28 June 2006

Genevan psalms

During a previous bout with depression five years ago, I was afflicted by a compulsion to paraphrase biblical psalms and arrange their proper Genevan melodies so they could be easily sung. I then posted a website devoted to the Genevan Psalter. Nothing seemed to be effective in curing this compulsion, even that class of medications known as VRIs (versification reuptake inhibitors). Now it appears the compulsion has returned. The local medical community is stumped. Here is the first symptom:

Psalm 77


I cried out for God to help me,
cried aloud that God might hear me.
When I languished in distress,
then I sought God’s faithfulness.
Through the night I reached for healing,
yet my heart refused consoling.
Thinking of my God, I sigh,
faint while pond’ring God on high.

You have kept my eyes from sleeping,
too distraught was I for speaking.
I remembered times of old,
former days have I recalled.
In the darkness do I ponder,
in my heart I can’t but wonder:
will God cast away at last?
is his love for ever past?

Have God’s mercies fled for ever?
Will his promise grace us never?
Shall we bear his wrath alone?
Is his steadfast love now gone?
This, I said, is why I’m grieving
and my happiness is leaving:
for the arm of the Most High
has abandoned us to die.

I recalled the deeds of our Lord,
marvels brought about by his word.
I reflect through all my days
on the wonders of your ways.
God, your paths are our savation,
you subdue the pagan nation.
You redeem us with your arm —
Jacob, Joseph — from all harm.

When the waters saw your power,
depths of sea before you cowered.
Torrents poured out from the sky;
arrows flashed from side to side.
Heaven shook with thunder crashes,
earth was lit by lightning flashes;
Your way led us through the sea,
where your footsteps were unseen.

Like a flock you led your people
in the midst of the upheaval,
by your servants' willing hand,
Moses, Aaron, through the land.

Text and arrangement copyright © 2006 by David T. Koyzis

24 June 2006

Cuban awareness event

Sharon Boase of The Hamilton Spectator interviewed me last week for this story: Singing for Cuban prisoners: Christian union offers free concert to build support. Don't forget to be at FRWY Cafe, 333 King St. E., this evening at 7.

23 June 2006

Terror averted in Windy City

For a native of the Chicago area, this is a scary story: Seven Are Charged With Plot to Blow Up Sears Tower. And this so soon after a similar terrorist plot was foiled here in Canada.
Liturgical language revised. . . again

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has made a number of adjustments to the language of the mass in order more faithfully to conform to the original Latin. This latest revision is thus a conservative revision. Reactions in the pews? Some people don't like it, while others think it no big deal. This raises at least two questions: First, will the Canadian Conference do the same? Second, will other denominations, e.g., Anglicans and Lutherans, who use the earlier and apparently less accurate translations produced by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, follow the Catholic lead?

21 June 2006

Allergies and depression

This is old news, but it's recently become relevant to me: The 'Bless You' Blues: A surprising relationship between allergies and depression. For me the link seems to work thus: allergies disturb my sleep patterns, which in turn induce depression. I am coming to see that I need to address my allergies, which have been worse in recent months, if I hope to find healing for depression, which is the source of the "difficult few weeks" of which I wrote earlier. I will not be writing at length about this, except to ask for prayers for healing as I attempt to rebalance my life and address what I now believe to be the proximate biological cause of this condition. In the meantime postings in this space are likely to be fewer than in the past.

18 June 2006

A dirty joke?

It seems cleanliness may not after all be next to godliness, at least for those of us suffering from allergies and other autoimmune diseases: Dirty rats healthier than clean ones: Study.
World Cup fever

Flags are selling on the street corners and flying from passing automobiles, as everyone supports their favourite World Cup team. This year I'm rooting for Australia.
Reformed Worship articles

I have recently discovered that four articles I wrote some 15 years ago have been posted at the Reformed Worship website: Restoring Psalms to Worship, Straight from Scripture, The Lord's Supper: How Often? and Sursum Corda: Lift Up Your Hearts. The first two articles are actually two parts of a single essay published in successive issues.

15 June 2006

A union's future

The United Auto Workers is in trouble, according to this article: UAW to Begin Drive to Recruit New Workers. The statistics are grim: "UAW membership peaked in 1979 at 1.5 million, but it dropped to 676,000 in 2002 and now stands at just less than 599,000, according to the union." Perhaps it's time for the union's leadership to look north of the border and to learn something from the CLAC's successful model. As the latter continues to grow, it seems likely to pass the UAW in size at some point, in which case the UAW will have no choice but to take notice.

12 June 2006

Hillsdale Holiday

We took a brief holiday in Hillsdale, Michigan, this past weekend, visiting family. Here are some of the highlights:

A walk along a not-quite-country road

Some flowers along the road

Picnic at Baw Beese Lake

Hillsdale College

Hillsdale Academy,
where my brother-in-law is headmaster

Remember Mail Pouch Tobacco?

