Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 January 2006

Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)

The widow of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, who became a civil rights leader in her own right, is dead at age 78. In 1987, Scott King received an honorary doctorate from the University of Notre Dame, in the same ceremony which saw an earned doctorate conferred upon a soon-to-be Upper Canadian assistant professor of political science. David Rockefeller and former first lady Rosalind Carter also received honorary doctorates on the same occasion.

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Worth reading. . .

. . . is this thoughtful analysis of last week's federal election by Ray Pennings and Michael Van Pelt: Replacing the Pan-Canadian consensus. Incidentally, their soon to be former colleague, David Sweet, is now the Member of Parliament for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.

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29 January 2006

Antipodean sojourn III: the skies and seasons

One of the obvious benefits of visiting Australia in January is that it’s summer in the southern hemisphere. One need hardly emphasize that anyone facing the prospect of a long Canadian winter would jump at the opportunity for even a brief respite from the ice and snow, as well as from the long nights and short days. In recent years I’ve discovered that I seem to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is worst right before Christmas and then slowly improves over the following months. As I do not require a lot of sleep, I was quite happy, during my Melbourne visit, to wake up with the sun around 5.30 in the morning – with the help of the kookaburra, of course. My first and last nights were spent at the Holiday Inn at the airport, where my rooms faced east. This accorded me a breathtaking view of sunrise.

Somewhat to my surprise, being in the southern hemisphere played havoc with my sense of direction, which is usually quite good. When Ken Dickens and I drove into the city on Wednesday afternoon, I acted as navigator and kept a map open as we tried to find our way to the state parliament building on Spring Street. Unfortunately, my sense of direction often failed me, due, I am forced to conclude, to the sun being in the “wrong” part of the sky! I am generally not aware of taking my bearings from the sun, but I suppose I must do so on at least a subconscious level. I did get used to it eventually, but at first it was mildly disorienting.

The Australian flag, with Southern Cross (Source: CIA)
The sun didn’t set until about 9.30 pm. Although I love the long days, I did not spurn the darkness. In fact, after sunset I deliberately walked into the grassy area to the north of Glenn College to view the night sky. Wanting to pack as much as possible into my visit, I had brought along a 36-year-old foldup National Geographic map of the heavens, showing sky charts for the 12 months and for each hemisphere. Never having seen the southern hemispheric constellations, I looked forward to taking these in for the first time. The first night was somewhat cloudy, so I had some difficulty identifying all but the major stars – except for those of Orion, which is visible in the northern hemisphere as well and is sufficiently distinctive to make it easily recognizable. The second night was clear, so I went out again with my sky charts and was quickly able to locate the famous Southern Cross, which adorns the flags of Australia and New Zealand, as well as those of Papua New Guinea, Christmas Island, the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales, and the Northern and Capital Territories. I was able to identify this constellation by its relationship to Alpha and Beta Centauri, which point to it. (As some may know, Alpha Centauri is a three-star system, one of whose members, Proxima Centauri, is closest of all the stars to our solar system, at a “mere” 4.22 light years away.) Unfortunately, because of the artificial light on campus, I could make out only the three brightest stars of the cross.

Orion as emu (Source: NASA/ABC Science Online)
In the northern sky is Orion, which appears “upside down” relative to its position as seen in the northern hemisphere. One of the conference participants gave me an amusing account of an aboriginal interpretation of this inverted constellation. It seems that the scabbard hanging from Orion’s belt was deemed by some aboriginal communities to be a phallus pointing upwards. Its bearer, Nirunja, was seen to be chasing the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) with evident amorous intent. One assumes this piece of native folklore isn’t covered in school astronomy units until the upper grades! I understand that other aboriginal Australians view Orion as an emu, which is probably more suitable for the younger pupils.

Back to the daylight hours. I was told that Australians tend to suffer from skin cancer at higher rates than people in other western countries, due, of course, to prolonged exposure to the sun. Therefore, many Australians wear hats, including the famous Akubra hat, which has attained something approaching iconic status in that country. I myself would like to have acquired one of these – or at least a near imitation. However, as I found them priced at a level too high for my comfort, I decided to forego the privilege.

