Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

27 March 2008

Earth Hour

I must admit to a certain ambivalence about the forthcoming "Earth Hour" on saturday. Of course I recognize the need to conserve energy, but I find the overt soteriological language of the proponents off-putting: One hour to save Earth. And the Timmins Daily Press is not alone, as this google search indicates. Perhaps the National Post goes too far: Earth Hour's soft fascism. But Terry McCrann of Australia's Herald Sun points out the incongruity of turning out lights for an hour at a massive carbon-emitting ball in an airplane hangar. Even burning candles is not obviously a "carbon-neutral" activity.

It should be possible to have a sensible and stewardly approach to the physical environment without recourse to redemptive language and expectations. That Earth Hour comes less than a week after Easter in the western church calendar is ironic. Christians confess that salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone. My own sense is that, if environmentalists do not recognize this truth, they will be forced to find a substitute to give their efforts meaning. For many the earth itself becomes a god and extinguishing the lights takes on salvific significance.

In the meantime we would do well to remind others of Jesus' outrageous claim: "I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

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23 March 2008

Pascha


Monastery of Chora,
Constantinople

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22 March 2008

The Psalms on Youtube

I have recently updated my Genevan Psalter website by adding to the links page a section titled The Psalms on Youtube. These performances come from the Netherlands and Hungary, where the Psalms have been sung for centuries by Reformed Christians. Having listened to them, I much prefer the Hungarian to the Dutch treatments, but you may judge for yourself. Here are two samples below performed by Vox Humana Choir of Vác under the direction of József Maklári. The arrangements are those of Zoltán Kodály. The first is Psalm 114 and the second 121.



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20 March 2008

Rumour confirmed

Some have suspected this for a long time: Mikhail Gorbachev admits he is a Christian.

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18 March 2008

Obama's pastor

After visiting the website of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ last year, I figured it was only a matter of time before the media caught on to its controversial pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and his embrace of what he calls the "Black Value System." Trinity is, of course, the home congregation of presidential aspirant Barack Obama. The inevitable has finally happened:



The Obama campaign has posted this clarification below by a United Church of Christ minister:



Will this end the controversy? Probably not.

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17 March 2008

St. Paddy's day

Here is another of those songs that was going through my head for at least two decades before I worked it out three years ago and committed it to "paper": Hibernia Variations (Copyright © 2005 by David T. Koyzis).

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12 March 2008

March snippets

  • The Knights of Malta, who lost their grand master, Fra Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie, last month, now have a new one, Fra Matthew Festing OBE, another Englishman and an art historian.

  • Is Pope Catholic? Perhaps not anymore.

  • As a teacher concerned for the future of our civilization, I find this article singularly depressing: Child-Man in the Promised Land. Perhaps it's time to bring back arranged marriages.

  • Mark Edmunson's Dwelling in Possibilities is subtitled: "Our students' spectacular hunger for life makes them radically vulnerable." The author argues that university instructors need to teach their students, caught up in hurried lives of too many choices and activities, to slow down and think. But this is really nothing new. The best teachers have always sought to move young people beyond the superficial and get them to think more deeply. This assumes, of course, that the teachers themselves have something better to offer, which is not necessarily the case.

  • Hope springs eternal: Cyprus leaders to meet next week. Nevertheless, Greek Cypriot leaders have become so adept at squandering opportunities that the habit may prove difficult to shake.

  • Although I was not one of those Christians influenced by Francis and Edith Schaeffer's l'Abri community, I know any number of people who were. As an outsider I admit to being at once fascinated and repulsed by the controversy over Frank Schaeffer's tell-all memoir, Crazy for God. Os Guinness takes on the younger Schaeffer, who responds here. One senses that someone needs to get over a difficult childhood and move on with life — certainly before he retires.

  • Speaking of Schaeffer fils, in this interview he modestly claims to have created the religious right in the United States, including the evangelical pro-life movement, which he now repudiates. That said, I rather imagine a lot of those in this camp have not heard of him and would be surprised at his claiming such a role.

  • American Christians will perhaps be pleased to learn that Thomas Jefferson was not a deist after all. Still it would be difficult to envision him singing praise choruses with upraised arms in a Dallas megachurch.

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    10 March 2008

    Anglican matters

    One hates to keep harping on the slow but steady decline of the Episcopal Church south of the border, but these three items are unmistakable signs that all is not well: Bexley Hall to Close Rochester Campus; Seabury Western ceases residential MDiv program; and Episcopal Divinity School enters university partnership.

    While we're on the subject of Anglicanism, David Yerushalmi has written an intelligent piece on Archbishop Rowan Williams' now infamous speech on sharia: Why the Fuss About Shari’a Law?
    The fuss is about the elephant in the room, or, better yet, the wolf in sheep’s clothing that some Americans fail to acknowledge. Put simply, not all foreign or religious laws are equal. Most foreign laws, be they sourced in secular legal codes or religious ones, are not predicated on a doctrine of world domination and holy war. But what if a legal system is founded upon the goal of conquering the world through holy war when persuasion and subjugation are not immediately successful?

