot reverse the historical process, and I wouldn't argue that we should. Were we to attempt to get along without electricity at this late a date, we would quickly feel the consequences, which would be, not only unpleasant, but downright dangerous.

All the same, I find myself wondering whether we ought not to keep at the ready bottled water, a little extra cash, a yoke of oxen with cart in tow, several sturdy candles, an hibachi, an ice cellar, and a typewriter. . . just in case.

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Loss of faith revisited

In my personal library are two privately-printed, soft-bound volumes (booklets, really) devoted to Hancock, Michigan, Remembered, written by Clarence J. Monette. Hancock is located in the beautiful Keweenaw Peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior as the northern-most contiguous point of the sparsely-populated and heavily forested Upper Peninsula. My maternal grandfather was born there.

I was particularly interested in volume II, Churches of Hancock, including the history of what is now called Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. One of its predecessor congregations was the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, established in 1880, just two years prior to the arrival of my great-great-grandparents from Finland. After recounting the beginnings of the congregation, the author turns to the membership.

Membership rose to impressive figures. In 1914, there were two thousand-four hundred baptized members in the congregation, over half of them children. Not only was there the Hancock church building, but numerous preaching stations in chapels and private homes from Boston to Pilgrim; Sunday School programs were conducted for some one thousand-two hundred and fifty children.

Among these 1,250 children was my grandfather, who turned 9 in December of that year. I have in my possession both his baptismal certificate and his confirmation certificate, dated 1923, when he was not quite 18 years old.

By the time I came along my grandfather was no longer a believer and seemed to consider himself an agnostic, if not an outright atheist. With the Great Depression, two failed marriages, and a brother lost to war behind him, he somehow found himself unable to believe, despite his upbringing in a christian home and what appeared to be a vibrant church community. As the final decades of his working life were spent at a General Motors assembly plant near Detroit, his real commitment was to the labour union movement and to what can only be described as socialist politics.

Remarkably enough, however, no self-respecting society of agnostics would ever have taken him as member, because the need to believe in something transcending our earthly existence was too strong in him. This came out in eccentric ways, as he gravitated towards a variety of paranormal phenomena, including UFOs, extrasensory perception, telekinesis, communication with the dead, past lives, &c.

My grandfather has been gone for just over a quarter of a century. I now wish I had had the presence of mind to ask him why he found it so easy to believe in such a hodgepodge of peculiar notions yet so difficult to believe in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for his sins.

I treasure these church documents, printed and handwritten in the Finnish language. A large part of me hopes that, on the Last Day, I can simply bring these out, show them to God, and say, "See? My beloved Grandpa was baptized and confirmed in your church. He is one of your own!"

Of course, such matters are out of my hands. All I can do is to trust him to God's mercy and leave it at that.

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Lithuania's place in Europe and NATO

Lithuania will join the European Union next May, along with nine other nations. This dramatic expansion of the EU promises to reshape the very character of Europe itself, thereby making it marginally more pro-American. Lithuania is in the forefront of this change, as indicated here: "A Three-Way Affair." Unlike west Europeans, who have lived under an American-sponsored peace for over half a century and who have "no serious European defence system," Lithuanians are better able to understand the need to defend their freedoms, having lived under Soviet occupation for most of that same period. They are therefore natural allies with the US.

In recent years I've come to believe that an American empire is not a good thing. Once again, I do not suggest that the US is out to exploit a quasi-colonial periphery to enrich itself, as many are wont to define imperialism nowadays. But insofar as the US is effectively keeping the peace in a large swath of the globe's surface, it is functioning in much the same way as Rome did in the Mediterranean basin two millennia ago. The difficulty with this is that the imperial nation, however benevolent its intentions, tends to pursue its own interests first, which does not serve the cause of international justice.

It may be that the nations of the so-called "New Europe," such as Poland and Lithuania, will be most willing to abandon the pacifism of the "Old Europe" and thus help to build a European defence capability that will rebalance the Atlantic alliance. Ironically, these pro-American states could effectively help to lessen the American imperial role, which would be a good thing.

My forthcoming column in Christian Courier addresses the problem of the pax Americana. I will republish it here after it appears in print.

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A dramatic rise in christian belief in Serbia

Here is an interesting article on efforts to restore an ancient Serbian monastery destroyed by the Ottoman Turks and abandoned in 1689: "Barnstorming to raise the roof." Although the article focusses on the unusual method of holding a rock concert to raise funds for the project, I was intrigued by the statistics concerning the apparent dramatic rise of christian faith among Serb youth.

A renewed interest in faith is evident among Serbia’s youth. At the end of the communist era, just 10 percent of young people identified themselves as “believers.” Up to 90 percent do so today, according to recent polls. Fifty years of authoritarian rule, difficult times in the 1990s, wars, and nationalism all contributed to this return to "traditional values." The results of the 2002 census in Serbia, published in early July 2003, show that some 95 percent of Serbians (excluding Kosovo) declared a religious affiliation, and 85 percent declared themselves to be Orthodox Christians.

It's not clear to me how we should interpret such figures. Were people reluctant to express allegiance to Christianity a dozen years ago after being pummelled with atheistic propaganda for 40 years? Have huge numbers simply decided that God's revelation in Jesus Christ is truth after having been atheists themselves for decades? Or has Serbian nationalism motivated ordinary Serbs to embrace only a nominal Orthodoxy, which is, after all, the most significant marker of Serb national identity?

