They Used to Put Posters Like This in the Dry Cleaners in the Soviet Union

I have to admit it: I was amused when the poster at the right appeared on Drudge, who linked with this article, which likened Obama’s use of the “Forward” theme with its use in socialist/communist contexts.

First: the slogan “Forward” does have strong roots in the history of communism.  Whether we will see iconography like that on the right to follow is another matter; what we’ll get will probably be less interesting.  What they’ll put out will be more high tech but the old communist propaganda poster is an art form of its own.

Having travelled in both the People’s Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, I saw a lot of propaganda, posters and otherwise.  It turned up in many places.  The most memorable experience came during my first visit to the Soviet Union.  We were staying in a hotel which attempted to exploit our surplus value with its high dry cleaning prices, so our agent decided to strike out in a cab to a local dry cleaner.  Sure enough, the walls were festooned with propaganda posters.  “Better Dry Cleaning Through Communism!” What a concept!

There are still situations where a good propaganda poster would really do the trick.  I suggested that then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would make a good propaganda poster for the People’s Republic of California, which got this reaction from a Virginia reader.  I’ve had fun with the slogans too, as was the case at the end of my piece Half a Million Roubles, Is It Enough? (which is more relevant for Mitt Romney than Barack Obama).

But one thing’s for sure: a second Obama term will bring us closer both to the fifty square metre apartment and to the realisation that we have, in reality, been taken to the cleaners.  Forward!

Advice to Graduates: Past Performance is Not a Guarantee of Future Returns

It’s the time of the year when most people graduate from whatever school they’re graduating from.  This is a hypothetical graduation address, this week aimed a college students.  I’ll take on the high school students in a subsequent post.

These days college–especially undergraduate studies–is a long, expensive undertaking, usually accomplished by a large amount of debt.  (Come to think of it, what in our society is accomplished without a large amount of debt?)  And yet, in spite of the long-term obligations that come with it, people continue to put a great deal of stock and effort in a college education.  Why is this?  Most of you know the answer: because jobs and careers opened up by a college education have a higher level of compensation than those that don’t, at least overall.  College seen in this way is an investment, and I’ll come back to the financial analogy.

One thing I’ve noticed while walking the halls of Old Kudzu (“Old Ivy” is more appropriate for places Up North which are not appropriate to speak about here) is the “first in family” thing about college.  There’s a great deal of emphasis on those people who have broken the multigenerational custom of living and dying for a college athletic program without having stepped foot on campus except to head to the football stadium.  As you would expect, an elitist snob like me doesn’t have that experience.  I come from a long line of “college men” whose main problem wasn’t going to college: it was getting to the place you’re at today, i.e., graduating.  Today that’s another obsession of our educational system.  We’re told that our graduation rates are too low, with the implication that those who don’t walk the stage don’t walk the golden path of success in life.  But somehow my ancestors were successful in spite of that fact.

One that actually did make it to the end was my grandfather, Chester H. “Chet” Warrington, who graduated–after giving his parents much heartburn–from Lehigh in 1912.  He’s there on the right, before he actually made it through.

Even though he graduated from the birthplace of Tau Beta Pi, engineering’s highest honour fraternity, he wasn’t much of a scholar.  There have been many changes in the whole meaning of a university education from his day to ours, and one of them is how much more competitive our system–in and out of academia–has become.  In those days college was largely the province of the well-heeled, and the “Gentlemen’s C” was not a dishonourable result.  (I would say that the “Gentlemen’s C” is still very much alive and well on campus today, in spite of the changes!)

But we, as we do with just about everything, have pushed the whole business of academic achievement to the limit.  It’s surely frustrating to most academics that people who aren’t very good students actually have a successful life in this world, as my grandfather had.  It’s even more frustrating that, after all of the glow people put around academia, the money goes elsewhere.  So we’ve had a drumbeat, of late, of how important it is for people to have very high grades, and to correlate (at least in our minds) those high grades with success in life, and ultimately to try to rig the system so that those who do well in an academic setting will be afforded similar success afterwards.

But life neither starts or ends on campus.  And sometimes the reality of life wedges its way onto campus.  A good example of that happened in one of my classes last year, and the life lesson it taught bears repeating.

