Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fighting the leftist nominalists every step of the way

Kudos and more kudos to my cyber-friend Jeff Culbreath for taking a firm stand against the evil attack on marriage from homosexual activists. Jeff has asked a homosexual commentator never again to refer to another man as his "husband" in Jeff's comboxes. Says Jeff, "That's one piece of fiction I'll not be a party to."

In this post, my co-blogger Zippy Catholic suggested that the re-definition of "parent" by the U.S. Census Bureau (to make illegitimacy rates in the black community appear lower than they really are) is an example of nominalism. One commentator questioned this diagnosis, arguing that someone could believe that there really is an essence to being a parent but that traditional definitions don't cut it. Naturally, this led directly to a discussion of homosexual pretend "marriage."

I'm more than a bit worried about what is going to happen to all of my good Christian friends if and when homosexual "marriage" is put into place (with or without the will of the people) in their parts of the country. It seems to me not implausible that some of them will simply start referring to same-sex couples as "married," to the partners in such so-called "marriages" as each others' "husbands" or "spouses" or "wives" and excuse doing so by saying, "Well, no matter what you think, it really is the law that they are married." They might even think in some confused way that they, even in private conversation, are obligated to "obey the law" by using this terminology. In fact, I suspect that any employer in such a state or any businessman who sells any goods or services to the public and refuses to go along in conversation with the "marital" status of a homosexual employee or customer will face lawsuit. And the comments of this hard-core leftist commentator suggest that conservatives will be told exactly this: "Shut up. Homosexual marriage is now a legal fact. That is what you are being asked to acknowledge. Whatever you may think about the matter, you cannot deny the legal facts now in place. Just refer to those and keep the rest of your opinions to yourself." (Notice, among other things, his reference to "refusing to accept a plain legal fact.") (See also this story about the ostensibly Christian Condoleeza Rice, though some might well question whether Rice is a conservative in any sense worth mentioning. The homosexual pair did not even have any pretense of legal "marriage," but Rice went out of her way to call the one man's mother the other man's "mother-in-law" nonetheless.)

Whether or not arguments about the homosexual agenda usually involve nominalism, that argument (about our using the word in this way because "now that's true legally") is nominalism pure and simple. The idea is that a positive law can simply create a legal reality regarding marriage--however crazy that new "reality" is--and that we can and should now refer to this new reality in our own usage, regardless of "what we think," as though the fact that a man literally cannot be married to another man is a mere matter of opinion. This is all very bad indeed.

I say that all conservatives, Christian and otherwise, who know perfectly well that two men or two women literally cannot be married must resist this usage to their last gasp. Fight it every step of the way. Do not give in to this specious argument about a legal reality. In using this terminology without some qualifier such as "so-called" or scare quotes, you are, whether you like it or not, both caving in to and furthering the homosexual agenda and the erosion of marriage. Just say no.

It's hard to know what arguments would convince a conservative friend who says he's "just referring to the legal facts." Perhaps you could try a few reductios: If the courts or the legislature were to declare that Barack Obama is a god, would we then be merely referring to a legal reality and doing nothing objectionable and contrary to our Christian faith if we went about saying, "Our god, Barack Obama"? If the courts declared that a man could be legally married to a dog, would we not be promoting insanity if we went about referring to his dog as his husband? If the courts declared that a gorilla is a person, would we then merely be referring to a legal reality and doing nothing to further an anti-human agenda if we spoke of "gorillas and other people"?

But I don't know. People get scared. And people adapt with frightening swiftness. I predict, but hope I'm wrong, that when homosexual "marriage" comes to your town, you will find a solid majority of your conservative, Christian friends going about referring to the people involved as "spouses" or "husbands" or "wives" and telling you, "There is nothing I can do about it. Whatever we may think, it's the law now. I'm just telling the truth about their legal status."

But I stand with Jeff. And I hope some others do, too, and never, never, never give in.

P.S. I am not interested in debating "same-sex marriage" here. This is my personal blog, and I'm more draconian here than elsewhere. I welcome comments on the specific issue raised in this post but have no intention of debating the larger issues with homosexual or homosexual-sympathizing commentators. I would love to hear from my conservative readers as to what they think, predict, and intend to do about the terminological matter I raise here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

December 26--Pray for the persecuted church

Today happens to be the Feast of Stephen, immortalized in "Good King Wenceslas."

Stephen was the first martyr, and it seems appropriate for us to remember the persecuted church today. Especially on my mind are the members of a Christian family who are victims of Islamic persecution in Egypt. According to the story, they have been stopped from leaving the country and are all in prison, including the two little boys, ages 2 and 4, who are being starved (partially starved?) to pressure their Christian mother, Martha Samuel, to re-convert to Islam. The story states that she has also been raped and tortured to try to secure the same result. The father is in prison, too. Their crimes are simply that Martha converted to Christianity five years ago and that the family recently tried to leave the country to escape persecution. I never knew Egypt was a Soviet-style prison country. Perhaps only to people who have had the temerity to leave Islam. Ironically, they were trying to go to Russia to get away from Egypt.

We should pray for them.

Crossposted at What's Wrong with the World

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jeuss Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Unabashedly, I say that Christmas is a holy day and a holy festival. I have some Christian friends who, most unfortunately, refuse to celebrate Christmas, because they don't want to recognize any day as "holy." But what was meant by the term "holy" in both the Old Testament and New? It was that a thing, person, or day was set aside for a special, divine purpose. And Christmas is, and should be, a day (twelve days, actually) set aside to remember and to celebrate the glory of the Incarnation. God came down among us.

We as Christians do most surely believe and avow that God the Son was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary and was made man. He came down from heaven. Without that great event, no salvation. Without that great event, no peace with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without that, no remission of sins. God did not, and could not, sit in His heaven and forgive the sins of man "just because." No, He had to come down here and reveal Himself to us in the person of a man, a man who took upon himself our human nature, a man who could suffer and die and thus take upon Himself, in his death, our sins.

Thanks be to God.

And so to all my readers I wish a most hearty Merry Christmas. May Our Lord richly bless you during this, the feast of His Incarnation!

P.S. Image credit to Frank Ordaz, the illustrator of this beautiful and really neat Christmas book, which I heartily recommend. The text is by historian Paul Maier. (The "look inside" function at Amazon is incorrect. It is linked to an entirely different book by Dr. Maier with a similar title.)

Thanks also to Frank for stopping by "Extra Thoughts."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Less well-known Christmas things

I'll probably have only a couple of posts directly related to Christmas. I'm enjoying everybody else's Christmas stuff so much. But here are a couple of things that may be a little less familiar to people for Christmas.

First, Charles Dickens's novella "The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain." Here is a Google books edition in the public domain. This story deserves, in my opinion, to be made into at least one really good movie, just like "A Christmas Carol" (which I also love). I won't give away too much of the plot, but it concerns a chemistry professor who comes to believe, in his pride and bitterness, that people would all be happier if they could lose their memories of sorrow, wrong, and trouble. He is offered the opportunity to give up his own such memories, and he accepts the bargain. But he is given yet further the power of spreading this forgetfulness to other people by his presence. Eventually, as you can well imagine, he comes to regret his decision and still more to regret horribly his ability to bestow this "gift" on other people without their knowledge or consent. The entire story takes place at Christmas time, and the hero of the story is a young married woman named Milly who has been saddened by the death of her only child in infancy.

I tried to find a youtube or other recording of the unfamiliar but lovely Christmas carol "Here Betwixt Ass and Oxen Mild," but unfortunately I can't even find a cyberhymnal midi version. If you have a copy of the Episcopal 1940 hymnal, be sure to look it up. It's well worth it.

Here are the words and music to "Sing, O Sing, This Blessed Morn," a Christmas carol I'd never heard before becoming familiar with Anglican hymns. (The tune is also sometimes sung with the words to "For the Beauty of the Earth.") These words are truly great. Verse 4 is especially excellent:

God comes down that man may rise
Lifted by him to the skies.
Christ is Son of Man that we
Sons of God in him may be.
Sing, O sing, this blessed morn,
Jesus Christ today is born.

And finally, here is a high school choir singing Bach's "Break Forth, O Beauteous, Heavenly Light." Great parts.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Slightly dark humor

This is amusing, in a grim sort of way. (By putting up this grim post now, I am committing myself to posting something else before Christmas, come what may. I can't have this up at the top of the page on Christmas!)