The polls and census do not seem to offer information on church attendance, so we don't know whether this has actually increased. My guess is that the numbers willing to identify themselves as Orthodox Christians is likely much greater than those making an active commitment to attending their local parish on a regular basis.

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22 August 2003

Electoral reform badly needed in California

Here is the latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice: "Help California Vote," written by Timothy Sherratt of Gordon College. Sherratt believes the adoption of the preferential ballot (or instant runoff, as he calls it) or proportional representation would lessen the future likelihood of repeating the current political fiasco in the largest state in the US.

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Inaugural lecture coming up

Redeemer University College
is pleased to announce the inauguration of

Dr. David T. Koyzis

as Professor of Political Science.

You are warmly invited to attend
the ceremony on
Friday, September 26, 2003,
at 8 pm in the Auditorium.
Reception will follow.

His inaugural address is entitled:
We Answer to Another: A Defence of Authority
Against its Recent Discontents
.


777 Garner Road East
Ancaster, ON L9K 1J4

905-648-2131 x4414
mfaraga@redeemer.on.ca

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21 August 2003

The mixed confessional heritage of the EKD

Among the church bodies adhering to the Heidelberg Catechism is the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD). But given its origins in the united church imposed by the King of Prussia in 1817, the EKD also adheres to the Augsburg Confession.

The Augsburg says the following: "Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence" (Article XXIV).

But the Heidelberg says this: "But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have their sins forgiven through the suffering of Christ unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests. It also teaches that Christ is bodily present in the form of bread and wine where Christ is therefore to be worshiped. Thus the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry" (Q&A 80).

So, as far as the EKD is concerned, which is correct?

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Savoury ice creams anyone?

Here is something interesting from the Unilever website:

Picking up on trends that are already happening in other regions around the world, Unilever is looking into the development of savoury ice cream, like curry or cheese, taking such concepts out of the exclusivity of a chef’s kitchen and bringing it to a wider audience. Unilever is already talking with some of the world’s leading chefs for the development of such ranges.

I'll have a double sushi cone please. With kelp sprinkles.

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Heidelberg Catechism vanity plates

This morning at the Redeemer campus I saw a car whose licence plates bore the following: "Q N A 1," with spaces between the letters and number. It took me a moment to realize that the reference was likely to the classic Question and Answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism. Had I seen this anywhere other than Redeemer, I would almost certainly never have made the connection.

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Return to Catholicism

Here's an interesting autobiographical essay by Dr. Eduardo Echeverria, titled, "My Journey Home," detailing his Mexican birth and American upbringing, his conversion at Francis Schaeffer's l'Abri, his immersion in the neo-calvinism of Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, and finally in 1992 his reconversion to the Roman Catholicism of his birth.

In one sense I can well understand Echeverria's journey. It has always seemed to me that Rome and Constantinople have the ecclesiological arguments on their side. But I am less able to comprehend how anyone can leave behind the evidently more integral philosophical approach of Dooyeweerd and his heirs to embrace the more -- dare I say it -- dualistic approach of, say, Fides et Ratio.

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Ice cream shops in the summer months

In recent years I've tried to stay away from ice cream, largely for health reasons. But on occasion I will indulge in this frozen treat, along with my wife and daughter. Indeed there is something undeniably attractive about taking one's family out to a local ice cream stand, particularly on a hot day. Last month I mentioned tastee freez, which invented the soft serve variety back in 1950. When I was a boy, our family used to visit a tastee freez stand (long since gone) in neighbouring Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

During our travels to the States last month, we also visited an Oberweis Dairy store. Oberweis used to deliver milk to us when we were growing up, lo these many decades ago. Originating in Aurora, Illinois, they still deliver milk in the Chicago and St. Louis metropolitan areas. Their ice cream is easily amongst the most flavourful anywhere.

Last evening we drove out to Stoney Creek to visit the Stoney Creek Dairy, a truly local phenomenon since 1929. Theresa had received a coupon for a free scoop of their famous ice cream, and of course, since she is only 4 years old, her parents had to accompany her. I cannot say that my tastes in ice cream are particularly imaginative, since I almost always get an ordinary vanilla cone. Lots of families were there, many sitting outside, despite the smog advisory. It was one of those irreplaceable summer moments that we will only dream about once the snows have returned.

But none of this is health food and, as I said, I generally try to stay away from ice cream.

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Students, come back!

Around this time in the summer I start to look forward to the return of the students, whom I miss in their absence. Classes begin again in slightly under two weeks at Redeemer University College.

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20 August 2003

Bringing Greeks and Turks together: The Orange of Cyprus

I would love to get my hands on this book once it comes out in English translation. Here is an interview in the English-language Turkish Daily News: "Common conscience of both sides 'Kibris'in Turuncusu.'"

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Love for the body of Christ -- as it is

There is a wonderful passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic, Life Together, which I keep coming back to whenever I become impatient with the christian community. It addresses those plagued by the disillusionment I spoke of in point 1 immediately below.

Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. . . .

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients (pp. 27-28).

