Friday, November 07, 2014

A source of American religious consumerism:

In the churches of Puritan New England, "Sunday after Sunday, week after week, year after year, even generation after generation, the same underlying narrative provided the interpretative horizon for reading and hearing the Scriptures. The narrative of Scripture was found in the order of salvation. Salvation, however, was not understood as individual participation within the biblical narrative that told how the God of creation made a promise to Abraham that was fulfilled in Jesus in order to bring about a witness in the life of the church as a foretaste of the new creation. Instead, salvation was limited to a story of the individual moving from sin to salvation to service in preparation for eternity in heaven. The spiritual movement of an individual's life became deeply encoded as the meaning of Scripture within the emerging European-based North American culture."
-- John W. Wright, Telling God's Story, 55.

Reformation Then and Now, Here and There:

In a recent post at The Gospel Coalition, Dr. Dan Doriani of Covenant Theological Seminary, reflects on a recent trip to Singapore to speak for Reformation Day. He reflects on the cultural gap between the post-medieval Europe of Luther's day and modern Singapore. What is so helpful in this reflection is his honesty about his own cultural biases. "My meditation on the distance from Luther and Singapore led me to ask if the gap between Luther and America might be just as great." What was initially seen as a gap between "us" (descendents of Europeans) and "them" (non-Europeans) is really a gap between "us" (post-modern, global Christians) and "them" (our mutual Christian forebears). Additionally, and importantly, this new distinction preserves the nuance of cultural difference, and the lens of Singapore becomes a useful means of examining the cultural predispositions of modern American Christians. Meanwhile, the varieties of cultures which participated in the Reformation are seen in some of their diversity, helping to distinguish the multitude of ways God uses various cultures' assets to build His Kingdom.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Why Christians Should Celebrate Halloween:

has written a very thoughtful and helpful post,"Why Christians Should Celebrate Halloween," which explores the history of the Church's interaction with the ancient European autumn harvest/death festivals. For both the Romans and the Celts, autumn marked a time to celebrate the harvest, and prepare for the oncoming long darkness of winter; the former by enjoying the abundance of food, the latter by offering sacrifices, performing incantations and, in some cases, dressing up to appease or ward off the evil spirits of death and darkness.

The Church stepped into this milieu with a message of hope: the God who had created all, and was therefore the source of all good things, had come into the world and defeated death! The darkness no longer need be feared for Christ's light had conquered it!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

A Microcosm of American religion in one small town map:

In a recent post, Microcosm of American religion in one small town map, SIU:C political science professor Tobin Grant has made a study of the geography and demographics of Carbondale's churches. It is insightful, helpful, and convicting. Dr. Grant notes,
The membership of churches in green on the map [which are almost all located in the north east quadrant of the downtown, an area with 95% African American residence] are almost exclusively black; other churches in town are nearly all white. The town and community are integrated, but Sunday remains segregated.
This is a convicting call to our church communities to make real the call of Galatians 3:28, that in Christ ethnic divisions are done away with. Scripture doesn't deny ethnic differences, in fact it values them: as Tim Keller writes,

Sunday, October 05, 2014

bundin er båtlaus madur

-- viking proverb ("bound is boatless man")

Friday, September 26, 2014

Belden Lane on Puritan sexuality:

Puritans from Francis Rous and Richard Sibbes in England to John Cotton and Edward Taylor in New England rang all the changes on the erotic language of the Song of Songs. They described spiritual devotion as a matter of “lusting” after Christ as bridegroom. They pictured the heart as a marriage bed prepared for the divine lover. The language of foreplay and orgasm became as common in Puritan preaching as anything found in the bridal mysticism of Bernard of Clairvaux or Mechthild of Magdeburg and Teresa of Avila.
All this makes it clear, then, why the Puritans had to be so careful in cautioning themselves about the danger of sexual sins. It wasn’t that they were sexually repressed, straight-laced prudes—eager to put a bright red “A” on the dress of every Hester Prynne in the colonies. They simply had a spirituality which fostered so much interior passion that setting appropriate boundaries for their exterior behavior was absolutely necessary.
 -- Belden C. Lane, Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality, 19

