The Call of God is More than an Emotional Rush

This interesting quote, from Daniel-Rops’ Jesus in his Time:

God does not seek to take men by surprise and the Church has always frowned on sudden vocations dictated solely by sentiment. It is only to the soul fortified by preparation and knowing its way and its strength that the spirit gives the supreme impulse.

The call to ministry (or vocations, to use the Roman Catholic term Daniel-Rops does) has always assumed the aura of a mystical legend, especially in Pentecostal circles.  Although dramatic calls to the ministry aren’t unknown in the New Testament (Paul’s Damascus Road experience is the most prominent example) most are multi-stage processes with stumbling along the way, in the case of the Apostles right up to the day of Pentecost.  It’s a good reason why churches are wise to have a discernment and training structure built into their credentialing process.  (The big problem with independent churches is that there is little or no such discernment going on, with predictable results.)

Having said that, there are three errors churches make in their ministerial development process.

The first is non-existent or inadequate development, which I’ve discussed.

The second is too heavy of a requirement, especially with formal education.  The sad truth is that most churches–especially these days with changing stewardship patterns–can’t afford the student-debt larded “Jeremiah Generation” as pastors or other ministers.  We need to focus our attention more on character and maturity issues rather than raw formal education, encouraging life-long learning.

The third is to impose requirements or encourage things that should not be imposed or encouraged.  The most egregious one I can think of (although it’s doubtless not unique) is that of the infamous Jesuit James Martin, who was asked during his discernment process whether he was “experienced,” with the expectation that he was before his ostensible vow of celibacy.  So he lied about it to please those “over him in the Lord.”  It’s little wonder that he has strayed so far, along with many of his colleagues.

We also have the tales of those who lost their faith in seminary and no one really cared.  Latta Griswold complained about the “excuse-oriented” presentation of the faith he heard from Episcopal pulpits, but much of that (during his day and up to now) started in the seminaries.

The way our ministers are prepared is as important–if not more important–than their original call, and that should never be overlooked.

We Remove Blasphemy Laws, but Woe Betide if You Dare to Blaspheme Our Secular Sensitivities! — The Evangelical Seanchai

News has broken today that Israel Folau, the Australian full back, has been sacked by Rugby Australia. His offence was to post on Instagram that hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators”. Let’s leave aside the fact that professional sport includes many more drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators than […]

via We Remove Blasphemy Laws, but Woe Betide if You Dare to Blaspheme Our Secular Sensitivities! — The Evangelical Seanchai

Law Students Protest Their Way out of a Job

They many not realise it but that’s what they’re doing as in the case of Ronald Sullivan at Harvard:

Harvard said on Saturday that a law professor who is representing Harvey Weinstein would not continue as faculty dean of an undergraduate house after his term ends on June 30, bowing to months of pressure from students…

But when Mr. Sullivan joined the defense team of Mr. Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, in January, many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students. Mr. Weinstein is scheduled to go to trial in June in Manhattan on rape and related charges.

One of the main casualties of the whole #MeToo movement has been due process.  The movement has actually glorified dispensing with it altogether.  Sullivan is a victim of that, and Harvard’s not the only place where law students have disparaged it in cases like this.  Personally I think that Harvey Weinstein is disgusting for what he did, but in our legal system–up until now at least–we’ve had the right to counsel, a fair trial and presumption of innocence, which give unpopular defendants a shot at a fair hearing.  Evidently no more, or perhaps not much longer.

The law students who protest this, however, haven’t thought it through very carefully.  There are two things that will go out the window with due process.

The first are rights.  If there is no due process, there are no rights, there is only the mob, and the mob (real or virtual) can be fickle and vicious.  We’ve had lynch mobs in the country before, and we know where that leads.  (Sullivan, the first African-American student dean at Harvard, really knows where that leads.)  For a country where rights are an obsession, the trend to undermine them in this way is amazing.  Due process can be time consuming and expensive (ours are too much both) but rights cannot be defended in a system without substantive due process, and part of that substantive due process is having counsel.

And that leads to the second loss: lawyers.  Lawyers will be unnecessary in a system where the accused has no way of defence.  We’ll just have “people’s tribunals” and kangaroo courts to make it look good.  Why spend a lot of time studying law–especially criminal law–when the deck is stacked most times going in?

But in our post-modern world, people have the idea that two contradictory things can be true at the same time.  The law students at Harvard and elsewhere who study the law one minute and protest the right to counsel the next are in for a rude awakening when the cognitive dissonance hits the wall.

Changing the Bankruptcy Laws and Social Unrest

Front and centre in political debates these days is student loan debt.  It’s led to much of the romance of socialism amongst the Millennials (never mind that a good portion of that debt was spent in state schools, socialist institutions par excellence.)  One of the nasty things about student loan debt is that it is no longer dischargeable in bankruptcy, a change made in the last decade.