09 June 2006

Max Lucado

I've seen Max Lucado's books around for years, but until recently I had never actually read one. A few weeks ago Theresa brought home several of his children's books from school, and we read them together. These were about the Wemmicks and their various foibles. The Wemmicks are wooden creatures fashioned by Eli, the Woodcarver, who is obviously intended to represent God in his relationship with his human image-bearers. The Wemmicks are constantly engaging in oneupsmanship and status-seeking, and Eli has to keep reminding them they needn't do this and that he loves them as they are.

The stories are innocuous enough and reaffirming of children's self-esteem, but given that they were written by a professed christian author, one would expect to see more evident references to sin and redemption, which are conspicuous by their absence — at least from the Wemmick books. Others can perhaps tell me whether he rectifies this defect in his other books. I hope so.

05 June 2006

The sixties and the evolution of liberalism

Two years ago I came across this fascinating article by Bruce Bawer in The Wilson Quarterly: The Other Sixties, about that brief era wedged between the ostensibly mindless conformity of the 1950s and the turbulent "Sixties", with its drug culture, angry anti-war protests, and aggressive student rebellion against authority. The early 1960s roughly corresponds to the John F. Kennedy administration in the United States and its immediate aftermath, a time of idealism, a sophisticated blend of high and middle-brow culture, and widespread expectations for the efficacy of a variety of liberal reforms. It was the era of Kennedy's New Frontier, the Peace Corps, the New Math, and the quests to reach (literally) for the moon, to combat poverty and to end racial discrimination. Pope John XXIII headed the Roman Catholic Church, and the Second Vatican Council was bringing the winds of change into an ancient institution. Almost simultaneously European colonialism in Africa and elsewhere was being wound down, with high hopes expressed for these newly liberated nation-states. Setting the tone for the arts and entertainment were Jack Paar and The Dick Van Dyke Show on that still new medium of television; Leonard Bernstein's classic musical play, West Side Story; Julia Child's popularization of continental cuisine in a meat-and-potatoes culinary culture; and the fashionable Kennedies themselves. Films like The Apartment and Breakfast at Tiffany's began quietly to break sexual taboos, and Alfred Hitchcock's deliberately shocking Psycho marked a departure from his string of suspense hits of the previous decade.

The Dick Van Dyke Show
Bawer's essay is less an analysis than a compelling evocation of an era marked at once by innocence and sophistication. As someone whose elementary school years coincided with this period, I believe he has done a good job of conveying to a contemporary audience something of its feel. Indeed Dick Van Dyke was (and remains) one of my favourite television shows, even if my juvenile mind did not quite grasp all of its humour at the time. I well recall the arrival of the New Math and other innovations in my own educational experience. Long before PowerPoint, overhead projectors were a fresh and exciting way to communicate knowledge to youngsters. Then there were Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Although my parents were moderately conservative Republicans — this was, after all, DuPage County, Illinois — I recall being told by them that those seeking equal rights for black Americans were unequivocally in the right. I have few memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis as such, but I do recall the global tensions characterizing the Cold War era and wondering whether my siblings and I would live to see adulthood. The idealism of the era was thus tempered by a vague and unprecedented fear for the future — a fear that at any moment our whole world might evaporate in a terrifying flash.

All of this began to change with Kennedy's assassination on friday, 22 November 1963, an event that marked a watershed for our generation. After that things were never quite the same. As I reached puberty a few years later, race riots were marring the landscapes of the major urban centres, and university students were protesting an Asian war that dragged on with no evident larger purpose. The sexual revolution unnervingly coincided with my own attainment of sexual maturity, and the entire culture seemed to be conspiring against the virtue of chastity, especially in the young. Rock music took on an increasingly hard edge, hair grew longer, and school dress codes went out the window as "nonconformist" young people donned the ubiquitous and standardizing blue jeans. The idealistic world in which I had been raised had been quickly supplanted by one where, despite the hope that "peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars," a bohemian ethos of "do your own thing" made the defenders of social institutions and their larger public purposes appear hopelessly "square." Bawer ends his article with the summer of 1967 and the hippies in Tompkins Square Park in New York — a poignant glimpse into the next era.

While Bawer's portrait of the early 1960s is unabashedly nostalgic, James Piereson has a much less rosy portrait of the period and its immediate aftermath: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Liberal Crack-Up. Oswald was, of course, Kennedy's assassin, and Piereson argues that this professed communist and Castro sympathizer did more than anything else to discredit the moderate liberal reformism characterizing what would shortly come to be called "Camelot." The irony for Piereson is that many of the young who had been so enthralled by Kennedy's vision of a New Frontier would come a few years later to espouse doctrines not dissimilar to those animating his murderer under the guise of the New Left. Furthermore, while prior to 1963 liberalism in some fashion seemed to be in the ascendancy in the United States, with conservatism being relegated to the cranky right, the distortions of the late sixties and early seventies produced a reactive response that led to the rise of a new conservatism, initially under President Richard Nixon with his famous "silent majority," and eventually under Ronald Reagan after 1980. By the 1990s and into the first years of the 21st century the United States appeared to be permanently divided in a culture war between "red states" and "blue states," thus mirroring a much earlier development in the European continent following the French Revolution. The seeming liberal consensus of the early sixties had been replaced by hardened divisions over a host of issues, including abortion, marriage and homosexuality.

