Soils in Construction, Now at Waveland

It’s official: the construction management textbook Soils in Construction, Fifth Edition by W.L. Schroeder, S.E. Dickenson and D.C. Warrington is now at Waveland Press. As someone who has dealt with contractors for his entire working career, I know that an understanding of the essentials of soil mechanics and foundations is crucial for successful–and profitable–completion of […]

via Soils in Construction, Now at Waveland —

Some Lessons for Pentecostals from the "Recent Anglican War"

Those of you who are regular followers know that I have followed/participated in what I call the “Anglican Revolt,” a term which comes from a North American perspective.  Brewing for years, in 2003 it was detonated in full force by the ordination of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man who subsequently went into and out of same-sex civil marriage, as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.  That event was the major impetus in ultimately birthing the Anglican Church in North America (ANCA,) and many of the events between those two were well covered on this blog.

Those of us with roots in Anglicanism and who have attempted to suppress amnesia on the subject know that the left bent of the Episcopal Church is of long-standing, that we’ve been through (and been a part of) a membership bleed before, and that the Episcopal Church’s abandonment of the basics of Christianity–both those about sex and those which don’t–has been a major reason the church has shrunk and continues to shrink.

Now, it seems, those same disputes have come to the Pentecostal world, with Urshan College giving the Society of Pentecostal Studies (SPS) the boot as a venue for their gathering because the SPS had the bad taste to allow a prominent LGBT activist on the program.  (Pentecostals will have to excuse my Palm Beachy characterisation of things, you like to celebrate roots, those are mine.)  This has led to a firestorm on the “online trash fire” that Facebook has become.  For those of us who have marched through this battlefield with the Anglicans, it’s “déja vu all over again.”

I think at this point it would be worthwhile for Pentecostals to draw some lessons from the experience of others, while at the same time highlighting some differences too.  I dealt with this issue from a more general Evangelical perspective two years ago, but some more thoughts are as follows:

  • The Christian sexual ethic is non-negotiable.  People find this difficult because they think that Christianity is a popularity contest, and since we live in a society where people are defined by what they do with their genitals and how often they do it, we must go with the flow to survive.  But Our Lord and his Apostles laid down a standard which is really higher than the one we see counselled in our churches; we either have to make a serious attempt to live it (I’m not talking about politics at this point) or stop professing and calling ourselves Christians.
  • Don’t obscure the issues with gaudy rhetoric.  In the Anglican world that means the infamous “Anglican fudge,” and I’ve called that out more than once.  The Anglicans have tried to paper over their differences with it, and it hasn’t worked.  In the Pentecostal world we see a similar thing where people adopt a “spiritual” form of rhetoric, which obscures the substance (or lack of it) of what they are really saying and what they really believe.  In addition to opening oneself up to the charge of being duplicitous, this kind of thing only delays getting to the bottom of the issue, it doesn’t avoid it.
  • Don’t let academia rule the waves.  I grazed over this issue from a Roman Catholic perspective in my review of Christ Among Us.  Their idea was that seminary academics would work to redefine the doctrines of the church.  Needless to say, that got a smackdown under Pope John Paul II, much to the relief of the #straightouttairondale crowd.  I’ve seen the same idea unspoken (usually, sometimes verbalised) by many Pentecostal seminary academics, and some of these are in turn in the SPS.  But that’s not the job of the academy, and that comes from a PhD holding academic.  The primary job of the academy is to train our future ministers to be effective preachers and stewards of the Gospel.  Irrespective of the serious authority issues in Pentecostal churches, there is no Biblical sanction for moving that to the academy.
  • Don’t let academia waive the rules, either.  One lesson from the Episcopal Church’s experience that bears repeating is that their drift from orthodox Christianity began in their seminaries with the introduction of “higher criticism” and other new ideas that undermined the faith of the church.  By the time of the critical moment in the 1960’s, the church folded when confronted with the likes of James Pike.  That process is much slower in Pentecostal churches because, overall, the educational level of our ministers is lower than that in Anglicanism (as is the case with the laity, that’s the preferential option of the poor in action.)  But it’s something that need not be ignored.
  • Don’t be an institutionalist.  This cuts both ways.  One of the perennial frustrations I have with the ACNA is its fixation on being in communion with Canterbury.  The recent Church of England synod should put paid to that obsession, but I wouldn’t count on it.  They have the chance to both make a gain for orthodoxy and to break a racist-colonialist structure by making GAFCON the “real Anglican Communion,” but they can’t bring themselves to do it.  OTOH, it is silly (and dangerous in the current circumstance) for people to insist that the institutions they work for accept their idea just because they have it and it looks trendy.  As I noted in this piece, it’s their institution, not yours; deal with it.

