29 April 2007

Robert E. Webber (1933-2007)

Nearly 30 years ago I read my first book by the prolific Bob Webber. It was called Common Roots, an eloquent plea for free-church evangelicals to reclaim the church of the first centuries as their own and to recognize their origins therein. A few years later I reviewed Webber's The Moral Majority: Right or Wrong? for the old Vanguard magazine, published by the Wedge Publishing Foundation in Toronto. Then on to an edited volume, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, containing first-person accounts of evangelicals whose personal pilgrimages had led them to Anglicanism. This book inspired me to commit my own spiritual pilgrimage to writing, which, at the tender age of 31, I had the audacity to send to him. When I met him later, he told me he had actually read it, somewhat to my surprise.

In 1991 Webber was a guest speaker at a worship conference at Redeemer, and I had the opportunity not only to meet him but to spend time talking with him. Five years later he attended Nancy's and my wedding ceremony in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Nancy had been teaching at Wheaton College up until then, so she and Bob were colleagues in the same department. I thus had more than one connection with the man.

Webber was best known for his writings on liturgy, including the edited multivolume Complete Library of Christian Worship, in which two of my own articles appear. He was less the scholar, along the lines of, say, Gregory Dix or Hughes Old, and more the popularizer, influencing Christians in a number of traditions to think more self-consciously about why and how they worship. He wrote in a way that was accessible to ordinary church-goers, and that's where his impact will be felt for some time to come.

Last autumn he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, after enjoying a brief remission around Christmas, died last friday. He will be missed.

Later: Here is Christianity Today's article on Webber: Robert E. Webber, Theologian of 'Ancient-Future' Faith, Dies at 73.

28 April 2007

Incandescents' days numbered

How many Ontarians does it take to change a light bulb? We'll find out in 2012.
Gagnon responds to Williams

In response to the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent address at Wycliffe and Trinity Colleges in Toronto, Robert A. J. Gagnon, of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, offers his own take on the issues dividing the Anglican Communion: Rowan Williams’ Wrong Reading of Romans (…and John 14:6).
Niko and Nazli

Could a television soap opera help to improve Greek-Turkish relations? Perhaps.

23 April 2007

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (1931-2007)

Boris Yeltsin
More on abortion

If anyone doubts where the CBC stands on the abortion issue, this country's public broadcaster seems bent on removing any lingering uncertainties by giving Heather Mallick a voice (Abortion rights and abortion fights) without providing for an opposing viewpoint. Just a sample of her rhetoric: "anti-abortionists" engage in "mean, small-time work," and "try to lure women to change their minds, terrifying them with misleading photographs and false information."

South of the border, Jim Wallis has his own take on the issue: "We have supported a 'consistent life ethic' - which seeks a dramatic reduction in the actual abortion rate in America, without criminalizing what is always a tragic choice and often a desperate one." Some people failing to comprehend the intricacies of a consistent life ethic might be inclined to call his position, well, pro-choice.

20 April 2007

US high court backtracks

The fallout continues from the US Supreme Court's decision in Gonzales v. Carhart handed down on wednesday. Not surprisingly, pro-lifers approve: Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Decision Could Lead to Overturning Roe v. Wade. And, as expected, pro-choicers are alarmed: Supreme Court Decision Marks Setback for Women's Health and Privacy. If anyone finds it difficult to discern an overarching pattern in Supreme Court judgements on abortion, there are reasons, as Michael M. Uhlmann explains: Put on Your Body Armor. Stay tuned for more responses from various quarters.
Imagine that. . .

If the Channel Tunnel made Great Britain part of Europe, might this proposed tunnel make Russia part of North America? or the US part of Asia? If successful, in theory one could take a very long automobile or rail trip covering every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. The question is: would Americans and Russians really wish to share a "land" border?
The birth of a classic

Film buffs, especially Alfred Hithcock aficionados, will find this of interest. A few weeks ago I pulled from my personal files a yellowed page of the Chicago Daily Tribune, dated June 30, 1958. Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper writes:

North by Northwest

Here, by the way, is my own brief review of the film.

18 April 2007


Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the events this week at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

17 April 2007

The Charter at 25

A quarter century ago today Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau achieved his highest political dream of patriating Canada's constitution. Prior to that point this country had no entrenched constitutional documents on a par with the United States Constitution or the German Grundgesetz. We had the British North America Act of 1867, but this was no more than an act of the British Parliament, its validity originally resting on Canada's legal subordination to that Parliament. After the Statute of Westminster of 1931, Canada had the right to adopt its own entrenched constitution, but the anomaly of Canada's subordinate constitutional status continued right up to 1982, primarily because for 50 years federal and provincial leaders could not agree on how to amend such a document. With the "gentle" urging of Trudeau, this all changed on 17 April 1982, when the Queen signed the new constitution in Ottawa.