    In other words, should a society lend legitimacy to a legal system whose raison d’être is the destruction of that society? Moreover, how should a society treat a legal system that obligates its faithful to use violent jihad to accomplish its goals?

    These are, of course, good questions that do not admit of easy answers, although Yerushalmi would do well to acknowledge that there are different interpretations of sharia within the diverse muslim community, some of which may be less bellicose than he assumes.

    Finally, Jim Skillen has his own view of the matter, as indicated here: Civil and Religious Laws in England. Skillen writes:

    What the Archbishop should be (and perhaps is) trying to argue, it seems to me, is that diverse religious communities, including Muslims, who give allegiance to God beyond allegiance to Crown and Church, should be equally free to live in Great Britain. Moreover, public “secular” law should recognize the right of British citizens, who are members of these different religious communities, to engage in diverse practices in the nongovernment spheres of marriage, private finance, education, and more. However, the foundation of such religious freedom and social pluralism is that all citizens, as members of the same political community, must abide by the public laws of the nation. If they want to change the laws that stipulate the obligations of citizenship, that protect religious freedom, or that articulate the identities and freedoms of nongovernment organizations, they will have to participate in the open democratic process to try to do so.

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    09 March 2008

    Another 'little ice age'?

    After a series of heavy snow storms during one of the worst winters on record, I am about ready to believe this: Forget global warming: Welcome to the new Ice Age.

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    07 March 2008

    A nine-year-old vexilologist

    flags: Canada, US, Brazil, Germany

    This is what the daughter of a political scientist with access to Microsoft Paint does in her spare time.

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    06 March 2008

    Atheism or antitheism?

    Some of us have wondered whether assigning the atheist label to the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens (whose first name means "bearer of Christ"!) is not, after all, inappropriate. Given that these gentlemen do not stop at simply disbelieving God but are actively opposed to such belief, might the label antitheist (which Blogger's spellcheck does not recognize) be more appropriate?

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    05 March 2008

    Birks Building, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
    Hamilton streets

    Which encyclopaedia carries articles on individual streets in Hamilton, Ontario? Wikipedia, of course. Read here about James Street, Locke Street, Dundurn Street, and even Concession Street and Mohawk Road on the "Mountain."

    By the way, speaking of James Street, why was the old Birks Building, located at the corner of James and King and once described by Oscar Wilde as "the most beautiful building in all of North America," demolished back in 1972? It was a distinctive piece of Victorian architecture and a Hamilton landmark. It ought to have been preserved.

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    'Albertocracy' reaffirmed

    The votes are in and, surprise, Premier Ed Stelmach's Progressive Conservatives were re-elected, the 11th Conservative government in a row. This comes as no surprise in a province that has known only three changes of government since 1905. What is surprising is that anyone should wonder why only 41 percent of eligible voters bothered to turn out in such a noncompetitive political environment. There has to be a better way.

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    03 March 2008

    Rev. Dr. Stanley Robertson Hall
    Stanley Robertson Hall (1949-2008)

    I have recently learnt of the death of a friend whom I knew during our graduate studies at Notre Dame in the 1980s. I no longer recall exactly how Stan Hall (shown at left in his Notre Dame regalia) and I met, but I believe it was through a mutual friend who was studying in the same theology department at the university. Stan was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and we quickly discovered we had a common love of Reformed liturgy, which, while merely an avocation for me, was precisely what he was preparing to teach professionally. We further had similar convictions that contemporary efforts at "dressing up" the liturgy and livening worship missed the point. His convictions are well summed up in the eulogy delivered by David W. Johnson:

    He was convinced that worship should honor and express the Godness of God, and that anything called “worship” which allowed the fads of the moment or the clichés of the crowd to obscure the Godness of God was a perverse travesty of what worship ought to be. He was also convinced that a congregation is not an audience but a community, and therefore worship should be a community act and not a performance. His whole outlook on worship and ministry flowed, I think, from these two convictions. . . .

    These two convictions do not isolate the church from the world. But they do require that the church be the church in the world, the church that is apt to offend even while it invites, because it tells the truth and exposes the sham. And these convictions insist that the movement of the Spirit, and therefore of the church, starts with the word, the font, and the table, and then goes out into the world equipped with grace, truth, and love. Those who plan worship around marketing surveys and trend analysis found Stan to be a very frustrating person, for he thought that such things did not honor the priority of Spirit, Word, font, and table.

    He expressed great interest in my own versifications of the biblical psalms and canticles and used liturgical responses I composed at the congregation he was pastoring in Granger, Indiana. My own versification of the Song of Jonah became the seventh "reading" at an Easter Vigil service he led at that church.

    I have been moved to read the reminiscences left by his colleagues and students at the memorial website at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, where he was the Jean Brown Associate Professor of Liturgics and Homiletics. It is rather remarkable to see the positive impact he had on so many people during his not quite twenty years there, especially given that I knew him before any of this had yet occurred. Nevertheless, everything said about him, e.g., his no-nonsense lack of sentimentality and his curmudgeonly manner, was true of him even then.