Lawrence Auster has been talking about a gruesome story out of the UK that no one else seems to want to talk much about: A 63-year-old man named Patrick McGee was murdered and beheaded outside his home, his head thrown in a trash bin. The news stories (such as we have) have said bizarre things to the effect that he was "decapitated after a dispute about noise" by a neighbor "said to be suffering from mental illness." Say, what? You know, you've gotta watch this business of asking your neighbors to turn down the radio (or playing yours too loudly). If you're not careful, you might just enrage the poor fellows to the point where they cut off your head. I swear, it is impossible to satirize the UK anymore. Every story out of there is self-satire.

But here's the darkly amusing part. In his search for more information about this (as in, what is the name of the suspect whom police have arrested?), Auster turned up a story from the Scotsman that had as the headline "Tribute to 'Gentle' Victim." Not, mind you, "Elderly Man Decapitated: Nation in Shock." (I also note that people, including people in the media, simply do not know how to use scare quotes. The headline would give the impression that maybe he wasn't really gentle, even though that obviously isn't what the author intended. But that's a hobbyhorse for a different day.) Says Auster:

The fact that the man was murdered and beheaded is placed in a subordinate clause, while the "real" news, the news in the main clause, is that the man was kind and gentle. Wow. A man was kind and gentle. These people really have an instinct for news, don't they? If they were reporting the news on the day in 1453 when Constaninople fell to the Moslems and the city's population was slaughtered, their headline and lead would have been something like this:

Lovely City Remembered
May 29--Constantinople, which was conquered and sacked by the Ottomans yesterday, with many thousands of its Christian inhabitants slaughtered and others sold into slavery, was described by survivors as a place of many wonderful memories.

I have to admit, that made me laugh out loud.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Secret Agent Penguin

Alas, what with one thing and another I've had no time this week for liturgical blogging on this site, or even clever blogging or funny blogging. I do have a post up at W4 on teaching children about evil and a follow-up on teaching ourselves about evil and the custody of the mind.

On a much, much lighter note (before I go off to do other stuff) here is a new Christmas song (new to me). Eldest Daughter just introduced me to it this week: Brad Paisley's "Penguin, James Penguin." It's about a little black-and-white guy with satellite uplinks in his cuff links who helps Santa out by telling him when you've been good or bad. He also outfitted the sleigh with GPS. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bible Sunday

The collect for Advent II

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The collect for this week alludes to Paul's words in Romans 15: "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." I've never realized before just how many biblical words the collect contains. (It was written by Cranmer himself, not translated.) Cranmer is a genius at working biblical phrases into his collects.

It's hard to tell in the context in Romans exactly what comforting aspects of Scripture Paul has in mind, especially since he doesn't, as one might expect, begin talking about heaven. Instead, he emphasizes the fact that Jesus Christ was sent to confirm the promises of God that the Gentiles also would be invited to be part of the people of God.

One of today's hymns did, however, remind me also of the hope we have in Jesus' coming. The best line is "And for the everlasting right/The silent stars are strong." The hymn reminds me that it is not some new thing for Christians in 2008 to need some encouragement and to feel that we are in the middle of the slow watches of the night.

Thy kingdom come! on bended knee
The passing ages pray;
And faithful souls have yearned to see
On earth that kingdom’s day.

But the slow watches of the night
Not less to God belong;
And for the everlasting right
The silent stars are strong.

And lo, already on the hills
The flags of dawn appear;
Gird up your loins, ye prophet souls,
Proclaim the day is near.

The day in whose clear shining light
All wrong shall stand revealed,
When justice shall be throned in might,
And every hurt be healed.

When knowledge, hand in hand with peace,
Shall walk the earth abroad;
The day of perfect righteousness,
The promised day of God.

We sing it at my church to the tune given here for a different song. The tune is called "St. Flavian."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Christendom Review

There's a new e-journal launched: The Christendom Review. I have an article in it on the naked public square thesis--the idea, basically, that we shouldn't allow our religious beliefs to influence our political actions. (I'm agin' it.) There is also a wonderful memoir by my friend and former (and hopefully future) W4 colleague Bill Luse of his old writing teacher, Smith Kirkpatrick, and a poem about his daughter that I won't even try to describe. Go read it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Anglican insights on Advent

The collect for Advent Sunday

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Today begins the liturgical season of Advent. I love Advent. I think it's one of those seasons in which Anglicans can give gifts to the rest of the Body of Christ. Cranmer's collects for the Sundays are particularly wonderful, the emphasis of each Sunday in the season (from the collects and designated Scripture readings) is slightly different, and the season as a whole has a special meaning that even non-liturgical Protestants could really profit from, without in the process compromising any of their theological views.

But first I need to clear out of the way a certain rather unfortunate high church tendency, which I encountered just a bit when first being introduced to Anglicanism. This is the tendency to overemphasize the statement, "Advent is a penitential season." I have to say that to those new to Anglicanism, and even to old hands like me, such an overemphasis has all the winsomeness of the Grinch. And it's theologically misguided, too. Joy in the anticipation of Christmas isn't some sort of frivolous modern invention. There is no Good Friday at the end of Advent. However awed and hence, in a sense, solemn we may feel when thinking of meeting our Lord face to face (on which see more below), it simply is in the nature of the case a happy and exciting thing to look forward both to the festival of his first coming and to the reality of his second coming. I hate the fact that all the stores start playing Christmas carols--sometimes really awful ones--before Thanksgiving as much as anybody does. But one can hardly imagine Scrooge's nephew waiting to wish his uncle a Merry Christmas until he was sure the sun had gone down on Christmas Eve!

Now that I have that off my chest, I want to talk about the distinctive nature of Advent. Before I was familiar with the Book of Common Prayer and with the Advent hymns in the 1940 hymnal, I would have assumed that the word "Advent" was just another word for "the time before Christmas." I had no idea that it had a distinctive character as a liturgical season. Certainly, one major part of Advent is meditating on the mystery of the Incarnation. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." It's a good idea to get a head start on that during these four weeks--what all Christians call "remembering the real meaning of Christmas."

The second emphasis of Advent, and I think part of the truer (and gentler) meaning of "Advent is a penitential season" is simply that we want to go into the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord with, as the Prayer Book says, "a conscience void of offense toward God and man." When you are going to have a party, you clean your house. The Apostle Paul tells us to let no root of bitterness spring up among us, and the Lord Jesus Christ tells us to forgive if we would be forgiven. Advent is a good time to get all our ducks in a row as far as our relationship with God and men. If we have been nurturing a sin, we should root it out. If we have grudges, we should toss them. That way, Christmas can come to us with great joy, without our having reservations. As the carol says, "Let every heart prepare him room."

The third emphasis of Advent, and the one that takes non-liturgical Christians the most by surprise, is the emphasis on Jesus' second coming. That's why the season is called what it's called--"Advent," meaning "coming," referring to both comings of Christ. You can see the emphasis in the wonderful collect given above. The Apostle John explicitly says that we should abide in Jesus so that when he appears we will not be ashamed before him at his coming. I've encountered a surprising amount of resistance to the plain sense of this verse among some evangelicals. But you really can't get away from it. It says in so many words that it is possible for us to be ashamed when Jesus comes. What exactly is going to happen then, Scripture doesn't tell us. But it's pretty clear that John is saying we don't want to be in that position. Here, I really think that there can be a rapprochement between Anglicans and "lower" Protestants. The Baptist tradition in which I was raised placed tremendous emphasis upon the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. And Jesus himself did the same, constantly telling his disciples to be ready. Parable after parable makes the point. Now, here is a season of twenty-four days or so in which we are supposed to meditate on that. I found this rather exciting when I first became an Anglican--a sort of point of intersection between one tradition and another.

The last thing I want to discuss is not a separate significance of Advent but just simply the existence of Advent hymns. I never had any idea before I became an Anglican that there were Advent hymns as opposed to Christmas carols. Very few of the hymns for Advent in the Anglican hymnal occur in Baptist hymnals, though some of them do. But one that everyone knows (though it has a different rhythm as Baptists sing it) is "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." But everyone thinks it is a Christmas carol. If you think about it, though, you realize that it is very different from, say, "Joy to the World." A Christmas carol is saying that Jesus has come. An Advent carol is saying "Maranatha"--Even so come, Lord Jesus! And that is, of course, part of what "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is doing. It's also mingling the first and second comings by mentally putting us in the place of people before Jesus' first coming--"Make straight the way that leads on high/And close the path to misery." It mentally recreates that longing for deliverance and redemption which is the very spirit of Advent.