I hate to see this issue come to haunt Pentecostal churches, but I guess in my gut I felt it would sooner or later.  As I said before:

Before he went to trial, suffering, crucifixion and death, Our Lord exhorted his disciples in this way: “I have spoken to you in this way, so that in me you may find peace. In the world you will find trouble; yet, take courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33 TCNT)  That has not changed.  Neither should our response.

The Creation of Men and Angels: Last singularity of the creation of man in his immortality

This is one in a series from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries. The previous post is here. More information on the Bossuet Project is here.

We no longer count the admirable singularities of the creation of man, so great are the number. But the last is immortality. O God, what a marvel! All the animals I see beyond me are subject to death; I alone, with a body composed of the same elements, I am immortal by my origin.

I could die, however, since I could sin; I have sinned, and I am dead; But I could not die, because I could not sin, and it was sin alone that deprived me of the use of the tree of life.

What happiness! What perfection of man! Made in the image of God by a particular design of his wisdom, established in a paradise, in a delightful garden, where all the goods abounded, under a sky always pure and always benign. In the midst of the rich waters of four rivers, without having to fear death, free, happy, tranquil, without any deformity or infirmity, either on the side of the mind or on the side of the body, without any need of clothes, with pure and innocent nakedness, having my salvation and my happiness in my hand. The heaven opens before me, to be transported there when God wished, without passing through the dreadful shadows of death! Cry endlessly miserable man, who has lost all his possessions, and console yourself only in Jesus Christ, who has restored them to you, and yet in greater abundance.

Is It Necessary for a Roman Catholic to Agree With Everything the Church Teaches?

One thing that comes up for those of us who “swim the Tiber” is the idea that anyone who becomes a Roman Catholic must agree with “everything” that the Church teaches.  This issue came up when Greg Griffith stunned the Anglican blogosphere with his conversion.   “Does he really agree with all that?” people asked.

The answer to that question is, like so many things in Roman Catholicism, complicated, and it depends upon whom you ask.  That, in turn, depends upon the relative stance of the person you’re talking to with the real teaching of the church.  For many years those with a leftward drift tended to discount that kind of fidelity, while those on the other side (like the #straightouttairondale crowd) enthusiastically proclaim it.

A more thoughtful treatment comes from the conservative side of the church with this post, formally entitled Quaeritur: What is the Status of a Catholic Who Dissents from the Magisterium? It comes from the Ite ad Thomam blog, maintained by one Francisco J. Romero Carrasquillo, Ph.D.  I hasten to add that my church counts several Carrasquillos (also Puerto Rican) as members; they have not done much for the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, but they have brought honour to the family name, as they are fine Christian people.

He starts to answer this question as follows:

It depends on the level of the Magisterial teaching in question. Some teachings have been defined dogmatically, for example, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary, and many, many others; such that believing in these teachings is part of the definition of what it means to be Catholic. And if someone obstinately denies even the least of these, then they no longer meet the requirements for the definition of what it means to be Catholic. There is no such thing as a Catholic who denies the divinity of Christ—or for that matter a Catholic who denies that the sacramental accidents of the Eucharist continue to exist without a subject in which to inhere.

This is reasonable.  Most conservative Christians would say that there is a core of belief which is essential to being a Christian.  Where differences arise is in what makes up that core, although again there is a great deal of overlap between what the RCC says is the core and what others do.

Dr. Romero also addresses the issue of whether people who do not are really Catholic; he says they are not.  That goes against the idea of some who believe that Roman Catholicism is like flypaper; once it gets on you, you are stuck with it.  On one level that makes sense, but it has always struck me as duplicitous that people loudly proclaim to be X while believing things that are flatly contradictory to that proclamation.

But then he goes on as follows:

On the other hand, if someone denies a teaching that is not dogmatically defined, or especially one that is not directly part of the Deposit of Faith, but is simply a theological conclusion or common teaching of the ordinary Magisterium, then this would be different. You wouldn’t cease being Catholic by denying it.

I’m speaking, for example, of the case of a Catholic who for some reason would deny that Our Lady is the Mediatrix of all Graces—a doctrine that hasn’t yet been defined. The same is true of teachings that are logically or theologically derived from defined dogma, but which are themselves not defined.

