Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 August 2007

Understanding worldviews

Of the making of worldview books there is no end, to paraphrase Qoheleth. A new one has just been published by Anglican Youthworks in Sydney, NSW, Australia: A Spectator’s Guide to Worldviews: 10 Ways of Understanding Life, edited by Simon Smart. The book as a whole is aimed at the late secondary or early tertiary (post-secondary in North America) student. Each chapter is devoted to a major worldview, including Christianity, modernism, postmodernism, utilitarianism, humanism, liberalism, feminism, relativism, new age spirituality and consumerism. Although I am less than happy with the use of "spectator" in the title (I would prefer something along the lines of "participant"), I am pleased to have written the chapter on liberalism, at the invitation of the editor.

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30 August 2007

Foretelling the future

Read this, noting the date, and then look at the long term trend here. It seems there is at least one clairvoyant in the blogosphere.

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28 August 2007

Urban planning in the 'Windy City'


Although I am not quite a native of Chicago, I was born just outside the city limits in Oak Park and grew up in suburban Wheaton, about 40 km west of the Loop. I've not lived in the vicinity for decades now, but Chicagoland still holds a place in my heart, especially the city itself, with its unique neighbourhoods, lakefront parks, architecture, world class museums, railways, and even the perpetually disappointing Chicago Cubs baseball team.

In the space of barely two generations Chicago grew from a small village on the southwest shores of Lake Michigan in the 1830s to a huge metropolis of more than a million people by the 1890s. With such explosive growth the city had put down few roots and commanded little loyalty from its residents, the vast majority of whom had come from elsewhere in the US and, increasingly, from Europe. It was merely a place to make one's fortune with the ever-present possibility of pulling up stakes and moving on. Chicago grew in chaotic and haphazard fashion with little, if any, attention to the provision of basic urban amenities that might have a civilizing and humanizing effect on its people.

This began to change towards the end of the 19th century, starting with the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the great world's fair planned by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. Thereafter Burnham and the Commercial Club of Chicago came to recognize the need for a comprehensive plan for developing and improving the entire urban environment for the sake of its people. The fascinating story of this plan — its development, reception and implementation — is told in Carl Smith's The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City (above right).

Proposed Civic Center, Jules Guerin
The Plan of Chicago, often called the Burnham Plan after its principal author, was published in 1909 and was visionary in its proposals for improving and beautifying the city. It took as its model Napoleon III's Paris, as redesigned by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the emperor's prefect of the Seine. The Plan envisioned a system of public parks throughout the city; straightening the south branch of the Chicago River; building a major bridge over the river to connect Michigan Avenue to Pine Street, making a single continuous boulevard connecting the north and south sides; filling land into the lake to create an extensive public park from Lake Park (later Grant Park) to Jackson Park (site of the 1893 fair); widening Congress Street to create the city's major east-west boulevard; and, most important of all, building a domed civic centre at a central place in the Congress Street boulevard (above left).

All of this was set forth in an aesthetically pleasing volume adorned with beautiful illustrations by Jules Guerin and Fernand Janin, thereby making the book itself a visual feast to savour at leisure. A limited number of copies were published and sent to the movers and shakers of industry, commerce and government, and even to the new US President William Howard Taft. (The complete volume can be perused on the Encyclopedia of Chicago's website, albeit not in the most readable format.)

The Plan was remarkable in a number of ways. To begin with, it was spearheaded by a group of self-appointed men prominent in their respective fields. They were idealistic and public-spirited, genuinely believing they had the best interests at heart of all Chicago's people, and not just the city's entrepreneurs. Although they disliked the corrupt municipal government of the day, they placed considerable confidence in government in general to effect change — in a "democratic enlightened collectivism coming in to repair the damage caused by exaggerated democratic individualism," as Harvard President Charles W. Eliot expressed it. In this they were typical men of the Progressive Era, believing in their own superior ability to undertake such a project and assuming that, with the proper public relations techniques, others could be persuaded to come on side of their agenda.