There are many other absolutely wonderful Advent hymns that should be more widely known and sung in all churches, hymns that all "mere Christians" can sing without reservation. Here's one: "The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns." (This page has multiple tunes. I like the seond of them, an American tune known as "Morning Song.") Note the repeated contrast between the first and second comings and the emphasis on light and the rising of the sun.

The King shall come when morning dawns
and light triumphant breaks;
when beauty gilds the eastern hills
and life to joy awakes.

Not, as of old, a little child,
to bear and fight and die,
but crowned with glory like the sun
that lights the morning sky.

The King shall come when morning dawns
and earth's dark night is past;
O haste the rising of that morn,
the day that e'er shall last;

And let the endless bliss begin,
by weary saints foretold,
when right shall triumph over wrong,
and truth shall be extolled.

The King shall come when morning dawns
and light and beauty brings:
Hail, Christ the Lord! Thy people pray,
come quickly, King of kings.

And then there is one of my personal favorites, the glorious hymn "O Very God of Very God," about which I have written here.

I hope to keep up blogging about the liturgical season each week during Advent. That's a hope, not a promise. But I encourage anyone who is not familiar with either the Prayer Book collects or the hymns to consider using them and consider celebrating Advent in a special way as distinct from Christmas. It will enrich your Christian walk.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

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 shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves 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 honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

(Photo credit: Eldest Daughter)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pseudo-capitalism and pseudo-hunting

Over on What's Wrong with the World, we've had another thread about the bailout. I've come out firmly on the side of government's not bailing companies out and not insuring everybody and his uncle. My basic position is that we only think that government can fix these things, whereas in fact the attempt to have the government make wealth out of nothing to save people from the consequences of their actions only makes the bubbles bigger and the falls harder in the long run. I suppose occasionally we might get away with doing stupid things, but you keep doing stupid things long enough, expecting Uncle Midas Sam to create gold out of lead and save you every time, and eventually it catches up with you. Basic Austrian economics stuff, which I gather appears totally crazy to most people. (And which I realize, if applied, would cause a lot of pain to innocent people as well as careless ones, simply because our present economy has been built on a bubble of national debt and empty government promises, and it would be highly unpleasant to admit that to ourselves now rather than pushing it off onto future generations, forcing them to admit it after the illusion is bigger still.)

Anyway, among other things, some of our commentators (and at least one of my fellow contributors) at W4 want to blame the financial crisis on "unregulated capitalism"--that is, the risky derivatives market that is crashing down. Scorn is heaped on what seems to me the perfectly reasonable point about the push to lend to those who are not credit-worthy and the way this spread into the mortgage market and the economy as a whole. But beyond that, no attempt is made on the part of those who say this is the fault of capitalism to factor in the perverse incentive of the expectation of bailout. Sure, people are greedy. And they may do unsustainable and economically foolish things, hoping to get personally rich, if they think they can get away with them because the government will catch them when they fall if their shenanigans get so big and complicated that their fall would harm lots of innocent people. Basically, it's holding the nation hostage for a bailout. Nice. Very human. But not capitalism, by a long shot. In this context, I typed the following comment, with which I'm very pleased, but for which I haven't quite gotten the standing ovation I was hoping. So here it is, for my small and discerning reading audience here at the ol' personal blog:

It hardly seems reasonable to call it "capitalism" when financiers do crazy, unsustainable things having the "too big to fail" idea in the back of their minds. One of the whole points of capitalism as I have always understood it is precisely that it takes advantage of the hard facts of cause and effect rather than trying to make consequences go away. Bailouts negate the entire real-world, reality-check idea that is absolutely fundamental to capitalism. Calling speculative, unsound money transactions undertaken with the assumption that the government will borrow money and get you out of the soup if things go wrong "capitalism" sounds to me like saying that Junior is "hunting" if he goes out, shoots wildly at trees, shoots himself in the foot, Dad pays the medical bills, and finally a dead 10-point buck that somebody else shot is delivered to the front door with "Junior's deer" on a tag attached to its antlers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Biblical arguments against suicide

Suppose you were confronted with a Christian, a self-styled fundamentalist, who told you that he does not think suicide is wrong or that he thinks suicide may not be wrong. You know that this person will not accept any pure natural law arguments but only arguments directly from the Bible. What argument could you make?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Soul-losing risk-taking

Over at W4 I've put up a post on the subject of how kids lose their Christian faith in college. Actually, I'm looking for information more than giving it. One theme that comes up again and again in the responses is the theme of the entire atmosphere of a secular college and how the Christian student feels immersed in it, feels lonely as a Christian, perhaps wants to try out some of the hedonistic experimenting his peers are trying, and is therefore almost looking for excuses to throw out his Christianity.

This leads me to wonder seriously about parents who deliberately send their children to live on the campus of a secular university. Nowadays, we have all heard the horror stories about the brain-washing PC residence hall sessions. But even aside from that, as one commentator put it,
It takes a lot of personal fortitude to hold onto what you believe in when everyone around you operates entirely on the presumption that it doesn't even exist. You have to be able to go home at night and think about it, you have to be able to drag yourself out early in the morning and go to church, you have to be able to say "eh, not this time" when good clean fun goes bad.
Right. So surely living in the dorms must make this effect particularly strong. Or so it would seem to me. I mean, what if there is no "home" to go to in order to get away from the atmosphere and think about it?

So I was thinking over reasons why parents and children agree to do this. These seem to me to include things like this: 1) The assumption that going away and living in dorms at college is a necessary part of growing up, an absolute rite of passage that it would be cruel to have your kids miss out on. 2) The worry that sending your child to a Christian college will not get him a good enough education and/or will not allow him to get a job. 3) The worry that sending your child to a local college, so that he can live at home, will not get him a good enough name on his transcript to allow him to get a job. 4) (Related to 3.) The assumption that, despite post-modernism and the death of the academy, there is enough objective difference in quality across disciplines between a more "elite" secular school and a secular school that no one has ever heard of that your child really will get a good education at the former and not at the latter and that you therefore have a duty to send your child away from home to go to the former.

I certainly understand that parents agonize over such decisions, and I don't want to sound harsh. But there is that whole thing in the Gospels about gaining the whole world and losing your own soul. This is not meant as an advertisement for Christian colleges. Christian colleges often have their unique problems, some of which arise from the fact that young people and parents go in trusting them and are therefore particularly vulnerable to faith-attacking professors and trendy movements (like the Emergent Church movement, for example). But I would say this: Question all of 1-4 if you have a decision of this kind to make. And try to do something other than sending your children away to be immersed in the "college experience" of a secular college. For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Monday, November 10, 2008

A little pick-me-up to make you feel Glad

I don't know what it's like where you are, but around here there's a scurry of snow. It's cold, gloomy, and getting dark early in the evenings. I, for one, find it hard to keep the happy feelings that the eye-hurting blue skies of last week brought with them.

I found this video when I watched "Just As I Am," which you'll find in the post below. I'm told it was one of Keith Green's greatest hits, but now I've seen both versions and like Glad's better. This should make you smile, if you don't dislike Christian contemporary music circa 1980 on principal. It's upbeat, high quality musically, and fun. Enjoy.

And the Imeem version:

You Put This Love In My Heart - Glad

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A couple of great songs

As I am still working on the proofs (though I see the light at the end of the tunnel), I give you a couple of wonderful musical clips in place of anything more profound. First, "Just As I Am" by Glad, courtesy of Eldest Daughter. Does anyone know if Glad writes its own tunes? This has a sound of an Irish folk tune to me, very much, but I think it is probably original with them. We sing this at Communion at my church. (Not like Glad does it, though!)

Then, via Dawn Eden, here is "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." See Dawn's post for the story behind this one.

Update: The video I have embedded of "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" appears to have been taken down from Youtube. Unfortunately, the only other Youtube I've been able to find that gives that same version of the song has a fairly weird artsy video to go with it, and I don't want to link it. But the story at Dawn's blog is interesting nonetheless.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Punishments for copy editors

I am correcting page proofs for our 69-page resurrection article (cum additional pages for the bibliography). I am seeking reader input on the following question: What punishment should be reserved in Dante's hades for copy editors who...

--occasionally add commas that make one's sentences mean something different (and silly)?

--don't know that the proper possessive meaning "belonging to Jesus" is "Jesus'"?

