28 July 2011

Pennings on Breivik

My friend Ray Pennings has written an insightful op-ed piece in The Globe and Mail that is worth reading: Don’t blame religion for Anders Breivik. An excerpt:
The crimes of which Anders Breivik stands accused don’t show how religion can inspire evil. Quite the contrary: They are proof positive that a Christ-less Christianity is a cultural construct that can’t bring the depth of relationship required to prevent the horrors that evil inspires. It doesn’t show how faith makes us evil – it shows only why we so badly need to be inspired by the social virtues propagated by its institutions.

John R W Stott (1921-2011)

Never mind the radio and television preachers we hear so much about. The two most influential figures on English-speaking evangelicalism in the 20th and 21st centuries were, not Baptist or Pentecostal, but members in good standing of the Church of England: C. S. Lewis and John R. W. Stott, the latter of whom we were privileged to host at Redeemer University College several years ago. He will be greatly missed.

25 July 2011

July snippets

  • When I was growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, it was definitely a dry town. Not any more. Here is incontrovertible evidence of how much things have changed in what has become just one more Chicago suburb: More than 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall at Wheaton Ale Fest.

  • The son of the last Habsburg emperor, Archduke Otto von Habsburg, has died at age 98. Although Habsburg represented a family with centuries-old imperial ambitions for a united Europe, he spent his later years working for federal unity within the context of the European Union, especially as a member of the European Parliament. Photos of the funeral in Vienna can be see here. A survey of Habsburg's life can be read here.

  • Three years after its publication, I have finally obtained a copy of The Orthodox Study Bible, the first complete Bible in English for Orthodox Christians. At some point I will post a fuller review of the volume. For now I will make some initial observations. The Old Testament is a fresh translation from the Greek Septuagint, while the New Testament, somewhat oddly, is the New King James Version, originally published in 1982. The "canonical order" of the Old Testament books differs from that familiar to most English-speaking Christians, having been "taken from The Old Testament According to the Seventy, published with the approval of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece" (p. xi). At the beginning is an essay titled, "Introducing the Orthodox Church" (xxi-xxviii), whose appearance is somewhat surprising given that its target audience should already be acquainted with their own ecclesial communion. "Introducing the Bible" would seem more appropriate at that point. More to come.

  • Our prayers ascend to God for the people of Norway who have suffered an unspeakable tragedy in the deaths of so many at the weekend. In the coming days and weeks much will be written about mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik, whom much of the media were quick to label a fundamentalist Christian. As it turns out, one would have to stretch the definition rather a lot to make it fit: A Word About Anders Behring Breivik’s Christianity. One wonders why the press didn't jump instead on his anachronistic claim to be a Knight Templar, which, along with his nonreligious Christianity, is one element of a very weird mix.

  • I had certainly intended to comment before now on Canada's watershed federal election, which took place at the beginning of May. The 2011 election will go down in history along with such crucial elections as those of 1896, 1911 and 1993, each of which saw significant realignments in voter support for the parties. The 1993 election all but finished off the old Progressive Conservative Party, while the May election placed the Liberals — Canada's "natural governing party" — in third place for the first time ever — behind the socialist New Democrats, who now form the official opposition. Admittedly, I hadn't seen it coming. I had predicted a third Conservative minority government, assuming that the separatist Bloc québécois would continue to hold the balance of power in Parliament. Their unexpected collapse enabled the Conservatives to win a majority government for the first time in nearly two decades. I've been wrong before, and I'll probably be wrong again.

  • Long-time readers of this blog are aware that I dislike majority governments, especially when they do not have the support of a majority of voters. The Conservative Party of Canada has 166 out of 308 seats in the House of Commons, but received only 39.62 percent of the popular vote. Electoral reform would put an end to this anomalous situation, with the Commons better representing the views of Canadian voters. It would by no means solve all our problems, but it would force our political leaders to negotiate with each other and — perish the thought! — to compromise, rather than relying on an artificial majority to push what is in effect a minority agenda into law.
  • 22 July 2011

    Murdoch's good news of the world

    A newsworthy item from the CNN Belief Blog:
    It just so happens that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which is weathering a storm of criticism around newspaper ethics, also owns the rights to the world's best-selling English Bible, the New International Version.

    Could this lead to an explosion in sales of the NRSV or ESV?

    19 July 2011

    A family bible

    My great-grandmother, Lucy Jane Bentley Hyder, died several years before I was born, so I have no personal memories of her. However, I do have her family Bible, a hefty King James version printed in 1892 that has been passed down the generations and came into my possession not quite twenty years ago. I cannot say whether her family read from it regularly, but, like so many other bible owners, she recorded births and deaths in its pages – something giving it inestimable value to her descendants.

    Lucy Jane and her husband Nelson were both born in 1875 and married in 1896. The first event she recorded was the birth of their eldest child, Mary E. Hyder, later that year. The most poignant record in her handwriting was the birth of twins Emmet and Emma in 1901, followed a day later by a record of their deaths. One suspects they were born — perhaps premature — at home before the days of hospital neonatal intensive care units. Apparently there was a page listing marriages as well, but at some point one of their sons seems to have torn it out to expunge evidence of an earlier matrimonial moment he preferred to forget.

    Lucy Jane was a Virginian by birth, growing up and living in East Stone Gap, Virginia, until around 1914, when she and Nelson moved to a farm outside Adrian, Michigan. They were members of the local Friends Church, not because they were Quakers, but because it was nearest their home. A cousin assures me that Lucy Jane believed the world was flat until her dying day. My mother tells me she spoke with a distinctive southern accent, pronouncing the neuter third-person pronoun as hit, a holdover from Anglo-Saxon and Chaucer’s Middle English, with an obvious family resemblance to the Dutch het.

