Daily Archives: December 27, 2013

(RNS) Iran’s Charter of Citizens’ Rights could worsen religious freedom in the country

Aside from President Rouhani’s occasional tweets wishing Jews and Christians well on Rosh Hashanah and Christmas, Iran’s track record on religious tolerance and freedom is dismal.

Last month, the president released a draft Charter of Citizens’ Rights. Nice title, but what’s inside leaves much to be desired according to Nazila Ghanea, who teaches international human rights law at the University of Oxford. Ghanea has studied Iran’s human rights record for nearly two decades with a particular focus on freedom of religion or belief and minority rights. I spoke with her about this new charter and more generally about religious freedom in Iran. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Iran, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theology, Violence

Malcolm Guite–A Sonnet for the Feast of St. John

Read it all or note that there is an audio option.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christmas, Church History, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Poetry & Literature, Theology, Theology: Scripture

The Nativity of Christ

Behold the father is his daughter’s son,
The bird that built the nest is hatched therein,
The old of years an hour hath not outrun,
Eternal life to live doth now begin,
The Word is dumb, the mirth of heaven doth weep,
Might feeble is, and force doth faintly creep.

O dying souls, behold your living spring;
O dazzled eyes, behold your sun of grace;
Dull ears, attend what word this Word doth bring;
Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace.
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs
This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs.
Gift better than himself God doth not know;
Gift better than his God no man can see.
This gift doth here the giver given bestow;
Gift to this gift let each receiver be.
God is my gift, himself he freely gave me;
God’s gift am I, and none but God shall have me.

Man altered was by sin from man to beast;
Beast’s food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh.
Now God is flesh and lies in manger pressed
As hay, the brutest sinner to refresh.
O happy field wherein that fodder grew,
Whose taste doth us from beasts to men renew.

—-Robert Southwell (1561-1595)

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Poetry & Literature

Thomas Fleming: a Christmas story about George Washington’s Gift that few Americans know

Washington went on to express his gratitude for the support of “my countrymen” and the “army in general.” This reference to his soldiers ignited feelings so intense, he had to grip the speech with both hands to keep it steady. He continued: “I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them [Congress] to his holy keeping.”

For a long moment, Washington could not say another word. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The words touched a vein of religious faith in his inmost soul, born of battlefield experiences that had convinced him of the existence of a caring God who had protected him and his country again and again during the war. Without this faith he might never have been able to endure the frustrations and rage he had experienced in the previous eight months.
Washington then drew from his coat a parchment copy of his appointment as commander in chief. “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action and bidding farewell to this august body under whom I have long acted, I here offer my commission and take leave of all the employments of public life.” Stepping forward, he handed the document to Mifflin.

This was — is — the most important moment in American history.

The man who could have dispersed this feckless Congress and obtained for himself and his soldiers rewards worthy of their courage was renouncing absolute power. By this visible, incontrovertible act, Washington did more to affirm America’s government of the people than a thousand declarations by legislatures and treatises by philosophers.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the greatest of these declarations, witnessed this drama as a delegate from Virginia. Intuitively, he understood its historic dimension. “The moderation. . . . of a single character,” he later wrote, “probably prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Office of the President, Politics in General, Theology

Karl Barth on Christmas

But the object of divine action in the Incarnation is man. God’s free decision is and remains a gracious decision; God becomes man, the Word becomes flesh. The Incarnation means no apparent reserved, but a real and complete descent of God. God actually became what we are, in order actually to exist with us, actually to exist for us, in thus becoming and being human, not to do what we do-sin; and to do what we fail to do”“God’s, His own, will; and so actually, in our place, in our situation and position to be the new man. It is not in His eternal majesty”“in which He is and remains hidden from us”“but as this new man and therefore the Word in the flesh, that God’s Son is God’s revelation to us and our reconciliation with God. Just for that reason faith cannot look past His humanity, the cradle of Bethlelhem and the cross of Golgotha in order to see Him in His divinity, Faith in the eternal Word of the Father is faith in Jesus of Nazereth or it is not the Christian faith.

