Thursday, June 25, 2015

The brass serpent on the Supreme Court

In these few days between the issuance of SCOTUS's postmodern decision on Obamacare, of which Antonin Scalia has said that it shows that words have no meaning anymore to this court, and the forthcoming decision on marriage, of which so many expect so much evil, I am reminded inexplicably of a passage from Isak Dinesen's remarkable Out of Africa. She speaks of the process of being made a "woman of sorrows" by the Africans, one who bears the burden of grief and fear for others. She calls this "brass-serpenting." She says of it, "I thought it a painful, a very painful process to be hung upon the pole. I wished that I could have escaped it."
During the [First World] war, when the fate of the Carrier Corps lay upon the whole Native world, the squatters of the farm used to come and sit round my house. They did not speak, not even amongst themselves, they turned their eyes upon me and made me their brass-serpent....It was a singularly hard thing to bear. I was helped through with it by the fact that my brother's regiment was at that time sent on to the foremost trenches at Vimy Ridge; I could turn my eyes upon him and make him my brass-serpent.
As I think of Antonin Scalia, that Cassandra of the legal world, who untiringly writes his flaming and eloquent dissents, who lives and labors and is outvoted again and again at the epicenter of the loss of legal integrity, honor, and meaning in our country, I am moved to make him my brass serpent.

It is perhaps a little unfair to his fellow dissenters on this latest decision to place that symbolism upon Scalia alone. Clarence Thomas and possibly Samuel Alito are, for all I know, just as fiercely burdened with a sense of the betrayal of law, truth, and meaning, but Scalia is the one who says it. He never gets to say, "I'm tired. I'm discouraged. I'm not going to write a dissent this time." He keeps doing it. He has to go on, to bear being part of this irrational, postmodern court, and to go on saying it and saying it, the voice crying in the wilderness. Because that's his vocation. That is the work that has been given him to do.

And so I say: If he can bear it, and keep on speaking and not give in to despair, I, a mere citizen, can too.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

"The Sands of Time Are Sinking"

It's been a looong time since I've written a hymn post. I've been thinking lately of the beautiful but forgotten hymn "The Sands of Time Are Sinking." I myself never really knew the hymn until one of my friends chose it at one of our regular hymn sings, but it's become a favorite since then and deserves to be better known.

A partial history of the hymn is found in this useful post. Here is my brief version: There was once a nonconformist Scottish minister named Samuel Rutherford who lived in the 17th century. He found things a little rocky due to the religious ups and downs of that century and his tactless decision to write a treatise against the divine right of kings. He was doing okay during the middle of the century when Cromwell was in charge in England (that is not an endorsement of Oliver Cromwell!), but at the Restoration of Charles II, Rutherford found himself in a tight spot. Charles II was forgiving of some people, but not of the Scots (for a variety of political and historical reasons that had nothing to do with Rutherford personally), and Rutherford found himself on trial for treason for his political writing. But he was getting old already by that time and died before his trial. His letters and various deathbed sayings attributed to him were published.

Fast forward to the 19th century. A pastor's wife named Ann Cousin (also Scottish) was inspired by his letters to write a nineteen-verse poem called "The Last Words of Samuel Rutherford," full of allusions to his life and his hopes for heaven. Here are all the verses.

Subsequently, it appears to me, an Englishman named Edward Rimbault took selected stanzas from Cousin's poem and set them to a tune by a French violinist named Chretien d'Urhan who had presumably never heard of Rutherford. That didn't stop Rimbault from (this is my reconstruction) christening his tune "Rutherford" when it became part of a hymn. Now, I could be wrong about Rimbault's role there, but I'm having trouble finding the clear historical path from Cousin's non-hymn poem and d'Urhan's independent tune to the publication of "The Sands of Time Are Sinking" qua hymn, so this is my best guess.

The resulting hymn is very beautiful. Here are the stanzas that are generally used in the hymn version:

The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks,
The summer morn I've sighed for,
The fair sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But day-spring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel's land.

The King there in His beauty
Without a veil is seen;
It were a well-spent journey
Though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel's land.

O Christ, He is the Fountain
The deep sweet Well of love!
The streams on earth I've tasted,
More deep I'll drink above:
There to an ocean fulness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel's land.

The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear bridegroom's face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace;
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His piercèd hand:
The Lamb is all the glory
In Emmanuel's land.

Here is a lovely instrumental version of the hymn; here is a nice choir rendition.

Here are a few more verses that are good poetry and that it seems to me could be incorporated into the hymn. (According to the Hymnary site it seems that the last of these is sometimes used, though I haven't seen it myself.)

But flowers need night's cool darkness, 
The moonlight and the dew;
So Christ, from one who loved it, 
His shining oft withdrew:
And then, for cause of absence 
My troubled soul I scanned
But glory shadeless shineth 
In Immanuel’s land.

I’ve wrestled on towards Heaven, 
'Gainst storm and wind and tide,
Now, like a weary traveler
That leaneth on his guide,
Amid the shades of evening, 
While sinks life’s lingering sand,
I hail the glory dawning 
From Immanuel’s land.