Probably because I've spent so much time reading their works, I'm always a bit surprised when I encounter attitudes toward the Puritans which dismiss them as mindless prudes (immortalized by H.L. Mencken's definition: "Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy"). In reading travel guides about Boston, reading interpretive plaques, and even in talking to other researchers at a historical archive I'm consistently surprised by the way Puritan scholars used to paint, and popular understanding continues to paint, Puritan sensibilities. I think we tend to look back through the lens of Victorianism and confuse their reading of history with actual history. The Victorians saw a carefulness which they confused with their own prudishness, stripped that carefulness of its sexuality, and held up the Puritans as their prudish ideal. Belden Lane has done an excellent job here of overcoming some of the missconception.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Stephen Foster and the timelessness of pastoral complaints:

In the 1580s Nicholas Brownd criticized his congregation in Bury, England, not only for bringing their hunting hawks into church during the service, but also for the casual way members of a household would straggle into the service: "First comes the man, then a quarter of an houre after his wife, and after her, I cannot tell how long, especially the maidservants, who must needes bee as long after her, as the menservants are after him."  In Dedham, just to the south, the church elders found it necessary to call "all governors of household to come to worship in a body with their servants before the service began, as well as to sit through the entire proceeding"

 -- from Stephen Foster, The Long Argument: English Puritanism 
and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570-1700, 34.

I came across this several months ago and it struck a chord as many friends who are elders and pastors complain about how late people come into church services. Often this gets tied to contemporary culture--but it's been a problem for a long time apparently...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Universal Problem--how our current system hurts the poor:

In early September wrote "How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty," examining the downward cycle in which many poor people are caught: not knowing the law well enough to comply with court procedures once they have miss-stepped, finding common fines too crippling to dig out from under, etc. The opening 'case study' follows a single mother of four, working several jobs while trying to finish her education, who was hit in a fender-bender by another driver. Filing the accident report led to her arrest for outstanding warrants for minor driving infractions which led to several weeks in jail waiting to appear in traffic court because she couldn't make her third bail. The difficulty with the article is that Balko frames it as a St. Louis problem. The fact that there are so many municipalities in the St. Louis metro area certainly exacerbates the problem, but this is by no means a problem exclusive to St. Louis. The fact is that Balko has hit on a problem with our current system which particularly injures the poor, regardless of what county they live in.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Morality of Water:

"The connection between urban fountains and social reform was of recent vintage. Traditionally, fountains had played utilitarian, aesthetic, and civic roles in Western culture. They brought water to thirsty people, beautified cities, and celebrated the power of the government that had commissioned them. No one expected a fountain's water to improve the morality of a city's residents. That changed when romanticism's vision of a benevolent nature provided reformers with a new set of ideas that they could apply to fountains."
-- Michael Rawson, Eden on the Charles, 97

Rawson's discussion looks at the way advocates of public water works seized on both Christian themes (under the influence of the Second Great Awakening, during which the public water works debate took place), and romantic philosophical themes to forward their cause, which expected public water to not only improve health, cleanliness and safety (by supplying fire hydrants), but also morality and culture (bless the Victorians...).

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Morning in Maine

We have long been Robert McCloskey fans, but I made a new discovery today.  We have Blueberries for Sal and Time of Wonder, but had not had the chance to read One Morning in Maine until we got it from the library last night.  I read it to the kids before bed, and noticed that the heroine's name is the same as in Blueberries--so while Mommy was at a brunch this morning I suggested to the kids that while the babies were napping we spend the morning in Maine, reading Blueberries for Sal, then One Morning in Maine to see her as a toddler and then as a "big girl," then read Time of Wonder just to keep in the vein.  When we finished Blueberries, however I read the biographical sketch of McCloskey at the end and realized his books are autobiographical!

He was born in Ohio in 1914 and raised there; and Lentil is set in a small Ohio town in what appears to be the late nineteen-teens or early nineteen twenties...