One of the courses I teach is Foundations.  First question some ask is “Foundations of What?” There are many “foundations” courses on campus to introduce students to a wide variety of subjects, but mine is the Foundations course par excellence: it concerns the design of foundations for real structures such buildings, bridges and the like.  This past year my students convinced me, for their design project, to enter the American Society of Civil Engineers MSE wall contest.  An “MSE” wall, for the uninitiate, is a Mechanically Stabilised Earth wall.  If you’ve driven down the interstate and seen newer walls flanking the roadway, usually with fancy decorations, you’ve probably seen an MSE wall.  The fancy decorations, however, have nothing to do with that: behind the front of an MSE wall is a network of grids and meshes by which the earth behind the wall actually helps to hold it up rather than just trying to push it down.

In this competition, the students build a large wooden box with a removable face.  They then put an MSE wall entirely built of kraft paper and tape behind it and fill the box with sand.  Removing the face, the moment of truth comes when the wall either holds the sand in place, leaks a great deal of sand, or collapses with sand on the floor following.

The class divides itself into two teams, using an electronic sign-up system.  When the team compositions were finalised, the “buzz” around the class was that one team was made up of the “smart” people and the other wasn’t.  I was unconvinced that it was that rigged; years in the private sector and engineering practice gave me the gut feeling that the outcome would not follow the conventional wisdom.

It didn’t.  When the removable panel was in fact removed, both walls held, but the “smart” team had the scarier moment as their wall bulged and leaked considerably.  Conventional wisdom took another hit.  But the whole point of an educational system is to learn something, and there’s a good lesson here.

There’s a great deal of emphasis on the value of intelligence these days.  It’s almost an obsession, really, and permeates our whole system, from child rearing to the educational system itself and ultimately to the credentialling system that marks the road to the top.  Raw intelligence, however, is only one piece of the puzzle.  That intelligence has to be properly applied to achieve the best results, and that application includes two things: an understanding of the environment in which you’re operating and the willingness to put the effort in to attain the goal.  Those two elements are frequently lacking, and I speak from experience: the lack of those two elements have led to many of the mistakes I have made in life.  Although there’s a great deal of talk about including “real life experiences” in an academic course, to be honest time constraints and the same lack of understanding in academics lead many such efforts to fall flat.

Even with the political clout that our financial system has these days, it’s still necessary for those selling financial products to make this disclaimer (or one like it): “Past Performance is Not a Guarantee of Future Returns”.  I think that should be placed somewhere, or at least watermarked, on every diploma issued by institutions of higher education.  Those of you who have finished the course of study can be justifiably proud of what you have done.  But you and the society you live and move and have your being in need to understand that what you’ve done isn’t a guarantee that what you do subsequently will have the golden touch.  The society that believes that and promotes accordingly is itself heading for a fall.  It was the hard lesson that Ch’ing Dynasty China found out the hard way the century before last; we will follow suit if we do likewise, our fall being at the hand of the same Chinese (with others) who did learn the lesson.

Graduation is a time of celebration, but, as the Latin root notes, it’s just another step in life.  The education doesn’t stop here, and by that I don’t mean the continuing education requirements that permeate our professional credentials.  Making the education work is the new task, and in many ways it’s as important–if not more important–than the first.

Playing Both Sides of the Street on Catholic Social Teaching

The Washington Post’s Dana Millbank is just a little too happy over the Catholic bishops’ rebuke of Rep. Paul Ryan’s economic proposals:

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody this month, Ryan, the author of the House Republican budget endorsed by Mitt Romney, said his program was crafted “using my Catholic faith” as inspiration. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was not about to bless that claim.

A week after Ryan’s boast, the bishops sent letters to Congress saying that the Ryan budget, passed by the House, “fails to meet” the moral criteria of the Church, namely its view that any budget should help “the least of these” as the Christian Bible requires: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless. “A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons,” the bishops wrote.

I think that anyone’s glee over a conservative Republican being at odds with the RCC on economic issues is premature.  For me, the key factor in leaving the Roman Catholic Church for good was, this notwithstanding, its two-faced handing of social justice issues.

Once again I go back to a 2007 post where I lay this out:

Back in the early 1980′s, I was involved in a Catholic Charismatic prayer group.  We were under a great deal of pressure, some of which was of our own making and some of which came from a Church which didn’t really care much for what we were doing.  It was also the days of “if you want peace, work for justice,” the nuclear freeze, and other left-wing emphases which tended to deflect hierarchy and faithful alike from their relationship with God.

