something I like

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Okay, here’s something I liked, as it echoes something I’m currently pondering.

“One of the most subversive questions Alan asks when he is doing a church revitalization consultation with a local congregation is this: ‘If you could start again from scratch, would you do it the same way?'”

Now, if I can be even more subversive (which by the way I can, since this is my blog), what if we didn’t just ask this about a specific local congregation but if we asked this about the Church as a whole. What if we hit rewind to about 60 or so and were able to start over? Or maybe not even that far, what if we returned to 313, when Christianity really got a chance to be a contender?

Would we do things different? Imagine what we would do different. I think we’d have the doctrine of the Trinity, but I think a lot of not only practices but also theology would be different.

Imagine what the world would be like if we had a temporal reset button and could become the Church again for this world reflecting Christ as we should. I suspect we’d end up a little less divisive. Who’s to say? Maybe we would fix the problems we made, and find new ones to burden future generations with.

It’s an interesting thought. I for one might at least encourage the Synod of Whitby to be decided differently. Just to see what would happen.

Paul Miki

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Having a look at my Church calendar I note that today is the feast day of Paul Miki.

The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.

Paul Miki was crucified in 1527. In Nagasaki, Japan.

He was the son of a significant Japanese military leader.

The story of Christianity in Japan is one of the most fascinating, and troublesome, tales in Christian history. It was a potential the likes of which cannot be grasped. But something happened. Yes there was devastating persecution by an increasingly closed off society. There was also something more. And that something more is still an elusive thing.

The Spirit was moving wildly through the Japanese society of the 16th century. Something happened. Something happened which squashed the work of the Spirit in that country, a fact which reverberates through our era.

I suspect it was the atrocious disunity displayed by the various factions of the church wanting a foothold for themselves in Asia. Protestants, Jesuits, Franciscans, and others all wanted priority. Christ is the only priority however, and in the division over the inconsequentials of Christian theology, which still divide the Church, Japan was lost as a Christian nation. The Spirit works in an through all peoples and all cultures. It is sinful humanity which cannot see past culture and our own biases. This is to our shame.

And so we honor Paul Miki for his martyrdom, and his testimony, and his life. We honor him even as we bow in shame for what could have been in the country which he loved and died for, modeling Jesus who also loved and died for the Japanese.

By the by, for more reading on this subject I highly recommend Shusaku Endo’s Silence. As well as his other works.

Gregory of Nazianzus

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Today, in the Eastern Churches at least, the feast of Gregory of Nazianzus is celebrated.

Such a name sounds a little tongue tying, and if you’re Protestant you may be suspicious of this figure of church history. However, you have to think in different terms. Basically, Gregory was a lot like the 4th century version of Dallas Willard. Except he was more educated and more spiritual (note this isn’t at all a dig at DW).

Or we could say he was like Rick Warren, except entirely more deep and profound. He did not just aid in the Church in being a pastor, he was also a profound theologian during a time in which the Church didn’t quite have a firm grasp on the bounds of belief.

“Let us overcome them by gentleness, and win them by piety; let their punishment be found in their own consciences, not in our resentment. Dry not up the fig-tree that may yet bear fruit.”

There are people who are good Christians, who are honored by God. Among these people there are those who resonate even more broadly, echoing through the centuries so that even when we do not know their name we are vitally affected by their having lived and believed. Gregory of Nazianzus was such a man.

The Divine Emergency Alert System

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This is a test…

Anthony of Egypt

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Looking at my calendar I see today is the feast day of Anthony of Egypt.

Anthony is a curious character. He is exalted as a saint, and thus fairly forgotten in the Protestant Church, yet his whole pattern of life was not one which embraced the Church of his day. Rather, he sought holiness, and to find holiness he went off, a little ways at first, and then quite thoroughly when he was in his mid-thirties, seeking only to find Christ, and to find the fullness which only Christ offers.

