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Archive for October, 2011

Yesterday’s sermon included the rather familiar passage about putting on the armor of God – but with an emphasis on the fact that God provides the armor, but you have to put it on. A lot of Christians seem to miss that, the pastor said. Their armor, so to speak, sits on the floor, and might even get polished up from time to time, but it’s not used. Food for thought, that.

From Ephesians 6 (King James Version), via Bible Gateway:

10Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

11Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

13Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

15And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

17And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

18Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

19And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,

20For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

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Via Michael Potemra, some music written by Franciscan friar/composer Lodovico Viadana (1560-1627):

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A couple of chapters from Not Exactly Allies:

46 – BERTIN GOES SEARCHING FOR CLUES

A few days later, Bertin Nason decided he was tired of sitting around hoping someone came up with information on the Arab boy’s murder, or on undercover communists of a latter-day mutant variety, or on the ambusher Jean Blondet, or any of a half dozen other matters nibbling away at his thoughts and his sanity and his sense of duty. (more…)

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Some American history, from Citizen Magazine (emphasis in original):

…Today, there are some — mainly on the Left — who paint the Founders not as Christians but as Deists, believers in an impersonal creator who left his creations to fend for themselves. But while that description fits less than a handful of the Founders, to varying degrees, it clearly doesn’t fit the vast majority.

Of the 55 signers of the U.S. Constitution, “with no more than five exceptions, they were orthodox members of one of the established congregations,” wrote the late University of Dallas historian M.E. Bradford.6 “References made by the Framers to Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Son of God … are commonplace in their private papers, correspondence and public remarks — and in the early records of their lives.”7

And this wasn’t just lip service, Bradford noted: The faith the Framers professed played a large role in their lives.

Thus, both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton “regularly led their households in the observance of family prayers.” Roger Sherman “was a ruling elder of his church.” John Dickinson of Delaware “wrote persuasive letters to youthful friends conserving the authority of Scripture and the soundness of Christian evidences.” Richard Bassett, also of Delaware, “rode joyfully with his former slaves to share in the enthusiasm of their singing on the way to Methodist camp meetings.” Elias Boudinot of New Jersey “was heavily involved in Christian missions and was the founder of the American Bible Society.” 8

The Wall That Never Was
Why would such men have written a First Amendment that sought to purge religious expression and values from the public square? Simple: They didn’t.

The Founders wanted to preserve the many vibrant Christian churches that were thriving in America. So they provided in the First Amendment that no Congress could squelch the free exercise of religion or establish a national church body— as had happened in England, driving many of their ancestors to the New World.

They also created a decentralized system that left states free to pursue diverse policies. Some (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina and Maryland) gave funding or property to churches. A few state constitutions contained religious requirements. Pennsylvania and New York required officeholders to pledge belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture.

To be sure, that wasn’t the norm. Most states guaranteed religious liberty, on the principle that government compulsion was an affront to true worship. But the very language in those guarantees testified to the prevailing faith. Many used terms of praise like “Almighty God.” Massachusetts spoke of “the right, as well as the duty, of all men in society … to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe.”9

And the federal government itself, though much more limited in its religious involvements, did things that would make an ACLU attorney blanch. Even one of the least religiously orthodox Founders, Thomas Jefferson, used federal funds during his presidency to build churches and to support Christian missionaries working among the Indians.

That’s especially meaningful since it was Jefferson who authored the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in a letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association — words now commonly misused to claim that the Founders would have supported an ACLU-like approach. But as Dreisbach notes, “The absurd conclusion that countless courts and commentators would have us reach is that Jefferson routinely pursued policies that violated his own ‘wall of separation.’ ”10

In truth, the Founders never dreamed that, one day, the government they helped establish would so often be hostile to the faith that most of them — despite their many other differences — held in common…

Read the whole thing.

I was raised with the ‘founders were Deists’ idea pounded into my head again and again, which suited me fine (at first) since I was bouncing around from agnostic to atheist to deist myself – and since I was historically illiterate. But then I found more of the old documents, and contemporary accounts of the American Revolution and the decades before and after it. Thinking that the religious tone and references showed a different story than the one I was being told, I asked a teacher or two about it. I was then assured that the Founders wrote and talked that way because the masses were so ignorant as to still believe all that God garbage, and our Founders were wise enough to humor them.

