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.