Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

28 February 2005

Weekend at the 'Beach'

From thursday until yesterday I was at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, speaking at their annual Christian Pre-Law Conference. I was invited to participate in this event by Prof. Michael P. Schutt, who teaches at the School of Law. I was asked to speak on two topics. First, on friday morning, I spoke to the pre-law advisors on the subject of liberalism and its alternatives. The following morning I addressed the undergraduate students on the task of the christian scholar. I was pleased that my remarks were well received by both groups.

The trip got off to something of an inauspicious start. On thursday morning I woke up with a cold. Travelling was the last thing I was wanting to do at that point. I taught my two classes as usual. An Airways Transit van picked me up at Redeemer and ferried me to Pearson Airport in Toronto. As I was getting off the van, I somehow managed to leave my gloves behind. Because of bad weather in Washington, DC, my plane was late leaving Pearson, and my second plane to Norfolk, Virginia, was late leaving Dulles Airport in Washington. I didn't get into Norfolk until well after midnight. I finally got to bed shortly after 2 am. That left me about four and a half hours to sleep. At 9.15 I had to be alert enough to speak to an audience. I did indeed manage to be up in time, but as I was dressing I discovered I had neglected to pack any socks! What else could go wrong? Fortunately, nothing else did.



Regent University School of Law


During my stay, I was billeted at the Founders Inn and Conference Center, a quite nice hotel on the Regent campus boasting comfortable rooms and excellent food. I was favourably impressed with the professional quality of the hospitality, as well as with the friendliness of the staff.

Although Regent was founded by the famed television evangelist, Pat Robertson, I didn't sense that his presence is an overwhelming one. I did not hear his name mentioned once, and I saw only an oil portrait of him at the Founders Inn. There doesn't appear to be a cult of personality, if my two-and-a-half days there were any indication. Many of the people present came from a cluster of christian universities in the American south, most of which were new to me.

During my stay, I had the opportunity to visit close relatives on the paternal side who live in town. It seems they are not the only Cypriots who have chosen to live in the Virginia area. Virginia Beach's proximity to the ocean undoubtedly reminds them of such cities in Cyprus as Famagusta and Limassol. That is certainly the case with my uncle, aunt and cousins who live there.

Virginia Beach is part of the so-called bible belt. The phone directory's yellow pages are filled with pages and pages of churches, most of which are Southern Baptist, Pentecostal and various independent baptistic congregations. I understand that a municipal bylaw prohibits profanity, the violation of which will incur a fine, if overheard. (I don't know exactly which words are proscribed. Perhaps they are listed in the text of the bylaw itself.)

The Norfolk Airport is much larger than I had imagined it would be. I was told that there is a considerable military presence in Norfolk and that the airport is one of the major transit point for US military personnel.

There was no snow in Virginia Beach, although it was definitely on the cold side. Needless to say, there is plenty of snow here in Hamilton. In fact, we are getting hit with a major storm as I write. I may or may not be teaching tomorrow.

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Mother, how could you?

It's official: "Queen won't attend Charles-Camilla wedding." But that's not all. Wedding plans have not gone smoothly from day one. Could they put in jeopardy Charles' place in line for the throne? Possibly in Australia at least.

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An unfavourable review

Since the publication of my Political Visions and Illusions nearly two years ago, I have been gratified by its overwhelmingly positive reception in a number of quarters, including the popular evangelical journal Christianity Today, and by the Word Guild award it received last year. Nevertheless, it would be the rare book that received no unfavourable reviews at all, and mine is hardly an exception. Last month's issue of First Things carried a "briefly noted" review of my book by one James R. Rogers which was almost entirely unfavourable. It is not easy to interact or respond to such a brief treatment, as one suspects there is much beneath the surface which remains unsaid. Yet at some point I may indeed write a response.

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25 February 2005

Kudos to an alumnus

Congratulations are due to Paul A. Brink, who successfully defended his dissertation on John Rawls' political theory yesterday at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Brink graduated from Redeemer in 1993 with a major in political science. He is currently teaching this subject at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. We are very proud of him.

Congratulations may be sent to him at this address: pbrink{at}eastern{dot}edu.

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24 February 2005

Christian order flirting with pantheism?

The Sisters of Charity is a Catholic order founded by a disciple of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the 19th century. The website for the order's Halifax branch indicates a supportive connection with the Centre for Earth and Spirit in Glenairley, British Columbia. A perusal of the latter's website, especially the page titled "About Us," leads one to believe that the Centre's understanding of the work of the "Spirit" brings it perillously close to pantheism. This raises two questions: (1) Shouldn't it be possible to favour the protection of the physical environment without embracing pantheism? The Centre is hardly the only environmental group to fall into this heresy and adopting what is sometimes labelled eco-spirituality. (2) Isn't the Catholic Church against pantheism? That was my impression.

While we're on the subject of ecology, the Acton Institute's Kevin Schmiesing argues that the Kyoto Accord, which has recently come into effect, represents the wrong way to protect the environment. Schmiesing writes: "Where environmental standards must be set through the consensus of a political community, the usual political process can accomplish the task." The Acton Institute tends to be sceptical of most environmental concerns, including global warming.

