25 May 2006

london, cambridge, and points north

london, cambridge, and points north

Got to be brief.

We spent Monday in London. After taking the tube to our hotel up next to King's Cross station (yes, we found platform 9 3/4), we visited around town: British Museum, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, a nice pub.

Tuesday we took the railway up to Cambridge, though given the time of term most of the colleges weren't open. Nonetheless, saw quite a bit: King's College, Trinity College, several churches. Saw a nice film put out by Christian Heritage on the role of the Christian faith in the founding and growth of Cambridge as an intellectual and spiritual community. Went to choral evensong at King's College and then met up with Laurel's cousin and his family who are stationed nearby with the USAF.

Wednesday was another railway journey, this time north to Durham where we're staying and from which we'll fan out to see places such as Lindisfarne, Hadrian's Wall, Newcastle, Whitby Abbey, the moors, and we'll see what else. Both the Venerable Bede and St. Cuthbert are buried at Durham Cathedral.

We're off to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne this morning, which is only accessible at low tide, so we must get going. Will report back later, perhaps with photos.

20 May 2006

hail britannia

hail britannia

Tomorrow we leave for a ten-day trip to England in order to relax, enjoy some time together, explore history, visit friends and relatives, and (if I have my druthers) do a bit of research. Our housesitter is here and our itinerary seems, by and large, to have fallen into place despite our haphazard planning.

Laurel and I have both been to the UK before (Laurel for a whole semester in college), so we're not going to be doing the sort of trip where you find yourself checking your watch saying, "Hmm...it's two o'clock on Tuesday. This must be Stratford-on-Avon. Now back to the bus!" Rather, we'll be concentrating on somewhat more "off the beaten path" sights and, while we've formed a broad plan, matters will proceed in a more laid back, improvised day-by-day way.

Much of what we'd like to see are some bits of old Britain, primarily Roman and Anglo-Saxon, especially some early Christian sites. We'll even have the good fortune of our trip overlapping with the day on which, in the Anglican church calendar, the Venerable Bede - famous for his early ecclesiastical history of the English - is remembered and celebrated.

We'll be sure to take ample photographs and, if all goes smoothly computer-wise, I hope to post them here over the next couple of weeks.

19 May 2006

it begins with a trickle

it begins with a trickle

For Friday, May 19, 2006
Proverbs 17:14

The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
so quit before the quarrel breaks out.


"A lake on the neighboring hills bursts its barriers and sweeps everything before it - men, women and children swallowed up by angry flood - awful scenes witnessed by survivors."

So began the lead article in the New York Times on 1 June 1889. The article continued, "The water began flowing over the dam or abutment at the weakest part of the mountain lake at about 1 o'clock...Three hours later the whole end of the lake gave way, sweeping everything before it..."

So began the great Johnstown flood which, in a matter of minutes, left over 2000 people dead and 30,000 without homes.

And it all began with a little trickle.

"One hot word, one peevish reflection, one angry demand, one spiteful contradiction, begets another, and that a third, and so on, till it proves like the cutting of a dam." So Matthew Henry begins his meditation on today's proverb. Once the dam has burst, there is no putting things back as they once were.

Speaking with others has always required prudence, but communications in our day are faster and better than ever: voice mail, email, cell phones, text messaging, myspace, online chat, blogging, facebook, and so on. We are able to say whatever we want, to whomever we want, whenever we want.

And with these technologies come all the attendant dangers of the tongue - of the incautious word or the ill-formed thought - to be received in circumstances beyond the speaker's ability to shape the situation, often left there to be read or listened to again, turned over in the mind of the receiver until every nuance is explored, and hurt or resentment or anger can fester and compound.

Today's proverb, therefore, goes on to warn us to "quit before the quarrel breaks out." We must exercise caution in what we say and do. We must repair the first signs of a breach in our relationships, before matters have progressed too far. And whenever possible, we must leave off before we begin, lest the situation slip from our hands.

May the love and mercy of Christ grant us prudent hearts, cautious tongues, and patient dealings.

18 May 2006

ingratitude returns evil

ingratitude returns evil

For Thursday, May 18, 2006
Proverbs 17:13

If anyone returns evil for good,
evil will not depart from his house.


