27 December 2006


Back after the Epiphany.

We're here. Seriously. I should feel at home on an island which is divided into 12 "quarters."

Of The The New Year.

Happy New Year! What will the new year bring, and how can we prepare for its challenges?

There is an ancient prayer of the church, dating back at least to the sixth century, which I came across not too long ago in William Bright’s wonderful collection Ancient Collects (1875); it contains a petition that takes us right to the paradoxical heart of Christian living:
May the sacred Feast of Thy Table, O Lord, always strengthen and renew us, guide and protect our weakness amid the storms of this world, and bring us into the haven of everlasting salvation.
In the Holy Eucharist, the Gospel is preached with what St. Augustine called “visible words” as the church pleads the merits of Christ’s Body and Blood offered for us, that “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.” And not only is it preached, but it is actually presented to us – the remission of our sins, eternal life (which is divine life now), “and all other benefits of his passion” are communicated to us through the gracious Presence of our Lord in his Supper.
So it is not surprising, and perhaps seems even commonplace, that this particular ancient collect should ask that the “sacred Feast” would “strengthen and renew us.” But it is the next petition that call forth a little deeper reflection and, I pray, will set the agenda for the coming year. The prayer asks that through the grace of Christ given to us in the Eucharist, Chris would “guide and protect our weakness.” Notice the ambiguity of the petition. On the one hand, it may be read as the simple and obvious admission that in this world of governments, global economic systems, cancer, and car wrecks, we are feeble and in need of divine protection. But on the other hand, the petition may be read (and more straightforwardly so) as asking that God would “protect our weakness” in the sense of preventing us from becoming strong.
Seeking after weakness, inability, insufficiency. That is so contrary to the standard operating procedure of our fallen wills. W e attempt to provide for ourselves security, control, power, the ability to live life on our own terms, and of course we want the deep, self-satisfied pleasure of being our own saviors. Of course we would never put it like that to ourselves, but in ways subtle and not so subtle, by hoarding money and gossiping about those we believe to be our moral inferiors, that is what we’re too often up to.
The problem is that the well (the strong) have no need of a physician, and Jesus came for the sick – for the sinners, not the righteous” (Mt. 9.12,13), and his Gospel is good news for the poor, liberty for captives, and sight for the blind (Lk 4.18).
New Year’s resolutions are, essentially, declarations of strength; they are “I will” statements, and they are inevitably self-seeking because they are self-relying. But if we are weak, then we are free to seek the praise of God and the good of our neighbor, because we are buoyed, helped, and carried along by Another – the “Comforter” even the Spirit of truth (Jn.14.16). Only when we admit our weakness, only when (as an old Gospel hymn has it) we “lay our deadly doing down”, do we make room for God to come in and do for us things better than we can ask or imagine, things likely we would never have chosen or sought for ourselves. And only then will we discover with St. Paul, to our eternal delight and comfort, that God’s grace is sufficient, and his strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor, 12.9).
The Year of Lord 2007 will doubtless be as storm-tossed as any other, and perhaps even more so as the ship of the Episcopal Church continues to founder and break apart, as we deal with our own challenges in this parish, and as each of us encounters our own slings and arrows. Before an uncertain and even threatening future, it is tempting to retrench and gather strength. All them more reason to take this ancient prayer to our hearts, asking God to “guide and protect our weakness” and deliver us from our own temporary and illusory do-it-yourself salvations, and instead in one better than we can ask or imagine because it is formed by the Spirit at work in us (Eph. 3.20).

*From the January issue of our parish newsletter.

25 December 2006


It has become a sad cliché to say that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost in the commercialism and retail free-for-all that now dominates the season. But perhaps we may ease our minds with the reflection that as long as the cliché is heard each winter, and as long as we still feel its force, the true meaning of Christmas is not entirely lost. And after all, what drives our annual spending spree? It is simply the desire to give gifts to those we love (or perhaps to those whom we know we ought to love), which strikes me as good and wholesome, however out of hand the practice may have become. And further, it is this tradition of gift giving that points us back to Christmas’ true meaning, to the greatest Gift ever given.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, there is a particular icon that hangs in most Orthodox churches, if it is not actually painted to cover the entire ceiling of the apse behind the altar. It is called “the Virgin of the Sign,” and it is a depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her pregnancy. But the striking thing about this depiction of the Virgin is that there is a kind of window to her womb, and there we see Christ the unborn child, robed with his hand raised in blessing, and surrounding the Christ child is not amniotic fluid and uterine flesh, but the deep blue of space, speckled with stars and planets. This icon is itself a window into the deepest truth of Christmas: the Son of Mary is God the Son. As St. Augustine said, “The One whom the universe could not contain is contained in the Virgin’s womb.” Contained in the Virgin’s womb and born for us on that first Christmas morning, “God from God, Light from Light, very God from very God.” That is the gift God has given to us – Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, and all our Christmas gift giving is only the dim reflection of that true Gift, and all our loves the pale shadow of the One who is Love Himself. And so by our giving to and loving one another, and especially when we give to and love those most in need, we participate in that one great Gift – which is not just for Christmas but for everyday.
But what will we give to the God who on the first Christmas gave us himself in Jesus Christ? Christina Rossetti’s carol (“In the bleak mid-winter”) says it best:
What shall I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man, I would do my part -
Yet what shall I give him?
Give him my heart!