Ever since John F. Kennedy popularized the bare-headed look in the early 1960s, few North American men wear hats anymore. I suppose I’m the exception to this nearly half-century-old fashion trend. Indeed, people tend to know me by my hats, which change with the seasons and take up far too much space at the top of our front closet. Here in Canada, of course, the motivating factor is not so much the sun as the cold. To be sure, some think I’m making a fashion statement, but I actually get sick less frequently than I used to in my younger days before donning the chapeau. Probably the only thing that would keep me healthier would be to spend our winter months in – well, Australia.

Next: Antipodean sojourn IV: Australians.

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Two thumbs (mostly) up

Is it possible to be New Age and pro-life at the same time? Go rent Just Like Heaven and see for yourself. Sure, there are holes in the plot, but it manages to work all the same. And it raises doubts about the living will.

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27 January 2006

Antipodean sojourn II: the natural environment

The first thing to strike me about Australia was its relative aridity as compared to the parts of North America with which I am most familiar. Even from the air one can see the brownness of the grass below. Australia as a whole is fairly dry, with much of its interior – the famous outback – occupied by desert conditions. There is no lengthy river system, such as the Mississippi-Missouri, flowing through the heart of the country. As a consequence, the most fertile and arable parts of Australia lie in the southeastern corner, which, not incidentally, contains most of its 20 million people. This has political ramifications insofar as the two most populous states of New South Wales and Victoria tend to dominate the political process, much as Ontario and Québec do here in Canada.

La Trobe's 'ugly' campus
The second thing to note about the country is the beauty of its natural environment. For most of my visit I stayed at Glenn College on the campus of La Trobe University near Melbourne. Although some of the conference participants thought the campus ugly, I found it to be an incomparably lovely setting. (Perhaps Australians are so spoilt by the beauty of their own country that anything only moderately beautiful seems ugly in comparison.) Indeed many, if not most, of the photographs I took were of the exotic (by southern Ontario standards) flora and fauna inhabiting the land. A small stream wends it way through part of the grounds, and I loved to walk along its banks between Glenn College and Union Hall, where much of the conference took place. My best photographs were taken here.

A purple swamphen
Every morning I was awoken by the loud laughing sound of the kookaburra and the screech of the cockatoo – sounds that most North Americans would tend to associate with the jungle. I didn't get close enough to either of these creatures to photograph it, but at one point, while I was walking by the stream, I found myself only a metre away from a purple swamphen, which can be seen at right. The most visible of the many birds in the vicinity are the magpies, which are said to have a lovely song, but which, if I did manage to hear it, I failed to connect with this species. Another common bird is a variety of crow whose cry resembles that of a duck.

Kangaroos playfully (?) boxing
My host, Ken Dickens, was kind enough to walk me to a corner of the campus where the local kangaroos tend to congregate shortly before dusk. Sure enough, there they were. We were able to get close enough for me to capture them on camera. Was one of them a mother carrying a joey in its pouch? I couldn't tell from this distance. Needless to say, a mother with offspring would not have welcomed a closer look from us. What about the famous koala? We didn't see any of these. I was told that koalas are rather reclusive and stay up in their trees, uttering a loud grunting sound similar to that of a pig. It would have been a treat to see a platypus, one of the most unusual mammals on earth, but we didn't.

In future posts I will be writing about the climate and the heavens above Australia, the people and their ways, and the political system. Incidentally, yesterday was Australia Day, commemorating the first European settlement of the country in 1788.

Next: Antipodean sojourn III: the skies and seasons.

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26 January 2006

A realistic possibility?

Might David Sweet, Jim Flaherty, Rob Merrifield, Rick Dykstra and others form a christian democratic coalition within the larger Conservative caucus? Might sympathetic Liberals and New Democrats be persuaded to come on side of such a project? Or is this a pipe dream?