I have just completed a review of James W. Skillen's latest book, In Pursuit of Justice, for an upcoming issue of Acton's Journal of Markets & Morality. In contrast to Schmiesing, Skillen argues that protection of the environment ought not to be considered just one more issue, subject to the ordinary political and judicial bargaining processes, but must instead be seen as an integral element of our larger calling to be stewards of God’s creation. In our societies, if no one were willing to contend for the physical environment in competition with loggers, defence contractors and many others, it would tend to be left out of consideration altogether in the policy process. As an alternative Skillen argues that "the environment must be taken into consideration at a constitutional level" (p. 124), possibly by the adoption of measures similar to existing local zoning laws. An interesting idea, to be sure.

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22 February 2005

Colson on the 'religious left'

Although I was less than enthusiastic last year about Chuck Colson using his daily Breakpoint commentaries in so overtly partisan a fashion, I agree with him here: "Moral Equivalency: The Religious Left Gets It Wrong." Not all political issues are equal, and some may be more foundational than others. At the same time, I do wonder. If those of us who are pro-life were to succeed in enacting a law that would in some measure protect the unborn while not offering as much protection as we might like, do we still hammer away on this one issue while allowing other issues to take the back burner? Or do we accept that this may be the best that can be hoped for at present and move on? Just a question.

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Photos from Ottawa



The following photos were taken during my visit to Ottawa on 10-12 February. As can be seen, there was little activity in and around the Parliament buildings, as it was early saturday morning and the temperatures were quite cold.



Centre Block with Peace Tower, Parliament Hill




Centre Block, seen from rear;
Parliamentary Library (far right), under wraps for repair




East Block, with Chateau Laurier in background




West Block




Supreme Court Building

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Sick man of Europe?

Robert L. Pollock wonders aloud how a country which Russian Tsar Nicholas I once labelled the sick man of Europe can possibly be courted by the European Union. Can a country where serious people believe outrageous conspiracy theories and indulge in antisemitic musings really be part of Europe?

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21 February 2005

Photo added

I've added a photograph to the birth announcement below.

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20 February 2005

Orthodox Christian notes

  • Like the Catholic Church in the US in recent years, the Church of Greece is currently embroiled in scandal. Nevertheless, this has not stopped converts from joining the Orthodox Church elsewhere. Some do so for the sense of belonging that comes with being a member of a close-knit ethnic community. Others convert for confessional and ecclesiological reasons.

  • Here is a journal, Foma (Thomas), which styles itself "An Orthodox Journal for Doubting Thomases." It appears to be published in Russia and has a number of English-language articles about the Orthodox Christian experience around the world. Included is a short story, "Byzantium in a Gas Station," about a young Orthodox seminarian who successfully converts a young couple despite his own arrogance and pedantry. Another compelling article relates what it was like to be an ethnically Jewish parishioner of the late Fr. Alexander Men in the 1970s under the Soviet régime.

  • Those interested in liturgical matters might wish to explore the vast resources at Liturgia.ru.

  • While you're at it, check out Road to Emmaus, An Orthodox Journal of Faith and Culture. Orthodoxy, it seems, is alive and well, and it is even growing in some places, both in numbers and in depth of commitment.
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    The limits of American unilateralism

    I have written before about the Project for the New American Century, the only conspiracy of which I am aware that has its own website. Led by William Kristol, it is the brains behind the Bush presidency's foreign policy. Last month the PNAC issued a statement calling on the United States Congress to increase the size of active military personnel. While the draft is not mentioned in so many words, one senses that the sort of interventionist policy favoured by PNAC will eventually require this. The statement is supported by a group of neoconservatives and liberal hawks and thus straddles partisan lines. Indeed, the US armed forces are becoming more aggressive in seeking recruits, and it may be only a matter of time before conscription is imposed. When and if that happens, it is not difficult to predict that domestic public support for Bush's unilateralism will collapse, echoing developments of four decades ago. In short, what we may be witnessing is the beginning of the end of the current foreign policy régime in the US. What is the alternative? Perhaps strengthening international institutions, including a rebalancing of NATO.

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    19 February 2005

    A winter capital for Canada?

    Ordinarily we think of a country having a single capital city containing all the institutions of government all the time, including the chief executive office, the administrative departments and agencies, parliamentary bodies and the courts. But some countries have more than one capital, with the various political institutions distributed between them. Others, such as the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, have a winter capital (Jammu) and a summer capital (Srinagar). Furthermore, at least one country's capital was located outside its own territory. Prior to attaining its independence in 1966, Botswana was known as the British Bechuanaland Protectorate. The administrative capital of Bechuanaland was the city of Mafeking, which was, somewhat anomalously, located within the territory of South Africa's Cape Province. (Historians will recall that Mafeking was the site of a famous siege during the Anglo-Boer War.)