Merry Christmas, and God bless us all.

Fr. Patrick S. Allen

Hendersonville Star-News, Christmas 2005.

24 December 2006

Cantaur Speaks.

18 December 2006
To the Primates of the Anglican Communion:
During the last few weeks, I have been privileged to spend time first in China and then in Rome – two environments as different as could be, yet both giving abundant signs of the faithfulness of God to his people. The survival and growth of the Church in China is one of the great miracles of our time, and I know that several of you have witnessed something of this at first hand and are eager to find ways of supporting and assisting our brothers and sisters there. In Rome, I was able for the first time to visit the catacombs and to see there the evidence of the same faithfulness, as I looked at the ancient representations of costly witness painted on the walls – the images of the young men in the fiery furnace, Noah in the ark and the haunting and simple picture of the praying woman with hands raised, who is the symbol of the Church itself in its patient endurance. God is with us as he has promised, and in ways we cannot always see clearly. Also in Rome, I had the immense privilege of sharing in a celebration of the martyrdom in 2003 of our own Melanesian Brothers who gave their lives for reconciliation in a time of civil war. In persecution, conflict or obscurity, God is still present and powerfully active. In this Advent season, the great fact we are reminded of is that he is to be trusted in all things.
As Christmas approaches, preparations continue to be made for the Primates’ Meeting in February in Tanzania. A provisional outline of the programme is almost ready – but I am particularly glad that we shall have opportunity to celebrate in the cathedral in Zanzibar the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 1806, another great sign of God’s faithfulness and of what can be achieved by Christ’s disciples when they resist the powers of this world.
This meeting will be, of course, an important and difficult and important encounter, with several moments of discernment and decision to be faced, and a good deal of work to be done on our hopes for the Lambeth Conference, and on the nature and shape of the Covenant that we hope will assist us in strengthening our unity as a Communion.
There are two points I wish to touch on briefly. The first is a reminder of what our current position actually is in relation to the Episcopal Church. This Province has agreed to withdraw its representation from certain bodies in the Communion until Lambeth 08; and the Joint Standing Committee has appointed a sub-group which has been working on a report to develop our thinking as to how we should as a meeting interpret the Episcopal Church’s response so far to the Windsor recommendations. In other words, questions remain to be considered about the Episcopal Church’s relations with other Provinces (though some Provinces have already made their position clear). I do not think it wise or just to take any action that will appear to bring that consideration and the whole process of our shared discernment to a premature end.
This is why I have decided not to withhold an invitation to Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the elected Primate of the Episcopal Church to attend the forthcoming meeting. I believe it is important that she be given a chance both to hear and to speak and to discuss face to face the problems we are confronting together. We are far too prone to talk about these matters from a distance, without ever having to face the human reality of those from whom we differ. However, given the acute dissension in the Episcopal Church at this point, and the very widespread effects of this in the Communion, I am also proposing to invite two or three other contributors from that Province for a session to take place before the rest of our formal business, in which the situation may be reviewed, and I am currently consulting as to how this is best organised.
The Episcopal Church is not in any way a monochrome body and we need to be aware of the full range of conviction within it. I am sure that other Primates, like myself, will welcome the clear declarations by several bishops and diocesan conventions (including those dioceses represented at the Camp Allen meeting earlier this year) of their unequivocal support for the process and recommendations of the Windsor Report. There is much to build upon here. There are many in TEC who are deeply concerned as to how they should secure their relationships with the rest of the Communion; I hope we can listen patiently to these anxieties.
My second point is to underline the importance of planning constructively for Lambeth 08. If we become entirely paralysed by our continuing struggles to resolve the challenges posed by decisions in North America, we shall lose a major opportunity for strengthening our common life. The recent St Augustine’s seminar which considered the Lambeth agenda was agreed by all to have been an outstandingly positive week, which has laid out a programme I believe to be worthy of our hopes for the Conference, and which was wholeheartedly owned and approved by people from very different regions and points of view within the seminar group. I do not want to lose that energy. I want to see it channelled properly into projects for better equipping ourselves as bishops and all our pastors and teachers, and into the work we all agree we must do in response to the crying needs created by poverty and violence in our world.
The question of invitations to Lambeth has been raised several times, in relation to the status of TEC, and indeed other Provinces. I shall seek the advice of the meeting on this. I am aware that decisions must be made soon, and I mention it primarily to alert you to the issues that lie ahead and to commend all this to your prayers over the coming season. But it illustrates the point I have made recently to the St Augustine’s Seminar and other groups: at the moment, we urgently need to create a climate of greater trust within the Communion, and to reinforce institutions and conventions that will serve that general climate in a global way. During my visit to the Pope in November, it was very clear that our ecumenical partners are looking to us not only to strengthen our bonds of ecclesial community and the coherence of our Christian witness, but also to show a hopeful and Christian spirit in resolving our current problems. Our partners are praying very intensely for us in this task, and their prayer deepens my own sense of resolve, as I am sure it will yours.
I should also mention that I have accepted the recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee that the Archbishop of York should be invited to the forthcoming meeting, so that there is a distinction between the two roles of speaking for the Church of England and chairing and moderating the meeting overall.
But finally, to end where I began, our reliance must be fundamentally upon God’s faithfulness. Whatever lies ahead, our God is the God who was present in the Roman catacombs with the martyrs and who has led his people in China through half a century of oppression and distress. Immanuel, God-with-us in Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, is our sole hope and our life, today, tomorrow and for ever. May God help us to honour his inexpressible gift by our faithfulness, forbearance and mutual love.
With every blessing for the Christmas season and the New Year.
Yours ever in Christ,
(The Most Rev. Dr.) Rowan Williams is Archbishop of Canterbury


16 December 2006

From St. Patrick's, Smyrna.