Michigan Avenue Bridge, 1 January 1983
At least some of the Plan was eventually implemented, though not always as conceived by Burnham and his associates, who lived just prior to the proliferation of automobile ownership. Congress Street was indeed expanded and extended as a great east-west corridor through the city, but it took the form of the first of the great expressways to connect the city's heart to its suburbs in the 1950s and '60s. The Civic Center never materialized, and its proposed location is now the site of the Circle Interchange connecting four major expressways. The Michigan Avenue Bridge (above right) was built in 1920. A lakefront park system was indeed built on landfill, though Grant Park did not become quite the cultural centre foreseen by the Plan. Nor does Chicago boast the neoclassical architecture shown in Guerin's and Janin's illustrations. Nevertheless, municipal zoning certainly caught on and is nowadays simply taken for granted in North American towns and cities.

The Commercial Club was, of course, an élite group, making bold plans for grand public spaces, monuments, boulevards and buildings. Smith notes that the late Jane Jacobs opposed Burnham's approach to urban planning:

In the introduction to her best known work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacobs is particularly disparaging of Burnham's emphasis on civic centers and monumental designs, which, she contends, have degraded rather than improved the neighborhoods around them. It is true that neither the text nor the illustrations of the Plan pay much attention to the quality of the urban street life on which Jacobs focuses so much concern or to how the individual actually experiences the city, other than as a grid to move across as efficiently as possible. With few exceptions, people are either entirely missing from Guerin's and Janin's drawings or completely overwhelmed by the massive scale of the buildings (pp. 156-7).

When I was growing up, efforts at urban renewal often came at the expense of distinctive neighbourhoods, such as the old Greektown on the west side, which was razed to make way for the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. While I do not deny the need for urban planning, I would reiterate something I wrote three years ago about Planned cities and new beginnings: "justice is more likely to be found in the ordinary activities of a government conciliating diverse interests than in a government bent on capturing its citizens' imaginations and mobilizing them for flashy, expensive projects not immediately related to their genuine needs." Moreover, real renewal of a city requires co-ordinated efforts from multiple agents, including churches, neighbourhood associations, ethnic organizations, and civic societies, in addition to municipal governments.

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26 August 2007

A national disgrace

There are always casualties in wartime, but this is particularly disturbing because it shows our lack of commitment of adequate resources to support our troops in Afghanistan: Canadians dying three times as fast as their allies.

Canadian soldiers are getting killed in Afghanistan at more than three times the rate of troops from other nations, including those from Britain and the United States also in the thick of the fighting against the resurgent Taliban.

The heavy losses – another three soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were killed in two blasts in the past week – come mostly from massive roadside blasts, which now pose the gravest threat to the Canadian mission in strife-torn Kandahar province.

“We have suffered no casualties – wounded or killed – in firefights,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Rob Walker, commander of the Canadian battle group just finishing its six-month tour. “The KIAs [killed in action] we have suffered were almost all from IEDs [improvised explosive devices].”

The threat from improvised explosive devices is heightened by the fact that Canadian troops have yet to receive the latest anti-IED technology and lack helicopters to avoid the perils of land transport. . . .

Like other successful insurgencies in Afghanistan's long and bloody history of driving invaders and occupiers out, the Taliban don't need to defeat foreign troops in firefights. They only need to kill enough Canadians to bleed away public support and sap the political will in Ottawa. . . .

Canada is the only major fighting force in Afghanistan with no helicopters.

Other countries make heavy use of them to transport troops and supplies to and from forward operating bases. Canada must instead rely on regular ground convoys travelling predictable routes. Although efforts are made to vary timings, the regular flow of Canadian military vehicles on some roads makes them easy targets.

Successive governments have been quick to respond when called upon to supply peacekeeping troops in trouble spots around the globe, following the precedent established by Lester Pearson half a century ago. In this way they are anxious to maintain Canada's reputation as a good international citizen. During this same time, however, they have continually cut our military budgets, thereby all but decimating our capacity to field a credible presence in these spots. Our troops are thus scarcely able to protect their own lives, much less the lives of others. One might be forgiven for calling this a national disgrace.

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22 August 2007

Michiana holiday

Last week Nancy and I took a brief holiday in southwestern Michigan and northern Indiana. I spent nearly 7 years in the Michiana region while a graduate student at Notre Dame, so this was a return to familiar territory. Moreover I have deep familial roots in both peninsulas of Michigan, the one state in the US with which I tend most to identify.