Patriating Canada's constitution
After this date the British North America Act became, with some modifications, the Constitution Act, 1867, an entrenched document possessing the status of "supreme law of the land," to quote its American counterpart. More significant yet was the adoption of the Constitution Act, 1982, a completely new document consisting of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the formulae for amending these documents. Among the consequences of the adoption of entrenched constitution acts was the empowering of the courts, which now had the authority to invalidate federal and provincial laws deemed to conflict with these acts. Some would argue that this has strengthened constitutional government against the threat of majoritarian tyranny. Others see it as having diminished the democratic character of our political system and increased the threat of judicial tyranny.

Here, from the CBC archives, is a video timeline of the lengthy process of giving Canada its own constitution, as some would put it.

16 April 2007

Anglican news

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, is in our neck of the woods today and tomorrow. I've not yet had a chance to read the speech he delivered in Toronto, but I'm linking to it here for those interested: The Bible Today: Reading & Hearing.

In the meantime yet another parish has broken with the Episcopal Church. This time it's the Church of the Resurrection in West Chicago, very near the town where I grew up. The congregation intends to seek "new oversight within the Communion," i.e., to place themselves under a bishop elsewhere within the larger Anglican Communion, perhaps Africa or Asia.
Electoral reform recommended

The Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform has made its recommendation for reforming the province's electoral system: replacing first-past-the-post (FPTP) with mixed-member proportional (MMP). I would like to think that my own submission had something to do with this, but it seems that MMP received the most support of the various suggested alternatives. This means we will be voting on whether to adopt MMP at the next provincial election in October. The Globe and Mail reports:

The referendum will have a high threshold in order to pass. It needs at least 60 per cent of the votes cast, along with at least 50 per cent of voters in a minimum of 64 individual provincial ridings. There are currently 103 ridings. . . .

Under [MMP], Ontario would have 90 MPs elected from local ridings, just as they are now, for 70 per cent of the seats in the legislature. Another 30 per cent of the seats, or 29 in total, would be awarded to candidates selected from lists put together by the parties. Candidates from the lists would be used to adjust the number of seats each party has to reflect its share of the popular vote.

Needless to say, I have already decided how I will vote.

15 April 2007

Pascha eggs

How did eggs come to be associated with Pascha? Here is an account worth reading as much for its visual setting as for its content: Eggs in the Christian Tradition. Be sure to click on the sound file on the final page to hear the paschal troparion sung in English, French and Greek. Hat tip to the Orthodoxy Today blog.
Doubt and faith

Doubting Thomas
“My piercèd side, O Thomas, see;
My hands, My feet, I show to thee;
Not faithless but believing be.”

11 April 2007

The Paschal greeting

Somehow "Happy Easter" just doesn't cut it. At church on sunday I very much wanted people to follow the Orthodox tradition and greet me with "Christ is risen!" to which I would then respond: "Truly he is risen!" In our family we do this in Greek: "Χριστός ανέστη!" "Αληθώς ανέστη!" (Remember the post-vigil scene at Dancing Zorba's restaurant in My Big Fat Greek Wedding?) In Russian it is rendered thus: "Христос Воскресе!" "Воистину Воскресе!" Yesterday one of my students, an Orthodox Christian with Lebanese roots, taught me the greeting in Arabic.

Later in the day I discovered this marvellous website, Pascha Polyglotta, that gives us the ancient greeting in 250 languages (but not Russian or Old Church Slavonic for some reason). Each example of the greeting contains a sound file with pronunciation. It's a great resource and certainly worth bookmarking to gain a sense of the sheer diversity, yet catholicity, of Christ's church. (Hat tip to Orthodox Wiki.)

Later: While we're at it, I will link here to something I posted last year on the meaning of our English word Easter: Easter: what's in a name?