Many non-Catholics have the idea that being a Roman Catholic is to throw away the brains and accept the teachings of the church without question.  That’s simply not the case, if for no other reason than the breadth and complexity of the teaching and the intellectual and historical development behind it is far beyond just about anything else in Christianity. It’s true that many Catholics have never investigated that breadth, and it’s also true that the state of things in most parishes doesn’t encourage that kind of inquiry (which is one reason the RCC bleeds members the way it does.)  But it is true that there is a fairly extensive body of belief which the Church has not definitively pronounced on, and in these cases there is room for variance, although Dr. Romero points out that you may be a “bad Catholic” for doing so.

An interesting example comes from Dr. Romero himself: the idea that Our Lady is the Mediatrix of all Graces.  It’s safe to say that the #straightouttairondale bunch would proclaim that to be essentially Catholic, but Dr. Romero points out that this has not been raised to dogma by the Church.  There are many problems with making that step, not the least of which is that it would make a purely created being the conduit of uncreated grace, something that is avoided in Jesus Christ because he is both God and man united, and thus with an uncreated, divine nature.

So the simple answer to this question is “no.”  It depends upon the level a certain dogma holds in the magisterium.  Whether that satisfies Protestant concerns is another matter altogether.  But we cannot have a discussion on the issue unless we understand where everyone is at, and this should clear up an important point.

The Creation of Men and Angels: On the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and on the tree of life

One can understand that God had produced from the earth every tree beautiful to see and agreeable to taste; And in the midst of paradise he also set the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God could annex to plants certain natural virtues in relation to our bodies. And it is easy to believe that the fruit of the tree of life had the virtue of repairing the body by a food so proportioned and so effective that it would never die by using it. But for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as this was an effect which passed the natural virtue of a tree, it might be said that this tree was so called by the event, because Man, by using this tree against the command of God, has learned the unfortunate knowledge which makes him discern from experience the evil which his infidelity attracted to him from the good in which he had been created. Only if he had persevered in innocence.

It may also be thought that the virtue of giving man the knowledge of good and evil was in this tree a supernatural virtue like that which God placed in the sacraments; as in the water, the power of regenerating the interior of man, and spreading life and grace there.

Be that as it may, without inquiring curiously the secret of the work of God, it is sufficient for me to know that God had absolutely forbidden from the beginning the use of the tree of the knowledge of good and of evil, and not the use of the tree of life. His words are: Eat the fruit of all the trees of paradise, but do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Only that fruit was forbidden, and that of the tree of life was only after sin, according to this saying: Let us take care that he does not put his hand again on the tree of life, and that he live eternally.

O God! I submit to your prohibition: I renounce all curious knowledge, since you forbid me to use it; I ought to know by experience only good; I was too ill to find out what you did not want to teach me, and I am satisfied with the knowledge you want to give me. For the tree of life you allowed me to use it, and I could be immortal with this help, and now you give it to me by the cross of my Savior. The true fruit of life hangs on this mysterious tree and I eat it in the Eucharist from the cross, celebrating this mystery according to the precept of Jesus Christ, in memory of his death, in accordance with this saying: Do this in memory of me, and this of St. Paul: Whenever ye eat of this heavenly bread, and drink of this holy cup, you shall proclaim, and proclaim, and celebrate the death of the Lord. It is here therefore a fruit of death and a fruit of life; A fruit of life, since Jesus Christ said, “Your fathers have eaten the manna, and they are dead; But whoever eats of the bread I give you will never die.” The Eucharist is therefore a fruit and a bread of life. But, at the same time, it is a death-fruit, since it was necessary, in order to vivify us, that Jesus should taste death for us all, and that, recalled to life by this death, we should continually carry in our bodies the mortification of Jesus, by the death of our passions, and by dying to ourselves and to our own desires, to live only to him who died and rose again for us. Let us weigh these words and live with Jesus Christ, as he was mortified according to the flesh, and vivified according to the spirit, as St. Peter said.

The Creation of Men and Angels: God gives man a commandment and warns him of his free will and all of his subjection

This is one in a series from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries. The previous post is here. More information on the Bossuet Project is here.

