Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

25 March 2011

Defending Constantine

I first read John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus when I was 20 years old, and at the time I simply took it for granted that he was right that the Roman Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity represented the corrupting alliance of the church with the state. Then Peter Leithart wrote Defending Constantine, which my friend and colleague Rob Joustra has reviewed for Comment: The Embarrassment of Power: Does Constantine Need Defending? Take a look and see what you think.

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18 March 2011

The Politics of the Psalms

Perhaps it has something to do with my first name, but I have always been fascinated by the biblical book of the Psalms. I grew up singing from a hymn book in which the Psalms set to meter were given a prominent place. The liturgical practice of singing the Psalms has ancient roots going back to temple and synagogue worship, finding its way also into Christian churches. It is thus not surprising that, until the end of the 18th century, the majority of Protestants sang from metrical psalters containing all 150 Psalms. Most Protestants since then have abandoned this practice, but many in the Reformed tradition have held to it, glorifying God, as it is often said, in his own words.

Read more here.

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05 March 2011

Food prices and global unrest: a vicious cycle

This post in The Mail from Accra, Ghana, carries the following report: "The Global food prices rose for the eighth straight month in February, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today, while also warning that unexpected spikes in oil prices could exacerbate an already precarious situation in food markets."

According to Chuck Colson's latest Breakpoint commentary:
If you ask the average American what lay behind the recent revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, you are likely to hear words like freedom, democracy, and even Facebook and Twitter. A word you probably won’t hear is food. But just as much as social media, what brought people onto the streets of Tunis and Cairo was food: too little of it at too high a price.

This apparently causal relationship between food prices and unrest works both ways. The uprisings in the middle east and north Africa are themselves driving up the price of oil. Gas here in Hamilton is up to $1.22 (CDN) a litre, with the Canadian dollar, which is a petro-dollar, worth slightly more than its US counterpart.

This rise in the price of oil will in turn lead to a further rise in food prices, as the cost of transporting food goes up. We wealthy westerners can generally afford to bear these prices by cutting back our discretionary household spending, but people elsewhere in the world cannot do this as easily. If food prices rise further, we could be in for more political turmoil around the globe.

Can we do anything about it? Colson believes we might transfer valuable agricultural land away from ethanol production to the production of foodstuffs. This could put more food on the market and lower costs for everyone. On the other hand, would a drop in ethanol production lead to more demand for oil, thereby driving up the cost of gasoline at the pump and further increasing transportation costs for food? Either scenario appears to have its downside. Our economists obviously have their work cut out for them.

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04 March 2011

On Wisconsin: Budget Battles and Adversarial Politics

Just as historic popular uprisings have swept across the Middle East and North Africa, a similar, if less violent, wave of discontent has engulfed the state of Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker has moved to rein in public spending by trimming public employee benefits and removing them from the collective bargaining process. Massive protests have been held in the state capital of Madison. The nearby state of Indiana looks set to experience similar turmoil.

Read more here.

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03 March 2011

Celebrating the Kimyal New Testament

Those of us who have grown up knowing and loving God's word in its plethora of English translations cannot but be moved by the following video. Praise God that the Kimyal people of West Papua at last have the complete New Testament in their own language. We share in their joy.

Kimyal New Testament launch in Indonesia
from United Bible Societies on Vimeo.

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02 March 2011

Senate reform . . . again?

Canadians have argued about our Parliament's upper chamber for nearly as long as it has existed. What place does an unelected Senate have in a constitutional democracy? New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton has made his own proposal: Layton proposes referendum on Senate. He wants to see it abolished. However, Lorne Gunter strongly disagrees: Disbanding the Senate would outrage the west. Canada is nearly unique amongst the world's federal systems in lacking an upper chamber effectively representing its component members, which makes our system rather unbalanced. By contrast, the United States Senate represents the individual states by giving each of them two members. The Australian Senate give each of the 6 states 12 members serving six-year terms.

However, if we were to abolish our Senate, our system would be even more unbalanced than it is at present. Over the decades our governments have attempted to compensate for this flaw by holding first ministers conferences, which are typically held annually but whose frequency has declined over the past ten years. Due to this lack of frequency and other factors, the first ministers conference has not adequately filled the gap in our constitutional framework. Rather than abolish the Senate, which would only exacerbate the historic tensions between central Canada and the rest of the country, we would do better to reform the Senate to make it more genuinely representative, especially of those living outside Ontario and Québec.

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Setback in Pakistan for religious freedom

This is a tragic development in a context already fraught with difficulties for believers in this troubled south Asian country: Pakistan's only Christian cabinet member assassinated. Last December our family met Shahbaz Bhatti's brother Peter and a colleague at a Presbyterian-sponsored breakfast here in Hamilton. They are leaders of a group called International Christian Voice, which "recognizes the suffering of Christians and other religious minorities of Pakistan and is dedicated to being the voice of the oppressed and work for their basic human rights which are suppressed." Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan and support the efforts of International Christian Voice to publicize their plight.

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01 March 2011

From Fort Lauderdale to the Isle of Lewis: Singing God’s praises

There would seem to be no obvious connection between Missionary Baptists in Florida and Psalm-singers in the Western Isles of Scotland. But hear for yourselves the striking similarities between the way two communities of Christians worship God.



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