29 June 2008

If by the breaking of bread

(The return of “Wisdom Sunday”)

One frequently hears Calvinists referred to as rationalists. Usually Calvin himself gets the blame for this, sometimes by Calvinists themselves, but mostly by non-Calvinists. This doesn’t sound like a rationalist to me:

[T]he flesh and blood of Christ feed our souls just as bread and wine maintain and support our corporeal life. For there would be no attitude in the sign, did not our souls find their nourishment in Christ. This could not be, did not Christ truly form one with us, and refresh us by the eating of his flesh, and the drinking of his blood. But though it seems an incredible thing that the flesh of Christ, while at such a distance from us in respect of place, should be food to us, let us remember how far the secret virtue of the Holy Spirit surpasses all our conceptions, and how foolish it is to wish to measure its immensity by our feeble capacity. Therefore, what our mind does not comprehend let faith conceive — viz. that the Spirit truly unites things separated by space. That sacred communion of flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by there exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfills what he promises. And truly the thing there signified he exhibits and offers to all who sit down at that spiritual feast, although it is beneficially received by believers only who receive this great benefit with true faith and heartfelt gratitude. For this reason the apostle said, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ”? (1 Corinthians 10:16.) There is no ground to object that the expression is figurative, and gives the sign the name of the thing signified. I admit, indeed, that the breaking of bread is a symbol, not the reality. But this being admitted, we duly infer from the exhibition of the symbol that the thing itself is exhibited. For unless we would charge God with deceit, we will never presume to say that he holds forth an empty symbol. Therefore, if by the breaking of bread the Lord truly represents the partaking of his body, there ought to be no doubt whatever that he truly exhibits and performs it. The rule which the pious ought always to observe is whenever they see the symbols instituted by the Lord, to think and feel surely persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is also present. For why does the Lord put the symbol of his body into your hands, but just to assure you that you truly partake of him? If this is true let us feel as much assured that the visible sign is given us in seal of an invisible gift as that his body itself is given to us. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. IV, Ch. 17, para. 10.
No rationalist could have written that. A rationalist, looking at bread and wine and trying to understand them as body and blood, never sees anything but bread and wine, never touches anything but bread and wine, never eats and drinks anything but bread and wine. Christ’s body and blood are in heaven, so bread and wine on earth are simply bread and wine. Consequently, most Christians who are not Calvinistic see the elements as purely symbolic.

Calvin does not. In the Communion, Christ is truly given to us by the Holy Spirit, who is, as he puts it, more than able to unite things “separated by space.” Unlike too many of his theological descendants, Calvin was willing and able to accept a great deal of mystery.
27 June 2008

Invader Christian

One of the most important functions of Christian prophets in our day is the ability to perceive the consequences of various forces in our culture and to make value judgments upon them. -- Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline.
Seventeen days since my last post. What have I been doing? Thinking, mostly.

On 27 May I listened to several podcasts by That Mom (Karen Campbell). (H/T: Kevin D. Johnson at Reformed Catholicism.) Two of the ones I listened to were on Homeschoolers and Culture (4 and 18 January 2008). In these podcasts she discusses the relation of homeschoolers to the culture under the five headings H. Richard Niebuhr uses in his discussion of Christ and Culture. In doing so, Karen briefly summarizes H. Richard Niebuhr’s five views of the relation of Christ to Culture – without sacrificing accuracy. As a neo-Calvinist I am greatly interested in the topic of Christ and Culture. But I digress.

Briefly, those five views are as follows:

1. Christ against Culture (Opposition)
2. Christ of Culture (Agreement)
3. Christ above Culture(Superiority)
4. Christ and Culture in Paradox (Tension)
5. Christ the Transformer of Culture (Reformation)

Of the five views Campbell selects the fifth, Christ the Transformer of Culture, as the most preferable Christian option. Who doesn’t, anymore? Since Francis Schaeffer (preceded in the Netherlands by Abraham Kuyper) came on the scene around four decades ago, orthodox Christians have been highly motivated to engage culture with the idea of transforming it, in contrast with previous practice, spearheaded by fundamentalists, to take the first approach, which led only to the creation of a Christian counter- or sub-culture.