I am quite certain that Bonhoeffer was addressing himself as much as others. After all, this book was written in 1938 at a time when the nazis ruled his country and when many, if not most, of his fellow German Christians were supporting Hitler and his destructive policies. Given this, it must have taken an extra measure of strength to bring himself to love this local manifestation of the body of Christ.

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Why people leave

A few days ago I discussed the sad article by Philip E. Wentworth relating his loss of faith at Harvard University. I suggested that his reasons for rejecting Christianity were pretty superficial. But others walk away from faith for more weighty reasons. Among these are:

(1) Disillusionment with the christian community. I’ve heard of a number of such cases over the years. In general I tend to gravitate towards a communal expression of the faith and am aware of the inadequacy of religious individualism. At the same time it’s possible that an individual church-goer rests too heavily on the faith of the community and hasn’t sufficiently appropriated it for herself. If the community fails her in some way, she leaves behind, not only the community, but the faith of the community as well. Reciting the creeds only in church, she cannot bring herself to recite them outside its walls. They are not really a part of her.

Of course one needs to bear in mind that the christian community makes no claims to perfection. The community and its members are fallible, as am I myself. Yet that doesn't make them any less than the people of God, redeemed by his grace through Jesus Christ.

(2) The justice of God. We’ve all heard this one before: How could a good God allow. . . fill in the blank: the Holocaust. . . the Armenian genocide. . . Idi Amin. . . the earthquake in China. . . the death of my neighbour’s infant son. . . you get the picture. In my daily prayer regimen I am currently reading through the book of Job, one of the more troubling books of the Bible. Job’s friends were certain that his suffering was connected to sin. And it’s true: a lot of suffering does follow on the heels of personal evil. But a lot of it doesn’t.

(3) Personal tragedy. This is essentially the same as 2, except that it happens to oneself. Undergoing a personal tragedy either brings one closer to God or pushes one away from him. There is no satisfactory explanation for why some people respond the first way while others respond the second.

(4) Loss of a sense of God’s presence. Some weeks ago I wrote of Carol Zaleski’s disturbing article, The Dark Night of Mother Theresa. What startled me in reading it was the realization that I, as a quite ordinary Christian, seem to have a more vivid sense of God’s on-going presence than Mother Theresa did – at least after her initial visions of 1947. Yet she still answered God’s call on her life and served him for the next half century, which is all the more remarkable given what we now know of her.

(5) Lack of a christian upbringing. Billions of people around the world grow up in nonchristian households. Some embrace the faith later in life. While some of these stick with it and grow in it, others try it out for a while and then leave it behind for something else. If you have not first experienced the love of God in the love of your own parents, it may be difficult to experience it at all.

I understand InterVarsity Press has published a book on the subject of loss of faith. It’s by Ruth Tucker and it’s called Walking Away From Faith. Perhaps I’ll use my author’s discount and purchase a copy.

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19 August 2003

Three riddles in the form of Shakespearean sonnets

Here are three riddles for the history buffs out there. Which places are referred to in each of these below?

Her youth now having seeped through dingy cracks
That centuries have opened in her walls,
The metropole her vanished empire lacks,
As other tongues converse within her halls.
Across the strait an oriental shore
Observes the hazy vista towards the eve,
Of ancient domes that hug the city floor:
A tapestry that many cultures weave.
The envy of the Tatar and the Frank
Who would with purple robe themselves adorn,
The city that bestrode old Europe's flank
Would reign a thousand years upon the Horn.
   And through her streets yet wander silently
   Forgotten memories of majesty.

A wintry snap in autumn comes to call:
The scent of coal is frozen in mid-air
And wraps the city in a murky pall
That hangs above the buildings on the square.
A lofty castle stands above the town
Where silhouetted spires appear to grow;
Within her gates once lay the Empire's crown
Upon a Luxemburger's kingly brow.
(A fabled bridge now bears his royal name,
As does a school of great antiquity.)
But soon his town would pale before the fame
Of regal Habsburgs' grander dignity.
   Though tyranny for forty years held sway,
   A fortnight saw it quickly swept away.

Along the river's mouth where swampy land
Was captured from a fading Baltic realm,
A capital arose to take command
Of empire from an older eastern helm.
A beardless monarch bent upon reform,
Who sought to emulate the occident,
Created her according to the norm
Of finer cities where his youth was spent.
Compared with these her life has yet been brief,
Though long enough more than one name to bear.
In time of war her people, brought to grief,
Endured privation's curse and deep despair.
   And when the monarch's dynasty had ceased,
   The seat of empire moved again back east.

© David T. Koyzis, 1989

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Neo-cons, neo-calvs, &c.

In a roundtable discussion amongst Gideon Strauss, Brian Dijkema, James Brink and myself, the issue of co-operation with non-neo-calvs (or perhaps "neo-calves," to use a bovine metaphor) arises.

Starting a christian democratic party is not a way of separating oneself from "the world" and maintaining an artificial purity. If one starts a political party and then waits for the rest of the world to join it, nothing will ever get done. I myself believe that, in the event PR is adopted, beginning a distinctively neo-calvinist party will probably not be all that helpful. Instead I think we should be prepared to join, where possible, with other like-minded Christians, such as conservative Catholics, evangelicals and confessional protestants -- and even neo-cons and christian socialists -- in the interest of seeing justice done in the political arena.