With mercy and with judgment 
My web of time He wove,
And aye, the dews of sorrow
Were lustered with His love;
I’ll bless the hand that guided, 
I’ll bless the heart that planned
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

Cousin's poetry captures well the sense of a man coming to the end of his life and reflecting on the sorrows of his life in the light of eternity. The poem is, in atmosphere though not (at least in these verses) in distinctive theology, a product of 19th century Scottish evangelical piety. But at the same time it has a sense of pain and tragedy that is sometimes missing from our contemporary evangelical worship, even when it is fairly traditional. 

I love hymns, but I have to say that some of the 19th and 20th century Protestant tune-makers were far too fond of the waltz rhythm. I occasionally remind those who come to my home for hymn sings of the rich heritage of slow, reflective, even sad hymns as well as the bouncy, happy ones. Let's not forget "O Sacred Head" while we're enjoying "In My Heart There Rings a Melody."

Or take a song like "O To Be Like Thee." The poetry is okay, but to my mind the line "Gladly I'll forfeit all of earth's treasures/Jesus thy perfect likeness to wear" goes by too fast for one to get any sense of the suffering that might be involved in such a process of sanctification. (And I definitely think that hymn could use a more interesting tune.)

In contrast, I find Cousin's references to wrestling, sorrow, and the dark night of the soul to be believable and valuable for contemplation. 

The verses that are more often used for "The Sands of Time Are Sinking" do not include these references but are good in themselves, because they emphasize the fact that Jesus (rather than golden streets, etc.) is the "glory of Immanuel's land." I particularly appreciate the line "Not at the crown he giveth/ But on His piercèd hand." The image is vivid to my mind: Jesus holds out a crown for the saint in heaven, and the saint can gaze only on the nail-scarred hand, not at the crown. In this regard the hymn is an older exploration of the theme of one of my favorite gospel songs, "Look For Me At Jesus' Feet."  

I would like to see a contemporary gospel group take up this hymn and record it in a simple, harmonized version. An all-male group would be best.

Christians who sing hymns should revive this one and bring it into our repertoire.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A little Colin Hemer to brighten up your day

I'm working on a hymn post, but while doing so I ran across this wonderful quotation from Colin Hemer in his discussion of the "we" passages in Acts:

Further, it would seem Luke's experience [of the voyage] was not that of expert nautical knowledge. The documents confirm the impression of a careful observer recording what happened, describing in layman's terms the measures taken by the crew for the ship's safety, without necessarily understanding the rationale of theif actions, except as he made it his business to ask for information. He appreciated their obsessive fear of the Syrtes, the obvious peril of being driven on a rocky lee-shore. He is not explicit about the peril of the ship breaking up at sea before they could reach the neighbourhood of land at all, but this fear is evident in the undergirding at the earliest possibility at Cauda and probably implicit in the unspecified desperation of Acts 27:20, when their ignorance of their position combined with the realization that the ship was at the point of breaking and foundering at sea. They were probably well enough able to estimate their likely line of drift, to conclude that they had already missed their only likely salvation in a landfall on Sicily. But matters like these are not stressed interpretively by Luke. They are implicit in his account of the scene, and yet also fruitful in the light they shed on the explanation of other details. In a similar way, the cumulative indications of the use of Latin or hybrid nautical terms corroborate the likelihood, at first unexpected in a ship of Greek Alexandria, that the seamen's speech was mainly Latin, and that Luke had a Latin-speaking informant or informants. Yet this in turn is the more easily explicable in a ship of the imperial service which may have numbered many Italians, and some Romans on official business, among its ship's company. The actual soundings, too, of the course of a ship approaching St. Paul's Bay in Malta from the east suit the precise locations where, according to Smith, they must first have become aware of the coastal surf and then of the rocks ahead.
The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, p. 332.

The "Smith" to whom Hemer alludes is James Smith of Jordanhill, whose The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul provide astonishingly detailed corroboration of the accuracy of Acts.

Having already heard of Smith's work, I was to some degree familiar with the evidence in the early part of this paragraph, but the bit about Latin or hybrid (presumably hybrid Latin-Greek) nautical terms was new to me. It was when I reached that point in the paragraph that I decided to copy it out and draw attention to it. Of course, the very terms of the passage imply that Luke and Paul would have had Italian soldiers with them, since Paul was a prisoner and was being taken to Rome.

This sort of evidence needs to be widely disseminated. When one begins to realize the massive evidence supporting the conclusion that the author of Acts was a personal companion of the Apostle Paul, the wheels should start to turn. The same person who wrote Acts is acknowledged even by liberal New Testament scholars to have written Luke. But if it turns out that that person was a careful historian and a companion of the Apostle Paul, what does that tell us about Luke? And what does it tell us about the early chapters of Acts itself, which support and indeed presuppose the resurrection of Jesus and which tell us what the disciples preached within two months of Jesus' crucifixion? At a minimum, it supports the conclusion that they are not a "late source." Indeed, if the creed in I Corinthians 15 can be regarded as an "early source" because it was plausibly taught to the Apostle Paul shortly after his conversion, even though the epistle itself was not written until approximately a couple of decades later, then the speech of Peter reported in Acts 2 could on somewhat similar grounds be regarded as the earliest apostolic teaching about Jesus' resurrection, even though the Book of Acts was not written until about three decades later.

