To Help the Regents' Exam, Maybe They Should Bring Back the Regents' Prayer

Like many other things in public education, the New York state Regents’ exams for its high school students aren’t working as planned:

The big story in New York education circles is the further confirmation of what longtime critics have alleged: that the feel-good story of rising student test scores over the last several years is largely an illusion produced by dumbed-down tests. David Steiner, appointed State Education Commissioner last year, believes that the system has led to “systemic grade inflation.” Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch agreed and enlisted Harvard testing expert Daniel Koretz to evaluate the state exams. On July 19, a preliminary report, based on Koretz’s findings, revealed that the jump in state test-score results over the past four years was indeed too good to be true: improved test results, it turned out, didn’t mean that more students were adequately prepared for high school or college.

Unfortunately, the story of New York’s testing mess doesn’t end at the elementary-school level. The state’s once-vaunted Regents exams, given to high school students, have long since become a shell of their former selves. Success on them signifies little—certainly not the ability to excel in college. Teachers have been complaining about this problem for years.

Good students of American history (of which there are fewer, thanks to our inadequate teaching of the subject) will remember that it was the New York Regents’ Prayer that was was the issue in the 1962 Supreme Court case Engle v. Vitale, which ejected open prayer from public schools.

Unfortunately that case and its progeny have engendered the illusion that, if we pursue religous cleansing in our public schools, they will be better.  We have and they are not.  Until we focus on what’s really important in public education, the results we have will continue.

Civil Marriage: It Is Time for a Divorce

Oh, yes, it is:

In the 1500s, a pestering theologian instituted something called the Marriage Ordinance in Geneva, which made “state registration and church consecration” a dual requirement of matrimony.

We have yet to get over this mistake. But isn’t it about time we freed marriage from the state?

Imagine if government had no interest in the definition of marriage. Individuals could commit to each other, head to the local priest or rabbi or shaman — or no one at all — and enter into contractual agreements, call their blissful union whatever they felt it should be called and go about the business of their lives.

It isn’t the only mistake we need to get over coming out of Geneva, but it’s a biggie.  It’s time.

Is It Proper to Refer to Christians as Enlightened?

This is the first in a sporadic series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.

When we think of people becoming Christians, what term do we associate with this? Traditionally, Evangelicals would think in terms of “born again” or “saved.” It’s hard to know sometimes what others call it, because in other cases (especially with Roman Catholics) it’s looked upon more as a process, and in some cases the journey becomes more important than the destination.

One term that doesn’t come up very often for someone who is becoming or has become a Christian is “enlightened.” Cyril of Jerusalem, however, in preparing his students for baptism and full admission into both the church and the mysteries, makes no bones about using the term. Right at the start of his lectures he uses the term, in a passage that would do Tommy Tenney proud:

Already there is an odour of blessedness upon you, O you who are soon to be enlightened : already you are gathering the spiritual flowers, to weave heavenly crowns: already the fragrance of the Holy Spirit has breathed upon you: already you have gathered round the vestibule of the King’s palace ; may you be led in also by the King! (Protocatechesis, 1)

Later on Cyril attributes enlightenment to the Holy Spirit:

And as a man, who being previously in darkness then suddenly beholds the sun, is enlightened in his bodily sight, and sees plainly things which he saw not, so likewise he to whom the Holy Ghost is vouchsafed, is enlightened in his soul, and sees things beyond man’s sight, which he knew not; his body is on earth, yet his soul mirrors forth the heavens. (XVI, 16)

Some who are baptised aren’t really enlightened, as was the case with Simon Magus:

Even Simon Magus once came to the Laver : he was baptised, but was not enlightened; and though he dipped his body in water, he enlightened not his heart with the Spirit: his body went down and came up, but his soul was not buried with Christ, nor raised with Him. (Protocatechesis, 2)

However, these days it’s the rare minister who would refer to an individual’s passage from death to life in Jesus Christ as “enlightenment.” Why is this so?

One of the fascinating things about Cyril and his Catechetical Lectures is that he comes out with things that many contemporary preachers and priests would blush to say. I’ll cite some more obvious examples later, but this is one of those. I think there are three reasons why “enlightenment” is not a common term for Christian salvation.

The first is its use in Buddhism. The enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama under the bodhi tree was the turning point in his life and made him the Buddha. Enlightenment is the first step for the Buddhist. So Christians are reluctant to use the term. It’s interesting to note that Cyril was aware of the Buddha and mentions him once in the Lectures; the interchange between the Hellenistic world and India is one that doesn’t get a great deal of space, but anyone familiar with Neoplatonism knows it’s there.