It is, of course, always something of a dilemma to know how far to broaden one's base of co-operation. If it is too small, then one risks marginalization and irrelevancy. If it is too broad, one risks dilution of one's principles and inaction. There is no handy rule of thumb to avoid these two dangers. My own sense is that it is best to start with the principles and then look for commonalities with these other groups.

Yet no matter how large or small our own group, we will have to be prepared to co-operate with other, less likeminded parties on issues of common concern. We may have to content ourselves with having a share in the making of public policy rather than waiting to convert everyone so we can implement our full agenda. This is simply what politics is all about.

A dozen years or so ago, the Mulroney government proposed abortion legislation that fell short of full protection of the unborn but was a considerable improvement on the legal vacuum created by the Supreme Court's 1988 decision, Morgenthaler v. the Queen. Many Christians made a tactical error in opposing legislation that didn't go far enough in protecting human life. Unable to admit that something is better than nothing, their opposition helped to kill the bill on a rare free vote in the Senate. Purity of principles is no substitute for political savvy and an intuitive sense of what lies within the realm of possibility.

Once more, the adoption of PR will not usher in the kingdom of God. It will simply open the field for other viewpoints, whose followers will then be free to make both good and bad choices on public policy issues. The battle will only have begun.

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18 August 2003

Now I remember: my debt to the Baptists

One of the things I gained from my youthful sojourn amongst the Baptists was a rather thorough acquaintance with Scripture. Of course, there are different kinds of Baptists, but what they seem to have in common is a concern to impart to their young a solid knowledge of the Bible. In fact, they seem to do a better job of it than many other Christian groups. To this day I still carry with me a deep love of Scripture -- almost a craving, really. This is something I definitely want to pass along to my daughter.

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Principled participation in politics

Gideon Strauss asks:

How does one go about being a neocalvinist in a liberal regime?

This is one of the more difficult questions I ask myself. It sometimes seems as if it might have been easier to have been a neocalvinist in my native South Africa, where a fledgling democracy with a congenial electoral system provided the opportunity - and still provides the opportunity, in my opinion - of shaping the partisan dialogue in the early years after the founding of the regime. Here in Canada, and in the USA, one is faced with a settled regime that is deeply rooted in a liberal modernity of the English variety. The partisan dialogue follows patterns established long ago - patterns that seem to have the power to turn every debate into a reiteration of long-established conventional pieties, and to co-opt new voices within less than a generation.

This is something I've agonized over for some time, as both a Canadian citizen and an academic political scientist. I've been asked this question many times over the years by ordinary Canadians, including my own students. Most recently I've been asked this in the course of several radio interviews in the States. It's always been something of a struggle to come up with a satisfactory answer.

To be honest, when it comes time to vote, I tend to vote strategically, which is all but unavoidable in a first-past-the-post electoral system. This means that I try to determine which candidate has the best chance of defeating the incumbent, assuming the incumbent is a member of the governing parliamentary caucus. That's not at all a principled way of voting, except that it represents a feeble attempt on my part to defeat an executive with insufficient checks on its power, and thus to revivify Canada's enfeebled democracy. But I certainly do not enjoy exercising my right to vote.

In the US, because of the relative weakness of party discipline, it is possible for Christians to vote on a person-by-person basis and thus to cast their votes for individual candidates of integrity. Had I lived in Oregon during the half century that Mark O. Hatfield was in politics, I would have voted for him with enthusiasm. Hatfield was a serious Christian who served as governor of his home state and then as US senator and who always acted on conscience. But he was only one person. There was no Hatfield party ready to take the reins of government.

In Canada matters are in some respect worse because of the rigidity of party discipline coupled with the sheer pragmatism of the major parties. They are simply not very representative. There is simply no possiblity of a Mark Hatfield making a lonely stand for the cause of justice. The Canadian Alliance is doing little more than to move Canadian politics in a populist rather than a principled direction.

I suppose I put my hope in the increasing likelihood of our adopting some form of proportional representation (PR), following the almost certain forthcoming examples of Quebec and British Columbia. Some might charge me with harbouring utopian expectations over the adoption of PR. Not at all. Bringing in PR would simply be a way of opening up what is essentially a closed political system and allowing citizens of the various faith communities to enter the public square. What they do once they're there is another issue.

Adopting PR is not the end of the battle; it's no more than the beginning (at last) of a fair framework for waging political battles in the first place.

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Statism as a new religion

Back in 1932 Philip E. Wentworth was intelligent enough to recognize the social consequences of a general loss of faith -- consequences which he regretted but feared were inevitable.

When religion begins to lose its hold upon the minds of men, as it is now doing with us, a peculiar thing happens. The Church is driven by its own weakness to shift its social responsibilities to other shoulders. Now there is only one other institution strong enough to take on new burdens in such an emergency, and it is an institution which, like the Church, has always been engaged in forcing a measure of parental control upon men who either would not or could not control themselves. This is the State. As religion becomes inoperative, governments are overworked.

This sounds rather like what happened in Quebec at the time of the Quiet Revolution of 40 years ago. Prior to that time schools, hospitals, labour unions, charities, &c., were all operated by the Roman Catholic Church. Quite suddenly, beginning in 1960, all that changed. Within a very few years church attendance had plummeted, the church institution was forced to withdraw from these fields, and its place was taken by the provincial government. This marked the beginning of Quebec nationalism as well.