    This causes me to wonder whether Canada too ought to have winter and summer capital cities. Having just come from Ottawa last weekend, I can think of no better place for a summer capital. But as a winter capital Ottawa is, well, pretty damned cold. So here's my proposal. Move the federal government, from November through May, to the Turks and Caicos Islands. To be sure, this British dependency is outside our borders. At least for now. However, there has long been talk of the islands joining Canada outright, and last year the government of Nova Scotia offered to allow the islands to join that province. Why not move our capital there during the winter months? All in favour. . . .


    Ocean Beach Hotel

    Canada's winter capital?

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    Spring in the air?

    Apparently I am not the only one seeing increasing numbers of geese flying north. One hopes this is a sign that our winter will be a short one.

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    18 February 2005

    New baby born

    Congratulations are due to Robyn and Rick Cotta on the birth of their first child, a daughter, named Ingrid Alice. She was born this morning, weighing 6 lbs. 10 oz. in Beverly, Massachusetts. Robyn is the daughter of my younger sister, Cynthea, who is now a grandmother. I myself am now thus a grand-uncle and my parents great-grandparents. Another generation has begun.



    My grandniece Ingrid

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    First time in Canada

    Readers of this blog know that I was born and raised in the Chicago area. After leaving home thirty-some years ago I lived in more than one place in the course of pursuing higher education. The one constant is that I have always lived close to the Great Lakes, which have come to define what I consider to be my homeland -- a homeland which just happens to straddle the boundary between two countries.

    I visited Canada for the first time in October 1967, at the tender age of 12. Our family made the long drive to Montréal, with nine people (!) packed into a Buick Electra, to visit Expo 67, the world's fair which would close in 21 days.


    Jeffrey Stanton


    At the time, it seemed to me that the differences between the United States and Canada were more pronounced and obvious than they are now. Even street signs were different, as these were the days before the adoption of internationally standardized street and road signs. Canada had not yet gone metric, and we still had one- and two-dollar bills, special editions of which were printed to mark the centennial. Here is a passage from the incomplete journal I kept of our trip, dated "1967 OCT. 6":

    When we entered Detroit we were all very excited, for we knew we would be entering Canada very shortly. When we were about to go into Windsor we went through a tunnel under the Detroit River. . . . I saw that Detroit and Windsor had a little of U.S. and Canada in each. [?] The streets of Windsor were lined with province seals and centenial [sic] flags.

    On we drove. Everyone was getting tired and hungry. We stopped at this store called Met and had something to eat at their snack shop. Everything in this store was truly Canadian and so were the words: centre, neighbour, theatre, etc. They had some tote bags for carying suvenirs [sic] in. I bought a expo67 tote bag. (We got our money exchanged for Canadian).

    The trip was not entirely successful, and it narrowly missed being an unmitigated fiasco. For some reason our parents were not in the habit of reserving rooms in advance, so we were not always able to find places to stay immediately upon arriving, especially when we got to Montréal itself. Moreover, we hadn't anticipated that our visit would coincide with Canada's Thanksgiving weekend. This meant that the fair was more crowded than usual as visitors were taking advantage of the last holiday before its closure. We wandered around for two days, riding the minirail a few times but visiting no pavillions, the lines for which were too daunting. After that we turned around and drove home.

    One thing did come from our visit, however. Jacqueline Kennedy was visiting Expo at the same time, and my father succeeded in taking home-movies of her. She was wearing a red dress and sunglasses, despite the overcast day. She was surrounded by secret service men. This was not quite four years after her late husband's assassination and two years before she married Aristotle Onassis.

    Little did I know at the time that I would one day be living and working in this country, which I have come to consider my own in virtually every way.

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    The politics of utopia

    Gideon Strauss is at it again. He has once again entertained his readers by setting forth the contours of his own personal utopia. As a neocalvinist with antirevolutionary roots, I myself have never been fond of efforts to establish utopias, especially by political means. They too often lead to the GULag. That said, I imagine that if Gideon's aspirations were ever to produce a GULag, it would be a most urbane and civilized place, complete with wine and cheese parties for the inmates.

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    17 February 2005

    State consolidation in Russia

    Many of us in the west have been highly critical of President Vladimir Putin's efforts to attenuate the federal character of Russia's political system. It appears to us that he is retrenching on the democratic reforms of the 1990s and reverting to the old autocratic ways of his communist and tsarist predecessors. However, Fiona Hill, writing for Transitions Online, puts a different spin on this in "Putin's Federal Dilemmas." Putin's actions must be seen in the context of the corruption of the 1990s and the more recent terrorist attacks, culminating in last year's horrific bloodbath in Beslan.
    Putin and other Kremlin officials saw all this as a product of the 1990s. For them, the 1990s were not years of emerging political pluralism—as they are generally viewed in the West—but a decade of chaos. From their perspective, regional leaders took President Boris Yeltsin’s famous exhortation to “take as much sovereignty as you can swallow” as a signal to create their own fiefdoms. These leaders defied Moscow, produced a myriad of new regional regulations, and both reduced and diverted revenue flows away from the federal government and into their own coffers. Electoral politics in the regions became irremediably corrupt as local mafias and business interests emerged as the primary backers of gubernatorial candidates and their campaigns. They called the shots in elections, not local publics, and not even Moscow.