The two of us had a wonderfully restful time in this quiet part of the world. We stayed at a bed and breakfast near Jones, Michigan, called the Sanctuary at Wildwood, which I would enthusiastically recommend as a vacation spot for anyone, especially first or second honeymooners. It's set on a large, forested property with hiking trails and a stocked pond for fishing, among other things. Here are some photographs of our stay:

Sanctuary at Wildwood

This is the main house, where the owners live and where we were served breakfast:

Sanctuary at Wildwood, main house

We tried our hand at rowing. (Well, I'm the one who did the actual rowing!) This was the first time I had done so, and I caught on fairly quickly. Nevertheless, in trying to photograph some turtles sitting on the water lilies, I managed to frighten them into diving back into the water.

Koyzis in rowboat

On wednesday we drove to Three Rivers, where we discovered a marvellous used bookstore called Lowry's Books. It's definitely worth a visit if you're in the vicinity. It's located on Main Street, which can be seen below:

Main Street, Three Rivers, Michigan

On thursday we drove to Shipshewana, in the middle of the northern Indiana Amish country. It's a tourist town, not unlike St. Jacob's, Ontario. But rather than hitting the shops, Nancy and I visited Menno-hof, an information centre and museum devoted to Anabaptist history. Anyone with an interest in Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites, or who claim this heritage as their own, will find Menno-hof fascinating. I had heard about Shipshewana while living in South Bend, but I never got round to visiting it until now.

Menno-hof

Menno-hof

We saw a lot of these during our visit. Special lanes are reserved for horse-drawn buggies along the roads, but in my estimation they are not sufficiently removed from the danger of fast-moving automobiles, which should be required to drive much more slowly while passing through these communities.

Amish buggy

On friday we drove back east towards Ontario and found "the longest of Michigan's few remaining covered bridges." It's located north of Centreville and it spans the St. Joseph River.

Langley Covered Bridge

Langley Covered Bridge

We're home again. Back to preparing for the coming academic year.

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21 August 2007

European Texas?

The prospect of membership in the European Union has to some extent motivated Turkey to try to clean up its act, especially with respect to human rights abuses. If so, then the EU may be taking the wrong approach here: EU urges Texas governor to halt executions in America's busiest death penalty state. Perhaps the EU should actually offer to admit the Lone Star State as a full member on condition that it abolish capital punishment. I can't think of a reason why Texans wouldn't jump at such an opportunity.

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17 August 2007

Cabinet shuffle

Here is Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new cabinet. Three notable changes: Peter MacKay has been moved from Foreign Affairs to National Defence, Maxime Bernier from Industry to Foreign Affairs, and Jim Prentice from Indian Affairs and Northern Development to Industry.

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13 August 2007

Nunavik

In 1999 Nunavut was carved out of the Northwest Territories and given separate territorial status within Canada. Now we are told that regional government will be granted to a largely Inuit-inhabited territory in northern Québec, to be called Nunavik. Is this the beginning of a separate province, a separate territory or a tertium quid? How might this affect a future referendum on sovereignty should the PQ return to power? Might Nunavik decide to opt out of a sovereign Québec? Stay tuned.

Nunavik

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Les Paul

Les Paul was one of the giants of mid-20th-century popular music, pioneering the development of the solid-body electric guitar and virtually inventing multitrack recording. Here is one of the string of hits he recorded with his wife Mary Ford in the early 1950s:



Multitrack recording has been used by generations of musicians over the past more than half a century, including this obscure Upper Canadian vocal quartet singing Psalm 95 (Text and music copyright © 1986, 1999 by David T. Koyzis).

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Jenkins on the christian global south

Five years ago Philip Jenkins of Penn State University published The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, one of the more significant books of that year. In May of this year the Pew Forum convened its twice-yearly Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life in Key West, Florida, with Professor Jenkins as principal speaker. Michael Cromartie of the Ethics & Public Policy Center was the moderator of the discussion, a transcript of which can be read here: Global Schism: Is the Anglican Communion Rift the First Stage in a Wider Christian Split? Among other things Jenkins argues that the world of the Bible is more immediately comprehensible to African Christians than to westerners living in post-industrial societies.

I was once talking to some West Africans about the bits of the Bible that made sense to them in ways that could not make sense to Westerners. They said, "We live in agricultural societies, so things like the Parable of the Sower made great sense." Just talking about it, they started getting teary eyed. Then they mentioned Psalm 126. Psalm 126 is a psalm that is widely quoted, and it goes like this: "The man who goes forth into the fields in tears weeping to sow the seed will bring the sheaves again in joy." You understand perfectly well why a farmer would bring the sheaves again in joy; he's celebrating harvest time.