--replace the written number "three" in the phrase "after three days" (referring to Jesus' resurrection) with the numeral 3, making it look ridiculous ("after 3 days")?

--replace, uniformly, all one's uses of the word "though" with "although," throughout a 69-page article, apparently using a robotic find and replace function, and without one's knowledge or consent?

--take out the word "to" in the phrase "stands in a relation to," which changes the meaning of the sentence so that it does not make sense?


Okay, that's enough. I can't bear to keep listing them. And I'm going to have to induce the publishers to change all this stuff back. I've gotten this far in life with relatively few grey hairs. I expect to have a few more after the next couple of weeks.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I believe in the communion of saints

I was teaching Youngest Daughter the Apostles' Creed a couple of weeks ago. No, not making her memorize it (though she probably could) but just going through it. I always stick a bit at "he descended into hell," because frankly, I don't know what it means. Wish I had ol' Peter here (who is to blame for the phrase) to tell me what it was all about. But by the time I got to "I believe in the communion of saints," I had picked up speed.

And here is approximately what I told her: When Christian people die and go to heaven, we can't see them anymore, and they can't talk to us. But they are still worshipping Jesus Christ. In fact, they are worshipping Him better when they see Him face to face in heaven than they were able to do here on earth. And we are worshipping Jesus Christ, too. So even though we can't be with one another anymore like we are here on earth, we are connected by the fact that we are all followers of Christ, loving Christ, and with Jesus Christ loving and knowing about all of us, whether we are here on earth or in heaven. That is the Church--the Church Militant here on earth and the Church Triumphant in heaven. I reminded her of the part in the liturgy where it says, "And we also bless thy holy name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear." And finally, I reminded her of that great verse of the hymn "For All the Saints":

O blest communion, fellowship divine.
We feebly struggle; they in glory shine.
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.

I should add, what might (or might not) seem at first blush irrelevant, that my husband has a wonderful annotated bibliography of apologetics works from centuries ago. It's located here. He tells me that he often thinks of those old divines fighting the good fight in their own time when we come to that part on Sundays that says, "And we also bless Thy holy name for all Thy servants departed this life in Thy faith and fear." And I should add that it goes on, "And give us grace so to follow their good example."

Cranmer's collect for All Saints captures perfectly what I regard as a sort of essence of the Anglican via media. It emphasizes the example of the saints and our union with them as servants of the Lord. I cannot forbear noting that neither the collect nor the preface contains any reference to invoking the prayers of nor venerating the saints nor to anything at all distinctively "high church." They are the kinds of bits of liturgy that I would like to offer to evangelicals as an example of what the Prayer Book contains that might enrich their own worship, if only their private worship.

The collect for All Saints:

O Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou has prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The proper preface, with the Sanctus:

Who, in the multitude of thy Saints, hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses, that we, rejoicing in their fellowship, may run with patience the race that is set before us, and, together with them, may receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying,

HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Calling all Michiganders--No on Proposal 2

Calling any pro-life Michiganders who happen to be in my reading audience: Next Tuesday, be sure to go to the polls to vote no on Proposal 2. You can get the low-down on Proposal 2 here. The short version is, it would amend the Michigan state constitution so that early embryo-destroying research and experimentation must be allowed to take place in the state unhindered. In other words, if this were put in place, no state or local laws could be passed and enforced at a later time (apparently no laws presently exist) prohibiting, restricting, or even "discouraging" such research.

I was surprised to find one pro-life e-mail correspondent a few weeks ago, a Michigander from the Detroit area, who knew nothing about Proposal 2. So I flatter myself that I got two more votes (assuming I can count his wife as well) against it.

As a side note, there is also a ballot proposal (#1) on this year to legalize "medical marijuana" in Michigan. Vote no on that one, too. My own guess (though I've seen no poll numbers) is that it is slated to go down in flames, but I fear Proposal 2 may be a closer call, though I have there only the general statement that "the polls are close" received in an e-mail, not any hard data.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Must-See Video

Kleenex alert. You will want to have some on-hand. This is very moving. I do not know where the satellite missionary TV station "Life TV" is based. It broadcasts programs in Arabic all over the world comparing Islam and Christianity with the clear intent to convert Muslims to Christianity. This clip is from a call-in show called "Daring Question." The hosts take a call from a woman named Sana, calling from the UK, who wants to become a Christian but is terrified of her husband. She believes that if he discovers her faith in Jesus Christ, he will divorce her and take her children away. The hosts pray for her and with her.

It is sometimes hard to know what we can do about the Islamic threat to the West. Our leaders seem suicidally bent upon capitulating to the gradual warping of our laws and culture by the introduction of Islamic law (sharia) and culture. In the UK, sharia courts have even been given some sort of quasi-official status, though supposedly both parties have to "agree" to abide by the decisions of the sharia courts. (Wanna bet?) Conservatives propose that we refuse to accommodate Islam in our laws and customs and even that we limit or stop Muslim immigration, but pigs will fly before these suggestions are heeded.

But these men know that they are not helpless. They know that here we have no continuing city, and they are attacking the ultimate "root cause" of the problem--Islam itself--by direct missions efforts. I'm afraid our President really doesn't know what he's talking about when he talks about "winning hearts and minds." But these guys do. They are inviting people to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace. May God bless and protect them.

HT: Jihad Watch

Crossposted at What's Wrong with the World

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bob Hope on Zombies

Just in case anyone reads this blog and doesn't read What's Wrong with the World, I just posted this to give us a little comic relief in a tense election season:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Collect of the week--In the morning

I'm sure I've said it before, but the section at the back of the 1928 Prayer Book called "Family Prayer" is unjustly neglected. I would love to see some of the collects from it incorporated into Anglican worship services. The collects have a different feel from those by Cranmer and those translated from the Latin. I have read that this section was published free-standing before it was incorporated into the American 1928 BCP and that its prayers have been attributed to the late 17th century divine Archbishop Tillotson.

The particular one I have in mind here is designated to be prayed in the morning, though it makes just as much sense to pray it at night or at any other time.

Almighty God, who alone gavest us the breath of life, and alone canst keep alive in us the holy desires thou dost impart; We beseech thee, for thy compassion's sake, to sanctify all our thoughts and endeavours; that we may neither begin an action without a pure intention nor continue it without thy blessing. And grant that, having the eyes of the mind opened to behold things invisible and unseen, we may in heart be inspired by thy wisdom, and in work be upheld by thy strength, and in the end be accepted of thee as thy faithful servants; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
This collect has that quality that all good collects have: It says it for you. I have not the slightest bit of trouble praying this collect as a real prayer. It never tempts me to regard it as an empty form of words, because it says so well and so exactly what I truly wish to ask of God.

How many times to I begin an action without a pure intention? Lots. But even if I do begin it with a pure intention, sometimes I continue it when I should backtrack or rethink. I certainly would like the Holy Spirit to nudge me at those times. And then, it's very easy to be weary in well-doing, so when I'm doing what I ought to be doing, what I most need is to be inspired by God's wisdom and upheld by His strength, most particularly by "beholding things invisible and unseen"--being reminded what it's all about.

Great collects, by the way, always pack in biblical allusions. This one is alluding to Paul's prayer for the Ephesians in Ephesians 1, "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe..."

And all of that--the opening of the understanding, the strength of God, the intention of the act, and the continual guidance of God in continuing the action--is the path to follow in order to hear that "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Recipe--Mama Mia's Pork Chops Italiano

This is the first recipe I have ever published on "Extra Thoughts." I shall have to add a new label. It's me own. I hope the vagueness will not bother readers too much, but I don't, for this particular recipe, measure the spices. I'm publishing it because it is not only easy and tasty but also cheap, which is hard to beat, these days.

Mama Mia's Pork Chops Italiano

*1 1/2 to 2 pounds pork chops (These can be the kind they call "assorted pork chops" in the store--hence, not very expensive.)
*1 can tomatoes, undrained, cut up
*1 medium onion, sliced
*Several tablespoons of vegetable oil (for browning)

Fairly generous amounts (as desired) of...
*garlic powder

Season chops on both sides with all spices. Heat oil. Brown chops on both sides. Arrange in a 9 x 13 pan. Pour tomatoes with liquid over chops. Place onions on top. Cover and bake 30-35 minutes (depending on the thickness of the chops) at 325 degrees.

Serving suggestion: Serve with garlic rolls or garlic bread.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mark Pickup on the Christian meaning of suffering

I have mentioned Mark Pickup before. (See also here.) He is a Canadian Catholic blogger with multiple sclerosis who writes on issues such as disabilities, suffering, and Christianity. Here he has the notes for a talk he gave on the Christian meaning of suffering.