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Peace eludes Middle East once more

This is little short of disastrous for Palestinians and Israelis alike: Hamas wins majority in Palestinian parliament. Though there is considerable justice in the Palestinian cause, once again Palestinians themselves have proved to be their own worst enemy.

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25 January 2006

Pope extols God's love

Benedict XVI has published the first encyclical of his papacy, Deus Caritas Est, subtitled "On Christian Love."

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Antipodean sojourn: Transforming education

As promised, here is the first of my accounts of my visit to Australia last week. Slightly more than a year ago I was invited by Richard Edlin to be one of two keynote speakers at the Transforming Education Conference, subtitled "Grounded in Christ... Engaging the Culture." I was given the opportunity to speak on three occasions and on three related topics, the first two of which are immediately related to the subject matter of my book. The first, delivered on wednesday morning, the 17th, was titled "Visions and illusions in politics and life." The second, the following morning, was titled "Liberalism and its alternatives." The third and final address, delivered on friday, was titled "Illusions and vision for education." After each address someone got up to give a reflection on what I had said. One of these was Henry Contant, a fellow Canadian who is Executive Director of the Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia. Late friday morning I also fielded questions from interested conferees in a more informal setting. I found it a most enjoyable experience. My remarks were well received and I had fun engaging people during the break times.


Carolyn Kelshaw and Richard Edlin


The second keynote speaker was Dr. Stuart Fowler, whom I can only describe as the elder statesman of the christian parent controlled school movement, as it is known in Australia. He spoke on friday afternoon and presented something of a history of the movement from its beginnings in 1962, through the granting of substantial government funding a decade later, and up to more recent times. I was favourably impressed by the dedication of the parents and teachers who have spearheaded the movement and lovingly nurtured these schools.


Stuart Fowler


Most of all, I was overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of everyone present. Australians are a most likable people living in a stunningly beautiful country. I'll write further about the people and their country over the next few days.

CPCS and NICE have produced two volumes containing essays related to previous Transforming Education conferences. The first of these, edited by Jill Ireland, Edlin and Ken Dickens, is titled Pointing the way: Directions for Christian education in a new millennium (2004), and contains essays by Fowler, Edlin and others. I was sent a copy of this early last year. The second collection, also edited by Edlin and Ireland (and with a much improved and more readable font), is called Engaging the culture: Christians at work in education, and was just released at last week's conference. I myself will be contributing to a future such volume.

Because Australia is such a huge country, people came, not only from the major urban centres on the south and east coasts, such as Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, but from as far away as Perth and Darwin on the west and north coasts respectively. An equivalent conference here in Canada would draw people from Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver, Yellowknife and Iqaluit. Attending such a gathering seems to be a priority for christian school teachers, who might otherwise find their geographic remoteness from fellow teachers lonely and discouraging. This is good reason to pray for future such conferences – that they might renew and strengthen participants to persevere in their calling, wherever they may be.

Next: Antipodean sojourn II: the natural environment.

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24 January 2006

Harper wins. . . or does he?

After a dozen years in power, the Liberal Party has been defeated, and the Conservatives will form a minority government, with leader Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. With 36.25% of the vote, the Conservatives have won 124 seats, including 10 seats in Québec, where Conservative voters are generally scarce as hen's teeth. Paul Martin's Liberals won but 103 seats, with 30.22% of the vote. Although Martin himself retained his own seat, he has announced his intention to quit as party leader.

The cloud in Harper's silver lining is that the separatist Bloc québécois now holds the balance of power, having won 51 seats and 10.48% of the vote. Will he be able to govern with the help of the Bloc, or is this the beginning of the end of Canadian unity? Jack Layton's New Democrats have 29 seats, with 17.49% of the vote.

A few items of interest:

  • Chris Charlton won my own riding of Hamilton Mountain for the NDP, beating out the Liberals' Bill Kelly.

  • Rob Merrifield held onto Yellowhead in Alberta.

  • David Sweet won the seat for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, thus making a lot of people I know very happy indeed. Sweet has a copy of my book and has read it.