The second, of course, is the whole business of the “Enlightenment” of the eighteenth century, which included a turning away from Europe’s Christian heritage towards a secular one, one that continues to this day. It’s interesting to note that the United States, a country birthed in and moulded by the Enlightenment, has also been a welcoming place (until now perhaps) for Christianity, but things don’t always go as some of us think they should.

The third is that “enlightenment” has an esoteric ring to it, more akin to the revelation of secrets (think Masonic lodge) than the salvation experience that most associate with Christianity. That, in reality, is Cyril’s whole idea, but I’ll save that discussion for later.

I think it’s fair to say, however, that, for all of our squeamishness, the whole Christian experience of salvation in Jesus Christ is enlightenment par excellence.

  1. Jesus is the light of the world: “Jesus again addressed the people. “I am the Light of the World,” he said. “He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life.”” (John 8:12)
  2. His light enlightens, in one sense, the human race: “That was the True Light which enlightens every man coming into the world.” (John 1:9)
  3. Those who internalise the light walk in it and are different: “These, then, are the Tidings that we have heard from him and now tell you–‘God is Light, and Darkness has no place at all in him.’ If we say that we have communion with him, and yet continue to live in the Darkness, we lie, and are not living the Truth. But, if our lives are lived in the Light, as God himself is in the Light, we have communion with one another, and the Blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7)
  4. That light in turn will shine on others: “It is you who are the Light of the world. A town that stands on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14)

There are many more verses that could be cited, but I think it’s fair to say that, for all of our reservations about using the term “enlightenment” to describe salvation, Cyril’s use of the term is correct.

Priest-in-Charge, Pastoral Woes and Authority in the Church

I found intriguing Elizabeth Kaeton’s piece on priests-in-charge.  It was interesting because it’s one of those rare posts (in this case from a liberal) which transcends the left-right divide that defines just about everything these days.

For my Evangelical readers, if you’re interested in the whole business of “priest-in-charge” you’ll need to read her post.  It is, more or less, an interim pastor, and that in an episcopally structured church (which is the one thing that we have in common.)  This means that the appointment is made by the bishop above, not called by the congregation (as is the case in Baptist or AoG churches.)

Several years back there was published a report on Church of God ministers that I usually christen the “Bowers Report” after the Pentecostal Theological Seminary professor who headed up its compilation.  One of the takeaways for me was that our pastors neither trusted the administrative bishops above them nor their laity below.  The result was pastoral stress, which was in part reflected in the high level of obesity amongst our ministers (the report used statistics, although anyone who has attended an Anglo Church of God campmeeting or General Assembly knows this to be so.)  The swelling waistlines are in part a product of a church culture which gives gluttony a pass while prohibiting alcohol and tobacco, but it’s also a sign of stress.  And there are indications (as Rev. Kaeton indicates) that pastoral stress isn’t restricted to the Church of God, or even to conservative churches.

How did we get in this mess?  I’ll try to avoid rambling, but let me lay out my ideas.

It used to be that churches could be described as polities.  People had a sense of ownership in their church, and that ownership was reflected in the power that the vestry/deacon board/church council had.  Sometimes they became tools of the ruling clique in the church and made some really silly decisions.  The most egregious one of these I saw growing up in the Episcopal church was the unceremonious booting of the ladies’ rummage sale from the church grounds, which lead the guild to start one of the most elite resale shops in the country.

In a country club church like the Episcopal church of the 1960’s and before, the membership could regard their rector as yet another of the hired help, there to do their bidding.  Many rectors, especially those who were in the ministry as a matter of pedigree, were more than happy to oblige.  Sometimes I think that explains some of my dislike for all of the hue and cry about the “authority” of our ministers, but that’s another post.

Now churches that go nowhere because of their controlling laity aren’t any more admirable than those that go nowhere because of their controlling clergy.  The result is the same, and is opposite when there is momentum from both sides to make progress.  The Southern Baptists didn’t become the largest Protestant denomination in the US because their deacon boards sat on their hands.  Congregational denominations are perfectly capable of significant forward movement, as the Assemblies of God are demonstrating these days, and they can’t move without the consent and participation of their laity.

The whole idea of the church as polity was significantly challenged in the wake of the 1960’s from a number of fronts.