There are certain people in Church history who fairly refuse to be put into a box, or to be fully embraced by any particular tradition. Anthony is one of these. His reference point was not this world, and so like Christ himself, his words and work cannot be predicted according to our standards. He is the father of Christian monasticism, yet does not reflect the errors many of us think about when we consider monasticism. St. Anthony by Lilio OrsiHe was both entirely more devout and entirely less than we would expect, finding a practicality in his spirituality which is almost totally evasive to us who live thoroughly in this world. Anthony was an example of my prime criticism of Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture model.

He did not live in acceptance or contrast to the culture around him, rather he lived and as he lived the culture around him was forced to come to terms with him. As he grew in holiness and wisdom he was himself a reference point, upon which culture would crash.

What is wonderful about Anthony is his life is not a life of sheltered safety. He did not lock himself away in order to flee the temptations or hide himself from struggles. His isolation resulted in an increase of temptations, a monumental struggle against demons and a battle against his own inner faults. Rather than fleeing from such things, by isolating himself he fled from the distractions that abound which so often allow us to escape wrestling with the struggles of our spirituality. He waded through the void and wandered through the muck and mire, to find himself after many decades to a place of profound hope, salvation, and wisdom.

It is not the gentle holiness of a man glowing with supernatural light we honor when we think of Anthony. It is the struggle and forceful assault on that which assaults each of us, it is the courage to stand in the midst of storms too great to stand, and the steadfastness to press on when there is only darkness ahead.

I honor Anthony because his is a life of holiness through persistent struggle, being willing to cast off anything which hinders and embrace anything which helps, no matter how such things are understood by the religious culture around him. He is at once an integral part of the Church and a critic of the Church, within and outside, a teacher and a prophet for whom countless men and women learned the path of discerned holiness and with his guidance began their own path of spiritual discovery.

There are a few monumental figures in Church History, whose lives reflected deeply in their generation to ours, often without our knowing their persistent influence. Anthony is one of those men, in whom the reflection of Christ still shines, and through whom the voice of the Spirit’s call upon us all still echoes loudly. If we only, like Anthony, are willing to listen.

Today will be a day in which I consider and honor Anthony of Egypt.

Somebody asked Antony, “What shall I do in order to please God?”

He replied, “Do what I tell you, which is this: wherever you go, keep God in mind; whatever you do, follow the example of Holy Scripture; wherever you are, stay there and do not move away in a hurry. If you keep to these guidelines, you will be saved.”

Hilary of Poitiers

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I got myself a calendar recently. Feeling the need for rootedness in the history of my faith, I got this calendar because it points out the great days of the Christian Calendar which my tradition often neglects, such as Epiphany and Pentecost. It also points out the various feast days for those called Saints of the Church, and days honoring men and women who are no less saints even if they worshipped in a Protestant Church (such as the Wesleys).

Today is the feast day of Hilary of Poitiers (c.315-367), a man who I do not know much about, and have not read. This is why I like my new calendar. In noting this man I note a man I very much can honor, even if not in the style and method of the present Roman Catholic Church. I can honor him as a man who lived before any of the present conflicts between the churches arose, and I can honor him as a man who in his era sought Christ in and through all things.

I can honor him, not as someone to be adored, but as a man to be emulated in my own life, as an example of what a real Christian is like, and a hero for my own, sometimes waning, faith.

While I may differ with how others in the present honor him, I can still honor him for who he was, and respect the words he wrote if not always the words wrote about him:

These words from Hilary are certainly worth respecting (from On the Trinity, book I):

Steadfast faith rejects the vain subtleties of philosophic enquiry; truth refuses to be vanquished by these treacherous devices of human folly, and enslaved by falsehood. It will not confine God within the limits which barred our common reason, nor judge after the rudiments of the world concerning Christ, in Whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and in such wise that the utmost efforts of the earthly mind to comprehend Him are baffled by that immeasurable Eternity and Omnipotence.

My soul judged of Him as One Who, drawing us upward to partake of His own Divine nature, has loosened henceforth the bond of bodily observances Who, unlike the Symbolic Law, has initiated us into no rites of mutilating the flesh, but Whose purpose is that our spirit, circumcised from vice, should purify all the natural faculties of the body by abstinence from sin, that we being buried with His Death in Baptism may return to the life of eternity (since regeneration to life is death to the former life), and dying to our sins be born again to immortality, that even as He abandoned His immortality to die for us, so should we awaken from death to immortality with Him.