09 April 2007

Incompetence in Iraq

This new book is likely to make waves south of the border and elsewhere: Ali A. Allawi, The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace. Charles J. Hanley summarizes the book's argument in this Associated Press report: Iraqi details 'shocking' U.S. missteps.
Christian democracy in Québec

I have recently become aware of the existence of the Parti démocratie chrétienne du Québec, a provincial political party that is attempting to buck the secularizing trends that have overtaken Québec since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. It is avowedly Catholic, drawing on the social teachings of the Catholic Church. It is pronatalist, aims to protect the family and opposes abortion. It is nationalist, but not separatist, preferring to see Canada remodelled along the decentralizing lines of the Swiss confederation. In the recent provincial election the PDCQ received a somewhat less than impressive 1,635 votes, or 0.04 % of the total number of votes. An educated guess would not see it forming the government in Québec any time soon.
More on Orthodox Church growth

This year eastern and western celebrations of Easter occurred on the same day. To mark this rare simultaneous observance, the media in several US cities have taken the opportunity to report on the growing numbers of converts to the Orthodox Church. From the Cincinnati Enquirer: Timeless faith sees good times: Orthodox Christianity growing swiftly in U.S. From the Lansing State Journal: Steeped in tradition. From the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal: Where new embraces old. From The Seattle Times: Orthodox churches experiencing a resurgence.

In the meantime the elderly Patriarch Pavle of the Orthodox Church of Serbia has denounced western plans to grant independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo. I am inclined to agree with those who argue that encouraging such a move would establish a dangerous precedent for other states plagued by secessionist movements. It is unlikely that, say, the United States would allow territories in its own southwest with Spanish-speaking majorities to claim independence or to rejoin Mexico.

08 April 2007

And the third day he rose again. . .


06 April 2007

Crucified for us. . .

05 April 2007

Climate change

The following story may or may not have appeared recently in the North American press:

Moratorium called for in climate change debate

WASHINGTON, DC - Concerned scientists are calling for a moratorium in the ongoing debate over climate change, noting that it is generating more heat than light and thereby inadvertently contributing to global warming.
High speed railways

This week France's famous Train à grande vitesse (TGV) set a new speed record for rail transportation, clocking an impressive velocity of 574.8km/h (356mph), as seen immediately below:

As a lifelong railfan, I have a certain affection for trains of all sorts, but especially for electric railways, such as subways, trams and interurbans/radials. Would the Windsor-Québec corridor here in Canada benefit from the kind of high-speed rail service found in France and Japan? It would be expensive, to be sure, and it's possible that numbers of potential riders would not warrant it. But given that airport capacity cannot be expanded indefinitely and that there's only so much air space over a metropolitan urban centre, there is much to be said for at least improving passenger rail travel between cities separated by short or intermediate distances, such as Toronto and Ottawa or Québec and Montréal. Moreover, anything that would decrease the numbers of private automobiles, with their heavy use of nonrenewable energy resources and emission of air pollutants, on our roads is to be welcomed.

02 April 2007

Facing up to the inevitable

My experience of the past three weeks has reminded me in a vivid way of my own mortality, which coincided with the celebration of 52 years of life last friday. Three mondays ago I was working out on the cross-trainer in Redeemer's weight room. Not 12 hours later my appendix burst in the waiting room at emergency at McMaster University Medical Centre. One moment I felt healthy; scarcely a moment later I was battling a potentially serious illness. It all happened so quickly.

After I left hospital, I learned through an internet search that the famed magician, Harry Houdini, died at age 52 (!) of a burst appendix and peritonitis. In another pre-antibiotic age, that could have been me. My life might easily be over by now.

During Holy Week we are liturgically thrust into the drama of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection. This is the climax of the church year, when everything comes together in the events leading up to the paschal celebration. All of us face the eventuality of death. Two and a half years ago I decided to embark on an exercise regimen and successfully lost 20 pounds. This was in an effort to remain as healthy as possible for the sake of our young daughter. But such efforts can come to naught suddenly and unexpectedly, as I am freshly aware. In such circumstances all we can do is to hold on to the promise that, in Jesus' sacrifice for our sins, death does not have the final word.

01 April 2007

Happy birthday, EU

The European Union has just passed its half-century mark, with the celebration a week ago of the Treaty of Rome that brought into being the original European Economic Community. Like any political enterprise, the EU has its critics. Yet James W. Skillen believes that, despite its faults and its uncertain future, the EU is a significant achievement in co-operative institution-building amongst nations: The European Union at 50.

My question is this: Shouldn't we really be celebrating 55 years, given that the European Coal and Steel Community came into being in 1952 and is generally regarded as the beginning of the larger project of European integration?

Here's more on the EU anniversary: Waleed Hafeez, EU turns 50, now godless; Patrick Buchanan, The Mid-Life Crisis of the EU; Eric Margolis, EU: Excellence and ugliness; and finally the Papal Address on 50th Anniversary of Treaty of Rome.


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