You will eat of all the fruits of heaven, but you will not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day you eat thereof you shall die of death. (Gen. 2:16, 17) Death will be inevitable for you. Eve was present at this commandment, although in anticipation it was reported before her production, or, at any rate, it was repeated in her presence, since she said to the serpent: The Lord has commanded us not to eat this fruit. Perhaps one would like to believe that she learned from Adam the prohibition of God, and that from that time it pleased God to teach us that it is the duty of women to question, as St. Paul says, at home and, in particular, their husbands and to expect from them the orders of God.

Be that as it may, God does two things by this commandment: he teaches man, first, his free will, and, secondly, his subjection.

Free will is one of the places of man where the image of God appears most advantageously. God is free to do or do not do anything external that pleases him, because he needs nothing and is superior to all his work: let him make a hundred thousand worlds; he is no greater. That he should do none, he is none the less. Outside, nothingness or being is equal to him, and he is master, to do nothing or whatever he pleases. That the rational soul can also make of herself or of the body united to her what pleases her, is certainly an admirable feature and an admirable participation of the divine being. I am nothing, but because it pleased God to make me in his image, and to imprint in my being a resemblance, though feeble, of his free will, I want my hand to rise, my arm to spread, my head, my body turns; I cease to want it and I want everything to turn in another direction: it is the same. All this is indifferent to me; I am on one side as well as on another. And of all this there is no reason but my will: that is, because I will; And I will, because I will. And this is one last reason, because God willed to give me this faculty. And yet there is some reason for determining me to one rather than the other, if this reason is not pressing, and it is for me only a matter of convenience more or less great, I can easily give it to myself or not. And I can either give myself or take away great conveniences, and if I wish, inconveniences and pains so grand. And all this, because I want it; and God has subjected this to my will, and I can even use my liberty, even to procure for myself great sufferings, to expose me to death, to give it to me, so much I am master of myself by this trait of divine resemblance which is called free will. And if I return within myself, I can apply my intelligence to an infinity of different objects or to one rather than the other, and to all successively, starting with where I want to go. And I can cease to desire it, and even to want the contrary, and of an infinite number of acts of my will, I can do either this or that, without there being any other reason, except that I want it. Or if there is any other reason, I am the master of this reason to use it or not to use it, as I desire. And by this principle of free will I am capable of virtue and merit; And it is imputed to me for the good I do, and glory belongs to me.

It is true that I can also turn away from evil, and my work is imputed to me. And I commit a sin of which I can either repent or not repent. And this repentance is a very different pain from others than I can suffer; For I may be sorry to have a fever, or be blind, but not repent of these evils when they come to me in spite of myself. But if I lie, if I am unjust or slandering, and I am sorry for it, this grief is repentance which I can have and have not: happy if I repent of evil, and that I voluntarily persevere in good.

There is in my freedom a defective trait, which is to be able to do evil. This trait does not come from God, but it comes to me from the nothingness from which I am drawn. In this defect I degenerate from God who has made me, for God can not want evil, and the Psalmist sings to him: “You are a God who does not want iniquity.” My God, this is the fault and character of the creature. I am not a perfect image and likeness of God; I am only made in the image, I have some features of it, but by what I am, I do not have everything, and I have been turned towards a likeness. But I am not a likeness, since I can sin at last. I fall into the defect in a thousand places: by imperfection, by multiplicity, by the variability of my actions. All this is not in God, and I degenerate through all these places. But the place where I degenerate the most, the weakness, and, so to speak, the shame of my nature, is that I can sin.

God in the beginning gave me a precept, for it was just that I felt that I was a subject. I am a creature to whom it is proper to be subdued. I was born free, God willed it, but my freedom is not an independence: it was necessary to have a subject liberty, or if you prefer to speak thus with a Father, a free servitude under a sovereign Lord: libera servitus. And that is why I needed a precept to make me feel that I had a master. O God, the easy precept that you first gave me! Among so many trees and fruits, was it so difficult to abstain from one? But you only wanted to make me feel, by an easy yoke and with a light hand, that I was under your dominion. O God, after having shaken the yoke, it is only right that I should undergo the work, penance, and death which you have imposed upon me. O God! You are my King; do me what you will with your justice; But do not forget your mercies.

Knowing the Facts and How You Look at the Facts Isn't the Same, @crampell

Washington Post columnist and fellow Palm Beach Day Academy alum Catherine Rampell hits on the “facts” during her hometown address:

Rampell, who focuses on data-driven journalism, said she is worried about Trump’s stance on federal agencies such as the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis. She said his attitude toward analytics has ranged from “indifference” to “contempt,” noting Trump has called the unemployment rate a hoax and made budget cuts to the Census Bureau.