Whether you are Protestant or Catholic, there is much in what Mark has to say that will have value for you. Here are a few quotations:

If there is no God, then there is no purpose to suffering. The logical response to suffering is suicide. If there is a bad God, then the response of Job’s wife is reasonable: “Curse God, and die.” If, however, there is a good God then there must be is a redeeming value to human suffering, for no good God could possibly permit it were there not.
People who advocate or participate in assisted suicide act with the logic of darkness … they are brutes prowling and sniffing over the waiting graves of the defeated. Any civilized society must always condemn assisted suicide in the strongest terms and never legalize or permit it.
An atheist once told me that Christianity is a crutch for weak people. He sneered and referred to Jesus as my imaginary friend. Having aggressive multiple sclerosis I know a thing or two about weakness, crutches and wheelchairs too. Jesus is not my imaginary friend – his presence has come into clearer focus the sicker I become. He is truer and more faithful to me than I have ever been to him.
The reason for Christ’s Passion and death on the Cross was to settle with God the problem of human sin and evil. Sin and evil kill goodness. We must not overlook or discount this truth. People suffer whenever they experience evil; the ultimate suffering is the loss of eternal life.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hide Me Behind the Cross (II)

Here are the lyrics.

Verse 1

Lord as I seek to serve You,
May You find in me what's pleasing to Your heart.
I leave my will at Calvary,
Taking on a nature humbled by Your scars.

For I know it's only through Your love,
That who I am is hidden by Your grace.
Let my desires be overshadowed,
As I recall the purpose of that place.


Hide me behind the cross,
Where my gains become as loss.
And only Your glory is in view.

Your power will be revealed
The more that I am concealed.
Hide me behind the cross
So the world sees only You.

Verse 2

If I rely on my strength
To be a source of hope for those in need,
The only profit I would gain
Would be the empty honor of my deeds.
But with all of self behind Your cross,
The splendor of Your love stands free to shine.
Illuminating with Your power,
Reaching souls so You alone are glorified.

Now, I would be the last to claim that this is high poetry. But when I heard the song for the first time in the car the other day (from this station), it really struck me.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has repeatedly felt a desire to be of value to other people coupled with a sense of gloom about the probable outcome. "I'll probably annoy so-and-so, or not put it right, or something." And a parent feels this in spades. I don't know about other parents in my wide reading audience, but it happens an uncountable number of times a week that I feel it my duty to tell one of my girls to do things differently, or I have to explain something that they don't understand, and they are annoyed. Mom is the nit-picker. Mom explains about everything from table manners to moral views. Mom has to decide exactly what punishment to mete out to Youngest Daughter (age 5) for, say, lying about whether she did or whether she did not spit on the piano bench and scratch the softened finish off with her fingernails. This is not a popular position to be in. And often the time comes when one just wants to say, "I'm doing more harm than good. I don't know how to do this right."

Now, the Bible, especially in the Pauline epistles, contains plenty of talk about this very odd idea that we do not do things ourselves, that in some sense Christ lives through us. This would no doubt creep out the New Atheist crowd very seriously. "So you mean you're, like, possessed by your imaginary friend?" One can just hear them. Paul says, "I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Wouldn't it be a tremendous relief to be hidden behind the cross? Okay, so we can't literally get out of that human stuff. One still has to tell the kids what to do, to try to be wise about guiding them and reproving them. One still has to try to find the right words to say in a blog thread, or to make the right decision about when and how to give the other guy the last word. We still have to try to get it right, and we still have the fear of failure. But if, somehow, all that could be given to Our Lord, and he could be invited truly to live his life out through me, it seems like it ought to make a difference.

It comes back, I suppose, to that uncomfortable stuff about the practice of the presence of Christ. Would I say this, would I do that, would I refuse to do this other thing, if I were truly conscious that Jesus is here, with me, within me, and that I am supposed to be his hands and feet, not to mention mouth, in the world?

Yikes. So maybe this idea about being hidden behind the cross isn't such a relief after all. Maybe it just raises the stakes.

I think, myself, it's both a relief and a challenge. And that's why I like the song.

Hide Me Behind the Cross (I)

This is just to get this recording out there. I hope to have more to say later. Heard this song for the first time on Rejoice Radio the other day in the car and have been looking for a good link to it. I never heard of Hyles Anderson College before, but their men's gospel team sure can sing.
[Update: January 30, 2010]--Well, imeem has disappeared, and with it, the embedded song. I have found the song on Grooveshark with Gold City, which did it first. Heretically, I like the tiny Christian college men's group's version a bit better than the pros, but this is a very nice recording of a good song, and I'd hate for this post to be without the song. So here's the new embed:

Positive words about Facebook

Last week my former college roommate (and maid of honor for my wedding) tracked me down after twenty years or so, which pleased me very much. She invited me to join Facebook to see more pictures of her and her family. Being the paranoid person I am, I asked around about how much personal info. I'd have to give and who could see it. Reassured, I joined, and I've been very glad that I did.

I won't name any names, because I wouldn't want people getting my info. from Facebook and publishing about me on their personal blogs, but I've been touched and surprised by the number of old college friends who have noticed that I am on Facebook and have sent me friend requests. These are people, in several cases, about whom I've thought often over the years and wondered, but after the manner of lazy human beings, have done nothing about locating.

I realize now that one reason I have left my college years behind me is because I am not entirely proud of my own behavior in college. I went to Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, PA, at the age of 16. And a half. Don't blame my parents. They didn't know what to do with me at home, I had knocked myself out finishing high school early for the express purpose of going to college early, and I would have given them no peace if they had tried fairly pointlessly to keep me in Chicago. Plus, I was more or less unemployable. They probably hoped that this would change if I got a bachelor's degree. So, at considerable expense to them (a point I did not appreciate nearly enough at the time), I went the 900 miles to a small Christian college.

It really wasn't nearly as rough for such a young student as it might have been. The atmosphere was carefully monitored and quite wholesome; the entire student body came from conservative Baptist churches and was expected to behave accordingly, which they more or less did. So there were no shocks, just the general feeling of defensiveness at being at least two years and more younger than everyone around me, looking younger still, and being something of a nuisance.

My solution was to glom onto anyone who was nice to me and pour my largely imaginary woes and largely indefensible prejudices and opinions into the ears of such patient people as fulfilled that description. And to the credit of human nature and Christian charity, several did. I had friends, almost all of them juniors and seniors when I arrived (hence, something on the order of four years older than me, and therefore perhaps even more mature and kindly than the freshmen).

Now, yea, these years later, a surprising number of these generous people have made contact with me voluntarily, and I've been able to find out what they've been up to. In several places, that information has been especially humbling: One family has adopted a son with many special needs, another family has nine children, and another former college mate travels abroad every year to make films of the poorest of the poor for the hunger relief organization he works for.

So I've just added a link to this blog to my rather spare Facebook profile, and if any of y'all come over here, this is just to say--Thanks, guys! And I'm glad to be back in touch. Feel free to comment, if you want. (Hint, hint.)

I should add that, as advertised, Facebook is a very low-key site and appears to be very safe. I have received no spam from them, and I've seen only one inappropriate ad in the margin. You don't even have to give your address, etc., when you sign up, because there is a "skip this page" option for all of that info. that you might not want to pass around too much. The only thing they definitely require, besides an e-mail address, is date of birth, presumably for legal reasons. So I recommend it.

P.S. I am in the far bottom right corner of the above picture, which a Facebook friend found and uploaded. This was our drama team. All names have been omitted to protect the innocent.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Blog housekeeping--starting to label

I was just at a friend's blog and realized how useful his post labels are when I'm coming new to a blog. So I've decided gradually to start going back through my posts and labeling them. Should have done that to begin with, of course. What this means is that for the time being, the labels won't show you complete lists. So if you go to "hymns," you'll probably be thinking, "I know she has way more posts than that on hymns." Hopefully I'll get them all in there eventually, unless this fiddly project falls by the wayside.

Friday, October 03, 2008

C.S. Lewis--odd on love

I've been recently re-reading some portions of The Four Loves. I don't remember having very strong views about this book when I read it years ago. There certainly are some excellent parts, especially when he talks about the love of God.