In contrast to Wentworth's interpretation, religion itself does not die, although particular religions may go into decline. A better way to understand the phenomenon is to note that when someone abandons a particular faith, he or she adopts another, secular ideological faith, which is my argument in Political Visions and Illusions.

I can't help wondering what eventually became of Wentworth. A google search doesn't turn up much beyond the Atlantic article. I somehow doubt he is still alive. And since his name does not turn up in a search of the Social Security death records, it's possible he did not even reach three score years and ten. Did he keep to his apostasy or did he return to the faith of his youth, a not unusual occurrence with one-time apostates? If anyone knows the answer, I'd love to find out.

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17 August 2003

The loss of faith

Here is an article written by a 26-year-old Philip E. Wentworth for the Atlantic Monthly in 1932: “What College Did to My Religion.” The author tells the tragic tale of how, as a young man, he was moved by an undergraduate Harvard education, not only to abandon his previous plans to become a Presbyterian minister, but to renounce his christian faith altogether. To be sure, his argument is not a particularly sophisticated one. Somewhat surprisingly, it amounts to nothing more than his professors persuading him that his childhood view of “a universe which revolved about the central figure of an omnipotent Deity” could not stand up to a more scientific view in which “[a]ll events in history were manifestations of cause and effect operating upon the natural level.” In short, a fairly naïve conception of science rather too easily vanquished religious faith from his heart.

One comes away from reading Wentworth’s personal apologia with the feeling that he might have come through Harvard with faith intact if only someone had bothered to open him up to the reality of multiple levels of causality. Surely it is not that difficult to grasp that a biological or chemical explanation for a given phenomenon does not rule out social or psychological motives. The fact that feelings of romantic love can be analysed in terms of electrical impulses in the brain does not by any means lessen the reality of romantic love. To recognize the role medical assistance plays in curing an illness is hardly to deny the hand of God and the efficacy of his people’s prayers in the patient’s recovery.

What I find especially curious about such stories is precisely this: The narrowing of vision and the discovery of a supposedly single, naturalistic form of causality comes disguised as an opening of one’s vistas to the real world. By contrast, those who retain a worldview recognizing the inescapable complexity of the cosmos and who refuse to see it as self-contained are almost always portrayed as cramped and closed-minded. Yet would it not make more sense to assume that those who, with the psalmist (e.g., in Psalm 104), take joy in the sheer variety of God’s creation and live their lives accordingly are the open-minded ones? Would it not be more accurate to judge that those buying into reductionist explanations of reality have the narrower minds? Yet the peculiarly modern prejudice to the contrary dies hard, and there are still plenty of people willing to take it at face value, particularly in the academy and the popular media.

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The Mad Gardener's Song, Canadian revision

Here's a little humour to brighten some spirits amidst all the darkness of the past few days:

He thought he saw his little daughter
Jumping on the bed;
He looked again and saw a cat
Curled up atop his head.
“I’d best beware of dogs,” said he,
“Or else I’ll wind up dead.”

He thought he noticed in the street
A car with a flat tire;
He looked again and saw a clown
In humorous attire.
“I’d best lay off the scotch,” he said,
“Before I get much higher.”

He thought he saw a grad student
Defend his PhD;
He looked again and saw it was
A princess with her pea.
“I shouldn’t like,” said he,” to eat that
With my cup of tea.”

He thought he noticed Jean Chrétien
Inside the PMO;
He looked again and saw it was
Paul Martin comme il faut.
“If such should lead us now,” said he,
“It’s time for us to go.”

© David T. Koyzis, 2003 (with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

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Emergency regulations

According to the regulations governing the state of emergency in this province, residents are not supposed to be using large appliances or air-conditioners. My fear is that, once the emergency regulations are lifted, everyone will have such a backlog of dirty laundry and dishes to clean that the running of all those washers, dryers and dish washers will bring the power grid crashing down again.

I wonder whether it might not be wise to apply the same rules that Hamilton applies to watering of gardens during the summer months: Odd-numbered addresses do their laundry, &c., on odd-numbered days and even-numbered addresses launder on even-numbered days, at least for a few days. This might ease the burden on the power supplies and the still fragile delivery system.

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16 August 2003

The Blackout

Yes, we're all well here in the vast land of darkness that stretched across much of the northeastern part of North America for a day or so. We're feeling pretty sticky and unkempt, and perhaps a wee bit cranky. But we're surviving what is a pretty tame emergency by the standards of the rest of the world. I'll have some reflections on all this at some point, naturally. But I'd better get off my computer before we get hit with one of the rolling blackouts predicted to come our way as the authorities struggle to get the power back to normal.

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14 August 2003

Now I remember

I now recall one personal debt to the Methodists that I didn't think of yesterday. Methodism, of course, has its roots in Anglicanism, and Methodist hymnals typically have a large number of Anglican hymns, which I learned to love during my time with the heirs of the Wesleys.

Remarkably, I think the first time I ever sang "For All the Saints" was at Park Avenue United Methodist Church in south Minneapolis. How I happened to miss this in my previous twenty years I do not know. The text is found in the first edition of the OPC's Trinity Hymnal, although there it is not set to Ralph Vaughan Williams' glorious tune, Sine Nomine, but to Joseph Barnaby's less compelling Sarum, which I can't remember having sung as a child.