“It really bodes ill for a lot of people because numbers, good data, that’s how we know how to hold our public officials accountable, how to tell whether their policies are doing a good job and how to make good business decisions,” Rampell said.

This is a classic fallacy of our time: we have the data, therefore we know what it means and how to solve the problems it presents.  A good example of that is income inequality: it’s gotten worse under just about every president in my adult lifetime (and her entire lifetime) including Barack Obama.  And there’s been a great deal of hand-wringing about this.  One would think that he, of all people, would have reversed that trend, but he didn’t.  Perhaps the interest in achieving that goal isn’t as strong in a Palm Beacher like Rampell (and others at the top) as it is with those whose income has actually gone down.

The result of this in our electoral system was two candidates–Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump–who built their candidacies on basically the same problems, but looked at their solution entirely differently.  Had the Democrats not been as fixated on Hillary Clinton as they were, a race between the two of them would have been exciting, to say the least.  (The one we had was exciting enough…)

Climate change is another one of those “facts” problems.  All other things being equal, the earth will warm with an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: therefore, we must replace our fossil-fuel based energy generation with only “renewable” sources.  Another intramural problem: another fellow Day Academy alum, Kerry Emanuel, and two others did a piece a while back supporting nuclear power, which would make the replacement of fossil fuels a much more rapid process.  And isn’t time of the essence here?  (Speaking of intramurals, wonder if Rampell is a Pelican or a Flamingo…)

One other note: Donald Trump’s disdain for the unemployment rate is probably based on the fact that it doesn’t include those who have given up seeking employment and left the labour force.  That’s a legitimate problem; it masked that exodus all during Obama’s presidency.  His response, in part, was to expand the disability program and attempt to pension off the victims of economic change.  And that, truth to tell, was partly successful.

The Creation of Men and Angels: The creation of the second sex

This is one in a series from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries. The previous post is here. More information on the Bossuet Project is here.

In producing the other animals, God created the two sexes together; And the formation of the second is a singularity of the creation of man.

How useful it was for man to be introduced into this paradise of delights, into a vast land which God had placed in his power, and in the midst of four great rivers, the rich waters of which brought treasures. Moreover, it was under a sky so pure that, without being obscured yet by the thick clouds which cover our own, and produce storms, a mild heat rose from the earth, which was distilled in the dew and which watered the earth and all its plants? Man was alone and the only one of all animals, for he saw all the others shared and paired in two sexes, and, the Scriptures say, there was only the man who did not found help like him. Solitary, without company, without conversation, without sweetness, without hope of posterity; and not knowing to whom to leave or with whom to share this great inheritance and so many good things which God had given him, he lived tranquilly, abandoned to his providence, without asking anything. And God himself, not wanting to leave any fault in his work, said these words: It is not good that man should be alone, let us give him a help who is like him.

Perhaps he will form the second sex as he had formed the first? No; He wants to give the world, in both sexes, the image of the most perfect unity, and the future symbol of the great mystery of Jesus Christ. That is why he draws the woman from the man himself, and the form of a superfluous rib which he had purposely put in his side. But to show that this was a great mystery, and that it was necessary to look with purer eyes than the corporeal, the woman is produced in an ecstasy of Adam. And it was by a spirit of prophecy that he knew the whole design of so fine a work. The Lord God sent Adam a sleep; a sleep, say all the saints, which was a rapture and the most perfect of all ecstasies: and God took Adam’s place, and filled it with flesh. Do not ask God why, wishing to draw from the man the companion he gave him, he took a bone rather than flesh; For if he had taken flesh, one might have asked why he would have taken flesh rather than a bone. Neither do we ask him what he added to the side of Adam, to form a perfect body. Matter is not missing to him, and, however that may be, this bone softens in his hands. It was from this hardness that he wished to form those delicate and tender members, in which, in innocent nature, nothing should be imagined that was as pure as it was beautiful. Women have only to remember their origin, and, without praising their delicacy too much, think, after all, that they come from a supernumerary bone, in which there was no beauty except that which God wished to put there.

My God, what vain speeches I foresee in readers at the account of this mystery! But while I tell them of a great and mysterious work of God, that they enter into a serious mind, and, if possible, in some sentiment of that admirable ecstasy of Adam, during which he built up Adam’s wife, in order to make us see in the woman something grand and magnificent, and as an admirable edifice in which there was grace, majesty, admirable proportions, and as much utility as ornament.