But on the subject of love and marriage, it simply will not do. I think the biggest underlying problem here is that Lewis had at that time too rigid a view of what it meant to love one's spouse. He may (we can hope) have gotten more information later when he fell in love and got married himself. But at the time of writing The Four Loves, he seems to have thought of love between man and wife as either a mere tempest of emotion--hence, transient and unimportant--or as the settled unity of many years--hence, and by definition, impossible at the beginning of marriage. This view of Lewis's is quite evident in the following passage from a letter (April 18, 1940):

No one is going to deny that the biological end of the sexual functions is offspring. And this is, on any sane view, of more importance than the feelings of the parents....Surely to put the mere emotional aspects first would be sheer sentimentalism....The third reason [for marriage in the Prayer Book] gives the thing that matters far more than "being in love" and will last and increase, between good people, long after "love" in the popular sense is only as a memory of childhood--the partnership, the loyalty to "the firm", the composite creature. (Remember that it is not a cynic but a devoted husband and inconsolable widower, Dr. Johnson, who said that a man who has been happy with one woman cd. have been equally happy with any one of "tens of thousands" of other women. i.e. the original attraction will turn out in the end to have been almost accidental: it is what is built up on that, or any other, basis wh. may have brought the people together that matters.)

One finds the same near-contempt for love between newlyweds as mere emotion and the same implication that love between married people ought to grow over time as opposed to being sought before marriage in this passage, put into the mouth of Screwtape:

From the true statement that this...relation was intended to produce...affection and the family, humans can be made to infer the false belief that the blend of affection, fear, and desire which they call "being in love" is the only thing that makes marriage either happy or holy....In other words, the humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly coloured and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as its result. Two advantages follow. In the first place, humans who have not the gift of continence can be deterred from seeking marriage as a solution because they do not find themselves "in love," and, thanks to us, the idea of marrying with any other motive seems to them low and cynical. Yes, they think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion.

This false dichotomy between love as unimportant emotion and love as a settled feeling built up over years even makes him write the following, to my mind highly distasteful, passage from The Four Loves which goes so far as to praise sexual intercourse without love.

Most of our ancestors were married off in early youth to partners chosen by their parents on grounds that had nothing to do with Eros. They went to the act with no other "fuel," so to speak, than plain animal desire. And they did right; honest Christian husbands and wives, obeying their fathers and mothers, discharging to one another their "marriage debt," and bringing up families in the fear of the Lord.

This is quintessentially and self-evidently a passage written by a male, and I would say, written by a male who knows little about women. It entirely ignores the strong connection for many women between emotions like affection and a feeling of being cherished, loved, and protected, on the one hand, and sexual desire, on the other.

Moreover, Lewis assumes that there is nothing even remotely morally questionable about a husband's having intercourse with his wife when he does not love her and when she does not love him. The Catholic Church itself, which I consider fairly representative of (at a minimum) a paradigmatically conservative view on sexual subjects, holds that the sexual act between man and wife is supposed to serve, inter alia, a "unitive purpose," which would seem to raise questions about having intercourse with a spouse for whom you have no feeling, whom, perhaps, you scarcely know at all (which is at least one plausible scenario invoked by Lewis's picture of arranged marriage), and who has no feeling for you.

Then there is the question of the validity of marriages undertaken without the true freedom of the two principal people involved. Lewis's casual implication that untold numbers of young people perfectly validly married other people for whom they had no affection solely out of obedience to their parents is open to some question. Indeed, the abuses during the ages of marriages made in just that fashion are the entire basis of the present concern with due maturity and full freedom in enacting the marriage sacrament. Lewis simply o'erleaps all such worries and, in effect, says, "You're not going to say that all those people who married only semi-willingly and got on with the marital act willy-nilly, out of a sheer sense of duty, were wrong, are you?"

There is something rather brutal and even foolish and crude about Lewis's whole approach to this subject. The nuances of feeling between members of the opposite sex--including various degrees of kindness, affection, protectiveness, trust, and spontaneous commitment--seem lost on him. He seems not even to realize that all of these can be and to no small extent ought to be present prior to marriage, though they do, of course, grow over the years. To him, love between husband and wife is relatively unimportant because it is just an emotion. What's love got to do with it? It's all about duty, obedience to parents, and the desire to have children, and that's it.

Some time ago, I read an interesting article by Gilbert Meilaender in First Things about in vitro fertilization. (At least, I believe it was Meilaender. I am going by memory.) He made the excellent point that one problem out of many with in vitro fertilization is that it denies the primacy of the relationship between husband and wife. The existence of the child grows out of the parents' love for one another and is a result of the sexual expression of that love. The existence of a child is not an end for which one's wife (or husband) is to be used simply as a means. Exactly and precisely. Much better than "on any sane view, offspring are more important than the feelings of the parents." Meilaender, I suspect, could have taught Lewis a thing or two on this entire subject.

A somewhat longer version of this post, including an imaginary Lewisian marriage proposal, has been cross-posted at What's Wrong with the World.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Merry Michaelmas

I figure it's late enough on Michaelmas Eve for me to put up a Michaelmas post here. Be sure to look over at What's Wrong with the World tomorrow for a deluxe version with the reading from the Apocalypse for Michaelmas in both English and Latin.

The thing I like about the above image of St. Michael the Archangel is that he looks undeniably masculine. It's true that he looks maybe a bit too much like a fantasy hero on the cover of a book, but even if so, he's a classy fantasy hero. Too many St. Michael images, even those with a really cool picture of Satan being stabbed by Michael's spear (which unfortunately this one lacks), make Michael's face look feminine. That drives me crazy, because if there is one masculine person in the Army of Light, it's St. Michael.

As C. S. Lewis said, the true opposite to Satan is not God but St. Michael. Both of them are angels, only Satan is a fallen angel, and Michael is a good angel. It looks, if we take Revelation relatively literally, as though God has given to Michael the special job of defeating Satan, and even though the reading refers to Satan's original fall, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if St. Michael were heavily involved in the final binding and throwing into the Lake of Fire at the end of the story when the good guys finally win.

I have a quarrel with John Milton: When he does the war in heaven, he has the Son come in a chariot and throw Satan out of heaven. Now, it's surprising that Milton should allow himself to be unbiblical, Puritan and biblicist that he was. But I think that here Milton's Arianism got the better of him. For in Milton's theology, the Son is the true opposite of Satan. The good angels are not able to defeat him, and heaven is getting all ripped up and such, so the Son has to come with irresistible might and fling him and his armies over the battlements of heaven. The flinging over the battlements ("with ruinous combustion down/Who durst defy th'omnipotent to arms") is great. But it should be Michael who does it.

Michaelmas--specifically, the reading from Revelation--reminds us of several important things: 1) At the end of the book, we win. That is, if we are on the side of God. 2) It's not wrong to win by fighting. Evil should be fought. 3) Things aren't going to be pretty between now and the end, because Satan has been given the freedom to roam around down here on earth and cause all kinds of trouble. 4) From a God's-eye view, Satan's remaining time is short. That's a comfort even for those of us whose threescore years and ten will be long over before it's all over.

Blessings to all my readers, and in particular, a Merry Michaelmas!

Hymn of the Week--"Deck Thyself, my Soul"

This morning we sang in church one of the loveliest communion hymns the 1940 Hymnal contains: "Deck Thyself, My Soul, With Gladness." I've been searching around the web for something that gives the harmony correctly.

The cyberhymnals have all the words--indeed, an extra verse I didn't even know--but the music just sounds so awful. The best way to show anyone who doesn't know the hymn the way it should sound is to link this Youtube video of an Episcopal congregation and choir singing it during a procession. The only PC change I detect in the words is in the second verse. The line "Joy, the sweetest man e'er knoweth" has been altered to get rid of 'man'.

The hymn tune and, I assume, the harmonization, are by Cruger (with an umlaut over the u). Bach apparently wrote several things "based on" it, but while this one is very beautiful, I have to confess that I can detect only a distant relation to the original tune.

If you sing the hymn with attention, it's really impossible to come away gloomy. It has the effect that its words intend--inviting us to "leave the gloomy haunts of sadness" and rejoice in the opportunity to come and receive the Holy Communion, which Christ has provided for us by his great goodness and humility. Here is the first verse:

Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness;
Come into the daylight’s splendor,
There with joy thy praises render
Unto Christ Whose grace unbounded
Hath this wondrous banquet founded.
Higher o’er all the heav’ns He reigneth,
Yet to dwell with thee He deigneth.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

New W4 post on the Problem of Evil

This is my blogging contribution to the world for the moment. I was away all day Friday, which is of course most unusual.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Autobiography--My debt to the Rev. Frank Buckley

I've neglected this personal blog a bit lately, but for those of you readers who check in from time to time or trickle by, I've decided to start to be a little more autobiographical.