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E-mail scams

Surely I'm not the only person in this position: Every other day or so I receive an e-mail post from someone claiming to be from a west African country and wishing my help to transfer large amounts of money to Canada for which I will receive a substantial commission. When I first received one of these several years ago, I thought perhaps I should report this to RCMP or CSIS. But there's no way any agency could keep up with the sheer volume of these posts, which has increased in the ensuing years.

A genuine oddity: about half of these posts begin with "Dear brother in Christ." If one is willing to engage in fraud, then I suppose there's no real obstacle to adding blasphemy to the list of one's contemplated sins.

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Comments at last

Thanks to a tip from Gregory Baus, I now have comments on this weblog after more than one unsuccessful attempt. Please don't cheer too loudly.

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Blog reruns

Do bloggers ever do summer reruns? Do they ever repeat posts they've posted months earlier? Imagine this: "The Best of Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist."

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13 August 2003

Baptists and Methodists

While I was in Minnesota I actually had more contact with Baptists and Methodists than with Lutherans. So I owe something of a debt to these two traditions as well. When I was about 11 years old our family began attending a Baptist congregation, associated with the Baptist General Conference, a group with Swedish origins. This eventually led me to the denomination's college, Bethel College, north of St. Paul, Minnesota, in the community of Arden Hills. While there, I attended a multiracial United Methodist church in south Minneapolis, albeit without really embracing Wesleyanism.

Ironically, while at Bethel I decided I was not a Baptist, and at age 20 I underwent something of a paradigm shift that led me back towards the Reformed Christianity in which I was raised. During my second year a fellow student introduced me to the literature coming out of the Institute for Christian Studies, the old Wedge Publishing Foundation, and the now long defunct Vanguard magazine. This was an eye-opener for me, and I began to conceive of the relationship between religion and life rather differently than I had up to that point. Niebuhr would describe this as "Christ transforming culture." Calvin College's late Prof. Evan Runner would say that life is quite simply religion.

It's difficult to say whether I still carry with me something of my previous Baptist connection. In many respects both Baptists and Methodists follow typically American forms of Christianity. Both place a considerable emphasis on free will and have a largely voluntaristic notion of the church, something that flourished on the frontiers. Both were spawned largely in a revivalist method (hence "Methodism") that placed a premium on the making of a once-for-all commitment to the faith.

Since my younger days, by contrast, I've come to have a considerable respect for a more communal understanding of the faith. During times of doubt (which we all, after all, experience) it's enormously helpful to be able to lean on the accumulated faith of the larger body of Christ. That's one of the reasons I so love especially the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds and the Heidelberg Catechism. In these confessional statements we find the faith of the church expressed in ways that are accessible to generations of believers around the world. In confessing these we are joining our hearts with many who have come before us and many who will follow us.

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Adjudicating rights claims

Following the likes of Mary Ann Glendon, Paul Marshall and others, I have in recent years become wary of turning every claim made upon the public realm into a "right." The following is from Philip K. Howard's The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America:

Rights have taken on a new role in America. Whenever there is a perceived injustice, new rights are created to help the victims. These rights are different: While the rights-bearers may see them as "protection," they don't protect so much as provide. These rights are intended as a new, and often invisible, form of subsidy. They are provided at everyone else's expense, but the amount of the check is left blank. . . (p. 117).

Defined this way, rights claims become increasingly difficult for public authorities to adjudicate, primarily because we have come to think of rights as absolute. And if they are absolute, then there is little room for moderating their claims, both on the public space and on each other.

Rights for the disabled are particularly paradoxical, because what benefits a person with one disability may harm someone with another disability. Low drinking fountains and telephones are harder to use for the elderly or those with bad backs. High toilets make transfer easier from a wheelchair, but make bowel movements harder for everyone else, especially the elderly. Curb cuts are more dangerous for the blind, who have more difficulty knowing when they have reached the end of the block. Ramps are essential for wheelchairs but are sometimes slippery and dangerous for the frail. Warning bumps at the edge of a train platform are good for the blind but bad for those in wheelchairs (pp. 151-2).

Does this mean we should throw up our hands and leave the frail and infirm to their own devices? Not at all. It does mean that addressing such claims in terms of rights may not be all that helpful. Treating them precisely as mere claims means that room is left for compromise in the interest of peaceful co-existence among individuals and groups within the body politic.

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12 August 2003

Lutherans, liturgy and society

Reading Richard Lischer's Open Secrets has prompted me to think about Lutherans once again. I spent nearly half a decade in the mid-1970s in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. There I attended Bethel College, a Baptist undergraduate institution. Bethel was something of a Baptist island in a Lutheran sea. Minnesota is, of course, heavily Scandinavian in influence, so the prevalence of Lutheran churches would scarcely be surprising. Moreover there are a large number of excellent undergraduate universities in the region, with Lutheran-affiliated institutions a dominating presence.

The glory of Lutheranism is definitely its liturgy in general, and its hymnody in particular. Unlike the Reformed churches, the Lutheran churches took a more moderate approach to reforming the liturgy, retaining such elements as the Gloria in excelsis, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei, that is, the so-called ordinary of the mass. They further retained the traditional western one-year lectionary, which the Reformed abandoned.

