Monthly Archives: July 2007

Conferences to be like Pentecost!


We found this howler at MorningStar Fellowship Church’s Web site. It’s near the end of the “Word for the Week” (www.eaglestar.org/feature/wftw/index.htm) for July 30, 2007:

Make plans now to attend one or both of our most important conferences of the year—the Harvest Conference (Sept. 27-29) and the Worship & Warfare Conference (Oct.1-3). These conferences are attended by Christians from many nations and denominations. We hold them back to back because there is a dynamic and spiritual momentum created that seems to draw the Lord in a special way. It was at a gathering like this that the Holy Spirit was first poured out on the Day of Pentecost.

Did you catch that new ministry technique? You can summon the Lord by holding conferences back to back.

Unfortunately, with the phrase “at a gathering like this,” the Word for the Week does not make it clear which conference will be most like Pentecost, nor does it explain what it is about these conferences that makes them similar to a first-century gathering of Apostles.

Books: Stoicism with Christianity, Spinoza


The ancient philosophy of Stoicism is the topic for fans of philosophy or New Testament buffs — if they have thick wallets:

The Corinthian Dissenters and the Stoics (Studies in Biblical Literature) (Peter Lang Publishing, 2007) by Albert V. Garcilazo for $71.95 at Amazon.com;

Spinoza and the Stoics: Power, Politics and the Passions (Continuum Studies in Philosophy) (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2007) by Firmin Debrabander for $120 at Amazon.com.

But Stoicism is receiving attention beyond the obscure academic presses.

A new book on ancient Stoicism is due in September.

At least three books about ancient Stoicism have been re-released in paperback this year.

Several more books about Stoicism or the thought of individual Stoics have been released in the past few years.

Why are people into the Stoics these days? I’m trying to answer that question for an upcoming article in LiturgicalCredo.com, but for the moment, let’s just look at what’s new.

Due in September is Stoicism and Emotion (University of Chicago Press, 2007) by Margaret R. Graver.

The book “shows that they did not simply advocate an across-the-board suppression of feeling, as stoicism implies in today’s English, but instead conducted a searching examination of these powerful psychological responses, seeking to understand what attitude toward them expresses the deepest respect for human potential,” according to the description at Amazon.com.

The three books re-released in paperback this year, suggesting an ongoing interest in the subject matter, are:

Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind (Oxford University Press, 2005, 2007), by Nancy Sherman

The Stoic Life: Emotions, Duties, & Fate (Oxford University Press, 2005, 2007), by Tad Brennan

The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995; HarperOne, 2007), which was co-authored by Epictetus, an ancient Stoic, and Sharon Lebell, a writer and musician who lives, in our time, in Northern California.

Note that two of the three paperback re-releases were published in hardback just two years ago.

Unlike the first two books mentioned at the top of this post, Graver’s books and the paperbacks are priced within a range one might expect to pay for a book.

The priceless online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry on Stoicism here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/stoicism/ .

-Colin Burch

Healing from cults, Christian fringe groups


I’ve been reading some books regarding cults and aberrant Christian groups.

Paul R. Martin has an excellent article, “Post-Cult Recovery: Assessment and Rehabilitation,” in the book Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse (Norton, 1995) edited by Michael D. Langone. The rest of the book is excellent, too. The asset of Martin’s article is its inclusion of details related to recovery from fringe Christian groups as well as cults.

Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches that Abuse (Zondervan, 1997, 1998, 2000) by Mary Alice Chrnalogar includes this line: “The most common non-Biblical idea that is planted in members’ minds by abusive groups is that they are rebellious, hard-hearted, or prideful when they decide not to follow the group’s rules.”

By Hook or By Crook: How Cults Lure Christians (McCracken Press, 1993) by Harold Bussell offers this caution: “Do you ever wonder if you are useless to God because you have no great spiritual experience about which you can boast? Do you ever feel like a second-class Christian because you have some difficult habit, sin, or problem you can’t overcome? If so, you may be susceptible to a cult that will promise you ‘results.’ Cults and other aberrant groups always offer that something more that seems to be lacking.”

If you suspect you’re in a controlling or less-than-healthy church, please track down these books. You might find used copies at http://www.abebooks.com or http://www.alibris.com or http://www.half.com .