    From Putin’s point of view, decentralization under Yeltsin served to fragment the Federation and encouraged the kind of moves toward regional separatism that Chechnya embodied in its worst form. In his opinion, the self-interest of corrupt local elites, in Chechnya and elsewhere, came to replace the purported principles of self-determination that had led to the creation of Russia’s federal system in the Soviet period. Putin and those around him became increasingly frustrated at the growth of regional problems and disparities and at their inability to exert control over key parts of the Federation. As a result, the Kremlin became convinced that restoring Moscow’s firm grip over Russia’s regions was necessary to preserve national unity and public security from the twin threats of secessionism and terrorism. This conviction was bolstered by the tragedy of Beslan and the inability of local authorities to either prevent or respond to the attack.

    Hill's observations should be taken as a reminder that effective constitutional democracy and federalism require a consolidated state apparatus as a necessary precondition. Where the state's public authority has been hijacked by localized private concentrations of power, the divinely appointed task of doing public justice will inevitably be compromised. Such a condition should not be confused with genuine federalism. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has argued in the past that some form of autocratic rule will likely be necessary at the top while the Russian people are learning democracy at the local levels. I can't say what Solzhenitsyn thinks of Putin, but the latter's actions may confirm his prediction.

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    Improving your sight-reading skills

    While we're locating new websites, here is a guide to The Basics of Byzantine Music Notation in pdf format. To those for whom Byzantine music is an entirely new experience, here is an article on the subject. Perhaps those of us who are singers with further interest should consider forming a small choral ensemble devoted to the classics of the Byzantine repertoire.

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    Neocalvinist website found

    Here is a website which I have only just discovered and which may be of interest to readers of this blog: All of Life Redeemed: Christian Philosophy for All of Life, maintained by Steve Bishop. How long it has been posted I cannot determine.

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    16 February 2005

    Mixed news from greater middle east

    In the first half of the 20th century, it must have seemed that Europe was the world's trouble spot, its internal rivalries twice dragging the globe into general warfare. Over the past 60 years, however, it appears that the Middle East and surrounding regions have generated the most conflicts. Many of these have occurred along Samuel Huntington's famous civilizational fault lines, where historic religions clash. Yet today the news is mixed. Now that Yassir Arafat is out of the way, new peace overtures are being initiated by Israelis and Palestinians. Israel is moving to dismantle some of the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and to release 500 Palestinian prisoners. In the meantime Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is vowing to end the violence in these territories.

    North of the border in Lebanon, however, there are tensions caused by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and many are blaming Syria, which is technically only Lebanon's neighbour, but is actually an occupying power. No one wishes to see a return to the conditions of civil war, which prevailed in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990.

    On the other side of the Fertile Crescent, the Iraqi people voted in their first democratic election in half a century, and the results have finally come in. For those used to the red/blue maps of the United States following last November's presidential election, Patrick Ruffini has put together a similar map showing the geographic distribution of support for the principal political parties in Iraq.

    Yet although democracy may be a beautiful thing, as Ruffini puts it, it is far from certain that constitutional government will take root in that war-torn country. Furthermore, the new CIA director, Peter Goss, has told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the war in Iraq has given terrorists contacts and experience in the arts of insurgency and increased the likelihood of another attempted attack on the US.

    Moving further east, the cautious rapprochement between India and Pakistan continues as plans are afoot for bus service connecting the two capitals of the divided province of Kashmir. Any effort to diminish tensions between the two south Asian nuclear powers is, of course, welcome.

    So the news is indeed mixed. There is cause for concern, but there is also reason to take heart.

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    What? No hockey?

    Canada is in mourning today.

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    15 February 2005

    National flag day

    Forty years ago today Canada adopted its current flag.



    Four decades after this historic event, there are still some people who persist in believing that the old Red Ensign (not to be confused with the provincial flags of Ontario and Manitoba) is the real Canadian flag. For those interested, I have written before on the subject of Canada's flags.

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    Ottawa consultation

    This past weekend I was in Ottawa for a consultation on religious freedom sponsored by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. It was organized by Janet Epp Buckingham, who spoke at Redeemer's graduation last May. We met at Trinity Western University's Laurentian Leadership Centre, a beautiful old building built in 1909 and used for many years by the now defunct Laurentian Club. Representatives of Trinity Western, the EFC, the Salvation Army, the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools and Redeemer (of course) were in attendance. Discussions revolved around the institutional manifestations of religious freedom, a principle generally interpreted in narrowly individualistic fashion in Canadian jurisprudence. A plurality of people present were lawyers by profession or had at least some legal training. There was one journalist and one seminary student. Two academic political theorists were in attendence, including yours truly. The first evening three of us set forth the way our own christian traditions have historically related Christianity to politics. John von Heyking, of the University of Lethbridge, described the Lutheran approach. I recounted the Reformed Calvinist perspective. Buckingham defended an Anabaptist/Baptist viewpoint.