Then I discovered letters that they wrote to each other, and to young people they were mentoring. So much for that ‘humoring the masses’ idea. Upon hearing this objection, my teachers told me that although the Founders were products of the Enlightenment, they were of course early in the process and so were of course poisoned by the social conventions of their times. They didn’t really believe in God, they simply didn’t know how to talk or write or think any other way…

Uh, huh.

While I will agree that we are all influenced by the culture in which we are raised (witness the fact that I actually believed my teachers for a while, even on that last point), at some point I had to decide that my teachers were protesting too much. The Founders – who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for the cause, and stayed the course at tremendous sacrifice, and who prayed and praised God both publicly and privately – made sense only if I ignored the very odd, and very recent, spin put upon them by my teachers. The original documents, the earlier textbooks, the art around official buildings in Washington D.C., the policies of the government – pretty much everything put out by people who hadn’t fallen into Social Darwinist thinking (or its near cousins) – argued against the intellectual fad I was taught in public school, and then in college.

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From Mr. Smith and The Ides of March, by Robinson O’Brien-Bours:

While both Clooney’s and Capra’s films depict a political system rife with corruption, there is a hugely important difference between the two. Clooney’s dark and pessimistic tale brings no closure to it, and no hope; one leaves the theater with a bitter sense of disappointment and cynical contempt for our political process. It is a tragedy where everyone loses, much like the tale of Julius Caesar that the title alludes to.

Mr. Smith, though, has a far different, more lasting, and more important tone. It depicts one decent and determined common man, surrounded by petty bunch of political thugs, who nonetheless makes a difference. This is not to say that its title character, Jefferson Smith, is alone in his feelings–the people support him, and there are even members of the Senate who likely support him as well, but are yet complicit with the villains through their silence. Smith still wins in the end, though.

Perhaps this is too idealistic. Perhaps the cynical transformation of Gosling’s Stephen Myers is closer to the real thing than the determined support for lost causes exhibited by Stewart’s Smith. If that is the case, though, then the fault is not with our system of government, but with us. We are the government.

Many Americans over the past few years seem to see our country through the same jaded vision of The Ides of March, and are tired of it. Perhaps, then, now is the perfect time to revisit the 1939 classic, which came out just in time for Nazis, Soviets, and Fascists to all ban it for its dangerous idea. When Hitler banned American movies in France, one Parisian theater played Mr. Smith nonstop for the month leading up to the ban. Tyrants are threatened by the idea that individuals have power; mortified by the possibility that one single person has the power to change the world. The reason they fear this is because it is true: good men, armed by the truth and common decency, can do more to change the world than all the armies and propaganda of tyranny and corruption in the world combined. It just takes hard determination in face of the harshest adversity.

Read the whole thing.

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1. Does anyone know which Bible translation(s) the American Founding Fathers were using? It’s my understanding that the Pilgrims used the Geneva Bible (which I’m reading on Kindle in a 1587 edition), but it occurs to me that (off the top of my head) I don’t know what the Founders were hauling with them to all those hate-to-do-it-but-it’s-time-to-sever-ties-with-the-homeland sessions, or to the earliest sessions of Congress. I’m sure I can get the info by googling, but quite frankly, my first searches turned up an avalanche of anti-Christian, hate mongering sites that libel, and badly misrepresent, the Founders, more than they shed light on them. (Sigh.) [Added: A reader found this on Bibles used for the swearing in of Presidents, and left the link in the comments. Interesting. It also reminds me of what I should have remembered. Bibles were rare and expensive in colonial America, in part because the King controlled who could print Bibles.]

2. Regarding the Geneva Bible: if you aren’t used to the writing style and the slightly-modified alphabet of the 16th century, hang in there. It makes sense after a while. The spellings will be all over the board, even on the same page. Nombers is the same as numbers, for instance. U and v swap places a lot. I frequently means J. And so on, and so on. A little more difficult than sounding out words to get the right one, is figuring out where letters are dropped, but it’s assumed you know they’re there. N and M get left off a lot, erratically. In many old texts, a line over a letter apparently means it is followed by an n or m. (This Kindle book doesn’t do that, but for a great example of old-style writing that might help you ‘crack the code’, see The prophete Ionas with an introduccion before teachinge to vnderstonde him and the right vse also of all the scripture/ and why it was written/ and what … the true sense and vnderstondynge therof. [Kindle Edition], by William Tyndale.) Just to make it more fun, words get combined that we don’t usually combine any more. Shalbe means shall be, for instance. (I’m thinking we might want to bring that word back into use, by the way. It’s growing on me.)