Many a year ago (but not too many) I was a bratty, funny-looking small child. My parents were not wealthy, not by a long shot. They always insisted that we were middle-middle-class, but looking back now, I don't think I would say that. My dad was a wood finisher and unionized in Chicago, so he made a decent-enough wage for someone with no education beyond high school--the kind of job that I understand is increasingly rare nowadays. But sending two children to Christian school was a huge drain on the family finances. So in dealing with my peers I had to contend not only with my own unpleasant personality but also with the odd clothes which were the only things we could afford. For several years, when I outgrew a dress, it became a shirt, to be worn over pants.

I have a tiny, dark, black-and-white photo of myself at age seven or eight, in one of these dresses-turned-shirts, my hair in two ponytails, sitting on the knee of Rev. Frank Buckley, a child evangelist who came every year to the camp we went to in the summers. (As you can see, the photo above is not this one but a clearer one.)

That camp, Camp Manitoumi in Lowpoint, IL, was the most beloved, beautiful spot on earth to me. I won't go on about it at the moment but may do so in a later post. Suffice it to say that my greatest sympathy for people who talk about "patriotism as loving the soil" comes not when I think about my actual home, which was in the ugly and smelly megalopolis of Chicago, but when I think about the place where I spent every possible moment in the summer--Manitoumi.

Pastor Buckley must have been in his forties at that time, though it was hard to tell. His very short, dark hair was just greying at the temples. He loved children as I think it is given to few active, handsome men in their forties to love children, especially when the children are not their own. Every year, year after year, he came to camp and spoke twice a day to large numbers of assembled children for a good, long time. He had a dummy named Charlie, and I never once got tired of their routines, even though I had them memorized after a few years. He led the singing, he did the ventriloquism act, and he gave the sermons. He was the whole show. One man. Occasionally he brought his grown son, and they played snappy trumpet duets, but I don't remember much about the son. As I remember it, Pastor Buckley ran the children's programs for family weeks for many years. That would have been a large age-range, from perhaps seven years old until the children were old enough that their parents took them into the adult services. He did junior weeks for eight- and nine-year-olds, and I was thrilled to find by the time I was in the 11- and 12-year-old weeks that he was doing those, too.

Pastor Buckley was a fundamentalist of the old school. The only type of clothes I can ever remember seeing him wear were dark pants and a blindingly white, starched shirt, sometimes with a tie. As I recall, he dressed like this--without the tie--even when playing softball or riding a horse. There was no air conditioning at camp, and his only concessions to the heat were to unbutton his cuffs, roll his shirtsleeves up, and unbutton the top button of his collar. He gave amusing sermons against women's makeup, sermons that were impossible to take offense at because he wasn't ranting, just telling "stories" (the factuality of which I rather doubt) like the one about the time he said to a woman wearing green eye-shadow, "Excuse me, ma'am, but I think you have something growing on your eyelids." (He had a soft accent that I, Yankee that I was, called "Southern." I would now say it was probably a southern Illinois or a Missouri accent.) Nonetheless, I knew he meant it about the silliness of makeup, and I took it to heart, sort of. When I was twelve, some of the other girls in the cabin shared their eye makeup with me. This insanitary activity made me feel quite grown up and pretty (though I must have looked ridiculous), until I ran into Pastor Buckley. I was petrified. Would he say anything? He wasn't the sort of man you wanted to trifle with. He gave me a hug and chatted a bit. Didn't say anything about the makeup. I was tremendously relieved to think he hadn't noticed. But looking back and remembering his penetrating eyes, I'm pretty sure he noticed everything. And understood, too.

The thing about Pastor Buckley was that he stood no nonsense, but he loved the children so much that they trusted and respected him entirely. He never had the slightest trouble with discipline, no matter the size of his child audience. I do not know how it was with other children, because I didn't pay much attention to other children, but I knew that I could tell that he loved me, personally. He watched me grow up to the age of about fourteen or fifteen, when I saw him last. At that time he was still doing the 11 and 12-year-old weeks. I was a worker at camp. That meant, if I could stand the rather physically strenuous regimen, and if I didn't do anything to get myself in trouble, that I could stay there and work all summer long. I remember now playing a piano solo one of those years for chapel. And Pastor Buckley said to the whole group, "I remember Lydia when she was little. All the other kids picked on her. And look at her now." Little did he know (or maybe he did know, after all) that there was still more than a bit of tension between me and my peers. I still had a long way to go to grow up. But the unconditional love and pride in his voice made me feel that I'd come a long way already, and it helped me to keep going.

May God bless all His servants, including Pastor Buckley, who work to bring children to a knowledge of Himself.

Update: I've managed to scan and upload, above, a different picture from the one I describe. The scan of the black and white turned out very fuzzy, and this one is better. I suppose I am ten or eleven here. The quality still is a bit fuzzy. I see from the picture that Pastor Buckley is not wearing the trademark white button-up shirt here, so obviously my memory on that point was faulty.

Update #2: Commentator Lori, below, reminds me, and my parents confirm, that Pastor Buckley's dummy was named Daniel, not Charlie. Extra Thoughts is happy to correct the error, and it's really neat to have someone stop by whose life was also touched by Pastor Buckley.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"The Touch of the Master's Hand"

I apologize to my long-suffering readers for what appears to have been a couple of weeks' hiatus. I've now finished drafting the article I was working on, and I also put up several posts at What's Wrong With the World.

I woke up yesterday with this song running through my head and started croaking it even before I'd had enough hydration to limber up the voice. If you are from any sort of fundamentalist or evangelical Protestant background you will probably have heard it. I'm not sure what year it was put out, but I remember hearing it quite a bit in the 80's. I heard it on the radio the other day. If you drive the car just right here in my town you can pick up the signal from the fundamentalist radio station Rejoice Radio out of Pensacola, FL, at 91.7 FM. I believe their nearest signal tower is in the city about an hour to the north of us. It's in my opinion the best Christian radio station around here. The others are all going screamy. Eldest Daughter complains a lot about the devolution of her favorite moderately contemporary Christian radio station at 91.3, which is becoming steadily less moderate and playing lower and lower quality music.

Anyway, here is a very nice dramatized Youtube version of the song, made apparently by the Mormons, of all things. I don't go to auctions, but it seems believably done. I especially like the portrayal of the man who appears to be stopped from committing suicide in the last verse, though the hand on his shoulder looks a bit odd. "...auctioned cheap to a thankless world" is a particularly telling line. And the statement that the crowd has trouble understanding the worth of a soul is neither more nor less than the truth.

Eldest daughter opines that the song would be even better without the final verse, leaving us to draw the moral for ourselves. I see her point, but the last verse has some good words, too.

It's a catchy tune, too. I hope you like it and get it running through your head. It will do you no harm.

Friday, August 22, 2008

How compromise changes us

I have a new post up at What's Wrong with the World. Since we have at least one very strong McCain supporter on our roster there, and for other reasons too, I have hesitated to put up any free-standing posts on the subject of what's wrong with voting for McCain as the "lesser evil." That he is the lesser evil is not something I dispute. But my position that pro-lifers (and conservatives generally) should not vote for him could have been easily inferred from my comments on many other threads, both some on What's Wrong with the World and some on Zippy Catholic's blog.

In this post, I discuss a little-known series of events in which the National Right to Life Committee voluntarily decided to shut up about the use of tissue from aborted fetuses in scientific research--an issue they had been very vocal on for many years before. I imply, not so subtly, that a factor in their shut-down was their support for George W. Bush, who made it clear early on in his presidency that he had no intention of trying to restore the ban (from the era of Reagan and of Bush, Sr.) on federal funding for such research. In fact, he and his NIH officials considered themselves required to fund such research, or at least not to refuse to fund it because the tissue involved had come from aborted fetuses. And NRLC defended his stance. And now we hear nothing more about the issue from them, nor will we. It's dead.

And why did they do this? They said, because ESCR was so, so, urgent, so wildly important, that everything else must go to the wall for that. But Now they support a candidate who supports not only the existence of ESCR but federal funding for it. So what will they shut up about next?