  • Big name Michael Ignatieff, lately the Carr Professor of Human Rights at Harvard, won a seat in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. He has his eyes on Paul Martin's job. But read this about Ignatieff.

  • Olivia Chow won the seat for the NDP in Toronto's Trinity-Spadina riding. She is married to party leader Jack Layton.

  • Political turncoat Belinda Stronach holds on to Newmarket-Aurora for the Liberals.

  • Former Ontario provincial minister of finance Jim Flaherty won the riding of Whitby-Oshawa for the Conservatives. Flaherty was the author of the Equity in Education Tax Credit, which was subsequently undone by Dalton McGuinty's government in 2003.

  • Conservative candidate Rick Dykstra barely edged out the second-place Liberal candidate in St. Catharines. Dykstra is the son-in-law of my Redeemer colleague, Dr. John Vriend.

  • Voter turnout was up, at 64.9%, from an historic low of 60.9% in 2004. It had declined steadily after the historic 1993 election.

  • Here is a downloadable map of Canada showing riding-by-riding results. I found it useful for my Canadian politics class this morning.
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    22 January 2006

    The Antipodes and back

    Yesterday I returned from nearly a week in Australia, where I was a keynote speaker at the Transforming Education Conference at La Trobe University in Melbourne. The conference was co-sponsored by the National Institute for Christian Education (NICE) and Christian Parent Controlled Schools Ltd (CPCS). Over the next several days I will be posting edited entries from the personal journal I kept of this marvellous experience. Watch this space.


    Kangaroos on the
    La Trobe University campus

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    18 January 2006

    Stop the presses

    Stephen Harper has come clean and finally revealed his party's hidden agenda: The Conservatives would govern within the parameters of Canada's constitution. Will he lose votes over this? Stay tuned.

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    14 January 2006

    The party leaders on religion and public life

    The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's periodical, Faith Today, posed this question to the leaders of Canada's political parties: "What role do you think faith should play in developing public policy, and what is the place of religious institutions in contemporary Canadian society?" Their answers are revealing, as is the refusal of some to provide an answer at all. But come now; the editors didn't really think the Marijuana Party would have a position on this, did they?

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    10 January 2006

    Steyn on the west's decline

    Western civilization has arguably been declining for at least two centuries. Could its collapse finally be in sight? If Mark Steyn is correct, it could end with neither a bang nor a whimper: It’s the demography, stupid. Needless to say, Steyn's article has touched a nerve, prompting a number of responses from readers. One of these has pointed to an informative map of global fertility rates.

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    The Notwithstanding Clause

    Paul Martin has gone and done it. In last evening's debate he promised a constitutional Amendment to End Federal Ability to Invoke Notwithstanding Clause. Is this really "the boldest defence of rights and freedoms in Canada since the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982"? Or is it an abdication of responsible government and a concession to American-style judicial supremacy? According to The Potent Pew, Martin himself has not been consistent on this point. Will this new initiative win him more votes? Stay tuned.

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    09 January 2006

    The once and future labour union

    I seem to have missed this article when it first came out two months ago: Labour for the Lord. Definitely a must-read.

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    07 January 2006

    An exception to the Charter's failures?

    Russ Kuykendall presents a persuasive litany of the failures of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He concludes with the suggestion that Section 33, the Notwithstanding Clause, is "the Charter's saving grace." Would that this were so. In truth, the Clause is close to becoming a dead letter, because, outside Québec, our governments are afraid to invoke it.

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    Think beyond Iraq

    Dr. Stanley Carlson-Thies, Director of Social Policy Studies at the Center for Public Justice, writes that the difficulties of bringing just governance to Iraq are not peculiar to that country alone and are not entirely to be blamed on Bush administration miscues. The author sums up his argument:

    States that support terror, and other states so weak that they cannot put terrorists down, demand a response. Notwithstanding theories of sovereignty, nations should not idly stand by when evil doers controlling other governments systematically brutalize and kill their own citizens. Nor, for all the virtues of international cooperation, will the United Nations and international law deserve deference unless they become reliable and effective promoters of justice and security.