    Easily the high point of the weekend was a visit to the home of my dear friends, Eric and Bertina Hogeterp and their two young sons. Eric is a 1993 graduate of Redeemer, where he majored in (what else?) political science. He is now research assistant for Rob Merrifield, member of Parliament for Yellowhead in Alberta. After dinner, Eric took me to visit his office in the old Justice Building.


    Government of Canada


    The following morning I took a long walk around the buildings on Parliament Hill and through the adjacent neighbourhoods to the south. While strolling, I saw the embassies of Iran, Hungary, Nigeria, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and the British High Commission. The Iranian embassy is right across from the Laurentian Centre.

    Then back to the train station and home to Hamilton.

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    Coren converts

    This is old news, but I somehow managed to miss it at the time. The British-born Canadian journalist and author, Michael Coren, who has been consorting with evangelicals for some time now, returned to the Roman Catholic Church last year. May we expect him to write his own version of Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua to recount his spiritual pilgrimage?

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    14 February 2005

    Tribute to a once and future neocalvinist

    Four days ago a rather remarkable lady, Mrs. Clara DeSchiffart, celebrated the centenary of her birth. She is part of the first generations of neocalvinists in the Netherlands, and her life overlapped that of Abraham Kuyper himself by 15 years. The following brief (and slightly edited) account of her life and times was written by her devoted great-grandson, Brian Dijkema.

    Clara DeSchiffart (née Reitsma) was born on February 10, 1905, in a small Frisian town called Schraad. Her father and mother were typical Frisians who worked a small dairy farm. The farm was typically Dutch in that it had the barn attached to the house, and it is to this that our family attributes the cleanliness of my great-grandparents' barn when they began farming in Canada. After all, if your barn is attached to your house, you better keep it neat! My great-grandmother was one of 13 siblings. Granny was alive when Abraham Kuyper was alive -- and yes, that does make her quite old! The fact that her family was Reformed, Frisian and farmers also makes it quite likely that they were readers of Kuyper's newspapers and without a doubt supporters of the Anti-Revolutionary Party. In fact, I know the latter to be true, because Granny said that she always voted for the Reformed parties. (No, not the distant seed of Preston Manning's brainchild.)

    Granny married Gerrit DeSchiffart during a hailstorm in 1928. In fact, it was not the best of days for her because she was quite ill with malaria, and immediately after the wedding ceremony, she went back to her parents' house to sleep. There were no first-night fireworks for the DeSchiffarts! However, that is not to say that their relationship didn't bear fruit. Granny and Grandpa were happily married for over 65 years before he passed away. I still remember how affectionate they were with one another even after 65 years! Grandpa would never shy from giving Granny a kiss. They had four children, 23 grandchildren, 80 great-grandchildren, and just recently, Granny has been blessed with a great-great-grandchild. Every one of us loves her.

    Praise God for the life and testimony of this devoted servant of his kingdom over the course of 100 years.

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    13 February 2005

    Mid-February notes

  • Who was it that said that existentialism is yesterday's postmodernism?

  • Local rumours to the contrary notwithstanding, Hamilton Mountain is not an extinct volcano.

  • What would a Calvinistic ordinary of the mass look like? Would question and answer 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism necessarily preclude such a thing?

  • Taking the train between Toronto and Ottawa is a most pleasant way to travel. . . unless you are in the last car, whose movements are then likely to rival the effects of turbulence in the air.

  • Commonwealth countries do not send ambassadors to Canada; they send high commissioners. This is a vestige of the time when residents of Commonwealth countries enjoyed a single citizenship and were thus not technically foreign to each other.

  • Why did the Great Litany find its way into Roman, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican traditions, but not into the Reformed?

  • For the same reason that Commonwealth countries send high commissioners to each other, Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs was once known as the Department of External Affairs.

  • Does anyone ever really ask the questions contained in an FAQ page and, if so, how frequently?

  • Might congregational church polity simply be Lockean liberalism applied to the institutional church?

  • Camilla Parker Bowles is not only great-granddaughter of Alice Keppel, mistress to King Edward VII; she is also 3rd great-granddaughter of Sir Allan Napier MacNab, whose palatial home, Dundurn Castle, is one of the local landmarks here in Hamilton.

  • Today is the first sunday in Lent.
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    Royal nuptials forthcoming


    BBC


    Will this happy couple be our next king and queen? Perhaps.

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    Two calendars, two Easters

    When I was growing up we celebrated Easter twice, first western Easter, which is calculated according to the Gregorian calendar, and then "Greek Easter," which is calculated according to the Julian calendar. Greek Easter would see us celebrating with a large meal at my aunt and uncle's home. Usually the two days are a week or two apart. Last year they fell on the same date. This year there are fully five weeks separating the two holidays, as western Easter falls on 27 March and Orthodox Easter on 1 May. Here are two websites, the first listing the two dates for the years 1997 through 2205, and the second listing the dates for Orthodox Easter from 1875 to 2124, in Julian and Gregorian calendars.