A major turning point for me took place on day when, while discussing things with one of our prayer group leaders, she mentioned that, because of the high tuition, she could not afford to send her eight children to Catholic school.  So they went to public school.

That revelation was the beginning of the end of me as a Roman Catholic.  I concluded that any church that was too bourgeois and self-satisfied not to subsidise its own needful children to attend the schools it wanted them to attend was too bourgeois to be an advocate for social justice.  So I took my leave on a course that’s best encapsulated in The Preferential Option of the Poor.

Now, a quarter of a century later, the Aussies are starting to realise that this is a problem in Australian Catholic schools: a preferential option for the wealthy?

The only hitch is that they’re looking at government funding for the schools.  And government funding brings government control, which will in the long run forces the schools to teach things the Church cannot support.  But at least the problem is recognised.

Hopefully someone on this side of the Pacific will tackle this problem as well.

There are two other things that need note.

The first is that the Catholic Church’s happy endorsement of state aid for the economically disadvantaged is a little naive.  The state does this as a patronage move, to keep the masses happy and prevent rebellion.  The Church’s attempt to baptise this with moral wonderfulness does no credit to the institution which has been watching this since the days of “bread and circuses” in Rome.

The second is that any institution the size and economic scope of the Roman Catholic Church will sooner or later get its hands dirty economically.  This is especially interesting to note for an institution that has always regarded businesspeople as basically morally defective, something that Rep. Ryan needs to keep in mind as he spars with his bishops.

Living the Sermon on the Mount, Episcopal Style

Notre Dame’s Gary Gutting doesn’t think much of the real import of the Sermon on the Mount:

The Sermon on the Mount, however, does not offer a clear view of what makes for a good life.  Many seem to think Jesus is saying little more than be nice to everybody.  Others see a call to a heroic life of total non-resistance or self-sacrifice.  Still others hear him as requiring little more than an enhanced version of the Ten Commandments  (e.g., avoiding not only murder but also anger, not only adultery but also lustful desires).

He’s obviously never tried to live it.  Evangelicals are notorious about their blasé attitude towards it, one partly conditioned by the fact that their modernist/liberal counterparts advertised that it was at the centre of their understanding of Christianity (as does Andrew Sullivan).

But for those of us raised in the Episcopal Church before modern Biblical scholarship (which reduced the New Testament to a patchwork of unreliable sources) become fashionable the Sermon on the Mount was serious business.  For some of us at least…

Growing up in Palm Beach, it was obvious that most of those who professed and called themselves Christians (and that included most Gentiles) didn’t manifest a serious go at observing it.  But I gave it, as my first Latin teacher would put it, the old college try, long before I actually found out what the old college try was all about.

When you’re on the bottom of Palm Beach’s social system, that isn’t easy.  Things got better, temporarily at least, when I got to my Episcopal prep school.  One command that got a workout there was the following:

Give to him who asks of you; and, from him who wants to borrow from you, do not turn away. (Matthew 5:42)

To follow that makes you a real mark in prep school.  One classmate in particular, a preacher’s kid from up the coast, took advantage of this, and his call of “Lemme borrow a dime” was a frequent one.

Another one with unusual consequence was as follows:

You have heard that it was said–‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ I, however, say to you that you must not resist wrong; but, if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also;  (Matthew 5:38-39)

One time a group of guys was running after me to attack me, but then their leader turned them away.  One of them asked the leader why.  His response?  “He won’t fight.”

I thought for the longest I was the only one  like this, but years later I had a a friend who was a) a high church Episcopalian and b) a scion of an old Charleston family.  When she went to Ashley Hall, she did the same thing!  (In those days the girls weren’t as much for physical fighting as they are now, but borrowing money was another story…)

And then Mr. Gutting has this to say:

Another problem is that Jesus does not explicitly or decisively endorse central contemporary values like democratic government, the abolition of slavery and the equality of women.  Proponents of these values have found inspiration and support from his morality of love, but Jesus’ words alone do not push us in their direction.