–Karl Barth (1886-1968)

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Anthropology, Christmas, Christology, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Theology

Ring out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

–Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Poetry & Literature

G.K. Chesterton on Christmas: It is rather something that surprises us from behind

For those who think the idea of the Crusade is one that spoils the idea of the Cross, we can only say that for them the idea of the Cross is spoiled; the idea of the cross is spoiled quite literally in the cradle. It is not here to the purpose to argue with them on the abstract ethics of fighting; the purpose in this place is merely to sum up the combination of ideas that make up the Christian and Catholic idea, and to note that all of them are already crystallised in the first Christmas story. They are three distinct and commonly contrasted things which are nevertheless one thing; but this is the only thing which can make them one.

The first is the human instinct for a heaven that shall be as literal and almost as local as a home. It is the idea pursued by all poets and pagans making myths; that a particular place must be the shrine of the god or the abode of the blest; that fairyland is a land; or that the return of the ghost must be the resurrection of the body. I do not here reason about the refusal of rationalism to satisfy this need. I only say that if the rationalists refuse to satisfy it, the pagans will not be satisfied. This is present in the story of Bethlehem and Jerusalem as it is present in the story of Delos and Delphi; and as it is not present in the whole universe of Lucretius or the whole universe of Herbert Spencer.
The second element is a philosophy larger than other philosophies; larger than that of Lucretius and infinitely larger than that of Herbert Spencer. It looks at the world through a hundred windows where the ancient stoic or the modern agnostic only looks through one. It sees life with thousands of eyes belonging to thousands of different sorts of people, where the other is only the individual standpoint of a stoic or an agnostic. It has something for all moods of man, it finds work for all kinds of men, it understands secrets of psychology, it is aware of depths of evil, it is able to distinguish between ideal and unreal marvels and miraculous exceptions, it trains itself in tact about hard cases, all with a multiplicity and subtlety and imagination about the varieties of life which is far beyond the bald or breezy platitudes of most ancient or modern moral philosophy. In a word, there is more in it; it finds more in existence to think about; it gets more out of life. Masses of this material about our many-sided life have been added since the time of St. Thomas Aquinas. But St. Thomas Aquinas alone would have found himself limited in the world of Confucius or of Comte.
And the third point is this; that while it is local enough for poetry and larger than any other philosophy, it is also a challenge and a fight. While it is deliberately broadened to embrace every aspect of truth, it is still stiffly embattled against every mode of error. It gets every kind of man to fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its knowledge of the things that are fought for and against with every art of curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven.

This is the trinity of truths symbolised here by the three types in the old Christmas story; the shepherds and the kings and that other king who warred upon the children. It is simply not true to say that other religions and philosophies are in this respect its rivals. It is not true to say that any one of them combines these characters; it is not true to say that any one of them pretends to combine them. Buddhism may profess to be equally mystical; it does not even profess to be equally military. Islam may profess to be equally military; it does not even profess to be equally metaphysical and subtle. Confucianism may profess to satisfy the need of the philosophers for order and reason; it does not even profess to satisfy the need of the mystics for miracle and sacrament and the consecration of concrete things.

There are many evidences of this presence of a spirit at once universal and unique. One will serve here which is the symbol of the subject of this chapter; that no other story, no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical event, does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even poignant impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem. No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. It is either too cold or too frivolous, or too formal and classical, or too simple and savage, or too occult and complicated. Not one of us, whatever his opinions, would ever go to such a scene with the sense that he was going home. He might admire it because it was poetical, or because it was philosophical, or any number of other things in separation; but not because it was itself. The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero-worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can some times take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from within. It is as if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into good. It is not made of what the world would call strong materials; or rather it is made of materials whose strength is in that winged levity with which they brush us and pass. It is all that is in us but a brief tenderness that is there made eternal; all that means no more than a momentary softening that is in some strange fashion become a strengthening and a repose; it is the broken speech and the lost word that are made positive and suspended unbroken; as the strange kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more human than humanity.

–”“The Everlasting Man (Radford, Virginia: Wilder Publications, 2008 paperback ed. of the 1925 original), pp. 114-116

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Christology, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Theology

Kendall Harmon””The Light Shines in the Darkness at Christmas

I believe the hardest job in America today is that of being a Roman Catholic parish priest.