Although I wasn’t considering student loan debt, I felt at the time that changing the bankruptcy laws in a society so driven by easy credit would lead to social unrest, as this 2005 post/2008 repost attests:

On the other hand, the passage of the legislation as it stands is a recipe for social unrest.

Some of it was necessary: it was too easy for wealthy debtors to shield too many of their assets. And, as an inducement for people to lighten their debt load, this legislation has the potential to do good. But getting from here to there is not going to be fun.

To start with, tightening the bankruptcy laws will only make it easier for lenders to continue their “numbers game” of lending to credit unworthy people, since their downside risk has been reduced. Lenders could have achieved a similar result by tightening the access to credit by more selective lending; they could have even submitted to some kind of re-regulation to accomplish this. But they have decided to throw the burden of “credit regulation” on borrowers rather than themselves…

It is our opinion that the change in bankruptcy laws will come much quicker than changes in American attitudes towards consumption and debt. The result of this will be many more people who will find themselves on the wrong end of the credit system, and enough of those people around can and will be socially destabilising.

If what we’ve got now isn’t social unrest, I don’t know what is.  But it was predictable.

Soils in Construction (Sixth Edition) Now Available — vulcanhammer.net

It’s here a last: Soils in Construction, the Sixth Edition, now available from Waveland Press. Many of you (and especially those who are familiar with the companion site vulcanhammer.info) are aware that I’ve spent much of my career in geotechnical engineering and deep foundations dealing with contractors. As such I am both sympathetic with their […]

via Soils in Construction (Sixth Edition) Now Available — vulcanhammer.net

The Thing About Myself that @rachelheldevans Brought to Mind

I was saddened by the last voyage of Rachel Held Evans.  It is never good for such a thing to happen, especially at this time in life.  She was not so far from us and my wife and I know several of her fellow parishioners at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland.

It’s best to put your opinions out on someone while they’re still here, and the one extended piece I did on her was this one in 2013 on a series of tornadoes in Oklahoma.  It reminded me of a simple fact about myself; that, although my years in the Evangelical-Pentecostal world have on the whole been positive, I’m glad I was neither raised nor came of age in it.  I’ll reproduce the body of my response to her (and her opponents):

The truth is that both Evans and her Evangelical opponents are working from one shared assumption: that we have a performance-based God whose purpose is to either a) fulfil our every wish or b) punish us for every fault.  Both implicitly assume that people are the measure, and neither really represents reality.  They represent responses to Evangelical Christianity’s current “selling point”, i.e., that if you get on God’s side you’ll have a life of bliss.  One emphasises the downside of not being on his side (and I’ll admit that too many Evangelicals are big on that) and the other attempts to apply post-modern “I deserve the best” mentality to a universe where such an assumption has no basis.

Such dialectics are, for me, a reminder of how blessed I was that my chief intellectual formation as a Christian was as a Roman Catholic and not a Protestant, let alone an Evangelical.  It has saved me a great deal of grief and probably apostacy.  So let me lay out what I think is the reality we have.

For all of its wonder, this world and universe is fallen and not God’s ideal for us.  That ideal will be found in eternity with him.  Before that happens we’ll have problems.  Sometimes these problems are big, sometimes these problems are small.  Sometimes these problems are the result of being in the path of unintended disaster, some are really of our own making.  (The global warming fanatics, for their part, can point to Oklahoma as a high-carbon consuming place because of its low-density settlement, large vehicles and ubiquitous air-conditioning, so there, you can make a liberal case against Evans).  But in either case the key is to secure our eternity so that we can deal with the problems that come our way in this life.

But ultimately that redemption, like everything else we get from God, is undeserved.  We don’t have the intrinsic worth to expect otherwise; God’s act of redemption was an act of undeserved love.  Coming from a congenial region, Evans may think this is harsh.  But as I’ve said before (and there are exceptions to this) growing up in a place like South Florida convinced me that, if there is a “default” in eternity, it isn’t heaven.

To think otherwise is, IMHO, to take on an entitlement mentality about God, which for many of us extends to the people and institutions around us.  Personally I can’t stomach that; entitlement mentalities not only go against my grain as a Christian, but they also really rub me the wrong way from my secular upbringing (and, yes, Rachel Held Evans, some of us really do have a secular background).  I would say that my walk with God has softened my attitude towards the world around me, which would otherwise be misanthropic and condescending (and I struggle with both).

It’s time to stop being so “deep in our own stuff” and broaden our horizons.

Memory eternal, and prayers for her family.

ACNA and CANA: The Baling Wire Unravels, and Some Thoughts About Ethnicity and Churches

They put a good face on a messy situation:

Archbishop Foley Beach, Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, and Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), have signed an agreement regarding the status of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) dioceses in both provinces…

The agreement provides that CANA become solely a mission of the Church of Nigeria but allows each of the three dioceses (Cana East, Cana West, Trinity) to make its own decision regarding its provincial relationships.

Each diocese will amend its constitution and canons as necessary, and may request to be a ministry partner of the alternative province. Both provinces are thankful that this resolution has been reached and look forward to continued collaboration in Gospel ministry, sharing full communion as provinces in the Anglican Communion.

One is led to recall Greg Griffith’s observation about North American Anglicanism when he swam the Tiber:

…the promise of the orthodox Anglican movement outside of The Episcopal Church never materialized either. Populated as that movement is by many good people, it has the institutional feeling of something held together by duct tape and baling wire.

Although the ACNA has made some progress from that, the multiprovincial origins of ACNA make things like this inevitable.

Getting past the baling wire, the core issue here is whether a church should encourage the development of ethnically specific congregations or even dioceses within its structure.  This is a problem that the ACNA, whose leadership mostly comes out of a monochrome (and socio-economically undiverse) Episcopal church, are really not prepared to deal with.  The CANA Trinity Diocese is mostly made up of Nigerian immigrants, who are very much products of the “old country” by language and custom.  They would like that idea expressed in their leadership, and the old country responded by appointing four bishops on its own, something that created a brown pants moment for the ACNA leadership.

So is it right?  Let’s look at the usual suspects at this blog.

It’s been forgotten, but at one point the Roman Catholic church in this country seriously considered organising itself along ethnic lines of the places its immigrant laity came from, i.e. Ireland, Italy, Germany, France, etc.  They opted not to, and although we have had ethnically predominant parishes the structure is uniform.  The main result of this was to buttress the hegemony of the Irish, with all the ups and downs that comes with it.

With the Church of God, Pentecostal in doctrine and worship but episcopal and centralised in government, the formation of ethnic “dioceses” and structures from the outset has been the norm.  The downside to that is that you end up with ethnic “enclaves” in the church, which tend to isolate these churches.  The upside is that you can put your congregation at arms length from the domination of the Scots-Irish, whose own priorities are driven by the peculiarities of their own situation.  That started with the African-American churches; the largest group which have their own structure today are the Hispanics, not as homogenous a group as people think.

Some of this, especially now, is the result of variations in cultural assimilation.  When people come here at the start, they have their own language, customs, etc.  As time passes and the children grow up here, they will shift to a different idea.   The result of this are the multicultural churches (usually medium to large churches) which are more common in American Christianity than their “woke” opponents would care to admit.  In this respect churches such as the CANA Trinity Diocese are transitional in nature (isn’t everything on this side of eternity?)

Getting back to the ACNA and CANA, the rigid ideal of purely territorial dioceses is one that dominates the thinking of many in the Land of the Apostolic Succession.  It was broken by the way the ACNA was cobbled together, and the realities of ethnically diverse Christianity, which requires both putting people together from all places and all races into one church and accommodating the specific needs of different groups, make this ideal impossible on a practical level.  This concord isn’t the best way to address the current reality, but given the way things stand in the ACNA, it’s just best to tighten and repair the baling wire and hope for the best.

YouTube Closes in on the Cover Artists

ICYMI, I’ve migrated the music that’s been on this site to YouTube.  That took some time and effort but I think it’s worth it.  The central reason for that is that it gives the artists (and their record companies) the opportunity to earn some revenue off of the music, even though most of them are either unable or unwilling to put the music back into distribution.  As many of you know, this site specialises in the “Jesus Music” era of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

In the process of doing this, some of the albums were claimed by their copyright holders, usually the record companies or their agents, successors or assigns (how’s that for a little legalese!)  And that’s fine; I didn’t go on YouTube to make money, and the channel (thanks to the recent change in YouTube rules) isn’t eligible for monetization because it doesn’t draw enough traffic.  I’m glad to see that we’ve got a workable mechanism (not perfect but workable) to link the copyright holders with their music.

Most of the claims made during the process were for albums released by secular labels (which did happen in the Jesus Music era) where the album came from.  There are a few for Christian labels, but they’re the exception, not the rule.  But virtually all of the claims came for original artists.

This week I’ve seen a rash of claims for “covers,” i.e., songs not performed by the original artists.  This is something new.  It indicates to me that the algorithm for determining which songs are which has stepped up.  With the new regulations coming from Europe, that’s going to be a survival mechanism.  This tells me that YouTube has stepped up its game on this.

Fortunately in all cases they just claim revenue and let the album stay up.  I suppose that, for music this old and frequently obscure, they’re glad to have any exposure for it, especially when someone else goes to the trouble of putting it out there.  As of now this situation is IMHO a happy one for everyone, and I hope it stays that way.