But why do you weep while you're sowing? "It's obvious," they said to me. "Whoever wrote this psalm was writing at a time of famine, like we had a couple of years ago. You've got the corn that's left, and you can do one of two things with it. You can feed your family with it, but if you do that, you're not a farmer anymore [because you have no seeds left] and you have to migrate to the city and become a beggar, and what's going to happen to your children and so on. Or you can take the corn literally out of the hands of your hungry children and use it as seed corn and sow it. That's why a farmer weeps while sowing the corn. It's obvious."

As I said, it wasn't obvious to me, but there are any number of examples like that where the Bible describes a world that makes immediate, intuitive, documentary sense in a way it can't for us.

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08 August 2007

Pope becomes Catholic

It's true. Check it out.

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Russian novelist on democracy

The German weekly Der Spiegel carries an interview with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that is worth reading. Here is the famed Russian novelist on the role of parties in the political process:

I am a convinced and consistent critic of "party-parliamentarism." I am for non-partisan elections of true people's representatives who are accountable to their regions and districts; and who in case of unsatisfactory work can be recalled. I do understand and respect the formation of groups on economical, cooperative, territorial, educational, professional and industrial principles, but I see nothing organic in political parties. Politically motivated ties can be unstable and quite often they have selfish ulterior motives. Leon Trotsky said it accurately during the October Revolution: "A party that does not strive for the seizure of power is worth nothing." We are talking about seeking benefit for the party itself at the expense of the rest of the people. This can happen whether the takeover is peaceful or not. Voting for impersonal parties and their programs is a false substitute for the only true way to elect people's representatives: voting by an actual person for an actual candidate. This is the whole point behind popular representation.

Loyalists of the old Reform Party here in Canada appear to have a kindred spirit from across the pond.

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Unrepentant 'murderer' behind pulpit

I somehow managed to miss this story when it first hit the blogs last year, but an editorial in the July/August issue of Touchstone brought it to my attention: Alma’s Mater: The Violent Hypocrisy of Some Peace & Justice Christians. The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper is pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in New York. Last year she wrote an article in Tikkun titled My Choice, in which she confessed to having aborted her fourth child, whom she named Alma. Unlike most people styling themselves pro-choice on the abortion issue, Schaper freely admits to having murdered her child:

I happen to agree that abortion is a form of murder. I think the quarrel about when life begins is disrespectful to the fetus. I know I murdered the life within me. I could have loved that life but chose not to.

She claims to have made this difficult choice "as a mature sexual being" who believes that "birth control and abortion are positive moral forces in history." For her the recommendation of abstinence as an alternative is "immoral to its core." The incoherence of her ethical reasoning is too obvious to warrant further comment.

However, it is worth noting that Schaper recently contributed to Jim Wallis's God's Politics blog, where she commented on the Virginia Tech shootings last April: Worship in a Time of Catastrophe. Someone unacquainted with the complexities of a consistent life ethic might be forgiven for wondering on what basis she would object to the murders committed on that campus (though, perhaps tellingly, she never once uses that word). After all, was not the killer simply exercising his freedom of choice as a mature adult?

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03 August 2007

A second printing

Now I definitely have something to celebrate during the long holiday weekend:

second printing

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02 August 2007

Bridge collapse

During my years in Minnesota three decades ago I drove on the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi any number of times. Thus the venue for this disaster is familiar to me. The story can be followed live over local television station WCCO. Footage of the bridge can be seen here. Please pray for the survivors and others affected by this tragedy.

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01 August 2007

No revising the BCP

The recent General Synod of the Anglican Church has decided not to revise or scrap the Book of Common Prayer — yet. However, the 27-year-old Book of Alternative Services will be altered at some point.

Prayer Book conservatives in this country might do well to remind themselves that the 1962 edition of the BCP, for all its undoubted virtues, abridged the Psalter to leave out the more imprecatory sentiments, e.g., the end of Psalm 137 and the entirety of Psalm 58! Whatever one thinks of the BAS, its creators at least saw fit to include all of the Psalms, even the ones that offend modern sensibilities.

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Judicial overreach. . . yet again

First a Turkish court claims the authority to strip the Ecumenical Patriarch of his ecclesiastical title. Now a Malaysian court is claiming to judge who is and is not a Muslim, over against the plaintiff's own claim to be a Christian. What next?

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