In a world where elections (and governments) are bought and sold for billions, sex trafficking is on the rise, and privacy and personal liberty outside of sexual is going out the window, his characterisation of these “central contemporary values” is a little triumphalistic, to say the least.  And I’ll bet that the financial people who buy and sell governments and people alike don’t find Matthew 5:42 to their taste.

The Sermon on the Mount may be hard to fulfil in this life, but life is certainly better when we give them the “old college try.”  (And my first Latin teacher, BTW, was a Harvard man).

They’ll Finally Get the Communion After All

At the end of the quest, victory:

A coalition of bishops and leaders from Africa, the Americas and Australasia said it was time for a “radical shift” in how the church is structured away from models of the “British Empire”.

They criticised what they called “revisionist attempts” to abandon basic doctrines on issues such as homosexuality and “turn Christianity merely into a movement for social betterment” during Dr Williams’s tenure.

And they said it was now clear that the leadership in England had failed to hold the 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion together, leaving it in “crisis”.

They spoke out as 200 clergy and laity from 30 countries gathered in London to discuss what they called the “present crisis moment” in the church.

As I proposed back in 2007:

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York participated in a much publicised “guilt march” across the UK about the evil of slavery.

But there’s an easier and more substantial way to even the score: just let the Africans and their allies, including the descendants of slaves in the West Indies, take the lead in the Communion.

We find, however, that, Western church leaders–liberal and conservative alike–are reluctant to bow to the obvious and allow the centre of power of Christianity to shift where its people are.  The liberals are especially adverse to this process, as they are further from the Africans’ idea than their conservative counterparts.

The desperation of conservative parishes in TEC, however, has them affiliating with provinces such as Uganda and Nigeria, along with others.  They have gone past guilt.  It is time that the rest of us follow suit.

It was surely unlikely that the “First World” churches would give it up without a fight, but at this point they simply lack the numbers and the enthusiasm to make their hegemony stick, present whining notwithstanding.

Reverse colonialism is a blast.

The Only Freedom That Matters is Sacrified to Foreign Policy Considerations

Nobody–yet–is thinking about this as things develop:

In an article in the current National Journal called “The Post Al Qaida Era,” I write that the Obama administration is taking a new view of Islamist radicalism. The president realizes he has no choice but to cultivate the Muslim Brotherhood and other relatively “moderate” Islamist groups emerging as lead political players out of the Arab Spring in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere. (The Muslim Brotherhood officially renounced violence decades ago, leading then-dissident radicals such as Ayman al-Zawahiri to join al Qaida.)

The United States, in theory at least, is supposed to be promoting “democracy” in the world, although given our current state one wonders how we are supposed to promote something abroad when it’s in such trouble at home.  Reality, however, has always been different.  Leftists have ascribed our failure to do this promotion to “evil neo-cons” who have “cozied up” to right-wing dictators during the Cold War and afterwards.

Now that the left is in the driver’s seat in this country, their dear leader is warming up to Islamicists in places like Egypt.  What really makes one scratch one’s head is the same President that holds the country’s health care system hostage to insure that Planned Parenthood is satisfied and works to vitiate DOMA to satisfy the LGBT people is hand in hand with those who run virginity checks and make homosexuality a capital offence.  Put another way, sexual freedom–the only freedom that really matters to the left–will go in reverse in the Middle East because of Barack Obama’s foreign policy calculus, such as it is.

The left should be livid at these developments, but they aren’t.  I explore this strange pas de deux in my piece on liberals and Muslims.   They’re probably banking on Islamicism never reaching these shores.  Such myopia is, among other things, dreadfully provincial, but the left is less interested in improving this country than controlling it.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani Should Have Quit While He Was Ahead

Oh, yes he should have:

Clashes between supporters of two prominent Shi’ite clerics in Iraq have spread from Nasiriya in the southern province of Dhi Kar to other parts of the country, as Baghdad struggles to calm tensions between them.

The trouble began on February 17, when a recently-opened office of Shi’ite cleric Mahmoud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi was set on fire. The office was located in a part of Dhi Kar dominated by followers of the country’s most revered Shi’ite scholar, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The violence has escalated since them, with attacks on individuals as well as buildings.