This passage from Hemer, with its piling of detail upon detail, builds up a cumulative case that should give any skeptic pause.

The Book of Acts is an historical rock upon which the ship of skepticism founders.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

The CHIs, crazier the more you learn about them

I have written a number of posts about those I call the CHIs--Christian Homosexual Identifiers. These are people like Eve Tushnet and others who claim to support the teaching of celibacy for homosexuals but who consider their homosexual inclinations to be a positive identity. 

It appears (this is new news) that Wheaton College has put a CHI staff member (this is an employee of the school) in charge of their LGBT club after an outcry about its supporting homosexuality. In the beginning they had someone who was (as far as I can discern) in favor of homosexual acts completely, so this is the administration's sop to their base (probably their donating base) to keep up the foolish pretense that this has nothing to do with endorsing homosexual acts. Which is telling ourselves lies, as I pointed out here.

So CHIs are becoming important in the Christian world, both Catholic and evangelical. I argued against their perspective here and pointed out here that Tushnet appeared in a (theologically) revolting video by a group openly and explicitly opposing the celibacy position of the Catholic Church. Tushnet herself in the video said that the Bible uses "same-sex love" to model the relationship of God and the soul. As I said, if she could do all of that, she really doesn't think that homosexual acts are all that bad.

Here is Tushnet's extremely lame explanation for her appearing in the video made by the group that opposes what she allegedly stands for (you know, celibacy?). I'll leave aside the nonsense about her pretty much always trying to say "yes" when anybody asks her to appear in anything. Really? How stupid! I'll go right to her flirtation with the most outrageous and blatantly heterodox aspects of the propaganda video:

I will say that the other participants in the film also raise questions the Church needs to grapple with. What are the best pastoral responses to people who come from the other perspectives expressed in the film?
When I entered the Church I was fairly willing to trust Her as a teacher and obey, or at least try to obey. (Or at least try to try!) It was a relief to trust and surrender to Jesus and act as a child of His Church in all areas, even though I was not thrilled that “all areas” included sexual ethics.
But lots of people who are genuinely drawn to some aspect of the Catholic faith face much greater challenges than I did: For example, they may have had much worse experiences in Christian communities, which makes trusting the Church on this issue exceptionally difficult (not solely for emotional reasons–anti-gay attitudes in the Church also raise epistemological problems, since they make it seem like the most obvious explanation for Church teaching is that it’s the result of bigotry or ignorance); they may not be as naturally attracted to obedience as an aesthetic category as I am; or they may not see any possibilities for fruitful celibate lgbt life, and know that Jesus didn’t call anyone to a life without love. They may have done a lot of reading and investigation and concluded that they reject Church teaching. They may feel like rejection of Church teaching in this area is simple common sense. I’m sure a lot of other reasons and starting-points will be articulated in the full “Owning Our Faith” film.
How could your parish both welcome and shepherd people who are coming from those places? There isn’t only one right answer. This post offers some of my initial thoughts on the question, but it’s only a beginning. Still, I don’t think the best answer is, “Well, they can come back when they’re ready to do as they’re told.”
Here is an overtly rebellious group telling the Catholic Church that it needs to change its views, propagandizing for full acceptance of homosexual acts and homosexual "marriage," and Tushnet's response is to wonder how the Catholic Church can "shepherd" these overt rebels and activists. Which is partly why she appeared in their video and appeared to endorse their project. Because they're asking such good questions, y'know. How can we "shepherd" these people? (I notice that Tushnet does not even attempt to explain her pervy statement about same-sex "love" as an image of divine and human love in the Bible.)

On the question of "shepherding" those who are living in unrepentant sin and actively promoting sin to the world at large, there is really only one coherent, Catholic answer. (I know this, and I'm not Catholic.) It would be heinous sacrilege for them to take the Sacrament, because they are habitually living in or seeking to live in sin, and they are blatantly promoting sin, so there's no good way to shepherd that type of person, because these so-called sheep are insisting on running away from the Shepherd to destruction.

There is no other answer. As far as telling them to "come back when they're ready to do as they're told," with regard to taking the Blessed Sacrament, that is absolutely what they should be told. As far as being in any sense members in good standing of any Christian church, that is absolutely what they have to be told. (Ever hear of church discipline, Eve? Try reading I Corinthians 5 sometime and you will see what the Bible says about "shepherding" a person who is living in unrepentant sin.)  As far as attending without being members or in good standing or receiving Communion, that depends on their behavior. If their behavior is disruptive (homosexual displays of affection), if they are using their visits to the church to promote their agenda (recruiting and propagandizing at church functions), then they should be asked to tone it down or not show up. If they just come in quietly, observe the services, and don't try to press their agenda, then you preach the Gospel and hope to lead them to repentance and grace and to know Jesus as their Savior. Sorry for the evangelical language, but Eve and co. could use a sense of sin and the wrath of God and the need for repentance.