    Though she had little formal education, Lucy Jane had the presence of mind to record two reminiscences of her own ancestry extending back to the end of the eighteenth century. One of these was dictated to my mother’s elder sister and is still found between the pages of the Bible in the book of Daniel. Armed with this information, I was easily able to find myriad connections with the so-called World Family Tree, containing the various European noble and royal figures from which virtually everyone we might chance to meet on the street is descended in some fashion. The results of my research I posted here nearly a decade ago: The Ancestry of Nelson Hyder and Lucy Jane Bentley Hyder, along with entries from the Bible itself.

    There are no underscorings in the text of this Bible. Whether it was read in the course of daily family prayers I cannot say. I wish I had thought to ask her daughter, my grandmother, while she was still alive. Yet it was obviously an important part of the family’s life together, collecting over the years newspaper clippings, personal letters and pressed leaves. The binding is intact, although the front cover is loose and some of the cloth has clearly worn away near the spine. I hope that my own daughter will treasure this volume, as have more than a century of her ancestors.

    Incidentally, during a recent visit with relatives, I rediscovered a family bible dating to 1841 belonging to the first settlers in a region of Michigan where my cousins were born and raised. I can no longer recall how it came into my possession some thirty years ago. But when I found it again and recognized what it was, I typed the original owners' names into the ubiquitous Google and quickly discovered that a descendant had posted their information on a popular genealogical website. I was able to contact her and return the volume to a family member who would value it more than I. This would not have been possible two or three decades ago.

    My curiosity is piqued. In an age of mass printing and the easy availability of books, does anyone keep a family bible anymore? The people I know have scores of individually-owned bibles in their homes, but does any have the clear status of family bible? Responses are welcome.

    18 July 2011

    Farewell to a prophet: Gerald Vandezande

    Adrian Helleman has posted a eulogy for Gerald Vandezande, who died this past saturday. I myself had known Vandezande for more than 30 years, mostly through associations with Citizens for Public Justice, on one of whose boards I served in the mid-1990s. He will definitely be missed. Here is Helleman:
    He was born in the Netherlands and emigrated to Canada in 1951 at the age of 17. Although he had only a high school education, by dint of hard work he learned cost accounting at night school. His employer sent him to Sarnia, where he met his future wife and coworker, Wynne. He originally had a dream to become a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, but God had other plans for him: proclaiming the gospel through Christian action.

    He did this first in the Christian Labour Association of Canada, where he became executive secretary. He was instrumental in winning certification for the CLAC. After that he worked for social justice through the Committee for Justice and Liberty, which became the CJL Foundation and later formed the nucleus for Citizens for Public Justice.

    This brief sketch cannot begin to do justice to Jerry's many ventures. Later in life his efforts for social justice expanded to include the environment, abortion, pluralism, independent schools, and child poverty. No doubt, I have forgotten many other things that he did.

    Jerry had a way of speaking to everyone in Canadian society, from factory workers to politicians. And he was fearless in addressing the issues of the day. Above all, he had a knack for uniting people from many faiths and working with them for a common cause.

    He was an inspiration and mentor to many younger people in Canada, who learned from him how a Christian should be engaged in politics. Jerry's thought had been shaped by the Dutch Christian religious leader and politician, Abraham Kuyper, who asserted that all of creation belongs to Christ. That means politics as well.

    On abortion, for example, Jerry supported proposed federal legislation that many anti-abortion Christians opposed and was thus defeated. This loss was a great disappointment to him.

    For Jerry, justice meant more than "Just Us," which was the title of his book. In the name of justice, we must not support only our own individual or community projects, but we must prepared to build bridges to those of other political views or religious faiths. We must be prepared to compromise, if necessary, in order to achieve our common political objectives. That, after all, is the nature of politics.

    The nation of Canada indicated its respect for Jerry by awarding him the Order of Canada [our counterpart to knighthood] in May 2001.

    His death is a great loss to all Canadians who are passionate for social justice. Many people from diverse walks of life and widely differing faiths have lost a great friend. I count myself among them. My wife and I have enjoyed his friendship and encouragement for many decades.

    Jerry was a prophet for our time, and Canada has lost one of its greatest prophetic voices. Our condolences go out to Wynne and their daughters, Janice and Karen, as well as the grandchildren.

    Farewell to a faithful prophet. A good and faithful servant of God, Jerry has received the commendation of the master (Mt. 25:21).

    04 July 2011

    Americans ahead of their time

    In 1931 the Statute of Westminster elevated the so-called Dominions within the British Empire to a status of equality with the United Kingdom itself. These included Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, the Union of South Africa and the Irish Free State. The Empire thus became the Commonwealth of Nations or, more popularly, the British Commonwealth. Each Dominion had its own Parliament and was functionally independent, sharing only a common monarch whose representative, the Governor General, was appointed by the King on the advice of his Dominion government.

    Two centuries earlier, however, the American colonists believed that something like the Commonwealth of Nations already existed. This is what contributed to the outbreak of hostilities in 1775. Here is David Hackett Fischer:
    These county oligarchies [in colonial Virginia] were not sovereign bodies. Above them sat the Assembly, Council and Royal Governor. The status of these institutions was in dispute until the American War of Independence. The Assembly was understood by Imperial officials as the colonial equivalent of a municipal council in England. They called it the House of Burgesses, a name which brought to mind the Burgesses of Bristol and other British towns. But Virginians had a different idea of their Assembly. In 1687, William Fitzhugh called it "our Parliament here," a representative body which knew no sovereign except the King himself (p. 407).

    Tragically, this difference of opinion had to be settled on the battlefield, with Americans claiming full independence on this day 235 years ago.


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