In the most recent incident, a car belonging to Sheikh Ahmed al-Ansari, Sistani’s envoy in the southern Maysan province, was targeted by a bomb last week. On April 3, an explosive device was planted outside the house of Sistani representative Sheikh Hasan al-Khamasi in Hilla, 100 kilometers south of Baghdad.

al-Sistani attempted a “retirement” six years ago.  But, as I noted at the time, “… in Islam, especially with Sufism in retreat and Islamicism (Wahabbi and otherwise) taking over, we find the idea of a prominent Muslim leader retreating from politics an oxymoron, irrespective of his own desires in the matter.”

He may be envious of his Buddhist counterparts, who (as I also noted at the time) can do this when the going gets rough:

For love of the Chinhuai River, in the old days I left home;
I wandered up and down behind Plum Root Forge,
And strolled about in Apricot Blossom Village;
Like a phoenix that rest on a plane
Or a cricket that chirps in the yard,
I used to compete with the scholars of the day;
But now I have cast off my official robes
As cicadas shed their skin;
I wash my feet in the limpid stream,
And in idle moments fill my cup with wine,
And call in a few new friends to drink with me.
A hundred years are soon gone, so why despair?
Yet immortal fame is not easy to attain!
Writing of men I knew in the Yangtse Valley
Has made me sick at heart.
In days to come,
I shall stay by my medicine stove and Buddhist sutras,
And practice religion alone.

Quotation from Wu Ching-Tzu, The Scholars. Translated by Yang Hsien-Yi and Gladys Yang. New York: Grosset and Dunlap.

Complicated Times in Old SC: Do We Really Have Diocesan Rebellion?

At the start of the month, I made the following statement regarding the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia’s “victory lap” in the Washington Post:

To put it bluntly, this is one of the most duplicitous things I have ever seen a man of the cloth put out.  I’ve griped about the Anglican Fudge and how Episcopal ministers and bishops can talk mellifluously at length and yet say nothing, but this time it’s what he says that rankles.

Down the coast, we now have the following, from the liberal Episcopal Forum of South Carolina:

Has the Diocese of South Carolina left the Episcopal Church even though its leaders continue to insist that it hasn’t?

Traditional (sic) Episcopalians in the Diocese explored the meaning of this and other critical issues facing them and their parishes in a public conversation in Charleston Sunday afternoon, sponsored by the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina.

Bishop Mark Lawrence was among 100 members and guests of the Forum who were provided a number of perspectives on recent actions of the Diocese, particularly those related to revisions of the Diocesan Constitution and a wholesale giveaway of the Diocese’s property interests in its parishes over the past two years.

Led by a panel of seven speakers (including the author of this blog), participants were assured that the national Church leadership is very much aware of the actions of the Diocese and its controversial bishop, but does not yet appear to have decided on a response.

Stuff like this is why I thought that Lawrence’s counterpart in Virginia was duplicitous.

If it is the prerogative of the diocese regarding the disposition of the property, it’s also the prerogative of the diocese to allocate that property in a way that it feels it’s in its best interests.  It may not be to the liking of the EFSC, but that’s what happens when you allow some “bottom-up” voice in the governance of the church.  Put another way, if you don’t want people’s opinions, don’t ask for them.

In our current legal environment, there are good reasons why a diocese or other church entity would divest itself of local parish property.  The largest one is that, in the event of litigation, with centrally held property (diocesan or church-wide) the entire entity gets sued.  That’s why Roman Catholic dioceses especially hard hit by the paedophile scandals have filed for bankruptcy, although in some ways that’s been a firewall: had the property been held by, say the RCC in the USA, the entire American church would have been on the hook.

The real problem here isn’t diocesan integrity, but the fact that the Episcopal left, in the driver’s seat on a national basis, is pushing the church towards central governance rather than diocesan, which is why, IMHO, all of this blather about diocesan governance regarding property is just that.

If they want to see how a church which is really centrally governed operates, they should look at the Church of God.  All of the Administrative Bishops are centrally appointed at the General Assembly, subject to rotation and votes of confidence by the ministers in the state/region.  The property is likewise held centrally, which makes every piece of litigation (to say nothing of the property loans) a nail-biter for the whole church, although the day-to-day management of the property is left to the states/regions.  But the Episcopal Church, until now at least, hasn’t been done this way.