For He took upon Him the flesh in which we have sinned that by wearing our flesh He might forgive sins; a flesh which He shares with us by wearing it, not by sinning in it. He blotted out through death the sentence of death, that by a new creation of our race in Himself He might sweep away the penalty appointed by the former Law. He let them nail Him to the cross that He might nail to the curse of the cross and abolish all the curses to which the world is condemned. He suffered as man to the utmost that He might put powers to shame.

For Scripture had foretold that He Who is God should die; that the victory and triumph of them that trust in Him lay in the fact that He, Who is immortal and cannot be overcome by death, was to die that mortals might gain eternity. These deeds of God, wrought in a manner beyond our comprehension, cannot, I repeat, be understood by our natural faculties, for the work of the Infinite and Eternal can only be grasped by an infinite intelligence. Hence, just as the truths that God became man, that the Immortal died that the Eternal was buried, do not belong to the rational order but are an unique work of power, so on the other hand it is an effect not of intellect but of omnipotence that He Who is man is also God, that He Who died is immortal, that He Who was buried is eternal.

We, then, are raised together by God in Christ through His death. But, since in Christ there is the fulness of the Godhead, we have herein a revelation of God the Father joining to raise us in Him Who died; and we must confess that Christ Jesus is none other than God in all the fulness of the Deity.

In this calm assurance of safety did my soul gladly and hopefully take its rest, and feared so little the interruption of death, that death seemed only a name for eternal life. And the life of this present body was so far from seeming a burden or affliction that it was regarded as children regard their alphabet, sick men their draught, shipwrecked sailors their swim, young men the training for their profession, future commanders their first campaign; that is, as an endurable submission to present necessities, bearing the promise of a blissful immortality.

And further, I began to proclaim those truths in which my soul had a personal faith, as a duty of the episcopate which had been laid upon me, employing my office to promote the salvation of all men.

My worship leader friends may find interesting the fact Hilary was a prolific writer of worship songs. Though songs were not new to the faith in his time, he is the first person we can attribute specific hymns. Though much of his work is now lost, there’s this little ditty, a hymn he wrote for Pentecost, translated into English:

Hail this joyful day’s return,
hail the Pentecostal morn,
morn when our ascended Lord
on his Church his Spirit poured! Alleluia!

Like to clove tongues of flame
on the twelve the Spirit came–
tongues, that earth may hear their call,
fire, that love may burn in all. Alleluia!

Lord, to you your people bend;
unto us your Spirit send;
blessings of this sacred day
grant us, dearest Lord, we pray. Alleluia!

You who did our forebears guide,
with their children still abide;
grant us pardon, grant us peace,
till our earthly wanderings cease. Alleluia!

Not a bad song to sing every morning, for those of us who consider every day to speak of the bounty and hope of Pentecost.

Like I was saying…

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Iraq isn’t like Vietnam, it’s like Guadalcanal


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Max Boot writes an excellent article in today’s LA Times

History Can Offer Bush Hope …

John Kerry is right to accuse President Bush of “colossal failures of judgment” in Iraq. These range from decisions taken in the early days of the occupation, such as the premature disbanding of Iraq’s army, to more recent missteps, such as allowing Fallouja to become a terrorist sanctuary.

Reading the depressing headlines, one is tempted to ask: Has any president in U.S. history ever botched a war or its aftermath so badly?

Actually, yes. Most wartime presidents have made catastrophic blunders, from James Madison losing his capital to the British in 1814 to Harry Truman getting embroiled with China in 1950. Errors tend to shrink in retrospect if committed in a winning cause (Korea); they get magnified in a losing one (Vietnam).

Despite all that’s gone wrong so far, Iraq could still go either way. (In one recent poll, 51% of Iraqis said their country was headed in “the right direction”; only 31% felt it was going the wrong way.)