Luther himself took the initiative and composed a number of hymns, some of which might be described as christological paraphrases of the Psalms. For example, "A Mighty Fortress" is such a rendering of Psalm 46. And "Out of the Depths I Cry to You" is Luther's interpretation of Psalm 130. Luther stands at the beginning of the tradition of German chorales, many of which, like the Genevan Psalms, were highly rhythmic and possessed something of the flavour of renaissance madrigals. Nearly two centuries later J. S. Bach would arrange these to conform to the more baroque patterns of his era.

The full richness of the Lutheran liturgical tradition can be found in the Lutheran Book of Worship, the chief resource for worship in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. I particularly like the liturgies printed in the front of the volume, complete with the musical settings. Unlike Anglicans, who generally have to shuffle between two or more books in the course of worship, Lutherans quite sensibly have everything in a single volume.

However, it has always seemed to me that the chief weakness of the Lutheran tradition is its relative lack of a cultural and social witness, which is rooted in its two kingdoms theology. When Lutherans find it necessary to take up such a witness, they generally have to look outside their own tradition. Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to mind here. In our own day Jean Bethke Elshtain, whom I find a joy to read, is quite evidently influenced by Roman Catholic social teachings. And Richard John Neuhaus, once a Lutheran pastor, jumped ship entirely and became a Catholic priest.

Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, I've actually attended very few Lutheran worship services. But some of my favourite hymns are the old chorales, often translated into English by Catherine Winkworth. The singing of "Deck Thyself, My Soul, with Gladness" during the eucharistic celebration never fails to move me. Though I am definitely a Reformed Christian and an heir of John Calvin, I nevertheless gratefully acknowledge a debt to Luther and his followers.

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Zanchi's influence on Althusius

This is from Stephen Grabill's introduction to Zanchi's "On the Law in General":

Before concluding, it should be mentioned that Zanchi’s understanding of the types of law was particularly influential upon the Reformed political theorist and city attorney of Emden, Johannes Althusius (1557­-1638). According to Frederick Carney, the translator of Althusius’s Politica, it was Zanchi’s extensive discussion of law that more than anything else contributed to “Althusius’ understanding of the relation of the Decalogue to natural law, and of both to the proper laws of various nations.” Althusius thought that magistrates should administer a commonwealth on the basis of prudence, which involves knowledge both of law and of the changing and contingent circumstances to which law is to be applied. “The discussion of law at this point,” observes Carney, “is an extended treatment of the relation of the Decalogue to natural law, and of the role of these two together as common law in the formulation of proper law for particular societies.” Zanchi’s positive assessment and affirmation of natural law in his so-called Treatise on Law bore much fruit in the life and work of Althusius, who, in Carney’s judgment, “maintained a rather warm appreciation for a human’s natural knowledge of one’s duty to both God and neighbor.”

In the literature of political philosophy Althusius is treated variously as a proto-liberal prophet of the social contract, a precursor to modern federalism (though not of constitutional federalism, as Thomas Hueglin points out), or a pre-Kuyperian. The above passage, once more, is from the new issue of the Acton Institute's journal, Markets & Morality, admittedly a somewhat off-putting title. (Why not just call it the Acton Journal?)

Here is more on the life of Hieronymus (or Girolamo) Zanchi: "The Life of Zanchi." His connection with Frederick III, "the Pious," who commissioned the Heidelberg Catechism, is particularly interesting.

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Turkey's misstep

If Turkey wishes to make a case for its own membership in the European Union, brokering a trade deal with North Cyprus is not the way to do it, as indicated in this editorial in the Arab News: "Editorial: Misjudgement."

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11 August 2003

Did you know . . .

Here's something interesting: in the Slovak language the word for Slovak is Slovensko, while in the Slovenian language the word for Slovenian is . . . Slovensko! This will likely engender some confusion at European Union meetings once both Slovakia and Slovenia are members.

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D. Hieronymus Zanchi

Courtesy of the Acton Institute of Grand Rapids, Michigan, we now have access in English to a significant Reformation era work by the Italian Reformed theologian, D. Hieronymus Zanchi, "On the Law in General." Stephen Grabill's introduction compares this work to that of Thomas Aquinas, who influenced Zanchi. "On the Law in General" appears in the new issue of Acton's journal, Markets & Morality.

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Translating the Septuagint

Two days ago I mentioned the longstanding reluctance of the Greek Orthodox Church to allow the translation of the koine New Testament into a more contemporary Greek idiom. A similar approach has been taken to the Septuagint Old Testament (LXX), which is preferred by the Orthodox to even the original Hebrew text from which it was translated in the last centuries of the prechristian era.

There is now a project under way to translate the complete Septuagint into English. This would enable the publication for the first time of a complete Orthodox version of the Bible in our language. About a decade ago something called The Orthodox Study Bible was published, but it included only the New Testament and Psalms, and these were rendered, oddly enough, in the New King James Version. This will soon be superseded by the complete Bible now in process.

One of the peculiarities of the Septuagint Old Testament is that, wherever the Hebrew uses the metaphor "rock" to refer to God (e.g., Psalm 95[94]:1), the LXX deliberately avoids this, replacing it with another expression. Scholars are not certain why this is, and it is cause for debate. Even my exceedingly knowledgeable colleague, Dr. Al Wolters, does not know.