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    10 February 2005

    Smallest premie released from hospital

    This is the sort of story that easily resonates with Nancy and me, who are also parents of a premie: "'World's smallest baby' goes home." Like our Theresa, little Rumaisa was also born at 26 weeks. But whereas Theresa was 2 lb. 1 oz. at birth, Rumaisa was 8.6 oz. She is thus apparently the smallest surviving premature infant ever. Theresa was just over 10 weeks in hospital, while Rumaisa spent nearly six months there. May God grant her parents strength as they care for their child, who will still require "round-the-clock oxygen," among other things.

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    09 February 2005

    Ash Wednesday


    St. George's-By-The-River


    Today marks the beginning of Lent in the western church. Given the penitential character of the season, most lectionaries appoint Psalm 51 to be sung today. Here is my own versification of the psalm, set to be sung to the Genevan tune.

    O gracious God, be merciful to me,
    according to your love that lasts for ever.
    In your compassion you have failed me never;
    now blot out every foul iniquity.
    For well aware am I of my great shame;
    these evil deeds upon my heart are weighing.
    Thus have I erred and now deserve your blame,
    since your commands I have not been obeying.

    Your righteous judgement I have surely earned,
    nor could I hope to flee your harshest sentence.
    Guilty from birth and needful of repentance,
    I to my sins have constantly returned.
    Yet you desire that I your truth should know;
    teach me your wisdom that I may live rightly.
    Make me as pure as freshly fallen snow,
    cleanse me with hyssop that I may shine brightly.

    Fill me with joy and gladness once again,
    let all these bones sing forth in jubilation.
    Look not upon the deeds of my transgression,
    but rather cancel out my debt of sin.
    Create in me a heart of purity,
    breathe into me a new and constant spirit.
    Do not deprive me of your company,
    nor in your wrath withdraw your holy Spirit.

    Restore to me salvation's joyfulness,
    uphold in me a heart willing to serve you.
    So shall I teach transgressors to revere you,
    that they might once more know your faithfulness.
    Save me from death, O God--this is my plea--
    and in your goodness I shall be rejoicing.
    Open my lips, O Lord, that thankfully
    your godly praise my mouth may soon be voicing.

    You do not ask for pointless sacrifice;
    nor would you that I offer such a token.
    My gift is this: a spirit that is broken.
    The contrite heart, O God, you'll not despise.
    Prosper your people with your bounteous grace,
    rebuild the walls around your holy city,
    that we may offer you before your face
    right sacrifice, as is our proper duty.

    Text and arrangement copyright © 2001 by David T. Koyzis

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    08 February 2005

    Roemer drops out

    The pro-life former Indiana congressman, Tim Roemer, has quit the race for the chair of the Democratic National Committee, which will almost certainly be led by past presidential aspirant Howard Dean. Says Roemer:

    "First and foremost, Americans don't trust Democrats to keep them safe and secure," Roemer said. "I am also deeply concerned that our proud history as the party of inclusion is in jeopardy. We are losing ground with some of our core constituencies on values and faith issues. If we do not have a serious conversation within our party about how to reach out to those who are leaving us, we will be doomed to minority party status."

    The Party is scheduled to reaffirm its minority status at the weekend by electing Dean, now unopposed, as its new chair.

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    07 February 2005

    Dispensationalism and the Left Behind books

    Thus far I believe I have written about dispensationalism only once in this blog. It's not something I spend a lot of time thinking or talking about, except very occasionally to indicate that I myself am not an adherent. However, as the Texas überblogger, Joe Carter, has recently mentioned the Left Behind phenomenon, I will take another opportunity to comment on it.

    First, during my youthful sojourn amongst the Baptists (mentioned immediately below), one of the authors, Jerry B. Jenkins, was apparently a member of the same congregation that our family was attending in Wheaton, Illinois. I myself do not remember him, but my mother insists that he taught sunday school to my brother. I'll take her word for it.

    Second, Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth was published in 1970, when I was 15 years old. I read the book and was mesmerized by its predictions for the future, finding it at least temporarily persuasive. I began to consume similar books, including, as I recall, one by Tim LaHaye, who has obviously been around for a long time. I noticed immediately that LaHaye's and Lindsey's apocalyptic scenarios did not quite mesh, though both claimed to be taking the Bible literally. My own efforts to reconcile them didn't work either, however hard I tried.

    The following year Ken Taylor's Living Bible came out, and I read it from cover to cover. I have reason to think that Taylor himself, who once visited our family home when I was in high school, is a dispensationalist. All the same, as I read his paraphrase of scripture, I failed to see what Lindsey and LaHaye claimed to find. At that point I abandoned my youthful flirtation with this somewhat eccentric, but immensely popular, system of biblical interpretation.