Lest we be too hard on Bush, it’s useful to recall the travails of the nation’s two most successful commanders in chief, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

Lincoln is remembered, of course, for winning the Civil War and freeing the slaves. We tend to forget that along the way he lost more battles than any other president: First and Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga…. The list of federal defeats was long and dispiriting. So was the list of federal victories (e.g., Antietam, Gettysburg) that could have been exploited to shorten the conflict, but weren’t.

As the Union’s fortunes fell, opponents tarred Lincoln with invective that might make even Michael Moore blush. Harper’s magazine called him a “despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, ignoramus.” As late as the summer of 1864, Lincoln appeared likely to lose his bid for reelection. Only the fall of Atlanta on Sept. 2 saved his presidency.

Most of the Union’s failures were because of inept generalship, but it was Lincoln who chose the generals, including many political appointees with scant military experience. He ultimately won the war only by backing Ulysses Grant’s brutal attritional tactics that have often been criticized as sheer butchery.

Roosevelt had more than his share of mistakes too, the most notorious being his failure to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though U.S. code breakers had given him better intelligence than Bush had before Sept. 11. FDR also did not do enough to prepare the armed forces for war, and then pushed them into early offensives at Guadalcanal and North Africa that took a heavy toll on inexperienced troops. At Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, in 1943, the U.S. Army was mauled by veteran German units, losing more than 6,000 soldiers.

The Allies went on to win the war but still suffered many snafus, such as Operation Market Garden, a failed airborne assault on Holland in September 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge three months later, when a massive German onslaught in the Ardennes caught U.S. troops napping.

Though FDR bore only indirect responsibility for most of these screw-ups, he was more directly culpable for other bad calls, such as the decision to detain 120,000 Japanese Americans without any proof of their disloyalty. Like Lincoln, who jailed suspected Southern sympathizers without trial, Roosevelt was guilty of civil liberties restrictions that were light-years beyond the Patriot Act. And, like Bush, Roosevelt didn’t do enough to prepare for the postwar period. His failure to occupy more of Eastern Europe before the Red Army arrived consigned millions to tyranny; his failure to plan for the future of Korea and Vietnam after the Japanese left helped lead to two wars that killed 100,000 Americans.

None of this is meant in any way to denigrate the inspired leadership of two great presidents. Both Lincoln and Roosevelt were brilliant wartime leaders precisely because they were able to overcome adversity and inspire the country toward ultimate victory with their unflagging will to win. That’s what Bush is trying to do today.

And, no, I’m not suggesting Bush is another Lincoln or Roosevelt. But even if Bush hasn’t reached their lofty heights, neither has he experienced their depths of despair. We are losing one or two soldiers a day in Iraq. Lincoln lost an average of 250 daily for four years, Roosevelt 300 daily for more than 3 1/2 years. If they could overcome such numbing losses to prevail against far more formidable foes than we face now, it’s ludicrous to give in to today’s fashionable funk.

“Colossal failures of judgment” are to be expected in wartime; I daresay even John Kerry (whose judgment on Iraq changes every 30 minutes) might commit a few. They do not have to spell defeat now any more than they did in 1865 or 1945.

How the war is going is not the question to me. What is important to discuss concerns whether it’s for a good cause and whether it will in fact make the world better for future generations. Should the Iraqi people eventually rid themselves of the present invaders, namely Syrian or other Muslim malcontents, they will find themselves much better off than the rest of the Middle East. The war has gone well, comparatively to every other war in the history of the world. That the comparison is to some unheard of ideal rather than reality is simply a fact of partisan rhetoric.

Yes, there have been mistakes, but isn’t it time the mistakes were due to acting rather than not acting? This is not Vietnam, and because of right and good decisions, it seems like this won’t be WWII or the Civil War. Those became devastating because leaders at key points did nothing, did less than nothing. Wars have troubles, and I pray that we do not give up because some of our own political leaders see troubles as a reason to skip out on doing what is right.

History and War

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Over 7,000 men lost their lives on a single day of battle at Antietam Creek during the Civil War. This was considered enough of a victory that Lincoln felt comfortable issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, thus mandating freedom for all slaves in rebellious states. It took another two and a half years to fully enforce.