3. This doesn’t quite answer my original question, but I just thought to google “congressional bible america,” and got this.

4. Changing subjects, you may laugh at me now. I’m self-publishing eleven years’ worth of books I’ve written, some of which got good noises from publishers, but no actual contract. I have most of them on Kindle and Nook now, and have been working on trade paperback editions, which are slowly coming to completion. I don’t expect to bump anyone off the bestseller lists, but I figure, on the one hand, that I might as well try to get a little something out of them, and, on the other, that if I don’t publish them, I will be editing and rewriting them on my deathbed. I simply can’t seem to stop polishing, unless a book is actually out on store shelves. So, I have declared “Enough!” on several books, and put them out. What I invite you to laugh about is my consternation over the cover of the large print edition of Why We Raise Belgian Horses. I have come up with a cover that is eye-catching, and pleasant, and that I don’t think will drive off men on the one hand, or women on the other. (This novel was out in a homemade edition years ago, and did well with men as well as women, adults as well as teens. While this is good, it makes cover design a bit tricky. You can’t be too girly, or too masculine.) So, I have a nice cover design, one that I think is better than the one I went with on the regular trade paperback, or the ebooks. It even looks good in a thumbnail, or from across the room. The problem is that the photo I’ve used is of a horse that really isn’t quite the right sort of Belgian horse. But I really like the photo. It’s artsy, with lighting that plays into the storyline. If I go with what I have, I’m nearly ready to go. I’ve just redone the back cover copy, and am waiting on what could be the final proof – if I don’t change the picture. The first proof sits on my work table, causing me to seesaw between ‘ooh, I like that,’ and ‘hmmm, should I try to find another photo?’ As if it really, really matters…

5. I am still harvesting from the garden. Amazing. I have nine watermelons that are nearly ripe, which is really amazing. The odds of any of them actually getting ripe this time of year are probably slim to none, but I sometimes go out and marvel at them, resolutely ignoring the season. For that matter, I am still getting blossoms on the watermelon and pumpkin vines. Go figure.

6. David Jeremiah, on his radio show, has been talking about cultural rot and where the church (that would be all us believers) fits in. This week, he was using Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of the Church of Auvers to help illustrate a point. Not knowing the painting, I looked it up. And then followed links. And came to this literature-rich letter from the artist to his brother Theo in 1880, which contains some food for thought, I think.

7. While halfheartedly searching for new cover art, and happily taking detours as they showed up, I stumbled across this blog, which looks promising. Papergreat shares clips from old newspapers, magazines and books. Here’s a post with clippings from World War II.

7 Quick Takes Friday is hosted at Conversion Diary. Head here for this week’s round up. Our hostess is discussing Halloween costumes, controversies related to Halloween, forewords to Catholic books, pseudo Jedi mind tricks, Story Engineering, the best rap songs for Catholics, and is wondering what makes a good photo portrait.

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From “Life Imitates Art: Redeeming Pop Culture” (Chuck Colson, Breakpoint Commentary, September 22, 1999):

…Up until the Enlightenment, art was seen as a way of expressing profound truths. Not necessarily literal truth; yet even symbols and metaphors reflect something true about reality—like portraying angels with wings or saints with halos. Beauty itself was seen as a kind of truth.

But in the Enlightenment, a new theory of truth was born—that the only real knowledge derives from what can be seen, touched, and measured scientifically. Since angels and halos cannot be seen or measured, out they went. Beauty itself is an ideal that cannot be measured scientifically, so out it went, too—relegated to the realm of subjective fantasy.

But if art was no longer about truth, then what WAS it about? Many artists began to define art as the creation of an abstract, idealized world—and from that ideal world they hurled down thunderbolts upon the real world for all its shortcomings. Thus was born the idea that art is about criticism and revolt—a means of shocking conventional society. Filtered down to the popular level, this view of art inspired movies and rock music that today launch a relentless attack on traditional values.

If Christians want to help halt the degradation of popular culture, we must understand it is not merely a result of declining public tastes: It is a direct result of a change in worldview. And instead of merely decrying the decadence, we need to roll up our sleeves and offer positive alternatives—imitating the inspiring success of Martha Williamson [the producer of Touched by an Angel] and many others.

C.S. Lewis once said that the only way to drive out bad culture is to create good culture. We need to recognize that artistic talent is a gift from the Lord—and that developing those talents is the only way to create good culture.

hat tip: How Now Shall We Live? Devotional, Tyndale House, 2004.

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