Fr. Ray Kasch of St. Patrick's Anglican Church in Smyrna, Tennessee writes his parishioners:

Dear Saints,

A UPS truck pulled up in front of my house this week. When I went out to meet the driver he said with a large smile, “They can kick you out of your church but they can’t kick you out of your house.” As he handed me a package addressed to St. Patrick’s he shook my hand and said, “God bless you, y’all have done the right thing.” This has been the consistent response I have received through phone calls, emails and personal contacts, most of which has been from the greater Body of Christ. We sowed some tears but we are already reaping some joy through the encouragement of other Christians.

Beth had a great observation about our last Mass in ourbuilding. She said it was like graduation day. Sadness over things that will never be again but joy over the sense of expectation about the future. I think that is a perfect way to look at it. We did suffer a loss and it is okay to be sad about that. But at the same time the future is before us and since we are journeying together in the wilderness we have much to which to look forward. Jesus said that we can consider ourselves “Blessed” which means “Happy” when we have suffered loss for the sake of the Gospel. So there is no reason why this cannot be a season of joy and excitement and expectation as we follow where the Lord leads us. I plan on enjoying this adventure and I hope you will join me in doing so. Just the fact that so many of us have chosen to do this together already makes this a cause for celebration. I would like to make some observations as we start this exodus. . .

Here's the whole thing (.pdf). The people of St. Patrick's recently left All Saints' Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Tennessee.

15 December 2006

Two Roads Diverged.

E.T. Oakes, S.J., reviewing N.T. Wright's Simply Christian in the latest numberof First Things:
Speaking very generally, Christian apologists can go down one of two roads: Friederich Schleiermacher's or Blaise Pascal's. According to Schleiermacher, man's inchoate sense of absolute dependence can best be assuaged by following Jesus, who, more that any other human being, conducted his life not just sensing his absolute dependence on God (which Schleiermacher claims we all do) but actually living it out. In other words, man is thirsty for god, and Christianity offers the most limpid and salubrious water for slaking that thirst. But for Pascal, Christianity is not so much pleasing water for a thirsty, but otherwise healthy traveler; rather, it is harsh chemotherapy for a desperately ill cancer patient.
Not yet available online. He finds Wright too far down the Schleiermacher road.

The Message P.D. James.

I mentioned below that the long winter nights have been congenial for the re-reading of some P.D. James mysteries. And lo, comes now the latest of Mars Hill Audio's "Auditions," featuring discussion by Ralph Wood and Alan Jacobs of James' ouvre, with special reference to her Christian worldview.

I hear that the soon-to-be-released film adaptation of James' Children of Men essentially inverts the novel's message. Too bad if true.

God's Word Written On Display.

This would make a trip to Washington, D.C. more than worthwhile:

The sacred meets Indiana Jones in the Sackler Gallery’s exhibit “In the Beginning: Bibles before the Year 1000.” Some of the artifacts were bought years ago in hazy back-street deals in Cairo or Ethiopia. Some were found in long-forgotten rooms in the ancient Holy Monastery of St. Catherine, nestled at the foot of Mt. Sinai. A Bedouin shepherd famously discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls squirreled away in a cave in the desert. A sixth century text of 2nd Kings peeks out from behind ninth century poetry in an example of ancient recycling. The eighth century Middleton Leaves were found in the library of a musty English castle because they were used to wrap sixteenth century papers. The thrill of discovery permeates the collection. The gallery, one of the Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., has put together the most comprehensive compilation of early Biblical texts ever displayed in the United States. In a respectful presentation, the exhibit tracks the evolution of the Bible from an assortment of circulating, hand-written pamphlets to the formalized sacred text so many hold dear today.

. . .

“In the Beginning” appeals to a wide range of people. Anyone with interest in the Christian Bible or Jewish Scripture will be edified. Those fascinated by history will be mesmerized by the way the drive to spread the Bible around the world impacted art, language, and kingdoms. The Bible was instrumental in the very transition from scroll to book. The exhibit offers scholars a chance to witness famous and extremely rare artifacts they have studied, to this point, only in books. It offers the novice the chance to stand in awe before the very pen strokes of ancient scribes. For anyone with a hint of historical interest, it’s worth a visit. For anyone who believes the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, it’s worth a pilgrimage.


14 December 2006

Of Pyramids & Concrete.

The pyramids of Egypt were not built from massive cut rock hauled from distant quarries, but from concrete cast in forms:

Concrete was poured to build the Great Pyramids about 5,000 years ago, according to controversial research, which suggests the ancient Egyptians predated the Romans by thousands of years as the inventors of concrete.

Michel Barsoum, professor of materials engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and colleagues report in the current issue of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society that the pyramids were constructed with a combination of carved stones and blocks of limestone-based concrete.

It ain't news to me. Professor John Luster Brinkley was confidently asserting (the only way he's ever asserted anything!) this theory to his classics classes in the late 1980's, and who knows for how long before that. And of course I have been pedantically asserting the same ever since, needing no other authority than his. More evidence of the superiority of a Hampden-Sydney education.