What does compromise do to us? What it does in the political arena is not unimportant, but fundamentally, what it does in the political arena is a function of what it does to us, of how it subtly changes our priorities, our agenda, our speech, and finally, our worldview.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hymn of the week--Beneath the Cross of Jesus

We sang "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" for our Communion hymn this morning. An excellent pick, and kudos to the rector (who is on vacation) for picking it before he left. This verse especially jumped out at me:

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

As I sang it, almost against my will, this story came to mind. Via Dawn Eden, I learned this week of an "artist" (I use the term with some hesitation) in Australia named Adam Cullen who was at least short-listed for (and it appears may have won) an award known as the Blake Prize for his deliberately mocking and cartoonish painting of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

One judge, Christopher Allen, resigned from the judging panel in protest when his colleagues insisted on including Cullen in the short list. I find it at least notable that originally Cullen was not on the short list and that Allen resigned when the other judges changed their minds and included him. I wonder if the clue to this about face might be found in the words of the chairman (I assume, of the judging committee), "The Blake Prize...embraces diversity in its entries and it is important to us that we remain open to the many styles through which artists engage with the subject area." Uh-huh. Perhaps we could rightly interpret this as, "Even if it means giving prizes to work of no artistic merit, we have to include at least one and maybe more works mocking Christianity every year to prove our transgressive credentials." Hats off to judge Allen. Is it just barely possible he was making an artistic judgement here? (Side note: Somehow I missed the Christian riots over this deliberate offence to what they hold holy. Perhaps someone could give me the links to those news stories...)

But the story doesn't stop there. As Dawn Eden says, the real kicker is in the final line of the Telegraph story, when Cullen gives us his response to the brouhaha: "How can he be so offended? It's just a Jew on the cross."

Um, yeah. Huh. And that's supposed to mean what, exactly?

The more you think about that line, the more unintentional resonances it has. It reminds me of what St. John tells us about Caiaphas--that when he said it was expedient that one man should die for the people, he prophesied though he did not know it. And when Jesus died he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." "It's just a Jew on the cross." Pontius Pilate himself couldn't have said it better. Shaking it off. Telling himself it doesn't matter. How could it matter? How could this obscure Jewish teacher, crucified by the Romans in the first century A.D., matter? Just another of the victims of the cruelty of man in history. Lots of Jews were crucified by the Romans. It's just a Jew on the cross. "All they that see me laugh me to scorn. They shoot out the lip, saying, 'He trusted in God that he would deliver him. Let him deliver him, if he delighteth in him.'" "Come down from the cross, if thou art the son of God."

Cullen is in a long line of the mockers of Jesus on the cross. And all their mockery God Incarnate, the Jew on the cross, took upon himself, and by it they did the will of God against their own will. "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities."

Upon that cross of Jesus, mine eye at times can see the very dying form of one who suffered there for me. (And for Adam Cullen, too, hard as that may be to believe.)

And by his stripes we are healed.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ad blocking software--highly recommended

For some time now I have been getting increasingly annoyed, not to mention alarmed, by the nature of the video ads coming up on Yahoo. I use Yahoo a lot, both for e-mail and especially for weather. (I have a touching and irrational conviction that if I stare at the fancy Yahoo weather report and maps long enough, I can make it rain. It's the modern version of a magic rain dance and is doubtless the result of some atavistic racial memories that have been passed down to me from paleolithic forebears.)

I'm not going to go into detail on these ads, but suffice it to say that the girls dancing the Achy-Breaky or whatever it is to celebrate the current mortgage rates are not my chief concern, though that's mildly annoying in its own right. Some of the worst came up when I was innocently shopping for a new bread machine, on consumer's review sites.

So I tried turning off all pictures and other multimedia possibilities on the advanced internet options for IE. That just made the perfectly inoffensive lighthouse on this very blog disappear, as well as all the buttons on blog comments boxes and other legitimate and useful items, but video ads on Yahoo were still swimming into view--literally, because in that case it was a fish swimming around in a bowl. No problem in itself, but an indication that the problem was not solved.

My beloved husband said, "Ask Todd." Well, I tried to be independent for a while but finally gave it up and asked the all-things-computers-omniscient Todd McKimmey via e-mail. And sure enough, he immediately informed me that there is (who'd a thunk it?) ad blocking software out there. He recommended Ad Block Plus for Mozilla Firefox. (I rather gather that his attitude is, "Who would use IE when you could use Firefox?" I have to admit to seeing that point of view.) In the process of stumbling about, I more or less accidentally also downloaded Ad Block Pro, which is for IE. That one is only a 30-day free trial, but it looks like it's just $19.95 to register it after the 30 days, which is nothing for the service. I got the one for Firefox, too, which appears to be free.

Well, I can't begin to say how much nicer a web experience I am now having. All the tacky junk, and even just the ugly and annoying junk, is gone. Even though it isn't exactly bad, I really was getting tired of seeing all the ugly "avatars" I could choose from by clicking on some ad. I would rather be caught dead than be represented by any of the females pictured there! And I hate all that blinking stuff in my face. Plus I don't have to worry about having the kids in the room when some ad for Victoria's Secret ("Mommy, why does that lady have no clothes on?") or something worse comes up. Youngest Daughter is just learning to read, too, and reads everything she sees. Phew! It's a great relief. And the ads disappear nearly without a trace, too. It's not like there are big white blocks in the visual field on the weather site. You really have to look to try to figure out even where those ugly ads would be. Not that I care. I'm just glad they are gone. It's great!

It doesn't solve all Internet problems, but it's one big step in the right direction, especially for those of us who are careful about the sites we go to anyway.

Varia--Clothes, Pharisees, etc.

The gospel reading today was Jesus' parable of the publican and the pharisee. (The epistle was I Cor. 15, which is tremendously important and about which I've been talking recently elsewhere, but I'll stick to the gospel for this post.)

In the 70's and 80's I was a big fan of Ken Medema, and I still like his old material. It's very hard to find anymore. His version of this parable is "Mr. Simon." I love the 70's recording, which I have on both tape and CD, but unfortunately it's not available anywhere that I can find on-line to link to. Ken has re-recorded the song with, in my opinion, a much inferior musical accompaniment. The 70's accompaniment was just piano and illustrated Ken's inimitable piano style. The vocals on the new version are also not as good, IMO, being exaggeratedly sarcastic rather than letting the words speak for themselves. But you can't get around the words. I'll let you listen to it in the new version if you're so inclined. The last lines are the best: "Two men walked into the church upon that Sunday morn. One left slightly wrinkled; the other left reborn." Ouch.

One of the best fictional treatments of the parable comes from an unexpected source. Agatha Christie wrote a number of straight (i.e., non-mystery) novels under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott. Her novella Absent in the Spring, written under that name, makes excellent use of Christ's parable. The main character actually thanks God that she is not as an old schoolmate whom she meets again unexpectedly after many years. I highly recommend the novel, without claiming that it is great literature. But it is well-crafted and unexpectedly convicting.

Finally, I hope this will not play into the "Pharisees" theme in any ironic fashion, but I do want to tell my lady readers about another clothing site I have found that has the potential to supply a lot of clothing needs, not just dresses. No children's clothes, unfortunately, but they have a good line of petites that really are petite, which is useful to know for present or future teen daughters. The company is Blair, and they have classy, modest jeans for women as well as nice dresses and skirts. I've just bought several pair of excellent-fitting jeans for Eldest Daughter in their smallest petite size, which is smaller than the smallest petite size I've been able to find anywhere else. This skirt is really nice--the cloth a little thin, but the style modest and pretty, and incredibly comfortable. (A good price, too.) It reminded me (and this is high praise) of what C.S. Lewis says about clothes in Narnia: "In Narnia your good clothes were never your uncomfortable ones. They knew how to make things that felt beautiful as well as looking beautiful in Narnia: and there was no such thing as starch or flannel or elastic to be found from one end of the country to the other." I have to admit that this does have an elastic waist, but it's a gentle one, and the skirt sounds nice and swishy when you walk. I recommend the navy floral. The selection at the site is wide-ranging, and the clothes remind me roughly of the clothes you could buy, but can't find there any longer, at J.C. Penney's some fifteen years ago.

I found Blair linked from a sort of link consortium at one woman's site to which I wish I could give a hat tip, only I didn't save her URL. She had a whole bunch of "modest clothes" links. Lilies Apparel, which I have featured here before, was mentioned there, but none of the others except Blair seemed super-useful, especially since it's not clear that they are active sites. (I e-mailed a query to one of them and didn't get a reply.)