The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent

From the 1662 Book of Common Prayer:

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

In the Last Depression, The Hobos Rode the Rails

As did my mother and her brother:

I’m not sure of the date but it probably was taken in the late 1920’s.  Their father worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, so this photo was a natural.

Although most people think of the Great Depression having its start with the 1929 crash, because of depressed commodity prices (specifically food) it’s safe to say that, in the agricultural South (my mother grew up in Arkansas) the “depression” extended for most of the time between the World Wars.

Most Boomers will recall that the Great Depression was one of the defining events of the “Greatest Generation” (the other was World War II.)  But neither of my parents ended up in bread lines.  My father, of course, came from a family which got through it in style, as you can see at this website.  But for my mother, her dad being employed by a railroad was steady work, and in an era where things were cheap due to deflation, it wasn’t a bad living at all.

Besides, how would the hobos have gotten around without the rails running?

Hopefully this photo will brighten a few days in these uncertain times.

Capitalism and Homicide: Some Thoughts on Anonaccio and Tittle’s “A Cross-National Test of Bonger’s Theory of Criminality and Economic Conditions”

A friend in Indonesia recently sent me a paper by Olena Antonaccio and Charles Tittle from North Carolina State University entitled “A Cross-National Test of Bonger’s Theory of Criminality and Economic Conditions.”  In 1905 the Dutch Marxist Willam Adrian Bonger had hypothesised that capitalism, by its de-moralisation (i.e., reduce the moral feelings that people had for each other) of the population, would increase the homicide rate (and other criminal activity.)  The task of the researchers was to a) see whether there was a correlation between capitalism and the homicide rate and b) find out why this was so.  Since Marxism is a favourite subject of mine, this was intriguing to me.

Let’s start by addressing the second point first: the researchers discovered that the main weakness of Bonger’s thesis was that, although there is some correlation, Bonger did not consider the effect of informal social controls, i.e. peer pressure, and its effect on behaviour.  The connection with capitalism is that “capitalist systems may generate crime because they flourish where social control, particularly informal social control, is weak.”

The whole concept of morality in a Marxist context is, for me at least, an oxymoron, and this alone makes Bonger’s thesis very non-Marxist.  However, as I discussed a year ago in The Trouble With Morality, whatever force morality has is connected with community standards.  (I would suggest that Christians read my original piece before blasting me on this statement.)  Marxism’s rejection of morality contains in it an underestimation of the power of community standards, which is one reason why Marxism hasn’t worked out the way it was supposed to.

Beyond this however is an intriguing statement:

Of particular note is the finding that in countries with a predominant Eastern religion, the direction of the association between capitalism and homicide rates actually is reversed…Our finding that in countries with predominant Eastern religions, capitalism actually is linked negatively to homicide rates seems to bear testimony to Messner and Rosenfeld’s argument, suggesting a clear route to synthesization.

This needs a little analysis, and I have two comments about this:

  • Their definition of “Eastern religions” is very “Western centred,” i.e., “ABC,” “Anything But Christianity.”  The outlier in this is Islam.  It’s not clear to me that Islam is really an “Eastern religion.”  It would be interesting to see how the correlations work out if Islam was considered by itself. But such a consideration would have to include the significant Islamic countries which they left out of the study, such as Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and the “50/50” situation in Nigeria.  (Their country selection betrays an allergy for less developed countries overall, and even Brazil was left out.)
  • Most countries where these “Eastern religions” are active have not experienced the assault of secularisation that has occurred in the West.  (Japan is an exception, and it comes out very socialistic in the ratings.)  How that assault will play out in these countries (especially the Islamic ones) remains to be seen.
  • Another term that probably isn’t univocal here is “capitalism.”  As David Isenberg points out at Asia Times Online, “Generally, China, India and Russia are not following the West’s liberal model for self-development, but instead are using a different model, ‘state capitalism’; the system of economic management that gives a prominent role to the state.”  The researchers used four independent variables:
    1. social security taxes as a percent of revenues;
    2. private health expenditures as a percent of total
      health spending;
    3. union density, and
    4. the Gini index of income inequality.

It’s interesting to note that countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, China and even the Phillippines have a higher capitalism index than the U.S. using these criteria.  (My own experience in China teaches that the Chinese are very adept capitalists, even under state socialism!)  In a society with a high group cohesion, for example, unionisation may be less necessary to achieve workers’ goals.  Also, states with a high degree of state centralisation are a good opportunity to centralise the wealth, pushing income inequality upward.  (In the West, heavy state involvement is generally connected with wealth redistribution and income levelling, as this last election cycle witnessed.)  The level of social security taxation is not only related to the desire of society to provide for its pensioners but the rate of return on the investment, a sore subject in the U.S.