-Colin Burch

Seminary classes on video


“If seminary is out of your regional (or financial) range, video-based courses from the Wesley Ministry Network may fit the bill. British Bishop N.T. Wright’s book Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense is the newest in a series of courses, which contain 20-minute lectures and questions for discussion. The series comes with workbooks and leader’s guides. Other course topics include ethics, women and church history, and the psalms. www.wesleyministrynetwork.com

–from Sojourners magazine, July 2007; www.sojo.net

Pundit says Catholics don’t know Bible


Even as we’re trying to encourage Biblical literacy at my Episcopal church, the CNN contributer and radio host Roland S. Martin, while blasting the Pope on the Vatican’s recent statement that the Roman Catholic Church was the only true church, suggested that Catholics aren’t familiar with the Bible:

“For him to even suggest that only the Catholic Church can provide true salvation to believers in Christ shows that he is wholly ignorant of the Scriptures that I have known all my life.

“Sorry, let me take that back. I’ve really only known the Bible for the last 13 of my 38 years. That’s because those first 25 years were spent as a die-hard Catholic.”

Found at http://somareview.com .

The GOP’s non-Mormon polygamists


Last week’s edition of The Economist had a chart that compared the number of times leading and likely Republican presidential candidates have been married, including the Mormon candidate Mitt Romney.

The tongue-in-cheek chart, titled “Who’s the true monogamist?”, played the (sort-of) bygone practice of polygamy in Romney’s Mormonism against the family-values record of other high-profile Republicans.

The chart went something like this:

Newt Gingrich: Three wives so far

Rudy Giuliani: Three wives so far

John McCain: Two wives so far

Fred Thompson: Two wives so far

Mitt Romney: one wife so far

Korean Christian faces public execution


This is a press release, dated July 12, from The Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that aids Christians who are being persecuted for their faith.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Son Jong Hoon, who is visiting the United States from his home in South Korea, today pleaded with the world to pressure North Korea to release his elder brother awaiting public execution for the crime of simply being a Christian.

For more than a year, Son Jong Nam, former North Korean Army officer turned underground evangelist, has been beaten, tortured and held in a bleak, North Korean death row basement jail in this capital city.  He has been sentenced to public execution as an example to the North Korean people.

“My only purpose in life right now is to save my brother,” the younger Son said. “I pray to God for my brother’s safety.”

Son Jong Hoon made his plea at a news conference at the National Press Club today. He was accompanied by representatives of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) and staff members from the office of Sen. Sam Brownback (Rep.-Kan.).

VOM, an international organization that assists persecuted Christians around the world, launched a global campaign Tuesday, calling on people in the United States and other countries to write letters and send emails to North Korean, United Nations and U.S. State Department officials on Son Jong Nam’s behalf.

VOM was been joined in the initiative by Brownback, a noted supporter of human rights for North Korean refugees.  Brownback sent letters last week, also signed by Senators Baucus (D-Mont.), Durbin (D-Ill.), Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Vitter (R-La.) asking U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to work to secure the release of the Christian prisoner.

VOM is directing people go to its web site, www.prisoneralert.com, where they can compose a personal letter of support and encouragement to Son.  The letter is to be mailed to the North Korean delegation to the United Nations, along with a cover letter asking the North Korean government to spare Son’s life, release him from prison immediately, report on his current status and deliver the personal letter to Son. 

 “We are asking for prayers for Mr. Son, but also that people around the world take action on his behalf,” said Todd Nettleton, director of media development for VOM.  “Jesus said ministering to a prisoner was like ministering to Himself.  Every letter and email can make a difference.”

Some years ago the elder Son complained to the North Korean Central People’s Committee when his pregnant wife, while being investigated by the secret police, was kicked in the stomach and miscarried. He made plans to leave North Korea after being pressured to drop the matter.

Son defected to China in 1998 with his wife, son and brother.  His wife died after arriving there.  It was in China that he met a South Korean missionary and became a Christian.  Mr. Son continued his religious studies and felt called to be an evangelist in North Korea.

But before he could return home, Son was arrested by Chinese police in 2001 and sent back to North Korea, charged with sending missionaries into his native country.  He was imprisoned and brutally tortured for three years. 

Son was released on parole in May 2004 and expelled from Pyongyang to Chongjin to work at a rocket research institute.  However, his health was so bad when he was released that he was unable to walk.  But after receiving medical treatment, he went back to China to meet with his brother.

Son was arrested again when he returned to North Korea in January 2006, and has remained in prison since. The last word of him came in February. It is suspected that because he is being kept in the capitol city, North Korean officials view him as a special case and perhaps are keeping him alive, if barely, for unknown reasons.

VOM has been launching helium-filled balloons, printed with either the Gospel of Mark or the text of a tract called “How to Know God” into North Korea for years, said Nettleton. They also smuggle in copies of an audio drama called “He Lived Among Us” and have sent copies of The New Testament in Korean to northern China through a VOM program called “Bibles Unbound” (www.biblesunbound.com).

The Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com), headquartered in Bartlesville, Okla., is a non-profit, interdenominational organization with a vision for aiding Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ, fulfilling the “Great Commission” and educating the world about the ongoing persecution of Christians.  

Polanyi on tradition and renewal


“The life of the scientific community consists in enforcing the tradition of science and assuring at the same time its continuous renewal. A dynamic free society lives as a whole in this way. It cultivates a system of traditional ideas which have the power of unlimited self-renewal.”
–Michael Polanyi, from the preface to the Torchbook edition of Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy

This might explain the success of Christianity, which could be described as “a system of traditional ideas which have the power of unlimited self-renewal.”

Critique of Pope Benedict XVI’s move to Tridentine Mass


Frank K. Flinn has an excellent, if disparaging, analysis in today’s Boston Globe. He addresses Pope Benedict XVI’s move to allow wider use of the Tridentine Mass as an undermining of Vatican II reforms. Flinn included some good background information on the issue, but he is certainly an opponent of those supporting the Pope’s decision. Read the article here:

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2007/07/10/concilium_vaticanum_iium_vale/ 

Arcade Fire’s prophetic insight


Art plays a prophetic role in our time as much as it has in any other. Whether out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, or from the mouth of an ass, or from the conviction of the faithful, a true insight is chipped from God’s truth. Insight, presented poetically, is what I see in the song “Intervention” by the Canadian band Arcade Fire. The song describes a substantial part of my church experience, as well as the experiences of many others. Here are a few lines from the song:

Working for the Church while

your life falls apart.

Singin’ hallelujah with the fear in your heart.

Every spark of friendship and love

will die without a home.

Here the soldier groan, “We’ll go at it alone.”

(See www.arcadefire.com and www.neonbible.com.)

-Colin Burch

Don’t be shocked that doctors were involved in the terror plots


NPR’s “On Point” was warming up a few minutes ago, and the fill-in announcer referred to the shock that doctors were linked to the failed terror plots in London and Glasgow.

A trendy presupposition underlies this surprise that doctors would do such a thing. Education is supposed to be the cure-all for every problem, and surely doctors are well-educated — even well-educated in a humanitarian vocation.

Yet education is not a cure-all, because human beings are still imperfect and fallen, no matter how smart they are.

Education doesn’t eradicate evil in the human heart.

Education, unfortunately, will not diffuse one’s ability to commit hideous crimes.

Don’t be shocked that doctors can also be violent extremists. You might as well be surprised that doctors are human beings.

-Colin Burch

Could solution to Islamic extremism breed cynicism?


In an article headlined “Islam’s authority deficit,” the June 30 edition of The Economist opened with the following three paragraphs:

Governments worried by Islamist extremism ought to get the message: the only real answer lay in more Islam — deeper, sounder, more careful readings of the Muslim faith, from scholars who could use the weight of collective experience, accumulated over 14 centuries, to solve the dilemmas of life in the modern age.

Such, broadly, was the argument laid out in London recently by Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, before a gathering of Islamic scholars and pundits. And his hosts took him seriously. The case for using scholarly Islam as a counterweight to the radical, hot-headed sort is familiar in the Middle East, but this time it won an unusually clear endorsement from a Western leader, Tony Blair.

In his parting thoughts (as prime minister, anyway) on Islam, Mr Blair lauded Jordan for its efforts to make the various legal schools of Islam respect each another and stop calling each other infidels. And just like Mr Gomaa, Mr Blair said how important it was to ensure that only qualified people could issue fatwas, or rulings on how to follow Islam in specific situations. Emboldened by his welcome, Mr Gomaaa offered to help Britain set up a post like his own: state-certified grand mufti.

I worry about Tony Blair’s role, not Ali Gomaa’s role, in the discussions and possibilities mentioned above.

Those possibilities are outstanding. My concern is that any perception of Western-influenced official Islam would breed cynicism among the more conservative elements in Islam as well as the extremists. Blair and Gomaa are wise men who realize something constructive must be attempted in our time. However, isn’t the nature of Islamic extremism, and even some especially conservative elements within the religion, to be suspicious of anything that might water-down the message? Will the attempt backfire?

-Colin Burch

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Provocative Liturgical Dancing (ouch)


Matt C. Abbott has posted photos — decent but telling photos — from a recent instance of liturgical dance that seemed inappropriate in more ways than one.

Here’s the link: http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/abbott/070619