... he won a scholarship to Vesper George Art School in Boston in 1932, where he no doubt received the inspiration for Make Way for Ducklings which is set in Boston in what appears to be the 1930s...

... then he lived most of his adult life in Maine where he and his wife, Peggy, raised their daughters Sally and Jane (of One Morning in Maine fame).

My guess is that they lived on the mainland at first, where Sal's mom drives a car to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries with Sal, and later moved to the island from which Sal and Jane's father rows them across to Buck's Harbor for ice cream and to fix their outboard in One Morning in Maine.

The next surprise that began to occur to me as we read (okay, the kids didn't make it all the way through this one as their attention was starting to wain...), was that Time of Wonder is the McCloskey family a few years later as the story follows two girls, probably around ten to fourteen years old, from spring through fall as they live with their father, mother, and dog (who looks like Penny from One Morning) on an island near Buck's Harbor in a world populated with some of the same characters as One Morning. This book, which was a gift to us from our friend Joel, also contains two allusions to God's watchful care over His children: the pair of eyes watching over all, above the hundred pairs watching you as you row back to the dock in the night (Ps. 146:9, Jer. 1:12, Zech. 2:8); also the rainbow cast by the moon toward the end of the storm, "a promise that the storm will be over soon" (Genesis 9:13-17). I don't know what McCloskey's specific religious views were, but he has done a masterful job of weaving these comforting biblical images into a beautiful book.

Given Time of Wonder ends with the family departing the island "for the last time this year" it appears that the island home is not their permanent home, so maybe the car-accessible house in Blueberries is their destination... Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed our morning in Maine, and I want to heartily recommend  McCloskey to all.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Death and Life Matter by Bruce William Klunder, 1963

A sermon from the Civil Rights movement that helps to show us that some sin isn't personal, it's systemic. Bruce Klunder was a Presbyterian pastor who was active in the Civil Rights movement in Columbus, OH, and eventually died when a bulldozer ran over him while he was picketing the construction of a segregated school.

“The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them.” (John 17:22-23)

Strange as it may seem, I have chosen today to preach an Easter sermon.  Thus, I have read as the Scripture lesson for the day portions of the Passion narrative as recorded by John.  We have read from the prayer that Jesus offered with his disciples before his betrayal.  We have read of the crucifixion itself, and finally, we have read of the presence of Jesus with his disciples in the post-Easter community.  This is the stuff of which Easter sermons are made, and to make it complete we shall sing a very familiar Easter hymn at the conclusion of our worship.

I hope that it will become clear as we progress why the sermon of the day must be an Easter sermon.
Now, while the title I have put to the sermon—“A Death and Life Matter”—is no mistake, I would like first of all to turn it around and address our attention to what must necessarily be termed a life and death matter.  At this point I want to attempt to interpret certain of my own experiences and feelings about an issue which can no longer be ignored by any of us.

It is no secret to anyone that the past few years and especially the last few months have been for our nation a period of turmoil and finally a test of courage and purpose, the result of which cannot be seen with any great certainty at this point.  Since the Emancipation Proclamation of one hundred years ago now, we have been faced with the problem of conscience which is posed by the disparity between an official policy of universal human freedom and the daily observation that in fact for many of our fellows this proclamation of freedom is a hollow thing indeed.  We are faced with the discrepancy between the American dream of unlimited upward mobility for each person and the fact that the American Negro lives surrounded by walls and covered with a nearly immovable ceiling.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Preaching the New England Way:

"Private Bible study, family devotions, and neighborhood discussions were all important activities, but they were not converting ordinances; the primary work of the Holy Spirit came in hearing the sermon. Without that voice of guidance, an ordinary saint would drift like a 'ship without a compasse.'"
-- Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul

The New England Puritan's view of preaching may go a little far... but is humbling!