    As for the Left Behind books themselves, I freely admit that I have not read them, so I will not comment on them directly, except to say that, from what I do know of them, they sound like a bad idea all round. Perhaps someone needs to write apocalyptic novels from an amillennial perspective, but my guess is that they are likely to be far less exciting and thus less lucrative for the authors. Moving beyond the novel genre, I myself will recommend an old classic, Augustine's City of God, whose vision of history and its ultimate consummation has stood the test of time and is still being read after a millennium and a half.

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    The Baptists and soul competency

    Although I was raised Presbyterian, I spent my youth worshipping with the Baptists. During that time I don't recall ever coming into contact with the notion of soul competency, a doctrine which appears to be one of the Baptist distinctives. Here is how the Southern Baptist Convention's website defines it:

    We affirm soul competency, the accountability of each person before God. Your family cannot save you. Neither can your church. It comes down to you and God. Authorities can't force belief or unbelief. They shouldn't try.

    There is a more in-depth explanation of soul competency in C. B. Hastings' Introducing the Southern Baptists. This somewhat exaggerated emphasis on the individual's relationship to God seems to me to have two significant negative implications.

    First, if something like soul competency had been present in the early centuries of the church, it would have made it impossible for the church as a corporate institution, among other things, to recognize authoritatively the canon of scripture, to address the Arian and other heresies, and to pronounce on the christological doctrines that we have come to accept as part of the legacy of the early ecumenical councils. Baptists, in so far as they are orthodox Christians, appear to accept this larger legacy, but not the institutional means by which it was achieved. Yet it is difficult to envision the Apostle Paul refraining from exhorting the Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, &c., on the grounds that he was interfering with their soul competency. Similarly, it is not difficult to imagine the response of the bearers of the decision of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) if their hearers had had the temerity to claim exemption based on soul competency.

    Second, it would seem to make the institutional church into a mere voluntary association of like-minded believers whose individual consciences have led them to similar conclusions. The pain of schism and of churches out of communion with each other is played down as nothing more offensive than the tendency of fallible human beings to disagree with each other. (There is some of this reasoning in the Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck, who should have known better.) Moreover, the institutional church, rather than teaching authoritatively and disciplining its members in true faith, takes its place alongside "sports clubs, friendly societies, colleges, symphony subscription-guilds, political parties and so on," as one more voluntary association from which withdrawal poses no "grave or irremediable loss," as Oliver O'Donovan puts it.

    At the same time, there is much to like about Baptists. In my experience, Baptists have a genuine zeal for the scriptures and for evangelization that puts other Christians to shame. Here in Hamilton, the Baptist churches appear to be bursting at the seams. The same can hardly be said of the Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches. (It can be said of the Catholics, however.) The very emphasis on the individual believer's status before God encourages in Baptists a holy concern to exert themselves in the cultivation of personal piety and the spread of the gospel. Would that other Christians with more corporate ecclesiologies might learn from their Baptist brethren in this.

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    06 February 2005

    Evans on Kierkegaard

    Does God command us to do good works because they are good? Or does he command them because he decrees them to be good? If the former is true, then the good would seem to be antecedent to and independent of God, who thus becomes less than God. If the latter is true, he would seem to be arbitrary. This is the dilemma which Baylor University's C. Stephen Evans brought before a faculty and student audience late friday afternoon and into the evening. Evans has recently written a book, Kierkegaard's Ethic of Love: Divine Commands and Moral Obligations, published last year by Oxford. Drawing on this book, Evans lucidly explicated the thought of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, as found primarily in his Works of Love.

    Kierkegaard follows a divine command ethic which sees God's command to love our neighbours standing at the origin of our activities as human beings created in his image. This is in contrast to the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr, who sees love and justice standing in dialectical relationship to each other. It is also in contrast to John Rawls, who anchors ethics in the flimsy foundation of mutual contract.

    But can love be commanded? Contemporary opinion says no, as love is considered not genuine if forced. Isn't love spontaneous? This is perhaps true of the preferential love which spawns friendship and erotic attraction. But neighbour love is something different and stands at the origin of all good works. Jesus himself invokes the great commandment calling for love of God and neighbour. Our modern world, whether it comes in the guise of a prechristian paganism, a postchristian secularism or a complacent Christendom, has great difficulty with this notion.

    Somewhat surprisingly, Evans identifies this neighbour love as an emotion. Can a mere emotion be an adequate foundation for ethics? Evans says yes. I disagree. One need hardly follow the Greeks in vilifying the emotions to recognize that neighbour love is much more than this. Love partakes of all the aspects of reality, not only the emotional. In short, love includes the emotions but is not to be identified with them.

    Now I am interested in reading Kierkegaard, whose divine command ethic has obvious relevance for my own work on authority.

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    05 February 2005

    Um, what is it again?

    I think I saw one of these scurrying through the undergrowth in our back garden last summer. Or was it flying south for the winter?


    Joseph Jastrow

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    04 February 2005

    Children of Abraham?