And of course, in this lame response there is precisely zero concern for the scandal that this group is causing or for the scandal Tushnet herself causes by being associated with it. Because Tushnet really doesn't care about that. What she cares about is being nice to the poor, poor (rebellious, unrepentant) homosexual activists, not making their feelings feel bad, making them feel welcome, and "shepherding" them, though she has no coherent theory of how that can be done consistently with church teaching and without scandalizing others and normalizing their behavior in the eyes of everybody in the church, including the young.

Moving on (or moving back), I'm still playing catch-up on learning about the CHIs' various crazy ideas. I just haven't had time yet to post about an idea endorsed by Tushnet in this article and apparently in her book. That idea is that homosexual "couples" should carry out formal commitment ceremonies in which they make vows to each other, but that this should mean nothing about intending to have sex. It's just promising to love and take care of each other forever, or something like that.

She argues, pace historian Alan Bray’s 2003 account of friendship in the Christian tradition, The Friend, that Christians should consider a return to a more medieval conception of friendship, one complete with vows and affirmation ceremonies for dedicated companions. Taken seriously, Tushnet imagines, institutionally affirmed friendship could answer the emotional needs of those who would otherwise be engaged in same-sex romantic relationships or desperately lonely. Her historical analysis tracks Bray’s work closely, and it includes moving excerpts from courtly accounts of friendly love and commitment, as well as some monastic and liturgical remarks upon close companions.
Yet Tushnet doesn’t leave her meditation of friendship on a rosily sentimental note. It’s all well and good, one imagines, to propose a more prominent position for friendship in modern Christian life—but what this would really look like is fraught and complicated, which Tushnet acknowledges. Could an avowed pair of same-sex friends with acknowledged homosexual feelings cohabitate without giving the appearance of scandal? Tushnet hesitates: “the danger,” she admits, “is real.” Could these tightly intimate friendships coalesce into sexually realized relationships? It could happen, but for Tushnet “the preventative measure of avoiding intimate same-sex friendship entirely is even worse.”
(Aside: I don't think "pace" means what the article author thinks it means! Can't TAC get basic usage correct? Editor!)

So Tushnet literally believes that people who are sexually attracted to each other but should never have sexual relations should make lifelong vows to each other and even (apparently) maybe live together as an "avowed" couple, and that the "dangers" this poses are less than the alleged "dangers" of, er, something. The dangers of not doing this. Because not doing this is just so horribly dangerous in some way or other. Presumably dangerous because homosexuals would feel lonely. So their loneliness should be addressed by encouraging them to pair up in couples and to make vows to each other to love each other forever and be permanently related and connected to each other as "avowed friends," maybe even to live together, though they are never supposed to be engaging in sexual acts. And these avowed homosexual "friendships" are supposed to receive institutional recognition, too, from the church!

This is insanity on stilts. Such relationships would of course be connected to romantic feelings in these cases, not just to friendship. In fact, the whole reason that friendship can be intense between two members of the same sex and can be a good and positive thing is because it is friendship as opposed to sexual attraction. Tushnet clearly doesn't get this and thinks it's a cool idea to blur the distinction between non-erotic friendship and erotic friendship. Moreover, taking a vow would mean that the homosexual person who decided that this was a very bad idea and that he was being constantly led (at least) to impure thoughts and causing scandal in this way would think that God would disapprove of his severing the connection. Because he took a vow! Thus he would develop a false conscience about avoiding the occasion of sin and scandal. (So much for "make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." [Romans 13:14] I really do not think Tushnet knows her Bible well at all.) Is she totally crazy?

Read the rest of the article for the ad hoc moves needed to rule out "avowed friendship" between a married man and a woman other than his wife whom he can never marry. Wouldn't it just be loverly for a husband to have an "avowed friendship" with a woman other than his wife? What about a husband who has same-sex attraction and who has both a wife and an "avowed" same-sex friend? Tushnet's answer, apparently, is that it is perfectly okay for a person who suffers from same-sex attraction but has married a member of the opposite sex to have, in addition to his vows to his spouse, vows to a same-sex "friend." But it's never okay for an opposite-sex-attracted person to have an avowed friend (with whom he is never supposed to have sexual relations) of the opposite sex. Because reasons. Got that?

A person who is same-sex attracted and attempts to carry out a normal, opposite-sex marriage is already in an extremely difficult position. Tushnet's idea that he might be justified in further complicating this by also having a same-sex "friend" (who might also be sexually attracted to him) to whom he has taken vows which might compete with the duties implied by the vows to his wife is a recipe for disaster. Her smug answer is telling:
Won’t avowed friendships infringe upon one friend’s marital or familial obligations at times? Probably, Tushnet submits, advising empathy and noting that medieval ballads concerning committed friends often reported conflicts in that vein—many of which did not turn out in the favor of the wife and children. 
To which I reply: a) Medieval ballads are not authoritative sources of moral instruction, and if a medieval ballad is telling you that it's okay for you to keep some sort of commitment to your same-sex friend that harms or slights your God-recognized relationship with your wife and/or your responsibilities to your children, then the medieval ballad is giving pernicious moral advice. This is true even when we assume that the friendships involved have no aspect of sexual attraction to them. b) Tushnet is (as far as my knowledge extends) interpreting medieval literature in a typically perverse way if she thinks the friendships therein are between same-sex attracted people. Taking a vow to continue to be connected forever to a person you are sexually attracted to which might conflict with your commitment to your wife and children is so wildly imprudent that "imprudent" doesn't even begin to cover it.