Monday, August 25, 2014

 In the article, "Why do Palestinians continue to support Hamas despite such devastating losses?," Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist writing to a primarily Israeli audience, argues that resolving conflict depends on understanding the way one's enemy thinks; or, to put it another way, being empathetic to your enemies.  He notes U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's perspective that, "part of President Kennedy’s successful management of the Cuban Missile Crisis was his administration’s ability to put itself in the shoes of the Soviets and understand their point of view." Applying this to the crisis in Gaza, he points out that only by understanding the Palestinian desire for freedom can Israel hope to bring an end to the cycle of violence and revenge. The same point can be made in the opposite direction, of course: Hamas would do well to take a lesson from the examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela, all of whom embraced peaceful resistance models under similar persecution with very different results from those Hamas has achieved in the 27 years since its founding (granted, Mandela's journey took much longer). I am directing this point at Palestinian leadership in their struggle with Israel, not at residents of Gaza in dealing with their own leaders; Sheizaf notes the absurdity of demanding that the people of Gaza protest against Hamas, as is often suggested in Israeli circles, in the midst of a war-zone. For both sides, there is a need to empathize with the others' perspective; only when at least one side is willing to do this can the cycle of violence be broken.

I believe Sheizaf's view is profoundly biblical. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records Jesus words, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43–45 ESV). The apostle Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22 when he says, “'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20–21 ESV). We might protest that this advice is given to individuals, not governments; yet we see from McNamara's perspective of President Kenedy's example that governments would more effectively 'wield the sword' (Romans 13:4) by heading and appropriately applying such advice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Only Carbondale. from Arthur Agency on Vimeo.

I attended a meeting of Carbondale's Downtown Advisory Committee tonight; I was glad to hear from our city manager, Kevin Baity, some ideas that seem like good, incremental solutions: slowing traffic down in the downtown in ways that won't cost a fortune, and would allow us to eliminate some traffic lights (making it safer to walk and bike while reducing the commute time through the downtown for cars); encouraging development of more café type seating on the sidewalks (I believe this would involve repealing some restrictions that require businesses to put up fences in order to delineate on-sidewalk seating [?])

I was also concerned by some ideas that seemed to look to spend a lot of money developing infrastructure where there is not a proven need (developing a downtown hotel that might serve visiting profs and people using the hospital sounds awesome, but hospital guests who have trouble with the drive to existing hotels will have trouble with the necessary price of the type of hotel we'd want in the downtown...).

The experience made me excited about Carbondale, but also recalled my thoughts when I first saw the above video: "I want to live there! Wait, I do..." It makes me both want to appreciate what is there more and also work to improve.

I was also struck by the commonality of desire/goal even when you could tell people were coming from different "camps" or were suggesting almost opposing methods of accomplishing such goals (one lady spoke against the new development on the former site of 710 Bookstore as being too big for its setting and discouraging walkable space, a later commenter pointed out that increasing density as the new development does actually encourages pedestrian use--while I'm with him on that point the new development makes me nervous because it's not an incremental step, it's a leap forward: will we find the 300+ renters needed to make the development viable? That said it will definitely increase the density and potential of the 'Strip').

Monday, August 18, 2014

In a recent article on Paste, speaking of Narcocorridos, the harder-core Latino equivalent of gangsta rap, Sam DeLeo wrote, "As with violent video games, gangster movies and, to an extent, even drugs themselves, narcocorridos give us what we crave, a vicarious sense of danger, the chance to dip our toes in darkness without sliding in to its void."
I realized as I read his article, and began taking notes on the books and sources he was quoting for further study, that at least some part of my interest in being informed on what appears to be an important issue, is 'dipping my toes in the darkness without sliding into the void.' I feel like this is the same tension, however, that we face in the problem of, "do I want to do a good thing to get recognized for doing well, or for the sake of doing something well in itself?"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A workspace...

 Abby having started her own blog for keeping up with family happenings (and the blogosphere moving away from that use in general), I'm thinking of taking the blog over again as a place for my meanderings on theology, history, dissertation work (friends advise against that, actually, so maybe really vague dissertation thoughts...), projects, etc.  We'll see...