Advent: Memory & Hope.

Another reminder of the Advent prayers and devotions found at the Lent & Beyond site, where this morning I found the following from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI:

Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.…

It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.

The Holy Father says in a few luminous words what I have been unable to say clearly in my first two of this year's Advent sermons.

Ideology v. Patient Health.

More evidence that what passes for feminism these days cares much more about feminism than actual women:

"My patients were hurting, they looked to me and what could I do?" So confesses an anonymous campus physician in the beginning of her startling memoir. Over the course of 200 pages, she tells story after story about suffering young women. If these women were ailing from eating disorders, or substance abuse, or almost any other medical or psychological problem, their university health departments would spring to their aid. "Cardiologists hound patients about fatty diets and insufficient exercise. Pediatricians encourage healthy snacks, helmets and discussion of drugs and alcohol. Everyone condemns smoking and tanning beds."

Unfortunately, the young women described in "Unprotected" have fallen victim to one of the few personal troubles that our caring professions refuse to treat or even acknowledge: They have been made miserable by their "sexual choices." And on that subject, few modern doctors dare express a word of judgment.


12 December 2006

Meet My Friend, Prius.

It's almost too much to take in, but it's happening:

In the contest for oddest pronouncement in a State of the Union address, high marks should go to President Bush's call last January for a national ban on "creating human-animal hybrids." Fortunately, the modern biotech laboratory does not yet resemble H.G. Wells's island of Dr. Moreau, that fictional place where an exiled scientist blends man and beast by vivisection. Not even our most skillful, least scrupulous genetic engineers can manufacture humanzees to provide spare parts or serve as semi-skilled labor. We are not yet so talented or so depraved.

Yet the President's call to action did not come out of nowhere. If it seemed strange, that is only because we live in genuinely strange times. In China and Britain, scientists are creating cloned man-animal embryos using rabbit eggs and human DNA. In the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, human neural stem cells are being inserted into monkey brains. At the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, researchers have produced pigs with hybrid pig-human blood cells, demonstrating the possibility of genetic fusion between man and the lower animals.

Eric Cohen, editor of the New Atlantis, writing in Commentary. Here's the whole thing.

11 December 2006

Criminal Masterminds.

Today in the Charleston paper:
With more than 120 convenience stores in the Charleston County phone book, four men chose Sunday to rob the one that sits across the street from a police station. On an island.
Here's the whole thing.

09 December 2006

Adolph Darwin?

E.T. Oakes, S.J. reviews a book tracing the lines between evolutionary and social Darwinism:

. . . In a letter to one William Graham dated July 3, 1881, Darwin wrote:

I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago, of being overwhelmed by the Turk, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.

. . .

Nor were Darwin's own musings on the social implications of his theory limited to private correspondence. In one particularly chilling passage in Descent of Man he asserted, "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races." Even more ominously, this insouciantly expressed sentiment cannot be regarded as an illegitimate conclusion from the earlier and more reliable Origin of Species. In a passage historians often cite to prove that at the time of the Origin Darwin was still struggling to maintain his belief in God, Darwin actually, if unwittingly, promulgated the charter for all later social Darwinists: "Let the strongest live and the weakest die… . Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows." In effect, this passage turns Christian theodicy on its head and gives St. Paul's line "Death is swallowed up in victory" a total reversal of meaning. Victory now belongs only to the fittest.

As Richard Weikart proves in his magnificently written monograph From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection released a veritable Pandora's box of evil vapors and demonic spirits, which, once unleashed on an eager European public, poisoned discourse on war, race, sex, nationality, diplomacy, colonization, economy, and anthropology—especially, it would seem, in Germany. In a letter he wrote to the German Wilhelm Pryor in 1868, Darwin averred that "the support which I receive from Germany is my chief ground for hoping that our views will ultimately prevail," a line that could well serve as the epigraph to Weikart's riveting tale of how Germany led itself (and thereby the rest of the world) into the abyss of internecine war and savagely applied eugenics, naïvely thinking all the while that it was helping to produce Darwin's "higher animal" from his eagerly anticipated "war of nature."

. . .

Given his impact on history, Hitler is often taken for a madman; but perhaps the most disturbing result of Weikart's book is the way he shows how Hitler fits so neatly into the wider trends of German intellectual life inherited from the late 19th century. For Weikart, all of Hitler's speeches and texts, Mein Kampf most especially, can best (and most simply) be interpreted as an entirely non-idiosyncratic assemblage of various strands of social-Darwinist thought—strands, moreover, that Hitler drew from large numbers of "respectable" leading figures in the natural and social sciences in Germany from 1860 to 1925. The author does not of course claim any deep reading on Hitler's part, but that is irrelevant: "Even if Hitler imbibed these ideas from crass popularizers," Weikart says, "the popularizers had derived these ideas from reputable scholars. Though not uncontested, they were mainstream ideas of respectable, leading figures in the German academic community." (One weirdly telling indication of this ubiquity of Darwinian boilerplate comes from a figure who is probably the most freakish in the whole book: Ludwig Gumplowicz, a Polish Jew who taught sociology at the German-speaking University of Graz in the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire. In his book Racial Struggle, Gumplowicz argued that the "racial struggle for dominion in all its forms, whether open and violent, or latent and peaceful, is therefore the actual driving principle, the moving force of history.")


