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God and country

What it means to be a Christian after George W. Bush (excerpted from Boston Globe article)

President Bush joins marines in prayer at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on April 3, 2003. Accordiing to a Pew Charitable Trusts poll that month, 87 percent of white American evangelicals supported the president's decision to invade Iraq.
President Bush joins marines in prayer at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on April 3, 2003. Accordiing to a Pew Charitable Trusts poll that month, 87 percent of white American evangelicals supported the president’s decision to invade Iraq. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

If God’s on our side, He’ll stop the next war 

— Bob Dylan

EARLY ONE SUNDAY morning in the spring of 2003, in the quiet hours before services would begin at the evangelical church where I worship in Charlottesville, Virginia, I opened files compiled by my research assistant and read the statements drafted by Christians around the world in opposition to the American invasion of Iraq.

The experience was profoundly moving and shaming: From Pentecostals in Brazil to the Christian Councils of Ghana, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East to the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, from Pope John Paul II to the The Waldensian Reformed Church of Italy and the Christian Conference of Asia, the voices of our brothers and sisters in the global ecumenical church spoke in unison.

Why did American evangelicals not pause for a moment in the rush to war to consider the near-unanimous disapproval of the global Christian community? The worldwide Christian opposition seems to me the most neglected story related to the religious debate about Iraq: Despite approval for the president’s decision to go to war by 87 percent of white evangelicals in April 2003, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts poll, almost every Christian leader in the world (and almost every nonevangelical leader in the United States) voiced opposition to the war.

Message Board Do you think Christians in the US need to distance themselves from partisan loyalty?

In their enthusiastic support of the White House’s decision to invade Iraq, evangelicals in the United States practiced an ecumenical isolationism that mirrored the prevailing political trend. Rush Limbaugh may have pleased his “dittoheads” in mocking the dissenting pastors, archbishops, bishops, and church leaders who stuck their noses into our nation’s foreign policy, but the people in the United States who call themselves Christian must organize their priorities and values on a different standard than partisan loyalty.

These past six years have been transformative in the religious history of the United States. It is arguably the passing of the evangelical moment — if not the end of evangelicalism’s cultural and political relevance, then certainly the loss of its theological credibility. Conservative evangelical elites, in exchange for political access and power, have ransacked the faith and trivialized its convictions. It is as though these Christians consider themselves to be recipients of a special revelation, as if God has whispered eternal secrets in their ears and summoned them to world-historic leadership in the present and future.

One thing, however, is clear: Any hope for renewal depends on the willingness to reach out to our brothers and sisters abroad. We must reshape the way we live in the global Christian community and form a deeper link to the human family and to life. To do this, we must begin by learning to be quieter, and by reaffirming the simple fact that our faith transcends political loyalty or nationhood.

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Thomas Moore

‘Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming all alone,
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone.
No flower of her kindred,
No rose bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one,
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go sleep thou with them;
‘Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o’er the bed
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

Can the Republic survive?

Bruce Fein
November 27, 2007

The United States culture is decaying, growing steadily less capable of supporting a republican form of government.

Unless the cultural pendulum swings back toward civic virtue and learning, the United States will plunge to government by executive edict. It will follow the fall of the Roman Republic in 27 B.C.

The result will be chronic follies like post-Saddam Iraq pivoting on the delusion of executive infallibility and the conviction that decisive power is invariably military power.

In “Federalist 55,” James Madison observed that, “Republican government presupposes the existence of [qualities in human nature that justify esteem and confidence] in a higher degree than any other form.” Those qualities include wisdom, honesty and courage; a subordination of egomania to the common good; moderation; self-doubt and self-discipline; and, charity toward the shortcomings of others. A culture that pays homage to these qualities, as in the time of the American Revolution, gives birth to towering leaders like Cincinnatus, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

As president of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 amid petty bickering and maneuvering for political advantage, Washington admonished the delegates: “If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest may repair.”

The delegates did not jeer. They did not retort, “We don’t have the votes.” Instead, they labored to subordinate their parochial interests to the common good and achieved a miracle. A century later, the United States Constitution was acclaimed by Lord Gladstone as, “The most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

American culture has degenerated since the Founding Fathers into a celebration of vice, ignorance, drivel and self-promotion. Money, beauty, sexual indulgence, athletics and fame are saluted as the summum bonum of existence. Exemplary are the wild enthusiasm for “American Idol,” obsession with the tawdry comings and goings of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton and the apotheosis of professional athletes who contribute nothing to preserving government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is inconceivable that a Washington, Madison or Jefferson or Lincoln could emerge from the contemporary culture.