Although the researchers’ goals are admirable, their attempt to get a meaningful results is sidetracked by variable definitions which may not be as informative as they would like.  But that’s the way of research.  As I pointed out in my own master’s thesis many years ago:

In any investigation such as this the ideal goal is to come up with something truly novel, and many of such works emphasize their novelty to the denigration of those who have gone on before. While in some fields of endeavour this might be appropriate, in this case such sweeping novelty cannot be claimed. This work fits the mould as outlined by Pascal above: it takes the work that has been done before, advances it a step while realizing that there are many more steps before “perfection” is achieved.

A Thanksgiving Song–And a Special Reason for Me to be Thankful

This week’s podcast–appropriately enough, since today is Thanksgiving in the U.S.–is Of One Accord, the title track from the Kairosingers’ album.  The title doesn’t sound like a Thanksgiving song, but it is.

This album came from Port Arthur, Texas, which was hit hard by Hurricane Ike.  One organisation that made a big difference in Southeast Texas in the wake of that disaster was Operation Blessing.  At this time of year, if you want to help a group of people who are there when things like this happen, click here and support it.

And, for me, there’s a special reason to be thankful.  This time last week my wife was in the emergency room, and the following Monday underwent major surgery.  She is recovering well.  For those of you who were aware of her situation, thanks for your prayers.  But most importantly, thanks be to God for his healing and all of his blessings throughout this situation.  They have been numerous and undeserved.

Applying the Ivy League Test to the Republican Stars (Such as They Are)

The Fix’s Chris Cillizza evidently doesn’t have a lot to do with his time, since he is trying to figure out who are the “stars” is what’s left of the Republican Party.  So let’s look at his list from the criterion that has worked since 1988: who are the Ivy Leaguers in the group?

I first set this criterion out almost two years ago:

The 2008 Presidential campaign has been underway since 2004, but only now has the list of candiates begun to congeal.  So how to winnow things down?  We’ve griped about the fact that Ronald Reagan was the last President that wasn’t a product of an Ivy League school, either as an undergraduate, a graduate, or both.  So it makes sense that candidates that are have a significant advantage.  Let’s see who these might be.

The Republicans start off at a disadvantage; of the major candidates, only Mitt Romney fits the bill (as one would expect a Governor of Massachusetts to.)  Although we have grave reservations about nominating him, doing otherwise will put the party at a handicap. That includes a “ring knocker” like John McCain.

The Democrats are in a better position with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Kerry.  (So much for the “Breck Girl!”)

As you can see, the only Ivy Leaguer left on either position of either ticket is about to become President of the United States.  The only one.  And the party with the most candidates to start with from the Ivy League won.

So let’s look at Chris’ list.  I agree with him to exclude Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.  Both are great people IMHO, but neither is an Ivy Leaguer and both are Evangelical, which give them serious cooties with the Republican party’s elite.  This party elite can’t get you into the White House but it can keep you out of it short of the disaster that brought Ronald Reagan victory in 1980.

Having taken care of that, let me divide Chris’ field into the two camps.

People Who Aren’t Ivy Leaguers and Won’t Make It

  • Steve Poizner: Not an Ivy Leaguer.  Since he went to the University of Texas, I won’t support him either.
  • Haley Barbour: Even though he’s the only politician whose reputation was enhanced by Katrina, he’s still not an Ivy Leaguer.  It’s obvious too.
  • Mark Sanford: Furman and UVa.  Forget about it.
  • Bob McDonnell: He’s a great guy (he’s the only one of the group I’ve actually met,) but no Ivy Leaguer.  If the MSM finds out he went to Regent (his sister Maureen was advancement director there,) they will trash him, and the DC suburbs will abandon him faster than they did John McCain.
  • John Thune: I didn’t know he was an Evangelical until I did the research for this piece.  Went to Biola some.  But the University of South Dakota doesn’t cut it in the land where Ivy League elitist snobs get a pass.

People Who Are Ivy Leaguers and Have a Future in the U.S.

  • Jon Huntsman Jr.: Went to Penn, so there’s a possibility.  He is LDS, but more about that vis à vis Mitt Romney.
  • Eric Cantor: He did receive a degree in real estate development at Columbia, so there’s a possibility, although real estate development will make him a bête noire with the left.
  • Mitch Daniels: Princeton and Georgetown.  Don’t underestimate a Hoosier.
  • Mitt Romney: An Ivy Leaguer, of course.  Huckabee managed to flush him because he’s LDS, but the LGBT community has gone a long way to solving that problem for him by the way they’ve trashed Mormons and their physical plant in the wake of Proposition 8.  If I were Mitt, I’d be putting videos of gay men protesting in front of Mormon wards and temples on YouTube.  Lots of them.
  • Bobby Jindal: A very “hot commodity” indeed.  Brown and Oxford?  Quite a combo!  Non-white to boot!  From Louisiana–and Barack Obama thinks that Chicago is tough?

But stuff like this, boys and girls, is why the party’s over.  Perhaps for the country.

It’s Time to Get Back to Cabins in Heaven

This week’s podcast is I Go To Prepare a Place for You, from the Family of God’s album Honor, Wisdom, Glory and Praise.  The song features one of the better known passages from the New Testament:

“In my Father’s Home there are many dwellings. If it had not been so, I should have told you, for I am going to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2, Positive Infinity New Testament.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2, KJV.

On a recent trip back home to Palm Beach, my wife and I were privileged to spend time with Joyce Reingold, publisher of the Palm Beach Daily News.  Joyce is a gracious and delightful person, and her blog PB Upd8 is a lot of fun for me to read.  I deal with many serious issues on this site and tend to get carried away with all of them.  Somehow, reading about the feral cats and fighting off taking a nap at the Brazilian Court (which is a great place to eat, BTW) is a nice relief from a familiar place.

That familiarity evidently comes through better than I thought, because she pegged me as a “real Palm Beacher.”  But if there’s one thing I learned while growing up in Palm Beach, it’s that money has its limits in its ability to bring happiness or even to solve life’s problems.  And, no matter how much of it you have, you can still blow it all and end up broke, which some of my classmates managed to do.  That realisation is one reason why I ventured away from the island, but unfortunately I ended up finding out that the hard lessons I learned in Palm Beach weren’t appreciated elsewhere.

The business about the mansions in John 14:2 is a prime example of that lack of appreciation.

The original Greek indicates “dwelling places,” as the first translation indicates.  And, in Tyndale’s and King James’ men’s day, the term “mansion” was a fair translation of that.  But as time went by, the word “mansion” came to mean a large and richly ornamented house, something like you would expect in Palm Beach.  (Not all houses in Palm Beach are mansions by any stretch, and most people would be shocked at the tiny patch of real estate that homes there are situated on.)  As a result of this, many of our ministers have taken to describing our heavenly destination in decidedly extravagant terms.

In the middle of all of this celestial ostentation, someone wrote a song about there being “cabins in heaven.”  In the 1970’s, the “Jesus Music” artist Pat Terry sang about checking into his mansion and getting his sleeping bag unrolled.  For him, heaven would be an extended camping trip, which is certainly paradise for a “good ol’ boy” from Smyrna, GA (and even possibly for someone like Sarah Palin.)

But some preachers are never happy, and such concepts have been routinely attacked as showing their adherents’ “lack of faith.”  According to these people, it is sinful for us to be satisfied with a cabin; according to them, our heavenly homes will make Mar-a-Lago look like a lean-to.  (In all fairness, I’ve never heard one refer directly to Mar-a-Lago, but this only shows me who is really in the know and who isn’t.)

But it gets worse: not only do they ply their audiences with inferior hermeneutics, but also they inspire us (implicitly or otherwise) to go out and attempt to replicate such a “dwelling place” on this earth.  Our place in heaven was paid in full by the precious blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but here on earth such things are had on credit, be they actual homes or churches extravagantly decked out to resemble the heavenlies, or at least our inferior concept of them.  Such inspiration has led too many believers and churches to saddle themselves with enormous obligations to fulfil an unbiblical mandate encouraged by people who should know better.  And now, our collapsing economy is calling bluffs and notes everywhere.

The truth is that anything on this earth–the “mansions” we build, our churches, the “tree of life,” even Palm Beach–is at best a pale reflection of what those who are the Lamb’s will see and experience in heaven.  Irrespective of how wonderful our dwelling places in heaven will be, chances are we won’t be spending much time in them.  They’ll hardly be pieds à terre (a good socialite term with no real meaning on the other side) as we spend time in the best place of all–in God’s presence, where words will fail us as we become lost in the one who died for us so that we wouldn’t have to.

Under these circumstances, a cabin will be more than adequate.

Making the Connection Between the U.S. Auto Bailout and British Leyland

I’ve been making this connnection here and here since shortly after the election.

Now the International Herald-Tribune joins in:

A faltering auto giant whose brands are synonymous with the open road. Hundreds of thousands of unionized workers with powerful political backers. An urgent plea for the government to write a virtual blank check.

This is not the story of Ford and General Motors, but British Leyland, a car company that went through £11 billion of inflation-adjusted British taxpayer money, or $16.5 billion, in the ’70s and ’80s before going out of business. All that is left of the company now are memories of cars like the Triumph, and a painful lesson in the limited effectiveness of bailouts.

“It’s all too evocative,” said Leon Brittan, a top official in the government of Margaret Thatcher, the free-market-minded prime minister who nevertheless backed the rescue. “I’m not telling the U.S. what to do, but the lessons of the British experience is don’t throw good money after bad. British Leyland carried on for a few more years, but they’re not there now, are they?”

To be frank, I started this thought process half-satirically.  But at billions of U.S. dollars (or pounds sterling, take your pick) it really isn’t funny.

Mitt Romney is right on this one.  It’s time to pull the plug before Dodge, Chevrolet and Mercury join Austin, Morris and Triumph as historical marques.

The Two Sides of Thanksgiving: The Strange Story of the Venite (Psalm 95)

Thanksgiving Day (in the U.S.) is coming up, and our ministers are gearing up appropriate sermons (I hope they’re appropriate, at least) for the occasion.  So this is my contribution to raising the homiletical level, and perhaps it will edify you in the bargain.

In 1534 Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which transferred control of the Catholic Church in England from the Pope to the King, then Henry VIII.  This in effect nationalised the church.  After a rough start, the now Protestant Church of England promulgated and issued its new liturgical scheme enshrined in its Book of Common Prayer.  In 1549 Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity, a “three strikes and you’re out” statute which mandated life imprisonment for those who conducted Christian worship not in conformity with the Book of Common Prayer.  (For a chronicle of the reaction to all this, click here.)

Part of this liturgical system was Morning Prayer, and part of Morning Prayer was the recitation (musically or otherwise) of the Venite, based on Psalm 95.  (The word venite means “O come,” the opening words of the psalm.)  Below is reproduced two versions of this, on the left from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (Church of England) and on the right the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal Church, U.S.)

1662 Book of Common Prayer (Church of England)

O COME, let us sing unto the Lord : let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving : and shew ourselves glad in him with Psalms.
For the Lord is a great God : and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are all the corners of the earth : and the strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his, and he made it : and his hands prepared the dry land.
O come, let us worship and fall down : and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is the Lord our God : and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts : as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness;
When your fathers tempted me : proved me, and saw my works.
Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said : It is a people that do err in their hearts, for they have not known my ways.
Unto whom I sware in my wrath : that they should not enter into my rest.

1928 Book of Common Prayer (Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A.)

O COME, let us sing unto the LORD; * let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; * and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.
For the LORD is a great God; * and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are all the corners of the earth; * and the strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his, and he made it; * and his hands prepared the dry land.
O come, let us worship and fall down, * and kneel before the LORD our Maker.
For he is the Lord our God; * and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; * let the whole earth stand in awe of him.
For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth; * and with righteousness to judge the world, and the people with his truth.

The English version uses Psalm 95 in its entirety, with its major shift in tone (more about that shortly.)  But the American version cuts away from Psalm 95 around v. 7 and picks up parts of Psalm 96.  This change dates from the beginning of the Episcopal Church, when it was established in the wake of the American Revolution.

Why was this change made?  An explanation of this comes here:

It’s (Episcopal Church’s) Prayer Book has omitted the prophetic oracle and admonition (verses 7b-11) since its first edition in 1789; and, sadly, it has been common to refer to the omitted second half as “the four distasteful verses.”

This condescending approach, originally inspired by principles of the Enlightenment, avoids the strong, biblical doctrine of God’s wrath against sin within the Bible, and seeks to make God to be always loving and only rarely displeased! Today most congregations in the West seem to omit these verses as not being suitable for “Christian worship.” This is usually because they are taken up with the prevailing, modern idea that worship must be “celebration,” sin, wrath and judgment are not common themes! This liberal, progressive religion has been accused-with justice-of being that religion, in which a God, without wrath, saves a people within sin, for a kingdom without judgment, by the ministry without the Cross.

There are two lessons to be learned from all this.

The first is that it’s dangerous to take a “cut and paste” approach to the Word of God.  That’s one reason why the Episcopal Church is in the mess it’s in, and its history over the last forty years speaks for itself.

The second comes by looking directly at Psalm 95.  The first part speaks of thankgiving, and celebration is an integral part of thankgiving.  The second, however, speaks of the flip side of thanksgiving, namely ingratitude.  We need to put the whole concept of thanksgiving into perspective by considering its opposite.

The message of the second part of Psalm 95 is simple and clear: ingratitude will kill you! As the psalm says, the Israelites had seen it all–the plagues, the first Passover, the parting of the Red Sea (for them,) the closing of the Red Sea (for the Egyptians,) the giving of the Law, manna, everything.  Yet they were still ungrateful and still whined about their condition.  From Marcion to Maher the God of the Old Testament has been criticised for being a God of judgement, but who wants to listen to a bunch of ingrates whine and compain all the time?  Do you?  It’s little wonder that they were barred from seeing the Promised Land.

And ingratitude isn’t a good plan for the ingrates either.  It’s a life where one feels constantly slighted, put upon and done wrong.  What kind of life is that, especially relative to God?  Or anyone else for that matter?  The stress you put on yourself is simply masochistic.  Like unforgiveness, ingratitude is deadly, and has many of the same effects.

The scent of death that ingratitude has can extend to the next life as well:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says– ‘If to-day you hear God’s voice, Harden not your hearts, as when Israel provoked me on the day when they tried my patience in the desert, Where your ancestors tried my forbearance, And saw my mighty deeds for forty years. Therefore I was sorely vexed with that generation, And I said– “Their hearts are always straying; They have never learned my ways”; While in my wrath I swore– “They shall never enter upon my Rest.”‘ Be careful, Brothers, that there is never found in any one of you a wicked and faithless heart, shown by his separating himself from the Living God. Rather encourage one another daily–while there is a ‘To-day’–to prevent any one among you from being hardened by the deceitfulness of Sin. For we now all share in the Christ, if indeed we retain, unshaken to the end, the confidence that we had at the first. To use the words of Scripture– ‘If to-day you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts, as when Israel provoked me.’ Who were they who heard God speak and yet provoked him? Were not they all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? And with whom was it that God was sorely vexed for forty years? Was not it with those who had sinned, and who fell dead in the desert? And who were they to whom God swore that they should not enter upon his rest, if not those who had proved faithless? We see, then, that they failed to enter upon it because of their want of faith.  (Hebrews 3:7-19)

Thanksgiving is more than something we do one day out of the year.  It’s a way of life.  And ultimately, it’s not only for God’s benefit (he will continue happy whether we’re thankful or not) but also for ours.  A thankful life, like a forgiving life, will be one of peace and contentment.  And that’s something to be thankful for.

The Testimony of Jim Jones’ Lawyer, Sir Lionel Luckhoo

Since the thirtieth anniversary of the Jonestown massacre/suicide is coming up on Tuesday, it’s good to rerun a podcast from last year: the testimony of Sir Lionel Luckhoo, Jim Jones’ lawyer and one of the world’s most successful trial attorneys.  Sir Lionel talks about his relationship with Jim Jones and how he ultimately came to find his Saviour and Lord.

Federal Air Marshals in Cuffs Teach Us a Bible Lesson

I’m sure that some of you budding theonomists guffawed at the following, from an old post of mine:

Let’s take a look at this:


I exhort therefore that above all things prayers, supplications, petitions, and giving of thanks, be had for all men: for kings, and for all that are in preeminence, that we may live a quiet and a peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty. For that is good and accepted in the sight of God our saviour, which would have all men saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, Tyndale)

There’s no doubt that we should pray for those who are in authority. But why? “…that we may live a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.” What would interrupt that peaceable life? There are three possibilities: external attack, such as we had on 11 September 2001 and during the recent hurricanes, internal assault by thieves, murderers, and other criminals, and of course assaults on our persons and property by the government itself. The last one is the one many Christians forget to pray for, but for those in the Roman Empire, it was an important problem.

Well, it’s not funny any more:

Since 9/11, more than three dozen federal air marshals have been charged with crimes, and hundreds more have been accused of misconduct, an investigation by ProPublica, a non-profit journalism organization, has found. Cases range from drunken driving and domestic violence to aiding a human-trafficking ring and trying to smuggle explosives from Afghanistan.

The Federal Air Marshal Service presents the image of an elite undercover force charged with making split-second decisions that could mean the difference between stopping a terrorist and shooting an innocent passenger.

But an examination of police reports, court records, government reports, memos and e-mails shows that 18 air marshals have been charged with felonies, including at least three who were hired despite prior criminal records or being fired from law enforcement jobs. A fourth air marshal was hired while under FBI investigation. Another stayed on the job despite alarming a flight attendant with his behavior.

This spring, after U.S. embassies, airlines and foreign police agencies complained about air marshal misconduct overseas, the agency director dispatched supervisors on international missions.

Pray, saints!