In Psalm 109:5, David writes concerning his adversaries, "They have rewarded me evil for good and hatred for my love." As a leader of Israel, their king, it was David's obligation to seek the good of God's people, but not all were able to accept David's leadership. The root sin involved here is, I suspect, one of ingratitude, a failure, first of all to even recognize and receive the good as good.

Thomas Aquinas notes that there are three sorts of ingratitude that we encounter in our dealings with others (Summa Thelogiae II-II.107.2). First, there is the person who "esteems our kindness as if it were unkindness." Second, there is the person who "finds fault with a favor received." And, third, there is the person who "returns evils for good."

Today's proverb speaks of this third, most extreme expression of ingratitude.

Repaying the good with evil, however, is has consequences, not only for the one who acts in this way, but also for those closest to him. A son who abuses his family's kindness in ways hurtful to them, a spouse who is unfaithful to a devoted and supportive partner, a boss who violates the trust of those who loyally labor under him, and so on. All of these return evil for good and, in so doing, bring ruin upon themselves those around them.

But the most egregious example is our fallen human reaction to the greatest kindness ever rendered to us: God's gift of Jesus, David's greater son.

In his commentary on David's words in Psalm 109, Augustine writes,
When they ridiculed the one whom they crucified, as if he were a man they thought they had conquered, they belittled him; yet, from that cross he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Thus, while in the depth of their malice they were rendering evil for good, he in the height of his goodness was rendering good for evil.
Jesus' example also gives us a model of how we should respond when our goodness is abused ungratefully. Augustine continues,
The divine words teach us by our Lord's example, that when we feel others are ungrateful towards us - not only so they do not repay us with good, but even return evil for good - we should be in prayer. Christ prayed for others who were raging against him, who were sorrowful, whose faith was in danger. But we should pray first for ourselves, so that by God's mercy and aid, when others belittle us in our presence or absence, we might conquer our own mind, which carries us toward desire for revenge.

17 May 2006

getting mauled

getting mauled

For Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Proverbs 17:12

Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs
rather than a fool in his folly.


It came out of nowhere. Two hikers, conversing quietly as they made their way along the trail, until one spied a bear cub. Moments later they found themselves painfully mauled, lying 65 feet down a stony, brush covered embankment. After investigation Glacier National Park officials announced the probable cause of the August 2005 attack: a defensive action by a female grizzly with two cubs. Clearly, one doesn't want to mess with a mother bear who feels her cubs are threatened.

As dangerous as such a bear may be, today's proverb tells us that a "fool in his folly" is more dangerous still. There are at least two dimensions to the text.

First, we have a comparison with a she-bear telling us something of the nature of folly. Bears are, for the most part, relatively harmless and more likely to flee from humans than attack. But under the right circumstances, the mother bear can burst into a blind and passionate rage. So too with the fool.

How easily we can be caught up into the heat of folly - the lure of pleasure, craving for approval, lust for power or control, longing for the perfect body, the excitement of anger, insisting on being right, an eagerness to impress, and so on. Each of these embodies an impulse that is good in itself, but if left unchecked by wisdom, twists into a passion that can spiral away blindly, damaging ourselves and those around us.

Second, therefore, we have a warning. As robbing a she-bear of her cubs brings consequences, likewise meeting the fool in the midst of folly has its own negative effects. The proverb, therefore, advises that sometimes we should steer clear of the fool, lest we end up a casualty of a foolish frenzy.

But the proverb may also suggest a more difficult way, to count the cost and face foolishness square-on. Our Lord himself took this path with those who opposed him and that path, we recall, led to the cross. While we are called to take up our cross daily, we are not always called to challenge every instance of foolishness.

May God grant us the wisdom to discern how he calls us to respond.

16 May 2006

god's cruel messenger

god's cruel messenger

For Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Proverbs 17:11

An evil man seeks only rebellion,
and a cruel messenger will be sent against him.


In his comments on this verse, Matthew Henry interprets "seeking rebellion" in the sense of "picks quarrels," noting that "There are some that are actuated by a spirit of opposition, that will contradict for contradiction-sake," who watch for "all opportunities to disturb the public peace."