I Spy.

The latest theme for Opinion Journal's litereary "Five Best" series is espionage. Here they are, and none of them is by John LeCarre'.

08 December 2006

Today's Daniels.

Jesus asked His disciples, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A man clothed in soft garments?" John the Baptist, of course, was no such man, and neither are WORLD's 2006 Daniels of the Year Peter Jasper Akinola and Henry Luke Orombi. Their biblical stands are making a difference not only in Africa but in the United States, as the crisis in the oldest American denomination reaches its climax.
Here's the whole thing.

Temptation Shackled.

An essay in the New York Times on the new "soft paternalism": Discuss with reference to Romans 7 & 13, and the institution of marriage prior to the "no fault" divorce laws.

But what if it could be shown that even highly competent, well-informed people fail to make choices in their best interest? And what if the government could somehow step in and nudge them in the right direction without interfering with their liberty, or at least not very much? Welcome to the new world of “soft paternalism.” The old “hard” paternalism says, We know what’s best for you, and we’ll force you to do it. By contrast, soft paternalism says, You know what’s best for you, and we’ll help you to do it.

Here’s an example. In some states with casino gambling, like Missouri and Michigan, compulsive gamblers have the option of putting their names on a blacklist, or “self-exclusion” list, that bars them from casinos. Once on the list, they are banned for life. If they violate the ban, they risk being arrested and having their winnings confiscated. In Missouri, more than 10,000 people have availed themselves of this program. In Michigan, the first person to sign up for it was, as it happens, also the first to be arrested for violating its terms when he couldn’t resist sneaking back to the blackjack tables; he was sentenced to a year’s probation, and the state kept his winnings of $1,223.

The voluntary gambling blacklist is an example of what’s called a self-binding scheme. It is a way of restructuring the external world so that when future temptations arise, you will have no choice but to do what you’ve judged to be best for you. The classic case is that of Ulysses, who ordered his men to tie him to the mast of his ship so that he could hear the song of the Sirens without being lured to his destruction. As a freely chosen hedge against weakness of the will, self-binding would seem to enlarge individual liberty, not reduce it. So what is there to object to in a program like Missouri’s or Michigan’s?

Plenty, say libertarian critics. To begin with, they don’t like soft paternalism when it involves the state’s coercive power; they are much happier with private self-binding schemes, like alcoholism clinics, Christmas savings clubs and Weight Watchers. They also worry that soft paternalism can be a slippery slope to the harder variety, as when campaigns to discourage smoking give way to “sin taxes” and outright bans. But some libertarians have deeper misgivings. What bothers them is the way soft paternalism relies for its justification on the notion that each of us contains multiple selves — and that one of those selves is worth more than the others.


07 December 2006

Apocalypto Now.

Reviewed by Anthony Sacramone:

. . . The world of this Mayan kingdom is a catalogue of modern maladies: from decadent overconsumption, to warfare as pride-pumping and scape-goating chaos, to mindless assaults on the environment. Those sick with plague, even children, are isolated and marginalized. The elderly are thought worthless because “useless.” Even the king and queen’s kid is an obese little creep. And the symbol of religious authority is a high-priest precursor to the TV evangelist—master manipulator and personal friend of the deity who, in this case, uses an anticipated solar eclipse to shock and awe the crowds with how well he has satisfied the blood lust of their god. An unholy alliance between throne and altar, indeed.

Speaking of blood—there’s gore galore. As usual, Gibson does not spare his audience the viscera of war and sacrifice. The Mayas’ is a brutal way of life that makes severe demands on men, women, even children—all are called to steel themselves against pain and privation as a routine of life. Yet they are never reduced to the status of animals, despite every attempt by raw nature and imperial depravity to make it so. The Maya here are always human—are always us—and it is their struggle to retain their humanity that provides much of the pathos of this tale. (A great deal of credit must be given for this achievement to the extraordinary performances of the indigenous cast.)

. . .

Much attention has been paid to Gibson’s allusions to contemporary events as the controlling referent for Apocalypto. Here he is in a Time article back in March: “The fearmongering we depict in this film reminds me a little of President Bush and his guys.” Oh-kay. In any event, the film works on its own terms, regardless. So whatever you think of Mel Gibson, his beliefs, or his drunken rant, give Apocalypto a chance. It’s not a question of whether Gibson deserves it; if you love cinema, then you deserve it.

Here's the whole thing, with "The Nativity Story" and "The Fountain" thrown in as well.

Idabelle Is 10.

Ten years ago today I brought home this fine dog. Despite a recent (and severely disgusting)bout with hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, bad knees, and a predilection for rolling around in the remains of dead things, she's still going strong, if flatulently. Here she is taking a break from her anti-mole excavations.

Larry Legend Is 50.

It's a big day. I'm going to celebrate by watching this (I own 3 copies).

Bob Ryan in the Boston Globe:

Just as older Bruins fans will tell you that hockey has never been the same for them since Bobby Orr retired, so, too, do many local basketball fans assert that the game will never again have the same allure as it did when No. 33 and friends were not only winning three championships as well as losing twice in the Finals, but were doing so with a brand of basketball that often transcended the mere entertaining to creep into the realm of inspiration.

And that's not hyperbole. That's the gospel truth.