But who can blame the fundamentalists? After all, their eschatology made it an obvious choice. Jesus is coming back, tomorrow most likely, so no need to bother rearranging deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. The world is supposed to be getting worse, so don’t bother wasting time and energy trying to halt or slow the decay, including the move to a one-world government headed by The Antichrist. Better to evangelize and get people into the life-boat of Jesus, who (did I mention?) is coming back tomorrow.

But those who were motivated by the likes of Kuyper and Schaeffer and their ilk had to consider that the analogy of the sinking ship might be inapplicable: the ship has been sinking for millennia. Maybe the world isn’t best compared to a sinking ship; or at least it isn’t a sinking ship only because the once-Christian West is sinking. Whenever Jesus is coming – and He is coming – the world is going to go on until He returns. We may not be able to bring heaven to earth (although some remain convinced that we can), but perhaps we ought to expend some energy keeping hell from coming to earth. Our Christian ancestors, as convinced as we are of the return of Christ (as the Creed says, “He shall come again, to judge the living and the dead”), changed a great many things in their own world, starting with the face of the Roman Empire, an empire which was itself the product of a culture in decline. One could even include, I think justly, the birth of Europe. They also produced Byzantine culture, not too shabby for people looking forward to the return of their lord.

And what have Christians in the modern era produced as a result of their expectation of the soon-return of Christ? “Honk if you love Jesus.” “In case of rapture this car will be unmanned.” “Christians aren’t perfect – just forgiven.” “Jesus: Don’t leave earth without Him.” Ooh. Aah. Wow. Heavy, man.

Our spiritual forebears produced Byzantine culture. We have produced Contemporary Christian Music, a cheap imitation of contemporary non-Christian music. (“If you like ‘Hootie and the Blowfish’ then you’ll probably also like ‘Third Day’.” No offense to ‘Third Day’. But that is how CCM marketers tried to peddle them.)

But I digress. Again.

As I listened to the podcasts, favorably disposed as I am to the Christ as Transformer of Culture view, a thought struck me: The project, thus far, and after decades of work, seems an abysmal failure. I was alive to witness, just about as it was happening, the birth of the religious right. That was almost thirty years ago. I can’t imagine (and I’m just spit-balling here) that a series with a premise like ‘Swingtown’ could have launched back then – well, not on broadcast television. But not only has it launched, it will probably last a few seasons, just like ‘Desperate Housewives’. The Right could get Ronald Reagan elected back then; I doubt they could pull it off today, even if Reagan were alive.

Clark Carlton puts it really well:

Could anyone possibly claim that the United States is a more moral nation now than it was in 1980? … Speaking strictly as … Christians, has it really gotten easier to live [a Christian] life in America over the last twenty-five years? Take a look at cable TV, the internet, the bestseller list and the clothes they sell to teenage girls at every department store in this country and try to tell me with a straight face that the answer to that question is, “Yes”. The fact is that after twenty-five years of hellfire-and-damnation political speeches and mobilization efforts, this country is in worse shape now than it was when it all started. (Where the Religious Right Went Wrong”, here)

Well, I was 15 when “it all” started. And I don’t see how anyone could possibly claim that the United States is a more moral nation now than it was in 1980.

Carlton goes on and explains why. In short, the Christian “culture warrior” has really adopted the same methods as his opponent, the Left. That may seem on its face the way to go about it; after all, the fact that we want different things doesn’t mean we can’t utilize similar methods. If the Left accomplished their goals through the courts and the legislatures then, perhaps, so should we. But that’s just it: the method of the Left is a component of their message, their worldview. In the end, and in many respects, the religious right has ended up buying into the same basic worldview as the left. And that worldview is a materialist worldview which has it that, among other things, humans can be perfected by government action.

We have met the enemy. They are us.