Parents seldom read to children. Students seldom read from inspiration. A dwindling number make it a habit to peruse a serious daily newspaper. Not a single public official or figure in the United States could author paragraphs worthy of the Federalist Papers, Washington’s Farewell Address or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The nation has become leaderless amid its arid and brainless culture, like an acephalous church. Think of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and President George W. Bush. The American Revolution would have capsized if they had been its political helmsmen.

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid would have accepted the tyrannies of the Stamp Tax and Writs of Assistance because they would not then have had the votes for revolt. Mr. Bush would have quarreled with every indictment against King George III penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence because it contradicted his monarch-like theory of a unitary executive. And none of the three would have possessed the wisdom and courage to understand and pursue government by the consent of the governed and unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They would not have known that concentration of power is what invariably precedes destruction of human liberties.

Before the Constitutional Convention gathered in 1787, Madison read voluminously about every federation and confederation since the beginning of recorded history. Like his contemporaries, he believed serious reading and writing were the secret of political maturity and wisdom.

Thomas Jefferson sermonized: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Thus, the Founding Fathers mastered John Locke, Montesquieu and Blackstone. They knew the fates of Greek city-states and the Roman Republic. They were versed in Petrarch’s “Lives,” Virgil’s “Aeneid,” Plato’s “Republic” and William Shakespeare’s masterpieces.

Authored by Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, the Federalist Papers brim with historical and literary allusions that bespeak erudition and philosophical wisdom. The authors would have been aghast at President Bush’s assertion he does not learn from reading. They would have been shocked at the stupendous ignorance of the typical member of Congress, whether about the Constitution, constitutional philosophy, history, philosophy literature or otherwise.

Read the debates of the First Congress of the United States. Compare them to the debates of the 110th Congress memorialized in the Congressional Record. The deterioration in learning is alarming, virtual disproof of Charles Darwin’s theory of progressive evolution.

Diagnosing cultural flaws is much easier than prescribing a cure. Attempting to change culture is more guesswork than science. I would nevertheless recommend beginning with a return to the educational standards of the Founding Fathers. A child should be taught to adulate Socrates and the freedom of inquiry before excursions to the cinema or football stadium.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer with Bruce Fein & Associates and chairman of the American Freedom Agenda.

another article by Bruce Fein:  It’s time to check the balance of power:

It’s time to check the balance of power: Congress must rein in Bush’s abusive actions
San Francisco Chronicle, By Bruce Fein, 07/29/2007

I believe the new puritans will fail

Bishop duncan.jpg

Robert Duncan

by Giles Fraser

This week’s stop (my final one) on my American adventure is Pittsburgh, the belly of the beast. The good people of Calvary Church have been looking after me and sharing their fears.

These are not radicals or revolutionaries, just puzzled suit-and-tie churchgoers doing their best to follow God’s call. What are they to do when their Bishop, the Rt. Revd. Robert Duncan, wants to lead their whole diocese out of the Episcopal Church because he does not like its theology?

How did Pittsburgh diocese get so bad? The answer has something to do with the establishment of the reactionary Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in the diocese back in 1976. This school saw itself as a bridgehead for ridding the Church of progressive theology. It has been feeding clergy into churches all over south-west Pennsylvania, dramatically changing the complexion of the diocese.

In the world of business, it would be called a hostile takeover. For those who worry about the intentions of Wycliffe Hall, now that it has been claimed in an anti-liberal putsch, there is a lesson here for all those who
have ears.

Will Bishop Duncan really lead his diocese out of the Church, taking its property into the bargain?  I doubt it. I reckon he might not be around as an Episcopalian bishop too much longer.  The Presiding Bishop, Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori – whom Bishop Duncan has ordered his clergy not to pray for – has warned him of impending disciplinary action.

“Abandonment of communion” is an offence against the canons of the Episcopal Church.  And if a disciplinary process gets him up before the House of Bishops on a charge, they will surely kick him out.  They are sick and tired of his behaviour.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu preached about inclusion here at Calvary Church recently.  Bishop Duncan squirmed through the sermon with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp.

All the world’s religions have dangerous and arrogant people who think they are the only ones with the truth.  Anglicanism has generally had a more modest and generous view, allowing various viewpoints to co-exist.  But these new puritans have taken advantage of Anglican theological hospitality to mount a raid on the soul of the Church.  They want to close down the very openness that allowed them space to flourish in the beginning.

They will fail.  The only thing that keeps this conspiracy of conservatives together is what they are against. And it will be people from churches such as Calvary that will have to pick up the pieces and put things back together again.

 for more Giles Fraser articles click:  fraser thoughts

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory