Saturday, November 24, 2007

One of the good guys?

I have just this week learned of the existence of Ian Douglas Smith, former Prime Minister of Rhodesia. I heard of him, because he died on November 21 at the age of 88; there were obituaries of him all over the web, and I ran into some of them at VFR.

He still exists, of course, though not on this earth.

No doubt all the members of my vast readership know all about Ian Smith, but I didn't previously, knowing very few details about the history of Rhodesia. In brief, Smith declared unilateral independence of Rhodesia from Britain in 1965, when Britain was pressuring Rhodesia to have universal sufferage and majority rule, rather than the white-only suffrage it had had since voting was known in Rhodesia. Smith resisted this change to the last. The Brits didn't want to go starting a war in Rhodesia (and who knows if, in 1965, they could have done so successfully), so there was a 15-year standoff during which guerilla fighters supporting (ta da!) Robert Mugabe harassed the Rhodesian troops, various forms of international pressure were exercised, and eventually Britain went ahead and held elections in 1979 or 1980 (not sure which) at which Mugabe was elected. I forget how much later Smith was forced out of politics.

Well, we all know what a wonderful success majority rule has been for everyone in Rhodesia--now Zimbabwe--since then. Under Mugabe's nasty leadership, the country has gone from prosperous and civilized to a near disaster area, and its citizens, black and white, are in a bad way. Smith maintained to the end of his life that history had vindicated his predictions on these points, and it's hard to argue with him.

Now, to some people, Smith's position on race issues and on democracy and the vote mean automatically that he was on the side of the bad guys--prima facie, a bad guy himself.

But to anyone who (like me) has read nearly all of the novels of H. Rider Haggard and several novels by John Buchan, plus Isaak Dinesen's Out of Africa and Elspeth Huxley's The Flame Trees of Thika, matters are by no means so simple. Because let's face it--there have been lots of people who on most contemporary models would count as racists, who believed in the white man's burden and all the rest of it, who were nonetheless basically very good people, heroic people even, who loved and respected the black people with whom they interacted, and who did immeasurable good in the world, and especially good for Africa and Africans. Reading Ian Smith's obituaries, I saw that he was, as one journalist put it, a man out of time. He harked back to the Victorians and Edwardians who were around when he was born and was growing up. And perhaps I'm just naive and too inclined to take eulogies at the time of a famous man's death at face value, but the picture they give is of an honorable, brave, decent, Christian man.

Herewith a few tidbits: Smith lived into the 21st century in the capital of Zimbabwe, just a few streets over from Mugabe's compound. He was an old man by then and could have been murdered at any time; to my mind it's a wonder he wasn't. Nonetheless, his door was open (literally, ajar) to all comers, black and white alike, and the black people of Zimbabwe came to him for help, which he gave as he was able. While a reporter was visiting him, a black woman came, an entire stranger to Smith, and walked in the door to ask his help for her sick daughter who had been turned away at the local hospital.

Smith's behavior in living where he did and how he did in those years may seem quixotic or reckless, but he had an answer to that, too: He said he was a lifelong Presbyterian, feared God, and believed in Divine sovereignty. Peter Hammond, the missionary who reported the above comment, remembers his driving up, while Prime Minister, to a club in the middle of town. He was alone, without any guards of any kind. He drove up in an old car, smiled at the 14-year-old Hammond standing outside, petted his cat, and walked into the club. This utter lack of ostentation could not have been more in contrast with Mugabe's manner of travel, detailed in the article. In the late 1980's, Smith called the (now grown up) missionary to meet him. Smith had heard that Hammond's organization was going to smuggle Bibles into Mozambique. He gave detailed advice on how to get in and out safely and carry out the smuggling successfully.

Jesus said, "By their fruits ye shall know them." If it's true that an evil tree cannot bear good fruit, then we ought to take seriously the possibility that Ian D. Smith was one of the good guys.

Rest eternal grant unto him, oh Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.

We also bless thy name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear, beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service. And grant us grace so to follow their good example, that with them and with all thy saints we may be made partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

For a Thanksgiving post, I can do no better than to quote the Book of Common Prayer.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us, and to all men; we bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

A happy Thanksgiving to my readers!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A prayer for guidance

I apologize to my kind readers for having not updated here for a couple of weeks. I did post at What's Wrong with the World on a couple of topics: On the NRLC's nomination of Fred Thompson (I'm agin' it) and on my husband's and my recently drafted paper, "A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth."

The regular weekly collects here toward the end of Trinitytide always seem a little generic to me. Maybe I'm just not paying attention. But I'm going to branch out and go to the back of the Prayer Book, to the section called "Forms of Prayer to be Used in Families" and to the part of that called "Additional Prayers." This section evidently is not in the English Prayer Book but is in the American one from 1789 onward. Word has it that it was taken from a compilation of prayers first put together by Archbishop Tillotson. It doesn't follow that he wrote them, of course. And it seems to me pretty evident that the prayers in this section are the work of many hands. They certainly do not sound Cranmerian. So probably there are learned people out there who know where each of them came from, but I don't. This particular one is labeled "For Guidance."

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly; Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer seems to me all by itself an answer to those who claim that written prayers stand between us and God and that extemporaneous prayer is the only way to speak to God personally. I hate indecision almost more than anything else. I always want to have some sort of backup plan, sometimes years in advance, in case the Plan A I have (also years in advance) doesn't work out. This prayer, it seems to me, is just what I would want to say to God when I'm trying to make a decision. So far from distancing me from God, it is a vehicle for the very request I want to make under those circumstances. Which is what a good liturgical prayer should be.

I could wish that, instead of some of the Oxford Movement-inspired additions to the liturgy that have come into High Church worship through the Anglican Missal, we could instead bring into our weekly liturgy some of these collects that are already in the Prayer Book and that have been there for so long. They don't particularly appeal to High Church sensibilities. If they were written by Tillotson, who would be quite unhappy at the Oxford Movement additions, this is only to be expected! But it doesn't matter. In fact, it's better so. In their grave, simple, and gentle wisdom, their sympathy for the human condition, and their application to that condition of the biblical injunction that we "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need," the prayers from this section of the American Prayer Book can be an instrument of that Holy Spirit who helps us to pray when we "know not what we should pray for as we ought."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Blessed All Saints

And a blessed Feast of All Saints and following octave thereof to all of you out there in readerland.

One of our autumn traditions around here is taking a walk on All Saints Day or thereabouts, preferrably kicking through the leaves on the sidewalk, and singing "For All the Saints" at the top of our lungs. I have this silly telling-stories-to-yourself fantasy: Imagine some elderly man who used to be part of the Anglican church in England when it was a lot better than it's gotten since and is living out an embittered retirement, for whatever reasons, in the U.S. Sitting in his quiet, lonely house one beautiful autumn day, he hears young voices outside the window singing a song he recognizes. He can scarcely believe his ears. He sticks his head out the window...Anyway, like that. Where we encourage someone. But so far we're just encouraging ourselves, which is good, too.

I love the hymn, but I haven't the energy to type out the many verses of the words. So here's the cyberhymnal link. This is the best cyberhymnal link I've heard yet--they really let you hear that great continuo written by Vaughan Williams. I'd never seen the third through fifth verses given here. Golly! That would be even longer than it is now.

Perhaps my favorite line in the hymn is "thou in the darkness drear their one true light." I always think of the persecuted Church when I sing that. This year the person I especially think of is Helen Berhane, beaten to the point of being crippled and imprisoned in a shipping container in Eritrea for two years in an attempt to get her to forsake her faith. She had plenty of "darkness drear," and in it He was her one light. She has finally found asylum in Sweden.

Here is the collect and proper preface for the day.