In the end, most of the would-be “culture warriors” have become nothing better than non-isolationists, wanting in theory to embrace the reformation view of Christ and Culture, but in fact – by adopting the method and, hence, the worldview of their opponents – exercising a nuanced version of the agreement view, and doing little more than riding along in the very stream whose direction they desire to alter. They are “Christian” dialectical-materialists. There they go, down the same materialist rapids as everyone else, but in a “Christian” way, on a “Christian” raft, with their “Christian” paddles and, of course their “Christian” river guides.

And so, the average Christian “culture warrior” is about as skilled, about as intimidating, and in the end will be about as successful as Invader Zim.

But, like Invader Zim, he is very, very entertaining, despite his utter failure.

Part 2

The ten worst-managed companies in the country

Douglas McIntyre lists them here. (It's a companion to his piece on large U. S. companies that may disappear. Sadly, Exxon Mobile didn’t make that list. More importantly, neither did Shell.)

It was a bit of a surprise to see Pfizer on this list.
10 June 2008

If at first you don’t succeed…

try and try (the same failing approach) again…and again…and again.

Unemployment spiked on Friday. That’s bad news for the Bush Administration; I mean, it’s his fault. Right?

There is an interesting facet to this, which, as Jerry Bowyer explains, the right wing media did not report:

Ask yourself a few questions: Why did unemployment surge at a time when unemployment compensation claims are historically low? More to the point, how could unemployment spike this much without a coinciding spike in corporate lay-offs?
The answer to all of these questions is same: because very few people lost jobs last month. This huge jump in the size of the unemployed comes from new entrants to the economy – hundreds of thousands of them. In short, well over 600,000 people who were not job seekers in April became job seekers in May. And who starts looking for work at the end of Spring? That’s right – students. Hundreds of thousands of students are looking for work right now, and they’re not finding it.

Congress is to blame. Last year Congressional Democrats (along with some Stockholm-Syndromed Republicans) passed the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, which started a phased hike of the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25. Free market economists warned them that this would increase unemployment – that rapid increases in unemployment compensation hit teens and minorities the hardest. But the class-warriors are running the people’s house now, and they would hear none of that, so they took to the floor, let loose the dogs of demagoguery, and saddled America’s pizza parlors, municipal swimming pools, house painting businesses and lawn mowing services with a huge cost increase.
In an article on the same topic, Kristen Lopez Eastlick explains:

This year, it’s harder than ever for teens to find a summer job. Researchers at Northeastern University described summer 2007 as “the worst in post-World War II history” for teen summer employment, and those same researchers say that 2008 is poised to be “even worse.”

According to their data, only about one-third of Americans 16 to 19 years old will have a job this summer, and vulnerable low-income and minority teens are going to fare even worse.

The percentage of teens classified as “unemployed” — those who are actively seeking a job but can’t get one — is more than three times higher than the national unemployment rate, according to the most recent Department of Labor statistics.

One of the prime reasons for this drastic employment drought is the mandated wage hikes that policymakers have forced down the throats of local businesses. Economic research has shown time and again that increasing the minimum wage destroys jobs for low-skilled workers while doing little to address poverty.

According to economist David Neumark of the University of California at Irvine, for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage, employment for high school dropouts and young black adults and teenagers falls by 8.5 percent. In the past 11 months alone, the United States’ minimum wage has increased by more than twice that amount.
Free market economists are not the only ones who tried to warn “ that this would increase unemployment…[and]…that rapid increases in unemployment compensation [would] hit teens and minorities the hardest.” Some of us, with real world expertise in such unimportant and irrelevant things as actually running a business and having to make payroll, also tried to explain why this happens. (And extended here, here, here and here.)

But liberals, whether Democrat or Republican, just know things that others don’t, despite not having the requisite education and experience. They are magical people, capable of bending the laws of economic reality, greater than Moses' parting the Red Sea.

I say, “Almost” because if liberals had been in charge of the Red Sea-parting project the very people they claimed to be helping would have drowned with the Egyptians. (And they'd blame anyone but themselves for the failure. No doubt because no one is a failure who has good intentions for his failing policy. The failure clearly must lie elsewhere.)