And that leads to what is in reality the left’s central problem in the Diocese of SC: Mark Lawrence.  Up until now they’ve tried to attack him based on a possible secession to another province of the Anglican Communion, and that has problems of its own.  A more consistent solution would be to a) make the heterodoxy that dominates thinking in TEC as the official doctrine of the church and b) try Mark Lawrence and depose him as a “heretic” relative to that new “official doctrine”.  They tried that in a back-door way with the difficulties he had in obtaining enough consents from his fellow bishops, but, like their real traditional counterparts fifty years ago re James Pike, they lost their nerve.

But nerve is something the current Presiding Bishop is not short of.

One cannot leave this subject without commenting on this:

EFSC President Melinda Lucka offered a lengthy review of the history of the Diocese’s rebellion against the Episcopal Church, and her professional legal opinion that the Diocese has acted illegally by relying on a 2009 state Supreme Court decision awarding a breakaway parish in Pawleys Island ownership of its property based on the issuance of a quitclaim deed in 1902.

This is about as silly as Barack Obama’s “campaign” to trash the Supreme Court in the face of a possible overturn of Obamacare.  The court has spoken: what else were they supposed to do?  In any case, the diocese had learned their lesson from the whole debacle and moved on.

HT VirtueOnline.

Why Lay Presidency Over the Holy Communion is a Bad Idea for Anglicans (and Everyone Else)

While casting about the Anglican blogosphere, I ran across an idea from an unexpected source: an endorsement of the lay presidency from John Richardson, the “Ugley Vicar”.  This concept is usually associated with the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, the same archepiscopal entity which put subordinationism within the Trinity back into play in order to counter WO (the theology is correct in concept, but weak in execution and not suitable for the intended purpose).

For those not up to speed: lay presidency is the practice of allowing lay people to preside over the Holy Communion.  Personally I cannot see this, and in this 2007 post I laid out why:

The “empowerment” they’re (the Archdiocese of Sydney) proposing is allowing lay people to celebrate the Holy Communion, which traditionally is a no-no in the Anglican world.  Actually most churches reserve for their ministers the authority to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, irrespective of their theology of the church.  And this isn’t challenged in most places either.  The problems that these Australian Anglicans are wrestling with are a product of two trends in the Anglican world, one fairly recent and one of long standing.

The first is that many Anglican churches have made the Holy Communion the central order of worship.  This is largely the result of Anglo-Catholic and Affirming Catholic influence.  In the past Holy Communion, in common with other Protestant churches, was celebrated every so often (monthly, sometimes less) and the normal service was Morning or Evening Prayer.  The 1662 Book of Common Prayer specifically allows lay people to celebrate the Morning and Evening Prayer (even giving suitable modifications.)

Where Morning and Evening Prayer are still the central orders of worship in Anglican life, lay celebration is certainly possible.  But as long as Anglican churches insist on making the Holy Communion normative, they will not only be on the horns of the dilemma the Archdiocese faces, but they will also be a block to many visitors (since most Anglican churches still have closed communion.)

The second trend is the fact that the bar of entry into the Anglican ministry (I still hate calling them priests) is too high.  Anglicans are too hung up on extensive formal education that may or may not prepare them for practical ministry or even give them a sound theological education.  The classic example of this is the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.  Everyone knows he’s a brilliant academic, but his leadership capabilities leave a lot to be desired of (although he is in reality in an impossible situation.)  I’m no advocate for institutionalised ignorance, but much of what is taught in seminaries these days–liberal and conservative alike–is not useful for real ministry or even basic management or people skills.

If it were not such a long business to obtain an education that people–lay and clergy alike–would sniff at contemptuously, the idea to accommodate the laity with the Holy Communion would not even be considered.

 To this I might add the following:

  • Leaving aside the whole Catholic argument over the nature of the priesthood, lay presidency undermines the whole concept of the clergy.  If anyone can celebrate the sacred mysteries, why do we have a clergy at all?  (That question came to mind many times while doing church work, but I digress…)
  • The mania for formal education isn’t restricted to the Anglican world; my own church has in recent years jacked up the educational requirements of their own ministers.  What they fail to realise isn’t that our ministers lack (and I’m not being pejorative about this; our own surveys bear this out) formal seminary or theological education; they lack formal education of any kind.  If, for example, we took people with bachelor’s or higher degrees and the proper spiritual state (it really helps if ministers are saved, sanctified and baptised in the Holy Spirit) and made them into the ministerial equivalents of “ninety day wonders” we’d be further down the road than we are.