On the left, activist clergy saw (and still see) themselves as the vanguard of change.  Those in the congregation who don’t see it their way will be considered to end up on the “ash heap of history,” to use Leon Trotsky’s phrase.  That’s demoralising for a congregation, especially in the time when the country was going through a collective nervous breakdown, and was reflected in the precipitous drop that the Episcopalians and other Main Line churches experienced in the 1970’s.  We’ve seen this again in the conflict over LGBT bishops and clergy in the past decade.

On the right, we had the likes of Bill Gothard challenging the whole concept of church as polity by saying that authoritarianism is “the Bible way.”  This flew in the face of two centuries of American church experience.  Conservative churches did so well forty years ago that the weaknesses of this idea were masked, but they’ve come home to roost of late.

We also have parachurch ministries and independent churches to erode the church as polity concept.  Both of these are built around the personality of one individual or his (usually but not always) family.  Both of these have encouraged another uninspiring trend in churches: the trend towards the church as a consumerist provider of services rather than a gathering of God’s people, a trend that needed little encouraging in our society.

Finally we have churches (such as the Roman Catholic and the Church of God) which were authoritarian early in their history onward.

The result is that, today, too many of our ministers (and the diocesans above them) are obsessed with their authority, and build their ministries around its maintenance.  Our lay people are reduced to three choices: submit, start a war, or flee.  Worst of all, our getting away from church as polity hasn’t reduced politics in the church.

It’s little wonder that our ministers, trapped in a no-win paradigm with their congregations, are stressed out.  Everyone involved is stressed out.  And it’s little wonder that house churches, with no payments (the need for funding drives way too much ministry, and is a big part of the problem) and informal structure, are gaining popularity.

P.S. I noted that Rev. Kaeton supports same sex civil marriage.  I would be interested to know why she thinks we need civil marriage in the first place.

HT to David Virtue.

Worth Avenue Palm Trees Go to 9/11 Memorial

While New Yorkers fight over the mosque near Ground Zero, some palm trees that graced Worth Avenue are replanted in a 9/11 memorial in Palm Beach Gardens:

911 Memorial3.JPGThe Christmas palms that once lined the three-block commercial stretch of Worth Avenue had been offered to any takers willing to pay for their removal by the contractors on the Avenue’s renovation, which began in early April.

After many calls to Burkhardt Construction from a number of parties, but no serious followups, Boynton Landscape Co. of West Palm Beach stepped in to rescue some of the trees and plant them at Palm Beach Gardens’ soon-to-be-completed 09-11-01 Memorial at the city’s Fire Station No. 3 on Northlake Boulevard.

About 15 trees were taken off the street and to the site in June, said Noel DelValle, business development manager at Boynton Landscape Co.

The Tricky Part in Keeping Western Civilisation Afloat

Martin Hutchinson is sanguine about the future of Western civilisation, but every silver lining has a cloud:

Provided Western government spending is kept under control so private sectors have room to flourish, and interest rates are fairly quickly restored to levels that encourage saving, the Western advantages of capital, education, technology and favourable business climate will ensure that growth resumes, so that economic dominance does not pass wholly to the East. Moreover, China and India are not without problems of their own: in China’s case, a banking system with potentially massive bad-loan problems; in India’s case a chronically overspending, corrupt and inefficient government. The chances are that the United States will still be among the most prosperous countries in the world in 2050, as will most of Europe.

It’s the government spending and interest rates problem that’s the key.  I don’t see either party restoring government spending to the levels of federal or state income (NJ’s Chris Christie is an exception) and the Fed is obsessed with quantitative easing, which will keep interest rates artificially low and encourage deflation (unless they totally lose control of the situation and we have hyperinflation.)  And one should add to this litany our government’s propensity to regulate/outlaw large portions of economic activity is, in its own way, as damaging as our lack of fiscal discipline.

Our élites have basically made the decision that they don’t want an economic regime that they can’t control no matter how well it works.  And that’s at the source of many of our political conflicts.

A Few Words About Tennessee Gubenatorial Candidate Basil Marceaux

I see that Basil Marceaux has made it big on YouTube:

I know Basil Marceaux.  What you see is what you get.

First: he is not the Republican nominee for Governor.  Our primary is Thursday (5 August).  My guess is that he’ll do well to get into the single digits, although with all of the exposure (and perhaps a few crossover Democrats, we have open primaries in Tennessee) one never knows.

Second: contrary to what many on the left might hope for, he doesn’t have much (if any) standing in the Republican Party in Tennessee, or here in Hamilton County.  He has been booted from the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club at least once (I mean not allowed to attend the meeting.)  He has picketed our club on the street in protest, claiming we have abridged his First Amendment rights.