The CHIs' ideas are more pernicious and dangerous the more one learns about them. If you have any influence, be sure to spread this information around and make sure that your Christian institutions shun their ideas and their influence.

Update: Re-reading this post I realized that I should clarify one point: The person who was previously the leader of Wheaton's GLBT club was a student, not a staff member. He was hoping to found a "gay-straight alliance" at Wheaton and feels that the administration's taking control of the club and putting a CHI staff member in charge is a step backwards. But I did not mean to give the impression that he himself was a staff member.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Healthy attitudes for young men

A fundamentalist radio station I listen to has been featuring readings lately from Elisabeth Elliot's Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot.

This biography of Elliot includes generous excerpts from his journals. I was much struck when I heard it by this entry, from November 23, 1951.

Just read again the story of Abraham. Convenient food just now--with this pressing sense of need, the want of warmth and woman, tenderness, relief, and children. The God who 'prepared laughter' for Sarah in her old age, whose promises made Abraham himself fall to the ground and laugh because they seemed so goodly and impossible--fitting thoughts for my present attitude because I feel now as though it may mean five years of single life, these next five resilient years, years when I will most want her, most need her, and best be able to satisfy her. Then, maybe after I'm thirty, getting paunchy, wrinkling and balding even--then the marriage bed! Mother said the other day 'Who wants to wait until they're thirty to start raising a family?' Certainly not I. All I knew to say was, 'You raise a family when God wants you to.' And I believe. I feel sure that God is doing the best for us, and that in the face of what seems most unlikely. Perhaps I'm wrong in thinking I have years to wait--but a man can't feel the 'lustihood of his young powers' swell and surge inside him and not be affected by restraining them. It may be that He hasn't planned to make us wait years, but it certainly looks like it from here. Of course I hope I'm wrong. But if I'm not, then El Shaddai, the God who saw and heard Hagar, considered Sarai's laugh, and disregarded Abraham's 100th year--this God is the One I believe to be guiding and governing me in these affairs. And in this, in prospect, I with Abraham can laugh. (pp. 211-212)
At this time in his life Jim Elliot, twenty-four years old, thought that God wanted him to be a single missionary for a substantial time. I don't know how he picked the five-year period. It doesn't appear to have been a matter of finances. Perhaps he just thought that God wanted him to do work entirely alone for about five years in order to get the work well-started among the Indians in Ecuador to whom he felt called.

As it happened, the wait was almost exactly two years. After much indecision, Jim finally concluded that it was God's will for him to marry Elisabeth somewhat sooner, and they were married on his twenty-sixth birthday, October 8, 1953.

There is something both touching and refreshing about this passage from Elliot's journal. It is a little amusing that he thinks of his future, over-thirty self as paunchy, wrinkled, and possibly unable to satisfy his wife sexually. It shows such a charmingly youthful attitude toward the ancient early thirties.

But that youthfulness is bound up with a robust and healthy attitude toward sex and life in general. Young men nowadays would do well to read this passage and emulate Elliot's thinking. Here are several things I notice:

--Elliot doesn't think that a desire for sex is an ignoble motive for wanting to get married. He is no prude. He doesn't act as though he has to desire marriage entirely for reasons independent of the sexual ones. He understands his desires to be natural in a young man and realizes that marriage is their telos.

--Elliot takes for granted that his own sexual satisfaction is to be found only in marriage. The fact that he desires marriage for sexual reasons emphatically does not mean that he is thinking of Elisabeth in a cold-blooded or instrumental way. His romantic feelings are naturally and inextricably bound up with his erotic feelings. There is no question of his not being able to "get" sex otherwise and being forced to wait for marriage, as if sex were a product and the woman the mere provider of the product. The whole cynical idea that women have to withhold sex from men in order to make the men marry them is foreign to young Elliot's way of thinking. It is not that he is reluctantly holding himself to a traditional moral standard. Rather, the fact that he wants sex means that he wants the marriage bed. Nor does he think it quaint to speak or think that way. He wants sex precisely in the context of tenderness, warmth, commitment, and a family. He doesn't think for a moment that he would be satisfied with promiscuity, a prostitute, pornography, or anything else. In fact, he clearly knows, if only tacitly, that he wouldn't.

--Jim Elliot wants children. The idea that seems to have taken hold in some circles now that only women want children is foreign to Jim Elliot. He, personally, wants children, wants a family. He takes it to be natural and inevitable that a man wants children. He doesn't just want Elisabeth to have a chance to have children. He yearns for them himself.