I still think this is a bad idea.  Broadening our ministerial ranks with those who don’t necessarily require a stipend would solve part of the problem, and getting away from the “Communion every service” business would take care of the rest.

The Blowback: The NAE and the Church of God, the Baptists, and the Constitution

It’s been an active week at this blog, so it’s time to catch up on the “mailbag” so to speak.

Did the NAE Really Ruin the Church of God?

It’s been a long time since a piece I’ve written has gone so viral as this one.  Based on the response I’ve been able to see, there are two reasons:

  1. We in the church need to understand that we don’t live in an environment driven by purely “religious” forces.  Our ministers are wonderful at trying to get us lay people out of our comfort zone until we return the favour, and going at a topic in this way surely does that.  And we, bombarded by all of the talk of change in our society, need to understand that we cannot understand where we are going if we don’t understand how we got where we’re at.  But perhaps more of us are realising that we really do need to look at things in a new perspective.
  2. As Americans, we are finally coming to the place where we need to have the conversation about class and upward social mobility and respond with more than knee-jerk shame-honour stonewalling.  People are finally coming to the realisation that the system is profoundly “rigged” and that economic failure isn’t an automatic sign of being a “bad person” (I hate that term, who is good but God?)  In a church environment where we talk endlessly about material prosperity and developing leaders, we’re missing where many people are at these days.  It’s kind of like our political situation: our approach a) has not worked and b) is not Biblical.

The Baptists, Cessationism and Ben Bogard

Took long enough, but got this comment from one Phil Cate about my posting of the McPherson-Board Debate:

ABA Baptists certainly DO believe in the healing power of God, but not the glorification of His servants…Baptists…have no logical reason to compromise with latter-day sensationalists who demand signs from God instead of standing on faith.

I heartily agree that more prayer for divine healing should come from individual believers rather than overpaid “sensationalists”.  Unfortunately, that’s not Dr. Bogard was affirming in this debate.  He was affirming the following:

Miracles and Divine healing, as taught and manifested in the Word of God, ceased with the closing of the Apostolic Age.

It doesn’t matter if they take place at the hands (literally) of believers in a small group or church or aforementioned sensationalists: if they’ve ceased, they’ve ceased, and if they’re for today, they’re for today.  This is what happens when we attempt to solve a pastoral problem with a doctrinal solution.  If we want to attack people’s ministerial methodologies, that’s one thing, but Ben Bogard was attacking the whole idea of people being healed by divine action whether he wanted to admit it or not, thus my question re why Baptists pray for healing.

Are We Up to Our Constitution?

David Wainwright proposes some interesting changes to our Constitution in response to my piece Proroguing Congress: From Unconstitutional to Funny.  But both he and others are merely tinkering with the document when a more profound question needs to be asked: are we still up to keeping this government going properly within the framework of our current constitutional system?

Our current constitution requires two things: a people with a substantial level of personal responsibility and a political/civic system with a fairly strong consensus.  Looking at the latter first, when this breaks down in this country, things get especially ugly, as we found out with the War Between the States, and we are finding out now.  The basic problem is that the system, in common with its British counterpart, doesn’t accommodate multiple parties (it was designed with none in mind) at all, and so smaller groups end up with no effective voice in the system.  With a multiple party system, stability can be a problem, but at least everyone is at the table in one form or another.

The responsibility thing is, in some ways, a bigger problem.  As NJ Governor Chris Christie pointed out:

…”the country is in danger of becoming a “paternalistic entitlement society” where people sit on the couch, “waiting for the next government check.”… “It’s because government’s now telling them, stop dreaming, stop striving, we’ll take care of you. We’re turning into a paternalistic entitlement society. That will not just bankrupt us financially, it will bankrupt us morally”…

Our current system will neither accommodate this gracefully nor survive it.  Our Founding Fathers knew that too.  We as a society are profoundly changing; much of the punditry these days is based on a country that really doesn’t exist any more.

Although the current status of their own social model isn’t very good, with where we’re at we would be better off with a system closer to what the French have.  Or perhaps we need to just split up for a new arrangement for this continent.  But you start thinking along those lines when you read subversive books.