06 December 2006

A Pregnant Silence.

As a reminder, Lent & Beyond is chock full of prayers, Scripture readings, devotionals, and other resources for keeping a holy Advent. Today's posting include an article of mine, written for the parish newsletter last Advent, and reproduced here:

Here at the beginning of Advent, it is almost a rule that card-carrying traditionalist, reactionary priests like me issue some sort of a screed railing against… well, you know, the commercialization of Christmas, a secular consumerist buying spree, the expansion of Christmas that crowds out the layered meanings of Advent itself, and all that. But I suspect all of us want to have a deeply meaningful Advent, we want to be deeply prepared to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord through the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And we want all the other good things of the season as well – big family meals, to give gifts to people we love, full houses, lights, bells, and all the rest. You all can supply the screed for yourselves, and I would hazard to guess that as long as we all feel the tension between the deep (the deepest!) mystery the Church proclaims and lives and the retail free-for-all happening around us, then the battle is not lost. As Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has said, “It is reassuring that every December the cry is heard from every corner of the land that we have lost the true meaning of Christmas, from which one may infer that the true meaning of Christmas is far from lost; it will be time to really worry when the cry is no longer heard.”

So take my annual “cry,” my screed, as read. Instead I would ask you to carry around a thought in your minds and hearts as you prepare for all your Christmas entails. Or maybe the absence of a thought. But that’s not right, either – because there is content, but it is content that explodes the limits of our thinking. Perhaps what I am getting at is what is sometimes called a “pregnant silence” – a silence that is full of meaning, a meaning so full that the only appropriate response is silence. The thought, of course, is the basic thought of Christmas – that the Babe lying in the manger is Christ the Lord, that the Son of Mary is God the Son; that, as St. Augustine, said, the One whom the Universe could not contain is contained in the Virgin’s womb. And if, like the Virgin God-bearer, we ponder it in our hearts, words will quickly and properly run out. This pregnant silence is named in an ancient prayer from the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church:

We see most eloquent orators voiceless as fish when they must speak of Thee, O Jesus our Savior. For it is beyond their power to tell how Thou art both perfect man and immutable God at the same time.

Voiceless as fish! You have my prayers (and I hope I may have yours) for a blessed season of Advent and Christmas.


A Bible For Me!

Today on Opinion Journal:

"For a long time the Bible was just the Bible," noted Kevin O'Brien, director of Bibles at Tyndale House. "You put it out there and people bought it. They didn't ask about the options, because there weren't any options. But now, especially in evangelical circles, people are seeing their lives not just in color but high-definition color, and they want the Bible to fit in with that. This is not your mother's Bible."

Thus, following the gospel of Seventh Avenue, publishers are displaying their wares in the season's hot colors. "This year alone I've seen four shades of purple," said Ms. Love, whose stores have also done well with two-tone Bibles. The pink and brown model has been particularly popular. Bibles are also available in the colors of your college, with a fur cover, a flower-patterned cover, and to appeal to young adherents, with a camouflage cover, a metal cover and a duct-tape cover. Next spring Tyndale House will be bringing out a paperback Bible in a plastic case that looks like a flattened Nalgene bottle.

But Bibles are becoming as much personal statements as fashion statements. "What people are saying is 'I want to find a Bible that is really me," noted Rodney Hatfield, a vice president of marketing at Thomas Nelson. "It's no different than with anything else in our culture."

Responding to such desires, publishers offer compact Old and New Testaments like Thomas Nelson's so-called checkbook Bible and Zondervan's Bible in a Bag, as well as myriad themed Bibles, among them archaeology, leadership and sports. "Sometimes what you have to work with seems quite inadequate," begins one section of the basketball edition. "Consider the plight of Rollie Massimino, the coach of the Villanova Wildcats . . . Villanova was ranked, well nowhere . . Several thousand years earlier there was another underdog group that didn't have much to work with. They were called the Israelites."

Here's the whole maddening thing.

05 December 2006

Top Ten Books.

John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture, has announced his top ten books of the year (I ain't read none of 'em!), and here they are, and here is the winner:

And now to the Book of the Year: Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England, by Timothy Larsen (Oxford Univ. Press). You know the familiar story, according to which virtually every thinking person in late-Victorian England either lost his faith or maintained a pale simulacrum of genuine belief. While Timothy Larsen acknowledges that there were of course plenty of instances of deconversion, in his new book he draws attention to a counternarrative that has been widely overlooked, embodied in the experience of men and women who moved from doubt or resolute skepticism to Christian faith. In chapter after chapter of brilliantly condensed biography, he tells the stories of individuals whose lives followed this second course. This is a book that will force honest scholars to reconsider what they thought they knew.
And here's the New York Times list (ain't read none of them, neither). And of course, here's Letterman's top ten, just because.

Bishop-elect Lawrence Speaks Plainly.

Fr. Mark Lawrence, Bishop-elect of South Carolina, has responded to a request for assurances put to him by various bishops and diocesan standing committees (who must give consent to his election for the consecration to proceed, according to Episcopal Church canons). His responses I believe form the best statement yet of the predicament traditional Anglican Christians within the Episcopal Church find themselves in.