The second half of the verse, however, serves as both a warning to the disruptive and a comfort to those disrupted.

Those who seek to sow dissension and disorder will find themselves opposed by a "cruel messenger" of God's displeasure. In the Scriptures we find when God's people begin to rebel against him, or when they began to devour one another, Yahweh sent in Gentile nations to oppress them and eventually carry them into exile.

While we may not face geographical exile today, God continues to send us a clear message by other means. Dysfunctional homes, where sin is never faced and disobedience is indulged, eventually fall apart. Workplaces in which grumbling and complaint fill the cubicles, lose efficiency and fail to please their clients. And the church's own mission and our individual witness are rendered ineffective when we reject God's authority by countenancing error or foment quarrels through lack of love.

But God's "cruel messenger" also sounds a note of hope and comfort. Those who seek to obey God, to remain at peace, to cultivate community, to labor fruitfully - their faithfulness will not be thwarted. God will oppose anything that sets itself up against such faithfulness. And thus we remain obedient in hope.

15 May 2006

rebuke strikes deep

rebuke strikes deep

Marion Clark asked me again to keep up his "A Proverb a Day" blog while he is away, so I'll be cross-posting those here.




For Monday, May 15, 2006
Proverbs 17:10

A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding
than a hundred blows into a fool.


The prophet Nathan stood before the ruler of Israel - king David - relating a story of a poor man's sheep stolen by a rich and powerful oppressor (1 Sam 12). The story kindled righteous indignation in the heart of David, but at Nathan's word, "You are that man," indignation swiftly sank into sorrow and penitence as David's conscience yielded to the prophet's rebuke. Psalm 51 gives us a window into the depth of David's response.

Centuries earlier, another of God's prophets - this time Moses - stood before a wealthy and oppressive ruler - Pharoah of Egypt - and foretold a series of terrible plagues that would strike the Nile people and the ruler himself like heavy blows. But Pharoah did not relent. He felt no remorse. He was not filled with a holy sorrow. Instead, as Exodus tells us, he hardened his heart further still, impervious to the prophet's rebuke.

Two men, two hearts, two responses to God's word of correction.

The scourge of God's rebuke against our foolish pride and bent desires finds no more insistent expression than in the passion of Jesus, in the blows upon his sacred flesh as he stood in the place where our foolishness would otherwise lead.

Though we may never find a prophet on our doorstep, in his stead Christ sends us friends who hold us accountable, spouses who remind us of our promises, pastors who speak God's word to us, children who see through our pretensions. Embracing our crucified Lord by faith, may the Spirit soften our consciences and grant understanding to our hearts so that we may yield to his rebuke when it comes.

12 May 2006

weekend

weekend

If I weren't so exhausted, I'd blog a good Claire story since she and I spent the day together. But Laurel's out of town at a homeschooling convention and I'm not up to blogging anything too coherent.

Tomorrow are the first meetings of my hybrid Business Ethics course. The class only meets three times, four hours per meeting (tomorrow, the end of June, and early August). The rest, in between, is conducted online. It worked out pretty well last summer, so I'm hoping it goes as smoothly this year.

The days we meet, however, are marathon days. I've got two sections, one at our Bucks County Campus an hour away, and one on our Main Campus. With Laurel away, I've got to drop Claire off at her grandparents' at 7:30am, make it to my first section by 8:30am, finish at 12:30pm, get lunch, arrive back at main campus by 2pm, teach my second section, finish at 6pm, and then go pick Claire back up and go home. It'll be a long day. Fortunately, I decided to skip La Salle's baccalaureate service in the evening.

Sunday morning, however, is commencement which, as usual, coincides with Mothers' Day, just to make things extra-complicated. It's really nice, however, for the moms with kids graduating. I'll re-surface Monday. Until then, adieu.

11 May 2006

crossroads nyc

crossroads nyc

Unfortunately, we'll have just returned from a trip to the UK, but I got a notice in the mail today concerning this event in New York City on May 31, sponsored by Crossroads, a cultural outreach center sponsored by the Roman Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation.