About 8,000 men lost their lives during the three days of Gettysburg, about 3200 of these were Union soldiers. This was considered such a monumental union victory that Lincoln was swept into office after a rather close campaign. Lee and the Confederate Army were beaten, and never really recovered. This battle was the day in which the Civil War was essentially won. It took another year to end the war officially.

110,070 Union soldiers died in battle alone, another 250,152 died from disease or other causes.

About 19,000 Americans lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. The war had already been essentially won, with this being the last gasp of the German Army.

6,800 US marines lost their lives attacking the beach of Iwo Jima, where the heroic flag raising will long be remembered. This was about a third of the total attacking force. The capture of other islands were likewise costly.

The lists can go on and on.

A little over a thousand Americans have died in Iraq over the past year. The news is telling us that all is bad, that we are in a quagmire, another Vietnam.

Yet, Vietnam has some differences. For this to be like Vietnam we would have had to conquer Hanoi, depose the north Vietnamese government, capture the entire leadership, settle arrangements with the borders, and begin the process of rebuilding the entire army and security structure, with the intention of having full democratic votes. Had Vietnam been like the present situation this would have all taken place by 1965, without ever depending on a draft.

However, a curious change has taken place within the hearts of many in this country. There are no causes which are ‘worth it’. Had this been the attitude over the course of American history, there would be no American history to begin with, for England wasn’t all that bad. Or had that happened there would be two countries called America, one United, one a Confederacy. Countless more Jews would have died, and Europe would have been unified much as Stalin unified the USSR.

The problem, and this is new in history, is that those citizens not on the battlefields are the chief detractors. This began in Vietnam, now everything is “Vietnam” merely because men with guns go out to fight, without any reference to real comparisons.

In past wars deserters could be shot, most weren’t. Now, those deserters never go to the battlefield, they desert the Cause of American liberty in their own homes, so afraid of death and eternity themselves they can see no greater reality of Justice which would cause a man to die for something higher. They break down morale. They assault any change of prospects, they change history for their own purposes.

The time for debating war is before it starts. Once begun the only quick way is to finish the job and learn the lessons for next time. The lessons of World War II came into play this time. We learned what happens when you trust the word of a man intent on evil and destruction. People die, more if the world waits.

We have a situation where people cannot believe in themselves, so they transfer their innate weakness to others… fighting supposedly for soldiers who they really revile.

Yes, things are not well in Iraq. But, the mission was accomplished. What we see there are foreign fighters attacking the current government. The mission has changed over the many months, we are now defending a functioning sovereign government. For a cause which has only Freedom on its banner.

People die for all sorts of stupid reasons. 17,013 people died in 2003 from Alcohol related deaths. That is stupid. That is useless. I don’t see any Michael Moore movies about this. Men and women are dying in Iraq for the simple reason to help Iraq be free from tyranny and able to rule itself without power hungry clerics using the voice of God for their own ambitions. That is a cause. When it is done they will come home and be a new generation of heroes.

I’m increasingly seeing little difference between the physical bombs which are planted under cars in Iraq and the rhetorical bombs which are launched for partisan reasons and because an increasingly higher number of people in this country have no cause beyond themselves worth living for.

It’s sad. While I appreciate the role these people play in making politicians think about going to war, I find I’m less and less understanding of the heart which rejects all things American and still can consider themselves patriotic. America is the fight for Freedom. America is the symbol of oppressed people making their way in this world, no longer encumbered by tyrants. We’ve had a long, bumpy path to get here, but we are closer than ever, and want the same for the rest of the world.

And this road has meant people die. This lofty cause means that men and women have given their lives so that their children can live in a better world, and most wonderfully so that the children of others can also live in freedom.

Yes, soldiers still are dying and it is not a rosy picture in Iraq. But, had Americans of generations past had the same attitude of defeat that present Americans have, the greatest steps in establishing freedoms throughout this world would have never been accomplished.

I do not want to be the generation that is remembered for failing the Cause on which America is built. There are realities which are greater than my life, there are causes for which I would give my life. That is the American tradition. May it continue and may the voices who reject this be lost in the shadows of history.