None of this could have been predicted in 1960. At that time the old New Deal coalition was still largely intact, although southern whites' loyalty to the Democratic Party was definitely eroding over racial segregation and civil rights. This coalition revolved largely around concrete economic issues — the very issues that had served to define the political landscape since the onset of the Great Depression a generation earlier. By this time the Republican Party had gained its reputation as the party of the "haves" and the Democratic Party was perceived to champion the "have nots." The industrial economy that had begun after the Civil War still characterized much of American life. A few miles from where I grew up the Elgin National Watch Company's factory was still standing and producing watches, as it had for nearly a century. In nearby Villa Park, the Ovaltine Company's plant was still producing its famous egg and malt-based beverage for the country. And the Union Stock Yard on the southwest side of Chicago continued to supply much of the meat that fed the region. Moreover, the country's transportation infrastructure still revolved around the railways, which fanned out in all directions from America's Second City. Famous passenger trains such as the Twentieth Century Limited and the Super Chief still rolled down the tracks towards their destinations.

By the middle of the decade all this was clearly changing. The Elgin Watch factory closed in 1965. Rail passenger service was mostly discontinued by the end of the decade, until Amtrak picked up the remnants in 1971. By the 1970s much of the old industrial infrastructure was, if not entirely gone, at least fading in significance for the larger economy, as increasing numbers of Americans found themselves employed in the growing service industries. So-called post-material values took over the two major political parties, especially the Democrats. By 1972 the transition was nearly complete. Once I had reached high school I was aware of living in a different world than the one I was born into. So much had things changed that the 1973 film American Graffiti could wax nostalgic about an era only a decade in the past. What had happened and why?

Francis Fukuyama argues, in The Great Disruption, that there is a causal connection between the changing economy and the changing social mores, with the former mostly effecting the latter. While this may not be precisely a marxist argument, it certainly shares with Marx the conviction that man is homo faber, man the producer, with concrete productive forces fuelling social and political change. In this account the shift from the industrial to the service economy in the 1960s disrupted the social mores that had held sway from the middle of the 19th century, leading in the short run to higher rates of out-of-wedlock births, higher crime rates and drug abuse, on the negative side, but at the same time expanded opportunities for minorities and women, and an increasing environmental awareness, on the positive side. Fukuyama's undergirding argument is historicistic in that it assumes that social mores are dependent on and appropriate to a particular stage in the productive process.

While I would not deny the material motives that Fukuyama points to, I myself have come to think that what happened four decades ago was in large measure due to the arrival of a crucial moment in the development of the liberal project that had begun in the 17th and 18th centuries. In my Political Visions and Illusions I trace the development of liberalism through five stages, beginning with the Hobbesian commonwealth, through the night watchman state, the regulatory state and the equal-opportunity state and finally to the choice-enhancement state. My argument is that the cultural shifts of the 1960s marked the transition between the fourth and fifth stages — from a focus on the expansion of material opportunities through state intervention to an emphasis on expanding the human capacity to choose, period. In the choice-enhancement state, government undertakes to maintain a benign neutrality towards a variety of personal lifestyle choices, ostensibly on the grounds of freeing individuals from oppressive constraints on their freedom. Hence Pierre Trudeau could claim that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, a conclusion difficult to contest on the surface. Yet personal choices are not without consequences, not only for the individuals themselves but also for their immediate and extended communities. These consequences are by no means equal in their impact on the larger society, with some more evidently diminishing of human flourishing than others. Therefore, in order to maintain the illusion of equality of lifestyle choices, the state is called upon to compensate for these unequal consequences by means of the very welfare state programmes established during the previous stage of liberalism for different reasons.

Could Bawer's "other sixties" simply have been the high water mark, not of liberalism per se, but of liberalism's fourth stage, in which adherents believed it possible to bring its larger project to culmination while limiting the full working out of its inner logic? If so, then what happened in the mid to late sixties represented not really an abandonment of liberalism but the opening of a cleavage between those who wanted to push its logic further still (the radicals, hippies, &c.) and those who sought to return to an earlier stage of liberalism (the so-called conservatives). Because the conservatives were merely reactive and sought to turn back the clock on the liberal project rather than to posit a genuine alternative, they could never manage to secure a victory against a liberalism whose undergirding assumptions they themselves in large measure shared. Bawer's nostalgia notwithstanding, the "other sixties" could never have been but one brief, shining moment.

03 June 2006

June flowers

Our rhododendrons are blooming for the first time in years, perhaps due to the mild winter we had here in southern Ontario.


Rhododendrons - detail

Incidentally, I am taking a badly needed break after a difficult few weeks. Please remember me in your prayers. I will be posting something more substantive on monday, but subsequent postings are likely to be fewer in number than in the past.


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