I don’t mean to imply that a Red Sea-parting done by conservatives would have been better. Conservatives would have said simply, “Unless God parts it, we shall have to go around,” and proceeded to make preparations for going around.
04 June 2008

For whites and for their salvation

People can be persuaded to desire almost anything...if they are constantly told that it is something to which they are entitled and which is unjustly withheld from them. -- T. S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture.

For white people, God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ means that God has made black people a beautiful people; and if they are going to be in relationship with God, they must enter by means of their black brothers, who are a manifestion of God’s presence on earth…. Reconciliation to God means that white people are prepared to deny themselves (whiteness), take up the cross (blackness) and follow Christ (black ghetto). – James H. Cone, Black Theology and Black Power.

This is what attempts at white redemption look like in accordance with Black Theology.

A lot of people whose ancestors were not here when, apparently, Pfleger’s ancestors were enslaving blacks, segregating them, and discriminating against them now enjoy benefits like 401k plans. A great many non-whites are making it in this country, people who have been here a shorter time than blacks, in some cases only a matter of decades. Everyone living here now, regardless of when they, or their ancestors arrived here benefits from that past. It's unavoidably true.

Redemption-seeking whites like Pfleger keep telling blacks they're owed and whites, no matter what their ancestors did or did not do, no matter what their ancestors opposed or did not oppose, will always owe. Like I said, the day when the end of their oppression by whites is recognized as over is a long, long way off.

02 June 2008

A union by any other name

[T]he legal issue we must resolve is not whether it would be constitutionally permissible under the California Constitution for the state to limit marriage only to opposite-sex couples while denying same-sex couples any opportunity to enter into an official relationship with all or virtually all of the same substantive attributes, but rather whether our state Constitution prohibits the state from establishing a statutory scheme in which both opposite-sex and same-sex couples are granted the right to enter into an officially recognized family relationship that affords all of the significant legal rights and obligations traditionally associated under state law with the institution of marriage, but under which the union of an opposite-sex couple is officially designated a “marriage” whereas the union of a same-sex couple is officially designated a “domestic partnership.” The question we must address is whether, under these circumstances, the failure to designate the official relationship of same-sex couples as marriage violates the California Constitution.In re Marriage Cases, here.

This is a truck:

and so is this:

While you can properly, depending upon the context, use the same word (i.e., truck) to refer to both, you might want to use different words to distinguish one truck from another. You might get a little irritated if it were declared illegal to make such a distinction.

This is a picture of a union, of sorts:

This also is a picture of a union, of sorts:

We probably don’t need to say much to distinguish these two unions from each other. While you can properly, depending upon the context, use the same word (i.e., union) to refer to both, you might want to use different words to distinguish one union from another. You might get a little irritated if it were declared illegal to make such a distinction.

But that is exactly what happened when the California Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional for the State of California to use different words in the law to distinguish this type of union

from this type of union:

It may be that, as the court puts it, that since opposite-sex and same-sex couples are able have a relationship “that affords all of the significant legal rights and obligations traditionally associated under state law with the institution of marriage” it is unconstitutional to refer to the union of opposite-sex couple as a “marriage” and the union of a same-sex couple as a “domestic partnership.”

If the people of the State of California really have a constitution in which they deny themselves the right to distinguish between a same-sex union and an opposite-sex union they can certainly fix it. But what’s really going on here is thought control. Gays are not satisfied with having the same rights as straights. (And the court’s language indicates that this is, indeed, the case.) Gays want to control the language used to discuss their unions. They want to have relationships which are identical with the exception of the sexes of the parties and at the same time to have it illegal to use terms which distinguish same sex unions from opposite sex union. It used to be about "equal" rights. Now it's about identical terms.

What if opposite sex couples just happen to want a term which specifies that their union is the union of a male and a female, not a male and a male or a female and a male? Too bad, I guess.

Tony at Catholic Pillow Fight also comments, here, linking to Creative Minority Report, here.

About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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