Archive for March, 2009

A friend pointed me to this article which is Professor Thomas Bertanneau’s depressing analysis of the “scholars” who are presently taking up space in our colleges and universities. I’ve seen this sort of thing firsthand but I’ve been hoping that what I was seeing was not widespread. Unfortunately, it appears that it is.

Here’s the author’s conclusion regarding the future we’ve made for ourselves:

“I see in the resentful incapacity of so many students a not-so-dim “Shape of Things to Come” whose characteristics will be theirs: perceptive obtuseness, expressive coarseness, extreme limitation of language and therefore also of concept, radical unfitness to judge complicated technical or moral problems, complete disconnection from any meaningful past and, to borrow a term from Oswald Spengler, in a condition utterly “historyless.”

The world soon to be dominated by such people (their world is already rapidly consolidating itself around us) will be awkward and ham-fisted; it will respond slowly and in all likelihood badly to the complicated problems that will impose their contingency on it. Petulance will characterize it universally: people who find it hard to think straight or to sort out complexities will balk at doing so and become adept at finding reasons for ignoring urgent social, moral, and political challenges. They will be even more amenable than many people already are to pandering, “magical” solutions to emergencies offered by cynical politicians who are interested solely in re-election.

Secretly aware of their limitations, they will also be susceptible to flattery designed to boost their all-important self-esteem. The level of commercial culture will descend even further than it already has to placate the taste of people who have rejected humane education and who do not really understand adult issues. As a student wrote in response to Iphigenia by Euripides, getting the tragedian’s message exactly backwards, people “must trust their leaders and things will be fine in the end.” Many older, genuinely educated people surviving into this not-too-distant future will find the new world infantile and exasperating.

William James wrote that the role of the intellect is to resolve into a comprehensible image the raw perceptual blur of reality. When the educational system rejects cultivating intellect as its primary goal and dedicates itself instead to fostering feelings, opinions, and baseless pride, it will discharge at the end of twelve years young people for whom the Jamesian “buzz” of phenomena cannot resolve into a comprehensible image. I mean to argue, in citing the student passages given above, much more than that contemporary undergraduates are poorly educated and lazy, even though they are those things in spades. I mean to argue that a deficient but entrenched pedagogy based on “progressive” theories of education has betrayed students by refusing to grant them the dignified status of real mentality, of adult awareness, and of literate sensibility.”

Now, explain to me again why you oppose Christian classical education?

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Today is Flannery O’Connor’s birthday and it just wouldn’t be right to allow it to pass without acknowledgment. Flannery is the queen of American writers.

She once said, “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

If you haven’t read her, do it.



(the painting is by Lauren Pope, see some of her other works here)

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If you weren’t here for John Barach’s lectures on Philippians, you really missed a treat. John did a great job in covering Paul’s epistle, giving both exegetical and practical insights that were extremely helpful. Here are a few of the tidbits we heard:

“Being in prison is not bad news . . . it’s the first stage of dominion.”
“Paul is a Trojan Horse for the gospel.”
“The support of the Spirit comes through the prayers of the people.”
“Paul saw his mission as making people joyful. This is the pastor’s job.”
“Unity is a gift and a mandate.”

And there was a lot more that I don’t have time to put in now — really great stuff.

Go to the MP3 site and download the lectures as soon as they’re ready, they are excellent.

(and we are already looking forward to seeing them in a future “Through New Eyes” commentary!)

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One of our sons (Bray) is in the Young Artists program at the Seattle Opera and will be singing in the performance of Benjamin Britten’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for a couple of weeks (six performances at the Meydenbauer Theater), starting March 27.

Click here for a preview from the director Peter Kazaras.

If you’re in the area, well then, go see it, ought to be fun.

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If you’re going to be in our area this Saturday (or if you are close enough to drive) you’ll want to come to the Bucer Institute Spring “Special Session” which begins Saturday at 9:00 a.m.

Pastor John Barach (pastor of Christ Church, Medford, OR) will be here to give four lectures on the book of Philippians.

Yep. It’s going to be really fine. Call us, we’ll save you a place.