As an upcoming article in The Living Church will I hope make clear, neither the Standing Committee of South Carolina nor I have made plans to leave TEC. But I fear many of the above questions, which swirl around vows and canons, profoundly miss the real question of the moment. The questions that bishops and Standing Committees keep posing to me, in one form or another—and I might add, contrary to rumors, most of which have answered—go back to the question of whether South Carolina and I are leaving The Episcopal Church. That is neither the most relevant nor, ultimately, the most important question that needs to be asked.

We in TEC, conservatives and liberals, orthodox and progressives, reasserters and reappraisers, (or whatever monikers you prefer to use…most of us know the players), are like a married couple living in the same house, sleeping in separate rooms, having harsh words too frequently, making cryptic comments to one another as we pass in the hallways. We have lived like this for years, sharing a common history that we have interpreted in such vastly different ways, and teaching increasingly different values to our children. We each remember slights; snubs and embarrassments foisted on us before our chagrined friends and neighbors by what we each perceive as the other’s selfishness, and at times even rude arrogance.

Now, when Standing Committees and diocesan bishops want promises from me, (though I have kept my ordination vows to adhere to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church for the past 26 years), it strikes me analogous to the above wife and husband having the following exchange. When the wife wants to use the car to take one of the kids to a baseball game her husband, who has the keys to both cars in his hand, says, "Will you promise you will not leave our marriage or seek custody of this child? Otherwise, no keys!" She says, "I hardly know how to answer you my dear. You suddenly want promises, when you haven't listened for years when I begged you to keep your promises. At least it seems that way to me. And when some of the children have left and not called you for months on end, you only chide and blame them for having left your family the smaller. My heart is heavy from our alienation...and now you keep insisting on promises! Recently I’ve noticed you keep leaving documents of ownership around on coffee tables and counters. You claim it’s your parents who gave the down payment for the house and even the summer cottage. Forgive me, I thought they were both of ours. Have you forgotten it was once a common love that bound us together not documents and deeds? You’ve gotten so upset just because I told our pastor I needed help in our marriage. Isn't it time you ask yourself a few questions about how we all got in this predicament?”

Now certainly I can imagine various responses to the analogy, which I’ve used to illustrate the dynamics of our common life, especially from those who may see themselves in the broad middle. There are those in the church who find themselves in the middle of the family argument. They don’t like the fact that the two sides in conflict within the family have drawn such rigid and embattled lines in the sand. They want us all to get along, but seem most often to side with the reappraisers, not so much because they agree with their perspective, but because they don’t want to disagree with them. On top of that, they see it as most often the “conservatives” who are leaving the Church and wanting to take their familial inheritance with them. So like a member of a dysfunctional family, who prefers to have everyone get along, he, rather than asserting an opinion on the matters tearing the family apart, saves his animus for those who, feeling abused, make in desperation statements of departure.

My friends, we in TEC are in a grievous state. This demand for promises to Constitution and Canons when many of the great teachings of the faith are up for grabs strikes me at times like a theatre of the absurd. We decline each year in numbers and in our significance to American culture, while growing yearly more out of step with the vast majority of Anglicans across the world. When some like me make provocative statements to draw attention to the culture of denial that dims with regularity our too frequently myopic provincial eyesight, I am seen by some as unworthy for the episcopate and as a threat to our common unity. On what grounds should consent be denied—for daring to say, “Not only does the emperor have no clothes, but he isn't getting any new subjects either, and some of those he had once have long left. Maybe its time the emperor reassess his reassessments”?

Here's the whole thing, well worth reading.


Chastity In The City.

Today sees the release of an intensely personal book, The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, by Catholic blogger and former rock writer Dawn Eden. She submits to a prurient-minded interview in Radar (which aroused some comment):

Do you date? Yes. Not very often, and not in a while. It's something that I'm open to. One advantage of having written a book on chastity is that most guys know from the outset what they're getting into.

Or, rather, not getting into. You write in your book that you won't have sex again until you're married. Why is that the demarcation? It seems artificial. Sex by its physical, emotional, and spiritual nature represents a permanent commitment. If it's being done within a context that tries to separate the emotional and spiritual nature from what it really represents, then it is wrong, it's telling a lie with the body. When you have intercourse with someone, you're telling that person, This is what it would be like if we were really united. But if you're not really united, then it's a lie.

Let's cut right to the chaste, if you will. How long has it been since you got laid? The last time I actually had sex would have been March 2003. But the last time I was naked with a guy was December 2003.

That sounds like Clintonian parsing. Where do you draw the line between sex and being chaste? Fellatio? Manual manipulation? Kissing? Kissing happens. But I think it has to do with what the goal in mind is. If the goal is to try a guy out to see how far things go before we have to make a certain decision, what that's telling me is that this man is something to be possessed, something to be had.

And there's another interview Kathryn Jean Lopez on NRO:
Lopez: Who is this book for?
Eden: The Thrill of the Chaste is for women in their 20s and older who have gained the awareness that premarital sex is not making them happy. It’s especially intended to help them get off the serial-dating merry-go-round — which I describe as more like a drug habit than a romantic paradigm — and show them that they will be happier being chaste than having sex with men who are unwilling to marry them.

Lopez: Libertarians and the left often accuse conservatives of being anti-sex. While there is a difference between chastity and celibacy, do you in fact not want unmarried adults to have sex? Isn’t that a tad unrealistic?