The woman thus formed is presented from the hand of God to the first man who, seeing in his ecstasy what God was doing, said, “This is the bone of my bones and the flesh of my flesh.” It will be called virago, because it is made of man, and “man will leave his father and mother, and he will be united to his wife.” One can believe by this word that God had formed the woman of a bone clothed in flesh, and that only bone is named as prevalent in this formation. Whatever may be the case, without stopping at any more curious questions, and observing only in one word what appears in the sacred text, let us consider in spirit this mysterious bride, that is, the holy Church drawn up, and as torn from the sacred side of the new Adam during his ecstasy, and formed, so to speak, by this wound, the whole consistency of which is in the bones and flesh of Jesus Christ, which is incorporated by the mystery of the Incarnation and that of the Eucharist, which is an admirable extension of it. He leaves everything in order to be united to him: he leaves his father, whom he had in heaven, and his mother the synagogue from which he came forth after the flesh, in order to attach himself to his wife, gathered from among the Gentiles. It is we who are this bride; It is we who live by the bones and flesh of Jesus Christ, by the two great mysteries we have just seen. It is we who are, as St. Peter says, this spiritual edifice and the living temple of the Lord, built in spirit from the time of the formation of Eve, our mother, and from the beginning of the world. Let us consider in the name of Eve, who signifies the mother of the living, and the Church, the mother of the true rivers, and the blessed Mary, the true mother of the living, who bore us all with Jesus Christ whom she conceived by the law. O man! This is what is shown to you in the creation of woman, in order to prevent by this seriousness all the frivolous thoughts which pass in the minds of men to the remembrance of the two sexes, since only sin has corrupted the institution. Let us return to our origin, let us respect the work of God and his original design; let us take away the thoughts of the flesh and the blood, and do not plunge us into this mud, while in the narrative we have just heard God takes so much care to draw us out of it.

The Perils of Repealing the Johnson Amendment

One of Donald Trump’s promises to the Evangelical community–and one which he’s gotten much enthusiasm about in return–is his promise to repeal the so-called “Johnson Amendment,” the provision in the tax code which prohibits 503(c)3 tax-exempt organisations–and that includes churches–from explicitly endorsing candidates for public office.  I say “explicitly” because churches on both sides of the political–and racial–spectrum have been implicitly doing this for a long time.  And the polarisation of our society has only made this easier.

It’s for that reason that I think the real impact of this will not be as widespread as people think.  Whether it is beneficial is another story.  One thing that this country has been “about” is that freedom is something to be used responsibly.  If and when this restriction comes out of the tax code, our ministers will have some serious choices to make.  Based on my experience with our ministers, this may not work out as anticipated.

Most ministers of the Gospel are called, trained and set forth to lead their congregations or, to use Our Lord’s pastoral analogy, feed the sheep.  The interests of the sheep are for the most part local: raising a family, doing the work to make a living, and being a part of their community.  The gifts and skills of the ministers, which admittedly vary, are geared towards that kind of life pursuit.  That’s especially true with Evangelical churches, with their focus on the salvation experience and (hopefully) the later spiritual growth.

To properly operate politically, however, requires a broader view of life.  That’s where the problem comes in.  Most of our ministers, by training and temperament, are unprepared to properly address the broader issues facing our society, and thus are unprepared to properly inform their congregations about how best to respond to those challenges.  As a result of this there are two mistakes our ministers make in addressing political issues that can significantly impact their congregations.

On the left, we have those who basically “flip” the message of the Gospel, putting the broader social issues ahead of the personal ones.  That’s a major reason left-wing churches are in decline: they’re political all right, but they don’t address people’s life issues in a meaningful way.

On the right, we have various forms of “prosperity teaching.”  At the core of prosperity teaching are two underlying assumptions.  The first is that Christianity is the “way up” in this world, and second that moving up is the principal goal of life.  Today we principally associate prosperity teaching with the likes of Paula White, who prayed at President Trump’s inauguration.  But we’ve had this before.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Episcopal Church experienced tremendous growth, basically by telling people that they had the nicest religion and that people could move up by becoming a part of it.  The taste of the two results is quite divergent, but the ultimate goal is the same.

The danger of the left-wing mistake is obvious: declining churches.  The danger of the right is the same as Harry Reid’s doing away with the super-majority filibuster for nominees: if the political wind reverses, you’ve given yourself the shaft.  In both cases the reality of the Gospel is obscured by our desires of the moment.