The speakers are: Michael Behe of Lehigh University who is known for his work in "intelligent design" theory; Michael Hanby of Baylor University's Institute of Faith and Learning (and also a good acquaintance of mine from when he lived in Philly); and Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, a well-regarded theologian and columnist (who I had the great pleasure of dining with once, prior to a discussion panel we were both seated on).

Those of you in the NYC area might want to try to attend this. The conversation is sure to be stimulating and thoughtful.

presbyterians & presbyterians together

presbyterians & presbyterians together

"Presbyterians & Presbyterians Together: A Call to Charitable Theological Discourse" may be of interest to some people, particularly from within my own confessional tradition. Also, as a signatory myself, and a person who has supported the idea since it was first broached, I heartily endorse the effort: presbyterianstogether.org. Those of you who read my blog regularly know how I try to uphold the ideals of the document, even if I do, regrettably, fall short far too often.

If you are considering signing the document yourself, please read it carefully and understand what you are bearing witness to and committing yourself to. Know also that, since this is public, others may well hold you accountable for sins of the tongue (or the keyboard) if it appears that you are falling short. But Christian accountability is one that is directed toward forgiveness and reconciliation, so be of good cheer.

Here's prayer that's been much on my lips and in my heart in recent days:
Bless us, O God,
with the vision of your being and beauty,
that in the strength of it
we may be neither hasty
nor slothful in our calling.
And give us grace to be patient with others
as you are patient with us,
that we may gently bear with their faults
while we strive at all times
to root out our own;
for your mercy's sake.
Amen.
update: It appears that the "signatures" page now includes additional signatures.

08 May 2006

resurgence

resurgence

Since I have a number of friends and acquaintances who've flown off to Seattle to attend the conference, perhaps I should mention that Reform & Resurge begins tomorrow. The conference is sponsored by Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church and its purpose takes off from the following observation:
As another generation comes of age, the Gospel of Jesus Christ must resurge to meet the needs of people and their continually changing cultures. The time has come for the church to move forward into the time and place for which God purposed us, and to meet our day with unchanging, vibrant, unabashed Truth.
The website of the conference contains more information, most of which is well worth perusing. Among the speakers are Tim Keller of Redeemer PCA in New York City and Anthony Bradley of Covenant Seminary.

We should pray for the conference - its speakers and attendees - as they think through how to reach our contemporary culture with the renewing power of the Gospel.

Almighty and everliving God,
source of all wisdom and understanding,
be present with those who take counsel
for the renewal and mission of your Church.
Teach us in all things
to seek first your honor and glory.
Guide us to perceive what is right,
and grant us both the courage to pursue it
and the grace to accomplish it;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

06 May 2006

cycling around

cycling around

Fortunately, this past week - final exam week at my university - also brought us gorgeous weather here in the Philadelphia region: warm, low humidity, sunny, breezy. And even better, the pollen counts are beginning to decline.

Given that $2.99 per gallon has begun to look cheap for gasoline, it turned out to be the perfect week to bicycle to campus and to run errands. I had a number of appointments with students and spent a good portion of the week on campus setting up spreadsheets for grades and beginning to work through the 100+ papers that were turned in.

Among my errands, I swung by the local Augsburg-Fortress bookstore in order to pick up a few items I knew they carried. On the way in I passed a sale table with a number of really cheap paper backs. I picked up Dale C. Allison, The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination (Herder and Herder 1999), The Rene Girard Reader (Herder and Herder 1997), and Robert W. Pazmino, Foundational Issues in Christian Education (Baker 1997).

I'm familiar with Girard and it looks like the reader has a good selection of his work. I know Dale Allison from one of his earlier books on Matthew, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Fortress 1993), which I found very helpful and stimulating. I've not read his work on the Sermon on the Mount, but I imagine it will be good as well.

The Pazmino book I'm entirely unfamiliar with, though I see it's in at least the third printing of the second edition, so it must be garnering a decent readership. Is anyone else familiar with this volume or have any comments on his philosophy of education? If nothing else, the table of contents suggests that it is comprehensive.

As for gas prices, I can't really complain. The weather has been lovely and the exercise is good for me. I'm no economist but, from what I understand, increasing prices have done little to erode demand, in which case accusations of "gouging" seem a bit misplaced, though I certainly am concerned about those who live at the margins and can least afford the increase in price.