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Paris and love

Larry Lawlace mentioned this movie in a comment and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed it. It’s a collection of 18 short films directed by 18 different directors. The stories are based upon various locations in Paris. It’s been a while since I saw it and I can’t remember exactly which of the films are not so hot (there are some and so I can’t give it an unqualified endorsement) but let me commend one of the shorts in particular: “Bastille.” Written and directed by Isabel Coixet, “Bastille” is the story of a man who meets his wife for lunch prepared to tell her that he is leaving her for another woman. Before he can give her this news, however, she tells him that the doctors have determined that she has a terminal illness and only has a few months to live. What begins as another story about infidelity, ends as a story about love. Beautiful.

[Ok, going back to review the contents, you can safely avoid the majority of the shorts. But don’t miss “Bastille”; “Loin du 16e”; “Parc Monceau”; and “Place des fêtes.” These four are worth your time — and if the only one you watch is “Bastille,” you won’t be a loser]

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St. Patrick

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We commemorate the life and work of Sucat (aka Patrick of Ireland). The life of Patrick (like so much else in the early centuries of the Church) is surrounded by mystery and legend. He was probably born in Dumbarton in England in the latter part of the 4th century, around 375-390 A.D. His mother was a sister of, or at least was related to, the famous Martin of Tours. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all appear to have been clergymen. When Patrick was 16 years old, he was captured by the Irish raiding king, Niall of the Nine Hostages, and carried away to Ireland where he was sold into slavery. His new master, Milchu, sent him into the fields to keep cattle. It was there, in the Irish fields, that Patrick began to consider the God of his fathers:

And there the Lord opened (to me) the sense of my unbelief, that, though late, I might remember my sins, and that I might return with my whole heart to the Lord my God, who had respect to my humiliation, and pitied my youth and ignorance, and took care of me before I knew Him, and before I had wisdom, or could discern between good and evil; and protected me and comforted me as a father does a son.

After many adventures and an interval of years of which little is known, Patrick was able to return to his mother and father who begged him never to leave them again. But though Patrick was out of Ireland, he could not get Ireland out of himself. One night he had a dream:

And there I saw, indeed, in the bosom of the night, a man coming as it were from Ireland, Victoricus by name, with innumerable letters, and he gave one of them to me. And I read the beginning of the letter containing “The Voice of the Irish.” And while I was reading aloud the beginning of the letter, I myself thought indeed in my mind that I heard the voice of those who were near the wood of Foclut, which is close by the Western Sea. And they cried out thus as if with one voice, “We entreat thee, holy youth, that thou come, and henceforth walk among us.” And I was deeply moved in heart, and could read no further; and so I awoke. Thanks be to God, that after very many years the Lord granted to them according to their cry!

In response to the dream, Patrick left for Ireland arriving around the year 432 and spent the rest of his life in evangelizing the Irish people. The “Lorica” (or “Breastplate”) was composed by Patrick as a prayer begging God for protection when traveling. We no longer realize the importance of such prayers but in the days of the early missions into pagan lands they were invoked with great earnestness. Patrick said, “I daily expect either murder, . . . or to be reduced to slavery, or mishap of some kind. But I fear none of these things, on account of the promises of the heavens; for I have cast myself into the hands of the Omnipotent God, who rules everywhere, as saith the prophet, ‘Cast thy thought on the Lord, and He will sustain thee.’”

God mightily blessed his labors and for that, we rightly remember him and give thanks for his life and faithfulness.

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yeah, I do want to see this.

did you catch it? Tommy Lee Jones started on the offensive line for the ’68 Harvard team . . . and roomed with Al Gore.

I gotta see this.

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I believe in me

“More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, ‘I’m everything. I’m nothing. I believe in myself,’ ”
Barry Kosmin, co-author of the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS).

Kosmin goes on to say that “Today, religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many.”

Other interesting findings:

15% of Americans claim no religion at all.

The percentage of the population claiming to be baptist has dropped almost 4% since 1990.

The percentage of Muslims, while still slim, has doubled, from 0.3% to 0.6% of the population (though analysts suggest those numbers significantly undercount the adherents to Islam).

Oh, and nearly 2.8 million people now identify with Wiccan, pagan or “Spiritualist” groups.