I think that political activity needs to be the province of the laity.  And I’ve heard Christian politicians show a stronger grasp on what the Gospel is all about than ministers about political issues.  To put our ministers in the “driver’s seat” of political activity is to cede yet another function of the laity, reducing the latter to passive consumers of the church’s product.  And we have enough of that unBiblical kind of thing going on as it is.

As I said at the start, freedom is something that needs to be used wisely.  If you get it, be careful: you may end up losing it all if you blow it.

The Creation of Men and Angels: God puts man in paradise, and led to him all of the animals to name them

This is one in a series from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries. The previous post is here. More information on the Bossuet Project is here.

After forming man, God begins to make him feel what he is in the world by two memorable circumstances. One, he planted with his own hand a delicious garden called Paradise, where he had put together all the beauties of nature, to serve the pleasure of man, and by that raising him to God who filled him with so many good things. The other was to bring him all the animals as to him who is the master, in order to make him see that not only all the plants and all the fruits of the earth were his, but also all the animals which, by the nature of their movements, seemed less subject to his dominion.

For Paradise, God ordained two things to man: one to cultivate it, the other, to keep it, (Genesis 2:15) that is to say, to preserve its beauty, which still belongs to cultivation. Besides, there was no enemy who could invade this tranquil and holy place: ut operaretur et custodiret illum. God taught man, by this figure, to guard himself, and to keep at the same time the place he has in Paradise. For cultivation, it was not this laborious cultivation that was the punishment of our sin, when we had to wrest from the sweat of our forehead, from the bosom of the earth, the fruit necessary for the preservation of our life. This cultivation was given to man for his exercise, it was that curious cultivation which grows fruits and flowers more for pleasure than for necessity. By this means, man ought to be instructed in the nature of lands and the genius of plants, their fruits, or their seeds. And he found at the same time the figure of the cultivation of virtues.

By bringing animals to man, God makes him see that he is the master of them, as a master in his family who appoints his servants for the ease of command. Scripture, substantial and short in its expressions, indicates at the same time the beautiful knowledge given to man: since he could not have named animals without knowing their nature and differences, and then giving them Names according to the primitive roots of the language which God had taught him.

It was then that he knew the marvels of the wisdom of God, in the appearance and shadow of wisdom, which appears in the natural industries of animals. Let us praise God with Adam, and consider for a moment all animal nature, as the object of our reason. Who has formed so many kinds of animals and so many species subordinate to these kinds; all these properties, all these movements, all these environments, all these nourishments, all these various forces, all these images of virtue, penetration, sagacity, and violence? Who made animals walk, crawl, slide? Who gave to birds and fish these natural oars, which make them split the waters and the airs? That which perhaps gave rise to their creator to produce them together, as animals of a similar design. The flight of birds appears to be a type of the ability to swim in a more subtle medium, like the ability of swimming in fishes. It is a type of flight in a thicker medium. The same author has made these conveniences and differences: he who gave the fish their sadness and, so to speak, their gloomy silence, gave the birds their songs so diverse, and put in their stomach and throat a kind of lyre and guitar, to announce, each in their own fashion, the beauties of their creator. Who would not admire the riches of his providence, which finds every animal, even a fly, even a worm, its proper nourishment, so that scarcity is not in any part of his family. But, on the contrary, abundance reigns everywhere, except now among men since sin introduced greed and avarice.

By the second consideration, all animals are for the use of man, since they serve him to know and praise God. But besides this more universal usage, Adam knew peculiar properties in the animals, which gave them the means of helping by their ministry that whom God made their lord. O God! I have considered your works, and I have been frightened. What has become of this dominion which you have given us over animals? We no longer see among us but a small remnant, as a feeble memorial of our ancient power, and an unhappy remnant of our past fortune.

Let us give thanks to God for all the goods he has left us in the aid of animals: let us accustom ourselves to praise him in everything. Let us praise him in the horse that carries us or drags us, in the sheep that dresses and feeds us, in the dog who is our guard and our hunter, in the ox that makes our plowing with us. Let us not forget the birds, since God has brought them to Adam like other animals, and still, tamed by our industry, they come to flatter our ears with their amiable music, untiring and perpetual singers, they seem to deserve the food we give them. If we praise animals in their labor, and, so to speak, in their occupations, let us not live uselessly. Let us earn our bread each in his exercise, since God has put it at this price since sin.