    Treating the difficulties of Iraq merely as mud to sling at the administration misinterprets the unavoidable dilemmas of that unhappy place. Worse, regarding Iraq in this crabbed way keeps us from the essential task of reconceiving how justice and security can be promoted in a world increasingly characterized by terror, globalization, massively destructive weapons, and divergent visions of life.

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    Quebeckers munch on their own past

    Fr. Richard John Neuhaus comments on a bizarre fad in Canada's most secularized province: the marketing of unconsecrated communion hosts as a snack food.

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    Setback for educational justice

    This is bad news for Floridians believing that the education of children is primarily a parental responsibility: Court orders tuition vouchers halted. Perhaps not surprisingly, Jewish organizations are divided on this ruling, with the American Jewish Committee applauding a move likely leave its supporters' great-grandchildren virtually indistinguishable from the gentile majority.

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    04 January 2006

    Two historic defeats

    The following is a slightly altered version of my column for the 19 December issue of Christian Courier and is, of course, primarily directed at my fellow Canadians:

    In December 1979 I was privileged to pay my first visit to Canada’s capital. At the time I was a student at the Institute for Christian Studies, and a group of us drove to Ottawa, where we were guests of a research assistant for a Progressive Conservative member of Parliament from Alberta. Both the House of Commons and the Senate were in session, so we were easily able to see the two chambers in action. Question period in the Commons was of special interest, since I had been present 4 years earlier for question time at its British counterpart in London.

    Joe Clark was prime minister in a recently-elected minority government and Pierre Trudeau was keeping his head low, as he had recently announced his retirement from politics. In the hallway we met in passing the late Stanley Knowles, then senior member of the New Democratic Party caucus, and found him an amiable and approachable person. We also stood on the same elevator with Jean Chrétien, who was more than a decade away from becoming prime minister himself.

    The high point of our visit was lunch in the parliamentary dining room. We were sitting at table with our host when the 40-year-old Mr. Clark himself entered the room. He then proceeded to make his way from table to table, shaking hands with virtually everyone present. In due course he came to our table and, along with my luncheon companions, I shook the prime minister’s hand.

    Although this may not have been tantamount to a kiss of death, I had to wonder whether it was mere coincidence that one week later Clark’s government was defeated on the budget. This, of course, plunged the country into a rare winter election that brought Trudeau’s Liberals back to power in February 1980.

    I couldn’t help recalling these earlier events as I followed the developments leading to the defeat of Paul Martin’s minority government two months ago. There are obvious parallels between the two defeats. Yet there are differences as well.

    The Conservative Party of Canada is quite different from the old Progressive Conservatives, absorbing, as it has, much of the ethos of the former Reform/Canadian Alliance Party, including its western-oriented populism. The Créditistes are long gone, having inadvertently finished themselves off by abstaining on Clark’s budget.

    The biggest difference is the presence within the Commons now of the separatist Bloc québécois, which looks set to gain seats due to anger in Québec over the Sponsorship Scandal. The 1980 winter election precipitated years of what some observers have called mega-constitutional politics, beginning with patriation in 1982 and (possibly) ending with the Clarity Act of 2000. Even if we end up with another Liberal minority, the winter election of 2006 could bring back the constitutional issue, especially if the Parti québécois wins the next provincial election in Québec.

    In the meantime, now that I’ve come clean about my encounter with Clark back in ’79, some readers might like to arrange for me to shake hands with one or more of the four party leaders currently in the Commons. Whether in the classroom or in this space, I do not plan to endorse publicly one party over the others. Nevertheless, along with many Canadians, I do not find it difficult to conclude that it’s time for a change. A healthy democracy is incompatible with protracted periods of one-party rule and would be better served by a more competitive party system.

    In the meantime, make sure your parkas are zipped up before you go out to vote. And don’t forget your tuque.

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    03 January 2006

    Holland breaks ground once again

    For those who persist in believing that Bill C-38 will be the final stage in the deconstruction of a basic institution, there's more coming: Here Come the Brides: Plural marriage is waiting in the wings.

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