And, now, back to grading. I'm not sure when grades are officially "due," but I'm sure it's sooner than I would like.

05 May 2006

home schooling

home schooling

Laurel's been undertaking various pre-school exercises with Claire over the past months: getting her to learn her alphabet, some basic phonics, math games, nature walks, matching exercises, and so on. As we are thinking forward beyond pre-school, Laurel's been looking into various curricula and plans on attending a Christian homeschool conference a couple of weekends from now.

There's a lot of variety out there, though some materials seem a bit on the fringe theologically or culturally, for instance, preoccupied with "traditional" gender roles or a peculiar eschatology or rebuilding "Christian America." Others are targeted at a particular niche such as Mennonites or those interested in classical models.

While we'll probably do some kind of modified classical model ourselves, one curriculum that seems popular among our circle of friends, at church and elsewhere, is the Sonlight Curriculum. I'm not very familiar with the curriculum, but apparently it takes a broadly "great books" approach, but without forcing the Aeneid on uninterested middle schoolers.

It also approaches history from a multi-cultural and worldwide perspective, rather than through the primary lens of American history. Nor does the curriculum attempt to give children a narrowly parochial view of things, shielding them from alternative viewpoints or unpleasant facts about the world.

I found Sonlight's educational philosophy very encouraging, particularly when it states:
Sonlight actively seeks authors who can speak authentically and authoritatively for other groups whose perspectives are different than our own. Why? Because we can only speak persuasively to members of other groups if they are convinced that (1) we have listened to them, (2) we have understood what they are saying, and (3) we have empathized with their perspectives. Then, if we still hold a different perspective, it is despite our obvious understanding of and empathy with who they are and what they have said.
That, it seems to me, is an extremely positive message and embodies the sort of "missional" perspective that I would hope a Christian school curriculum to have. It also seeks to inculcate the ability to imaginatively step into others' worldviews, a skill that my own university students often lack.

At any rate, Laurel is reviewing various options for down the road as we think about homeschooling and this sort of curriculum seemed to excite her. Pray for us as we attempt to make some choices for the future.

03 May 2006

anna maria van schurman

anna maria van schurman

I recently finished reading Whether a Christian Woman Should Be Educated by Anna Maria van Schurman (trans. and ed. by Joyce L. Irwin, University of Chicago, 1998). Schurman (1607-1678) was a Dutch Reformed woman of an aristocratic family, highly educated, who kept up a lively correspondence with various European intellectuals, was mentored theologically by Gijsbert Voetius, and vigorously defended the intelligence of women and their role in Christian learning.

While Schurman's views on the role of women may be a bit outdated today and certainly were not "egalitarian" in the contemporary sense, her views were nonetheless progressive in her own day. Indeed, some shifts within early modern philosophy, culture, and law actually represented a step backwards in the status of women, away from the gains they had made during the medieval period.

One interesting feature of Schurman's views is the way in which she gave them a extended theological and philosophical defense, drawing upon a wide range of sources: biblical, classical, and historical. The book includes not only her writing on the question of women's education, but also correspondence with other women and with the theologian Andre Rivet. An appendix includes extended selections translated from Voetius's Politica Ecclesiastica, a sort of Dutch Reformed equivalent to Hooker's Anglican work on ecclesiastical polity.

Part of Voetius's comments on the status and condition of women are directed against 1595 pamphlet that gave a scriptural argument that women are not, in fact, fully human - though the pamphlet was likely intended originally only as a parody of Anabaptist hermeneutics. Against this pamphlet, Voetius maintains the full humanity of women, their creation in the image of God, as well as the notion that women cooperate actively in the generation of offspring and are not mere a passive vessel in which the male plants his seed.

Later Voetius deals with the issue of women's education and their ecclesiastical status, including the affirmation that women should be admitted equally with men to religious exercises, public and private, on both counts supporting the position of Schurman, whom he had mentored.

In any case, the book makes for interesting reading that provides a window not only on 17th century theology, but also the social context in which it was constructed and operated. Moreover, it provides a helpful example of the ways in which Reformed thought has often returned to Scripture and theological reflection in order to reconsider and challenge accepted cultural and even theological norms.