Perhaps the most challenging single job this year is that of Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The spiritual leader of 500,000 people in one of the most heavily Roman Catholic regions in the United States, Hughes, according to the New York Times, had to put together a diocese “in exile.” The task was to reorganize the Archdiocese, including a charitable network and 104 parochial schools, inBaton Rouge. Can you imagine?

“I never thought the Lord was going to ask me to take this on at 72,” said the Archbishop. Indeed.
And here is where faith in the child in the manger comes in. Looking out at all the flooding, devastation, looting and loss, the reporter asked Alfred Hughes whether he still had hope.

He declared: “Absolutely. Absolutely. That is the root of our faith.”

“The most important thing is to not doubt God’s presence and God’s saving and transforming grace,” he continued. “I’m convinced that God is going to purify us through this.”

What a bracing affirmation in the midst of so many who are tempted to soften Christmas into a Hallmark Card these days. “In the bleak midwinter,” Christine Rossetti reminds us, “frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.”

Talk about bleak ”” how about New Orleans after Katrina? Yet the good Archbishop says “I am convinced.” If there can be light in the bleakness of Bethlehem, in the miry initial despair of New Orleans after such a fury of nature, there can ALWAYS be hope. For the light shines in the darkness at Christmas, and the darkness has not and never will overcome it.

–The Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall S. Harmon from 2005

Posted in * By Kendall, * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Christology, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Theology

W.H. Auden's Christmas Oratorio

The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Poetry & Literature

(Anglican Taonga) Archbishop Philip Richardson's 2013 Christmas Message

I’ve had cause to reflect since that anything in life that has true beauty, and all in life that has true meaning, is vulnerable.
Vulnerable to rejection, abuse and distortion. Or disaster. Because risk, fragility and vulnerability are, it seems, in the very nature of life.
And yet the paradox is that vulnerable, fragile love can be awesomely powerful and transformative.
The only power on earth that can transform an enemy into friend, said Martin Luther King, is love.
Nelson Mandela understood that truth too ”“ and by that truth he transformed South Africa.
The Christmas story, of course, tells us the extraordinary truth about the redemptive power of fragile love.
The shepherds and the three wise men are told that Immanuel ”“ God with us ”“ is to be found among the squalor and smell of a stable, in an inconsequential country on the troublesome edge of a vast empire.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Anglican Provinces, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

The Episcopal Bishop of Washington's Christmas Sermon 2013

Well, here’s a story of someone behaving as a Christian. Hizkias Assefa was born and raised in Ethiopia and now lives in Kenya, where he works as a mediator and facilitator of reconciliation processes in countries experiencing civil war. He is also a professor of conflict studies at both George Mason University in Virginia and Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, where a friend of mine studied with
him.

Hiskias Assifa spent many months negotiating peace between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes of Rwanda. In late 1993, he and his team thought they had succeeded, after leaders agreed to a power sharing plam throughout the country. Assifa left Rwanda satisfied with his work and grateful for the progress made for peace. But in April of 1994, after the assassination of the president, the national government called on members of Hutu majority to kill as many of the Tutsi minority as possible. Over the next 3 months, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis were murdered. Every person that Assifa had worked with to broker peace was now dead.

The following year, he told the story of his presumed success and sober failure to the students of his peace-making class at EMU, among them my friend. He also told them of his plans to return to Rwanda. “How can you go back?” his students asked. “What can you possibly do for peace in the face of such violence?” He replied, “I am a Christian. For Christians, hopelessness is not an option.”

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Saint John

Merciful Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that we, being illumined by the teaching of thine apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that we may at length attain to the fullness of life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer to Begin the Day

O Almighty God, who by the birth of thy holy Child Jesus hast given us a great light to dawn upon our darkness: Grant, we pray thee, that in his light we may see light to the end of our days; and bestow upon us, we beseech thee, that most excellent Christmas gift of charity to all men, that so the likeness of thy Son may be formed in us, and that we may have the ever brightening hope of everlasting life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

–William Knight

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Bible Readings

The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are round about him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him, and burns up his adversaries round about. His lightnings lighten the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.

–Psalm 97:1-6

Posted in Theology, Theology: Scripture

A Christmas Lights Display Extravaganza–The Amazing Grace House from Holdman dot Com

Watch it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * General Interest, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Music, Science & Technology