He said in one of his campaign videos that he owes anyone who shakes his hand.  I’ve shaken his hand, he owes me.

Palm Beach Police Do Their Part to Combat Illegal Immigration

It may cause controversy in Arizona, but Palm Beach’s finest keep rolling on:

Palm Beach police captured seven illegal immigrants early Sunday morning near the intersection of South Ocean Boulevard and County Road.

Police were alerted shortly after 2 a.m., according to Capt. Fred Hess. “They just landed from Haiti. No boat was found,” Hess said.

The four men and three women were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol officers around 4:30 a.m. Police canvassed the area but did not find others. A sheriff’s helicopter assisted the effort, Hess said.

The biggest problem, however, is a proper definition of an illegal immigrant.  Palm Beachers believe that just about anyone who come from across the lake is potentially suspect unless they’re coming over as the help.

When the Union and the Environmentalists Collide: the Bucyrus International-India Equipment Fiasco

The fun started when the Export-Import bank nixed Bucyrus International’s sale of mining equipment for an Indian power project:

On Thursday, the Export-Import Bank denied financing for Reliance Power Ltd., an Indian power plant company, effectively wiping out about $600 million in coal mining equipment sales for Bucyrus, chief executive Tim Sullivan said.

The fossil fuel project was the first to come before the government-run bank since it adopted a climate-change policy to settle a lawsuit and to meet Obama administration directives.

“President Obama has made clear his administration’s commitment to transition away from high-carbon investments and toward a cleaner-energy future,” Export-Import Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg said in a statement. “After careful deliberation, the Export-Import Bank board voted not to proceed with this project because of the projected adverse environmental impact.”

The bank’s decision is puzzling, Sullivan said, because the power plant will meet international standards and the bank’s environmental criteria.

The plant is under construction in Sasan, central India, and is scheduled to be up and running in 2012. Coal mining will take place for the plant whether it’s done with Bucyrus machines or equipment from China and Belarus, Sullivan said.

But criteria don’t matter to fanatics.  Capitalist roaders such as Bucyrus International are of no account to this administration.

Bucyrus International’s union, however, which does matter to this administration, had another opinion of this altogether:

Under growing pressure from Wisconsin leaders and union workers, the U.S. Export-Import Bank may reconsider its decision to deny loan guarantees for mining equipment that would be made in the Milwaukee area for supplying coal to a power plant in India, a bank official said Monday…

The president of the United Steelworkers of America called for a letter-writing campaign protesting the bank’s refusal to finance mining equipment that would be made by union members.

Union President Leo Gerard said he would ask that his union’s leaders and members write to their congressional delegations and the Export-Import Bank, urging the government-backed lender to reverse its decision.

He also urged Steelworkers to attend the town hall meeting Wednesday.

“At a time when we are losing good-paying jobs, and at a time when President Obama wants to double U.S. exports, how can the Export-Import Bank deny a loan that would create and protect jobs at Bucyrus International? It was a dumb decision,” Gerard told the Journal Sentinel.

It’s also noteworthy that most of Wisconsin’s political leaders, right at the moment, are Democrats.

I hope the union can make the right people in our government see daylight on this issue.  If not, the “Reagan Democrats” will ride again, and will have plenty of time for political activism, because they’ll be on the dole.

Bucyrus, for its part, obviously has a Plan B:

Bucyrus International, Inc., Wisconsin-based company with an annual turnover of around $2 billion, engaged in the design and manufacture of mining equipment, is setting up its India operations headquarters at Kolkata. The company is also actively considering setting up a manufacturing unit in the state. The company is on the lookout for an abandoned facility in West Bengal to set up a $5 million manufacturing unit. Over the next 5 years they plan to scale up the India operations and make it a 500-employee company.

Bucyrus plans to design and source parts and components from Kolkata that are required for the Indian mining industry as well as for their global requirements.  Bucyrus India Ltd, a 100 percent Indian subsidiary of Bucyrus International, Inc. already has a facility at Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh & Bangalore. According to  Timothy W. Sullivan, president and CEO of Bucyrus International, by the end of 2007 the company will have 3 other offices in India in Singareni (Andhra Pradesh), Singrauli (MP) and Southeastern Coalfields (Chhattisgarh).

The blunt truth is that our government has, for the most part, disdained heavy industry for most of my lifetime, which is why much of it has decamped for happier places.