--Elliot understands that a man needs to think about biological clocks. Now, he may be a little confused here by his funny notion of himself over thirty as sexually comparable to Abraham at one hundred. But beyond that, I suspect that he realizes that the woman he has chosen will not be as fertile herself in five years and therefore that his own desire for children means that he needs to think about getting married sooner.

Some further thoughts:

The Book of Common Prayer says, of marriage,

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body. 
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
It may be that lots of conversations are taking place where I do not hear them and that in these conversations young men are telling their older, male advisers (fathers, pastors, Christian mentors) that they would like to get married while young because they don't think they have the gift of continency and realize that God has ordained marriage as the proper channel for what Elliot calls the "lustihood of his young powers."  As a woman, I certainly wouldn't be the proper recipient of such confidences. But I have a feeling, which I would be glad to be proven wrong about, that such conversations aren't taking place nearly as often as they should be and that our society, including Christian society, has been o'ertaken by a peculiar reticence. It is as though we've all been seized with excessive delicacy or prudishness about even mentioning sexual desire as a motive for marriage.

Marriage is assumed to be undertaken later and later, and I don't hear of very many people asking young men, even reasonably attractive young men who don't believe in sex outside of marriage, "Er, don't you have a reason (hint, hint) why you would like to get married sooner rather than later?" This (and the desire for children) is a reason not to set out to be in college and graduate school throughout one's twenties or even longer. See related post here.

It is strange and to my mind ominous that, in our increasingly p*rnogr*phic and sexualized society, Christians, who reject the norms of that society, continue to accept late (even very late) marriage as reasonable. Since our young people are probably not being swept up in a wave of vocations to permanent celibacy, we should encourage them to be marriage-minded. For that matter, promiscuity and p*rn use are horrendously destructive for anyone. Non-Christians, too, used to understand that and need to understand that. So there is a reason to encourage healthy, early marriages throughout society as a whole.

Lest there be any question, I am not assuming that only men have sexual desires! I am, however, assuming a traditional perspective according to which the initiative should lie with the man to ask the lady on dates, pursue her, and eventually ask her to marry him. It's interesting to note that even in our feminist-influenced society a lot of girls would prefer not to be the one to ask the man out, much less to propose to him.

But all of this somber talk does not mean that romance is to be separated from marriage. Far from it. What we need to recapture is not the cold-bloodedness of an ancient Chinese marriage broker but rather something like Elliot's freshness and ardor. Yes, it is natural for young people to want sex. Yes, marriage should be encouraged for that reason. Therefore, romance and falling in love should be encouraged for the very same reason. No one, including men, should seek sex in an impersonal fashion, not even in seeking marriage. This shouldn't need to be said, but it does. Nor is cynicism the answer. We do a grave disservice to our young people if we encourage them to be cynical about the opposite sex. Wise and prudent, yes, and aware of the sad dangers of this world, but not cynical and hardened.

As regards children, I find it disturbing to run into the idea that women want children but men don't. Normal men should, like Jim Elliot, desire children. Young men, if you think that you don't want children, or if you just never think about the matter at all, stop and think about it. There is nothing unmanly about wanting a family. Not just a girlfriend, not just a wife, not just a sex partner, but a family, including children with the woman you love. If you already have a girlfriend, then you should think about her in connection with a family and children. Which is yet another reason actually to marry her, of course, or to break off the relationship if you cannot picture yourself marrying her.

Relatedly, if a man does want children, and if he doesn't want to marry a woman much younger than he is, then he shouldn't be deliberately (or unthinkingly) putting off marriage until late. I'm not actually opposed to a gap in ages in marriage. In fact, I think our current society needs to lighten up on that. There's nothing intrinsically creepy or exploitative about a marriage between a man of thirty-five and a woman of twenty-five. Many such marriages through the ages have been joyful, God-honoring, and fruitful. But there will be some challenges unique to such a marriage, and as it happens many people don't want that kind of a gap in ages. On the assumption that for the most part people will marry those of approximately the same age, then men, her (your prospective or hypothetical wife's) biological clock is your biological clock, and there is another reason to be marriage-minded sooner rather than later.

I suggest that men who advise young men (especially Christians) consider using this journal entry as a conversation-starter in a male-only Bible study or other serious discussion.

P.S. I anticipate an objection to the fact that I am not giving more advice to young women in this post. The main reason for that is that my thoughts were sparked by Jim Elliot's journal entry and by the extreme healthiness of his attitudes as the attitudes of a man. Also, I have recently run into an extremely cynical article (that I'm trying to resist writing about) that endorsed all the wrong attitudes for men, exactly the opposite of Elliot's; hence, this is on my mind. Naturally I am not proposing that a man should marry a woman selected at random, a shallow woman, a promiscuous woman, or a bad woman. I acknowledge that a good woman can be hard to find just as a good man can be hard to find.  I also happen to know plenty of good women, good men, and happy marriages.