    Abraham is big these days. My wife recently published a scholarly monograph on Abraham traditions in early Judaism. The three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are often referred to collectively as the Abrahamic religions, since their adherents count Abraham as their spiritual forebear. But what if there is more to this connection than is currently supposed? Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, responding to David Klinghoffer’s Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, raises an intriguing possibility:

    Scholars generally agree that in the first century there were approximately six million Jews in the Roman Empire (for some reason, Klinghoffer says five million). That was about one tenth of the entire population. About one million were in Palestine, including today’s State of Israel, while those in the diaspora were very much part of the establishment in cities such as Alexandria and Constantinople. At one point Klinghoffer acknowledges that, during the life of Jesus, only a minuscule minority of Jews either accepted or rejected Jesus, for the simple reason that most Jews had not heard of him. Some scholars have noted that, by the fourth or fifth century, there were only a few hundred thousand, at most a million, people who identified themselves as Jews. What happened to the millions of others? The most likely answer, it is suggested, is that they became Christians.

    If Neuhaus is correct, and given the apparent implications of statistical genealogy, there would seem to be a good possibility that most Christians -- at least those in the middle east and in the west with longstanding christian roots -- are, quite literally and biologically, children of Abraham. One can only imagine what impact this knowledge might have on Jewish-Christian relations.


    Mother of God Church


    Later: Here are population statistics from Jeff Malka's Sephardic Genealogical Resources:

    Jews in Roman Empire:

    25% of Roman population in Eastern Mediterranean

    10% of entire Roman Empire

    48 C.E. Roman census: 7 million Jews (mostly in Judea, Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, Babylon, Iran, Yemen and Ethiopia) for an estimated total of 8 million world wide.


    Malka's total population figures differ with Neuhaus' sources by one million, but both appear to agree that Jews constituted one-tenth of the Roman Empire's population, which I admit comes as a surprise to me. That Jews made up fully one-quarter of the population in the eastern Empire is even more remarkable. Of course, Iran, Yemen and Ethiopia were not part of the Empire, and "Babylon" (Mesopotamia) was only briefly within its boundaries.

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    03 February 2005

    Ted Kennedy pro-life?

    The following would appear to be a statement written by a typical pro-lifer:

    While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized—the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.

    Could Senator Edward M. Kennedy really have written these words to a constituent some three decades ago? So reports William McGurn. One wonders what would happen if a pro-life Republican president were to put this quote in his state of the union address.

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    Turkish model for Palestine?

    Visiting Ankara, the new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas states that his people see Turkey "as a model on the way to democracy." Well, I suppose if you're in Iqaluit, Toronto must look like the tropics.

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    01 February 2005

    Homeschooling, parenthood and differentiated responsibilities

    Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley writes of one of the advantages of homeschooling, which is a growing phenomenon south of the border:

    Activities like homeschooling can help us to see being a wife and mother as what is: a calling, not a dead end. Our efforts yield tangible, as well as intangible, results. This is part of the reason that, as of 2003, more than 1.1 million children were being educated at home—an increase of 30 percent in only four years. Homeschoolers score higher on tests, and they take academic honors—like the Patrick Henry College students, all homeschooled, who recently beat a team from Oxford University in an international debate competition.

    To which I say, yes, but. . . .

    Where do the fathers fit in? It is certainly true that motherhood requires more hands-on care of children, especially in the early years. Yet fatherhood is also a calling which needs to be cultivated in deliberate fashion. Fathers need to be involved in their children's, and especially their sons', education. To be sure, it may not be possible, because of work responsibilities, for fathers to play as large a role as mothers in this, but they should be involved somehow and to as great an extent as possible.

    Furthermore, one ought not assume that being a wife and mother exhaustively defines a woman's responsibilities in God's world. Here is James W. Skillen from his recent In Pursuit of Justice:

    One of the important fruits of social differentiation and public-legal integration is that people can exercise many different resonsibilities all at the same time. Less differentiated societies often have fixed and relatively few roles for individuals. It has been possible in different societies at different points in history to think in terms of permanent classes and gender roles. Yet even with a high view of marriage as a life-long, intimate bond and of family as the most fundamental of social relationships, one can see that the marital and family roles do not exhaustively define women any more than they exhaustively define men. With changes in employment patterns, social attitudes, and public laws, it becomes possible within relatively well-balanced, differentiated societies for women as well as men to enter into marriage and build strong families while also developing a diverse range of talents and fulfilling diverse responsibilities outside the home (pp. 39-40).

    If Earley were to recognize this, he might take a somewhat different approach to the larger issue of women's roles in and out of the home.

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    Roman and Greek numerals

    Those who have difficulty reading Roman numerals will likely appreciate Bob Baird on "Countdown to XXXIX," in which he discusses the big change forthcoming in the numbering of Superbowl football games after this year. (Hint: an "L" is coming to join all the Vs, Is and Xs.) If people have trouble with Roman numerals, virtually everyone -- even a Byzantine-rite Calvinist -- finds it difficult to make sense of Greek numerals, which are used rarely in the west and even in the Greek-speaking world. I have several Greek Bibles in my personal library using this numbering system, but, apart from these, its use is obviously not widespread nowadays.

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