Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

22 November 2008

The typewriter

Those of us above a certain age remember the trusty typewriter, on which we patiently rewrote our term papers after painstakingly composing them in longhand.

My old Royal Typewriter, c. 1930?

This now obsolete machine was immortalized nearly six decades ago by Swedish-American composer Leroy Anderson in his humorous piece, The Typewriter. My question is: might its humour be lost on the younger generation, most of whose members have never even seen, much less heard, one of these ancient word processors?

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17 November 2008

November snippets

  • Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom, has done it again. Just out is his new book, The Lost History of Christianity, whose subtitle says it all: "The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died." It is a riveting account and definitely merits a review, which is forthcoming in this space.

  • Fr. Neuhaus has posted a short piece unsurprisingly titled: The Coming Kulturkampf. Here's an especially trenchant paragraph:

    Christians do want to be useful in their Babylonian captivity. They follow the counsel of the prophet Jeremiah who urged the children of Israel to seek the peace of the city of their exile, for in its peace is also their peace. The great danger, then and now, is that, in being useful to the city of their exile, they forget the New Jerusalem, the city of their destination. It really is not terribly gratifying to be a “religious vote” eagerly sought by the partisan factions of Babylon when we remember that [Jesus] called us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

    Somewhat less helpful is his discussion of culture, which is missing a rather crucial component: the human element of shaping responsibly the world of which we are part. Neuhaus would do well to read H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, especially chapter 7: "Human Culture."

  • New Brunswick's Telegraph-Journal has published an op-ed piece favouring electoral reform: Respect voters through proportional representation. Bravo!

  • Oh, no. Not again: Ex-Harvard scholar enters Liberal leadership race.

  • The fires sweeping through southern California have affected Redeemer's sister institution, Westmont College in Santa Barbara. Thank God that no lives were lost, though much property is now gone. Please remember the Westmont community in your prayers.

  • Two weekends ago I was in the Boston area for two events. First, congratulations are due to my niece Bethany Givens and her new husband Brian Blankespoor, who were married in Andover, Massachusetts. Second, I was privileged to speak to the members of the first-year American government course at Gordon College. The instructor is Dr. Paul Brink, a 1993 graduate of Redeemer's political science programme. If any of his students are reading this, I bring them greetings and thank them for their hospitality and stimulating company.

  • This had to happen sooner or later: Extinction Threatens Yellow-Pages Publishers. I guess most of our fingers now do the walking over the keypad rather than the phone book.

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    10 November 2008

    The ‘blessings’ of empire? Part 2

    Here is the second and final instalment of my series on the American empire. It appears in the 10 November issue of Christian Courier.

    Because we have come to see empire in almost wholly negative terms, we may have difficulty recalling a time when empire – and a Christian empire at that – was considered nearly an unmitigated good. Both Byzantine rulers and the heirs of Charlemagne in the west were rivals for the imperial title, which had its origins in ancient Rome. When Rome fell in 476, many of its subjects greatly regretted this event, because it spelled the end of an orderly rule of law over the Mediterranean basin and the dawn of a much more precarious political existence.

    For all its faults, which were considerable, the Roman Empire provided stability for hundreds of years by keeping the peace throughout its far-flung territory. Indeed its laws, as codified by the eastern emperor Justinian in the 6th century, provided the basis for the legal systems of continental Europe and elsewhere.

    When the apostle Paul and his companions were imprisoned in Macedonia, he would reveal their Roman citizenship to demonstrate that they had been illegally scourged by the civil magistrates (Acts 16:37-40). Later Paul would take the opportunity of his capture by the local authorities in Jerusalem to appeal to Caesar, which he had the right to do.

    To the church in Rome Paul wrote that Christians are to be “subject to the governing authorities,” which “have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Similarly, Peter instructed his readers to obey the political authorities and to honour the emperor (I Peter 2:13-17). Both understood that political authority has a crucial and God-given function to play in human life and that, even when it goes wrong or miscarries justice in particular circumstances, it nevertheless continues in large measure to maintain public justice.

    Whether this authority takes the form of the early Israelite tribal judges, or the later Davidic monarchy or an emperor ruling over a large land mass, God has called it “to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.” Believers are similarly called to obedience, though not uncritically. Just as the apostles obeyed God above mere human authorities (Acts 4:19; 5:29), so should we be wary of the overreaching claims of all institutions, including the state.

    Is America an empire? I would give a qualified yes to this question. As the world’s most powerful state, it makes decisions that affect countless people around the globe, including Canadians. Yet this is not the whole story. Just over two centuries ago Americans originated, as a deliberate alternative to the unitary imperial state, the federal system with its constitutional division of powers. This arrangement has worked so well that it has been copied by others, including Canada, Australia and India.

    Even when the United States is at less than its best, Canadians should prefer living next to it over being adjacent to, say, Russia, which is renewing its old habit of bullying its neighbours, whether militarily or by withholding its natural resources. We are often in the habit of complaining about US actions at home and abroad. But the fact is that we do so with nearly complete impunity. We can easily get away with it, unlike Georgia vis-à-vis Russia. No matter how much the American government may be annoyed with us, we know that its troops will not be spilling over our borders any time soon. For this we can rightly be thankful.

    Although an empire is tempted to abuse its considerable power, the fact of one nation exercising more influence than another is not itself a violation of justice. Nevertheless, other nations are well advised to be vigilant in their dealings with it, to ensure that its power is adequately checked.

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    05 November 2008

    It's finally over

    Barack Obama wins presidency, making history. Now the real work begins.

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    03 November 2008

    Fauré's Pavane

    I fell in love with this piece when I heard Barbra Streisand sing it as a vocalise more than three decades ago. We are not accustomed to hearing it played more quickly than this, but, given that the following version seems to have come from a piano roll played by Gabriel Fauré himself, it may actually represent what the composer intended.

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