Friday, May 08, 2015

The king's heart

The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. Proverbs 21:1

Some years ago I read an interview with Justice Anthony Kennedy. Or perhaps it was commentary on an interview with Anthony Kennedy. I remember that Kennedy said in the interview something to the effect that the Supreme Court says that this or that is what the Constitution means...but one can't really be sure. He seemed a bit wry about it all. The commentator mused, drily, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."

That stuck with me as an apt comment. Here was Kennedy, with his utterly chaotic, one might say nonexistent, jurisprudential theory, more or less admitting that he has all this power and doesn't know what the heck he's doing. The commentator's point was that a Supreme Court justice isn't supposed to be a king and that Kennedy was actually seeking sympathy for the weight of a responsibility he shouldn't have at all--the responsibility of making law by his own will and whim. Kennedy makes these needless complications for himself because he has no coherent notion of what it means to interpret an existing document in an historically responsible manner. Or, perhaps more bluntly, he doesn't care about that boring stuff. He cares about vaguer things like looking independent, but at the same time progressive, striking a pose, moving with the times, but not too fast...

Well, we Americans thought that, by setting up a constitutional republic of checks and balances with strictly limited powers we were done with kings. That was the plan, anyway. Wise old Benjamin Franklin said it best: "A republic, if you can keep it."

We couldn't.

So now we have kings again. Or perhaps more precisely, a small oligarchy of nine men and women with the untoward power to make laws for the entire country at, in effect, their own pleasure. All they need is the pretext of a case before them to begin telling us all about the mystery of life and all the rights of man and what groupings and rules are rational and irrational, what laws we must have and must not have. A few of them actually voluntarily submit themselves, or attempt to submit themselves, to a coherent body of law lying outside themselves and their own will and desire. These are called, perversely, "conservatives," as though theirs, the only non-partisan position, were narrowly partisan. They are not acting as kings, but that is because they choose not to do so.

In reflecting on this recently I was struck by one small silver lining in the dark, dark cloud of judicial usurpation and tyranny in America: We Christians can once more claim Proverbs 21:1, quoted above. Indeed, we are forced to do so. No longer can we say, "That doesn't apply to us. We don't have kings in our country. We are ruled by a government of laws, not of men." Believe me, in the U.S.A. in 2015 we are ruled by men, in a strict and uncomfortably literal sense of the phrase. Not only Supreme Court justices but also IRS agents, regulatory inspectors, rogue prosecutors (as in Wisconsin), lawless policemen, bullying TSA agents, family law judges, and more.

So as we live our daily lives (turn in your taxes, pray for your loved ones when they travel by airplane, be nice to the policeman who stops you and gives you a ticket...) and as we await the SCOTUS decision on marriage, we are forced to remember that there is One in whose hand is the heart of the king. Even, perhaps especially, the wicked king, the unjust judge. We don't know if God will make the king do what is right and just. Often God doesn't. But our times are in his hand, and so we learn a new humility. We learn that government can do grave harm whatever form it originally started out with, and that all of us mere individuals have great need of the One who is no respecter of persons. Let us pray that he will turn the hard heart of the king as the rivers of water, and heal our land.

Monday, May 04, 2015

A new undesigned coincidence discovered

This is hot off the presses, folks, just discovered late last night. I found it while reading Paley's Horae Paulinae and comparing some biblical passages, but it is not contained in the Horae Paulinae, possibly because Paley did not have available to him the NASB or any other translation based upon the older text families as opposed to the textus receptus.

Here's the context: In II Corinthians 11:8-9, Paul says,

I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.
For this side of the UC, it doesn't matter what translation you use. That is the ESV translation of II Cor. 11:8-9.

In this passage Paul is discussing his own first interaction with the Corinthians, which is apparently recounted in Acts 18 where Paul comes to Corinth and founds the church there. Paul, in II Cor., is defending all of his proceedings with the Corinthians and, in these verses, defending himself against any idea that he tried to milk them for money. He says that, when he was in Corinth, his financial needs were supplied from other churches, by implication churches in Macedonia, rather than by the Corinthians themselves.

Now see Acts 18:3-5, first in the KJV:

And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them [Aquila and Priscilla], and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.

Now in the NASB:

[A]nd because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. (emphasis added)
Other modern translations of the crucial vs. 5 are similar to the NASB. For example, the NIV has:
When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.
The ESV is clearly based on the same text family but does not emphasize as much of a contrast between vss. 3-4 and vs. 5:
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.
The textual difference between the textus receptus and the oldest texts lies in the question of what Paul was wholly occupied with or "pressed" by--was it the word or the spirit?