However, when I mentioned this to my Greek-Cypriot father, he said, without missing a beat, that the ancient translators' aversion to speaking of God as "rock" was due to the fact that the idols of the pagans were made of stone. Interesting. I don't know what the scholarly community would make of his explanation, but at the very least it seems indicative of what Greeks themselves believe about the issue. It seems plausible to me, although I am by no means an expert.

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10 August 2003

Anti-Catholicism in Canada's print media

A number of people have recently observed that anti-Catholicism is the anti-semitism of respectable society. This article by Heather Mallick proves the point: "Dear John Paul: Don't even think about it." It is difficult to imagine The Globe and Mail ("Canada's national newspaper," as it modestly calls itself) publishing this article if the object of the author's ire were an international Jewish conspiracy to take over the country. Yet it seems to be open season on Catholics in the popular media.

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Belonging to Christ

This is from my favourite of the 16th-century confessional documents, the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. Why is he called "Christ," meaning "anointed"?

A. Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief prophet and teacher who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance; our only high priest who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body, and who continually pleads our cause with the Father; and our eternal king who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.


Q. But why are you called a Christian?

A. Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed to confess his name, to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity.

Questions and answers 31 and 32

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09 August 2003

Learning Greek

Although my father’s first language is Greek, I myself did not grow up speaking it. I might have done so if my mother had been the one who knew Greek. (There is good reason why one’s first language is called a mother tongue and not a father tongue.) From my earliest days I grew up hearing my father speak Greek – but not to us children. This is something I would come to regret.

One day, when I was 15, some "round-about" relatives came to visit us. They were Greek-Americans and, although they were not actually our own blood relations, they were relatives of relatives. The grandmother was from the old country and she spoke not a word of English. After they left, I determined to learn Greek. Not the koine Greek that pastors and New Testament scholars learn to read, nor the classical or Homeric Greek of much earlier times. This was the modern spoken Greek that would allow me to communicate with unilingual relatives, including eventually, I hoped, my own grandparents whom I had never met.

I started my studies with a book called Greek Made Easy, published by D. C. Divry in New York. It was a hard-bound, orange coloured volume, thin enough for me to carry around and read in between high school classes. I was taking French class at the same time, but I don’t recall ever confusing the two languages. I practised constantly and I tried valiantly to perfect my accent. I never acquired the fluency necessary to converse with any but small children, although the basics and a reasonably large vocabulary of first-tier words are still in my head, even after more than three decades.

The problem with Greek Made Easy is that it taught the katharevousa language, a "purified" form of Greek invented in the mid-19th century by nationalists striving to ape the attic Greek of old. Needless to say, it never caught on. Its use was intended for government administration, education and the press, and it was hoped that it would become the standard literary language as well. But by the 20th century it could be found only in the most formal documents, being somewhat less accessible to flesh-and-blood Greek-speakers than the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible is to contemporary speakers of English. When I would practise speaking to my relatives they told me I sounded like a legal brief.

The genuine standard spoken Greek is the demotic, or popular, language, which is a greatly simplified and less inflected version of the older dialects. (For example, the dative case has dropped entirely out of use, except in a few colloquial expressions.) The contest between katharevousa and demotic was a long one, preoccupying the energies of generations, both in Greece itself and elsewhere within the Greek-speaking world. The military junta that ruled in Athens between 1967 and 1974 favoured the katharevousa. After the colonels fell from power, the civilian government bowed to the inevitable, abandoning the purified tongue and adopting the demotic instead. The old diacritical marks were abandoned, to be replaced by a single stress accent for multi-syllabic words. This can be seen on websites in modern Greek.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Greek Orthodox Church held onto the katharevousa much longer than other institutions. Until quite recently they stood fast for the koine New Testament, reluctant to allow for more modern translations. When a demotic version of the New Testament was published nearly a century ago, there were riots in the streets. In 1989 the United Bible Societies produced a New Testament in contemporary language, a copy of which I have in my personal library. This version at last has the sanction of ecclesiastical authorities. The first pages of the volume consist of letters of approval from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, the Patriarch of Alexandria and the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Tellingly, however, only the letter of the Patriarch of Alexandria (who is also rumoured to favour the ordination of women as priests) is in the demotic language; the others are rendered in katharevousa.

With the small amount of Greek that I have, I’ve been attempting to give Theresa at least a basic foundation in the Greek language. She now knows her colours and she can count up to forty, much to the delight of my father, his sister and her husband. If anyone knows of a good video series teaching Greek to young children, please let me know. Failing that, perhaps we’ll follow the example of the family in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and send her to Greek school!

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Talks to end war in Sudan

Here is a report from the Financial Times about the "Peace talks to end Africa's longest civil war":

Sudan peace talks due to resume in Kenya this weekend could make or break prospects of ending Africa's longest running civil war, General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, Kenyan mediator in negotiations, said on Thursday.

The talks follow agreement last year on the so-called Machakos protocol, under which John Garang's rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) traded agreement to the continuation of Islamic law in the north for six years of southern autonomy, ending with a referendum on the south's independence.

However, the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum may not be in the mood for compromise, and this could doom the latest move toward peace. Pray for our fellow believers in this troubled country.

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08 August 2003

From the Center for Public Justice

Here is the latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice: "Ending the Division of Cyprus."

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Why is it?

Have you ever noticed that when charges of hypocrisy are levelled against someone, it is almost always in the interest of loosening standards rather than tightening them?

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