Eden: It’s not unrealistic, it’s countercultural — that’s why it’s exciting! Remember, the people who are going to pick up The Thrill of the Chaste are women who find that premarital sex is not making them happy. If they’re able to admit to themselves that they’re not attaining what they want to attain, then they’re likely to be willing to take a risk in pursuit of their greater goal.

The New Atlantis

The new New Atlantis is now up on the web, including a piece called "Beyond the Right to Life" from Wilfred McClay:

Even the most complacent observers of the contemporary scene know that we find ourselves in a time of extraordinary promise and peril for the human condition. The two prospects are tightly intertwined. We are proud of our ability to free ourselves from material necessity and from outdated traditions and inherited cultural prejudices, and take for granted an ever-growing knowledge of, and control over, the physical mechanisms of our existence. We feel confident that there are no mysteries or constraints that our knowledge cannot eventually master, no diseases it cannot cure, no possibilities it cannot open to us. And yet nearly all of us experience, from time to time, a shudder of anxiety at the unknown landscapes into which all this is carrying us. Our medical and biotechnological breakthroughs increasingly arrive on our doorsteps with the faint odor of ancient transgression still clinging to them. Every day human ingenuity pushes us into some precinct that was once off-limits, while practices that were once forbidden or rare or unthinkable become commonplace with astonishing rapidity. The momentum of innovation at times seems unstoppable, answerable neither to effective political control nor to effective moral interdictions grounded in a shared metaphysics.


The Faith Of Leonardo.

As part of the Christian Vision Project's "Counterculture for the Common Good" series, artist Makoto Fujimura contemplates Leonardo's purpose and achievement in "The Last Supper" (finding that the way in is St. Philip):

For Leonardo, a firm foundation was immediately accessible. For him to have painted as he did, he had to be convinced of a center that holds.

So who is at the center for us? Where does the "vanishing point" end?

It ends on the forehead of the Savior.

And that foundation will hold, no matter how full our moneybags get, or how little it takes for us to engage in betrayal. To Leonardo, the triangular shape of Jesus literally holds the painting in its visual movement. To Leonardo, that foundation was never in question: the question to him was the question of "evidence."

Jesus exhorted Philip to "believe" on the basis of the evidence of miracles. Leonardo, of all people, wanted evidence. He looked for it in the stars and sketched it in the sinews of cadavers. He sought resolution in the core of his creativity, and asked deeply phenomenological and existential questions. In other words, Leonardo saw himself at the Table, too, and, like Philip, leaping up at the comment of Jesus. Leonardo, even as a skeptic, was in a deep creative engagement with the Savior even as he approached God with intellectual rigor and dialogue.

In a remarkable passage in John 14, Jesus, the miracle worker, tells his disciples, in direct answer to Philip's comments, that they shall do the "greater work": "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12).

What were the "greater things" to which Jesus referred? What could be greater than raising Lazarus from the dead, an event recorded in Chapter 11?

Leonardo framed the answer implicitly in The Last Supper with Philip's earlier words: "Come and see."

Here's the whole thing (only minimal Dan Brown content!).
This is the last in a year's worth of essays in the Christian Vision Project.

04 December 2006

South Carolina XIII

Here is Bp. Salmon at his winsome, profound, and Christ-honoring best, speaking to the Bishop's Dinner in San Jaoquin. Fr. Mark Lawrence of San Joaquin is the Bishop-elect of South Carolina.

This is a ministry of AnglicanTV

Fr. Familyman.

Dwight Longenecker is about to be ordained to Roman Catholic priesthood. It won't be business as usual:

In just over one month I will be ordained a Catholic priest. My wife will be in the front row. My oldest son will be an altar server. My daughter and younger sons will present my priestly vestments as part of the ordination rite.

Our "Thursday Night Theology" class last year used a book of which the once-and-future Fr. Longenecker was a co-author in our study of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which I highly recommend: Mary: a Catholic-Evangelical Debate. Also, he has some thoughts on the Anglican agony on his blog.

Allah=God Of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob?

An Anglican priest takes a swipe at an important - urgent, even - question:

With the passing of time, hidden challenges, which for a long time had been growing unnoticed and unaddressed, can suddenly emerge into the full-blown light of current events with a force which seems quite overwhelming. Today the Western world, or Judeo-Christian civilization, shaken by jihadist terror, is being rudely awakened to theological realities blurred for decades. From clashes of civilizations to the jihad that is declaring to the planet its genocidal intentions, rational discourse concerning faith is becoming increasingly fraught.

It is within this tumult and confusion that Mark Durie, an Anglican minister, has written Revelation? Do We Worship the Same God?, in which he raises a couple of fundamental questions: Who is God? Is God Allah? Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

To answer these questions, he analyzes Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God in Christianity and Islam. The reader is given a concise representation of Muslim and Christian arguments. Such an endeavor needs both solid scholarship and theological training. Mark Durie possesses both, being a theologian and a graduate in the language and culture of the Acehnese, a Muslim people from the north of Sumatra in Indonesia. In addition, the subjects he addresses, in the current context, request much intellectual integrity and courage.


01 December 2006

Pest Control.

Here's the best way to deal with a wild hog infestation.
Via my brother, via Dad.


Karen at Lent & Beyond is organizing a forum of Advent reflecting and contemplating, including a little contemplating and reflecting from yours truly, among many and much more estimable others, plus scripture, prayer, and liturgical resources for keeping a holy, watchful Advent.


What's Going On.