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Fasting for the world

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

Depriving oneself unnecessarily is not commonly something that modern Americans view favorably. Why would you do it if you don’t have to? This is especially the case when we think of food. Why fast unless your doctor requires it? It’s clear, however, that our Savior viewed fasting as something His people would do until His return. He not only warned the disciples against hypocritical fasting but instructed them in the proper way to fast (Matt. 6:16-18). And we should note that this instruction comes in the context of teaching about the proper ways to give and pray. Fasting is as much an obligation for the people of God as giving or praying. Jesus assumes that it is going to be a regular part of our lives.

This is reiterated in Matthew 9 where Jesus defends His disciples against the charge of indifference to fasting by saying that there are times when fasting is inappropriate (Matt. 9:14-15). But He goes on to say that the time is coming when the disciples will have occasion to fast and in those seasons, they will do so.

This reality lies behind the season of Lent. I grew up around Roman Catholic friends who had a superstitious understanding of this season and trivialized it to such a degree that I always thought it silly at best and destructive and dangerous at worst. Lent seemed to distract you from the finished work of Christ and focus you upon a dependence on your own works. But historically, the Church was motivated to observe this season by the opposite reason. The concern was that there should be a time, at least once per year, when God’s people are called to a formal, corporate remembrance of their sins and their continual need to humble themselves before the Lord in repentance. All have sinned and thus, all deserve to die.

The season of Lent calls us to remember this sobering reality. Far from focusing upon self-atonement, it reminds us that there is no hope in us at all. Our confidence is not in our works but in the work of Jesus in our behalf. His death in our place and His resurrection; His righteousness is our only hope and the foundation of our acceptance in the sight of God. Lent focuses upon how this glorious reality ought to affect us and what it ought to produce in us. Rather than provoking pride and self-righteousness, this reality brings us down in humble acknowledgment of our disobedience and unbelief and produces in us thankful acknowledgment for all His mercies to us in Christ Jesus. And that is where fasting comes in.

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Happy birthday Mickey

Today is the birthday of the amazing Michelangelo. His first major work of art was the Pietà, a marble statue of Mary holding the dead Jesus in her arms. Supposedly, after the statue had been put on display, he went to see it and heard a crowd of people praising its beauty. When someone asked who had made it, another replied that the artist was il Gobbo, from Milan. That night, Michelangelo locked himself in with the statue and carved this inscription on Mary’s robe: “Michelangelo Buonarroti the Florentine made this.” It was the only work he ever signed.

(taken from the Writer’s Almanac)

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Each semester at the Bucer Institute we have a course we call “The Church and Culture” which is basically a catch-all for any topic we’d like to talk about. Our “Church and Culture” class for this semester was held this past Saturday on the topic of “The Christian Imagination” and it was outstanding. (Check out the MP3s when they are ready for downloading, you won’t regret it.).

Too many good things were said to repeat them all, but here are a few of them:

A woman living on the frontier in the 19th century commented on the quilts she made: “I make them warm to keep my family from freezing; I make them beautiful to keep my heart from breaking.”

Poetry humbles us by giving us more than we can understand. It’s “bigger” than we are.

Why are the Reformed so unimaginative? Artists tend to arise from traditions that allow mystery, not from traditions that see mystery as a threat to the “system” and therefore always seek to explain (or define) it away.

The literal is too skeletal and minimalistic to carry the grand load of truth that the poetic can easily transport.

Some of the things covered were, the importance of the imagination; the imagination and theology; how to cultivate a sanctified imagination; a primer on poetry; and the deeper meaning of watching the dead bodies of plague victims being catapulted over the walls of a besieged city. All in all, it was more fun than ought to be legal.

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First Sunday in Lent

Today is the first Sunday during Lent. We make this distinction because Sundays are not included in the season of Lent. They are never to be observed as fast days. Sunday, being the day of the resurrection, is always to be a day of feasting and celebration. Thus, Lent is never to be observed as an unbroken time of fasting. Each Sunday, we rejoice over the reality of the Savior’s victory over sin and death and the joyful certainty of life in Him. So, if you are fasting during Lent, be sure to break your fast today. This is to be a day of light and gladness, rejoice!

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