Whether one accepts the textual reading "word" or "spirit," I would argue that vs. 5 does present a contrast with vss. 3-4. As the pulpit commentary says,

As an English phrase, this ["was constrained by the word"] is almost destitute of meaning. If the R.T. [textus receptus] is right [in saying that he was constrained in the spirit], and it has very strong manuscript authority, the words συνείχετο τῷ λόγῳ mean that he was seized, taken possession of, and as it were bound by the necessity of preaching the Word, constrained as it were to preach more earnestly than ever.
The pulpit commentary continues:
In St. Luke συνέχεσθαι is a medical term: in Luke 4:28, R.T., "Holden with a great fever;"Luke 8:37, "Holden with a great fear;" Acts 28:8, "Sick of fever and dysentery;" and so frequently in medical writers ('Medical Language of St. Luke,' Hobart). But it is worth considering whether συνείχετο [the word for "pressed" or "constrained"] is not in the middle voice, with the sense belonging to συνεχής, i.e. "continuous," "unbroken," and so that the phrase means that, after the arrival of Silas and Timothy, St. Paul gave himself up to continuous preaching.
This is obviously how several modern translations have taken it, in conjunction with the word "word" rather than "spirit"--that after Silas and Timothy's arrival, Paul gave himself over to preaching more continuously than he had before. The verb translated in the NASB "began devoting himself completely" appears to be in a voice that means  that one began and continued the action. (See the pulpit commentary above.)

Either way, the idea is that something changed when Timothy and Silas arrived from Macedonia. Why would this be? Would it simply be a psychological matter of Paul's being inspired by their arrival to work harder? Yet we know that Paul always worked hard at preaching. The word "tireless" scarcely does him justice!

If we look at vss. 3-4, we find a pattern of work: Paul was working at his tent-making, presumably during the working week, and going into the synagogue and preaching on the Sabbath, when of course his tent-making work would have been forbidden by the Law of Moses. Verse 5, then, can plausibly be read as standing in contrast to this pattern. When Timothy and Silas arrived from Macedonia, Paul devoted his time more fully than before to preaching the word.

If we connect this with the coming of messengers from Macedonia to Corinth mentioned in II Corinthians 11, the inference springs to mind that Timothy and Silas are those referred to in II Corinthians 11 and that they brought money from a church or churches in Macedonia. This freed Paul from the need to work at tent-making. Hence, it was when they arrived that Paul began to devote himself entirely to preaching the word (or, if you take the textus receptus reading, became more constrained in spirit to preach). Yet Acts says nothing about their bringing money. (It is an interesting and curious fact that Acts more than once omits references to contributions or monetary transactions when these appear, from the epistles, to have been going on at the time.)

This is exactly the sort of minute but casual and subtle congruence between the epistles and Acts that Paley teases out and celebrates in the Horae Paulinae. In this case, Paley does note (p. 116) that the coming of Timothy and Silas to Corinth in Acts 18 appears to be the arrival referred to in II Corinthians 11. But he does not note the change in Paul's behavior at the time of their coming. Plausibly he does not note this because he was working with the KJV and therefore had only the odd phrase "he was pressed in the spirit" rather than the clearer "he began devoting himself completely to the word."

I have not seen this undesigned coincidence noted anywhere else, so it appears that modern textual scholarship and translations have brought to light a previously unknown undesigned coincidence between a Pauline epistle and the book of Acts. Note that this confirms that the author of Acts had intimate knowledge of the movements of Paul at this time in his ministry, even as his ministry emphasis changed from one week to the next.

A few more details:

Paley conjectures elsewhere (pp. 271-274), based on I Thessalonians 3:1-7 and Acts 17:15-16, that Timothy came to Paul in Corinth from Thessalonica at this time. Paley's idea is that Paul had (though this is not mentioned in Acts explicitly) actually seen Timothy in Athens and had, per I Thessalonians 3, sent him back to Thessalonica to strengthen the new Christians there, whom Paul had been forced to leave hastily when a riot arose in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-10). (It must have been hard being Timothy, Titus, or any of Paul's other co-workers. The epistles show ample evidence that he would summon them and then send them out again, sometimes over the very route they had just traveled and hither and yon, to check up on the churches' spiritual well-being. Compare Acts 17:15, where Paul is sent hastily to Athens from Berea to get away from a possible riot in Berea. He leaves word for Timothy and Silas to follow him ASAP. Yet it appears that when they met him in Greece they were almost immediately sent back to Thessalonica, which is near Berea in Macedonia, because Paul had meanwhile become worried about the Thessalonians!)

Philippians 4:15-16 states that after Paul left Macedonia, at least at first, only the Philippians sent him any financial assistance. Timothy and Silas were therefore in all probability bringing money from the Philippians, though they had not most recently been visiting Philippi but rather (probably) Thessalonica. Paul also says in Philippians 4:16 that the Philippians actually sent money to him more than once in Thessalonica. It is therefore quite possible that Timothy picked up a contribution that had been sent to Thessalonica for Paul and brought it down to him in Corinth. Another possibility is that Paul is saying in Philippians only that at first ("in the beginning of the gospel") only the Philippians sent him money after he left Macedonia (e.g., perhaps some came to him when he was in Athens). By the time he was in Corinth the Thessalonians and/or the Bereans might have decided to send him a contribution of their own, which could have come to Corinth with Timothy and Silas.

In any event, the inference is quite strong that Timothy and Silas brought Paul money in Corinth from some church or churches in Macedonia and that this is why he devoted his time more fully to preaching after they arrived.

The discovery of a new undesigned coincidence, especially one so much in the spirit of the great Paley himself, is always exciting.