    The most memorable thing Stan told me was that he thought most protestant liturgy could be summed up as "one damn thing after another." I have another memory of sitting with him and other theology grad students in the public cafeteria at Notre Dame. He delighted in telling them he was a "fundamentalist" and watching their discomfort. On yet another occasion in one of the student cafeterias, I saw him crush a bothersome fly with his thumb and then go back to eating as if nothing had happened.

    Stan was unsentimental even about his own impending death, according to his friend, the Rev. Scott Black Johnston:

    Knowing that the disease he had would one day claim his life, Stan went online a few years ago and located a group of Trappist monks with whom he was familiar in South Bend, Indiana—monks who support their Abby by selling simple caskets built out of pine and oak. Stan submitted his measurements to the monks, and within a couple of weeks UPS delivered a custom-made, pine box to the seminary. Unwrapping it, my friend set it up in the corner. As you might guess, most people who walked unprepared into his office felt pretty uncomfortable. First year students often left shaking their heads. Why would a person, even a person who is dying, want to spend every day working in the presence of a coffin? Stan, however, seemed genuinely amused by the students’ fretfulness.

    Almost exactly a year ago, in a coffee shop in Austin, I asked my friend what the pine coffin was all about. Instead of speaking in maudlin terms about his illness, Stan began to describe for me the tradition (passed down through the centuries) whereby Trappist monks construct their own coffins, their own wooden boxes for burial. They do so, Stan said, as a prayer to God. “What sort of prayer?” I asked. Oh, he said, the monk prays that he not be tempted to live in fear for his mortal life, but that he be given the strength [to] live each day as grace—as if he had been granted a precious gift from God. His words reminded me of a prayer that Presbyterians often say at funerals. “Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are ended, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in Jesus Christ our risen Lord.”

    We will miss Stan and look forward to seeing him again at the resurrection. In the meantime something of him will continue to live through the many people he influenced during the time God gave him in this life.

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    02 March 2008

    Democracy at work

    The suspense is over: Election in Russia confirms Putin's chosen successor.

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    Planet X, again?

    Is it true: Japanese find mysterious 'Planet X'? Well, that's a little premature. In any event, it's been done before.

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    Acceptance versus redemption

    This article by Philip Turner is about the Episcopal Church in the US, but it might just as well be about the Anglican Church in Canada: An Unworkable Theology. Especially relevant is the tendency of those favouring controversial innovations in the church's faith and life to invoke the Holy Spirit as a way of stifling opposition:

    Indeed, it is important to note when examining the working theology of the Episcopal Church that changes in belief and practice within the church are not made after prolonged investigation and theological debate. Rather, they are made by “prophetic actions” that give expression to the doctrine of radical inclusion. Such actions have become common partly because they carry no cost. Since the struggle over the ordination of women, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has given up any attempt to act as a unified body or to discipline its membership. Within a given diocese, almost any change in belief and practice can occur without penalty.

    Certain justifications are commonly named for such failure of discipline. The first is the claim of the prophet’s mantle by the innovators—often quickly followed by an assertion that the Holy Spirit Itself is doing this new thing, which need have no perceivable link to the past practice of the church. Backed by claims of prophetic and Spirit-filled insight, each diocese can then justify its action as a “local option,” which is the claimed right of each diocese or parish to go its own way if there seem to be strong enough internal reasons to do so.

    According to Turner, the Episcopal Church is divided by a theological chasm, "one that separates those who hold a theology of divine acceptance from those who hold a theology of divine redemption." In such a context it is not surprising that those unequivocally standing for the latter are being vilified as "fundamentalists" by the former.

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    01 March 2008

    Russian election

    The world is awaiting with bated breath the results of tomorrow's exciting conclusion to Russia's presidential cliffhanger. The odds makers must be out in full force.

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    New Anglican catechism

    The Global South Primates of the Anglican communion have been busy: New Anglican Catechism in the works. Here is the interim report released two months ago on the feast of Epiphany: Anglican Catechism in Outline. It is not clear what status this catechism will have in the Anglican communion, but as much as I've read of it thus far looks good.

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    Recognizing Kosovo

    The CIA's World Fact Book now contains a page devoted to Kosovo as a separate state. Now that we have it on such unimpeachable authority, I guess that makes it so. If a future PQ government in Québec should pass a unilateral declaration of independence, I assume that means the rest of us should check with the CIA to see whether it really has taken effect.

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    William F. Buckley (1925-2008)

    The death of William F. Buckley, the last true conservative, is prompting numerous appraisals of the movement he helped found and of his own legacy for that movement and beyond. Among the tributes is this one by Robert McDougall, which is noteworthy for unintentionally illustrating the ambiguity behind the conservative label. According to McDougall, Buckley promoted "individualism and its democratic benefits," was a free spirit, respecting anyone "who strove to live life on his own terms," and "called for the decriminalization of drugs."

    In short, Buckley's conservatism was of the libertarian variety and, in this respect, quintessentially American. As it turns out, "the scourge of American liberalism," as the late Arthur Schlesinger dubbed him, was as much indebted to the broader liberal tradition as his "leftist" compatriots. This explains in large measure why a movement with so little substantive content has had such difficulty defeating an opponent with which it has so much in common.

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