Totality – The Solar Eclipse

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Congratulations to all who survived the solar eclipse with eyesight intact!  It is interesting that a conjunction of heavenly bodies has produced such busy news comment and mass travel.  To be sure, it is rare to have a solar eclipse visible in the continental United States, but it seems odd that a brief occlusion of the sun should interest people from Seattle, who are used to occlusions of the sun for weeks at at time.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant distinguished between our sense of the beautiful and our sense of the sublime.  Beauty arises (normally) from an artist’s intention to communicate by the use of form and color.  The sublime arises (normally) from things in nature that create in us a sense of awe, wonder, and even terror.  A statue may be beautiful; a volcano or hurricane is sublime. The statue may communicate to us the artist’s ideas about admirable form.  The volcano and hurricane do not communicate, but they make us feel small and vulnerable.

Perhaps the eclipse has generated such interest because it triggers our sense of the sublime.  When one unimaginably large object floats exactly in front of an even more unimaginably large object, we feel a thrill in recognizing gigantic things that we cannot control.  We can get similar feelings of the sublime by climbing high mountains, diving deep into the ocean, or visiting the barren ice plains of Antarctica.  These remote locations are hostile to human life.  We can survive, but only temporarily and after careful preparation.  The movements of sun and moon, particularly in the rare conjunction of an eclipse, may remind us that the universe, except for our small blue-green Earth, is a gigantic deadly void.

What should we make of this?  Some have concluded that, because the universe is so big and our Earth is so small by comparison, it is futile to suppose that we are important in any way and it is particularly futile to suppose that a God who made the universe would pay any attention to us.  One response is that of Yoda in Star Wars, “Judge me by my size, do you?”  But the question persists.  Readers of the “Who is God” series on this blog will discover that the ancient Hebrews were aware of this question and tried to address it.

If nothing else, a lively sense of the sublime can correct our natural inclination to make more of ourselves than we ought.  Many things can be understood better if approached with humility.  Perhaps the eclipse will remind us to maintain this attitude.

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Who is God? Part 6 (Next Steps & the Bible)

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     Previous installments of this series have summarized some principles of “natural theology,” which considers what can be known about the universe and God simply by looking around with attention.  The universe is governed by physical laws, and it appears to be governed by moral principles as well.  Both of these are puzzling.  How do the planets “know” just where to go in order to comply with Kepler’s laws (as modified by Einstein)?  How do we “know” that it is good to comfort those in distress?  The physical and moral laws appear to exist as part of the universe that we do not invent but rather discover.  If the universe came to be (we saw evidence that it did), then there is reason to believe that it was created by something or someone not bound by space and time, something or someone concerned with moral right and wrong.

     The idea that the universe was made by an all-powerful, good God runs into an immediate problem.  We know that, morally speaking, something is seriously wrong.  We teach our children about right and wrong, we resolve to improve ourselves, and we try to help others, but the universe remains afflicted with sin, evil, and death.  One would think that a good God would want to do something about this situation.

     This blog series now leaves the realm of natural theology and enters that of “revealed theology,” which is the record of God’s (alleged) communications with mankind.  The word “alleged” is used because these posts will not assume that God has communicated, but will rather provide evidence that God has done so.  Let the reader make up his or her own mind. The primary evidence to be considered is the events recorded in the Bible.  It therefore makes sense to begin by talking about what the Bible is.  The word “bible” is from the Greek word for “book,” and has its roots in the word for papyrus, a wetland plant used to make a kind of paper for over four thousand years.  We will first consider what is commonly called the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible.  This is a collection of books written at various times over several centuries.  The first five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are also called the Pentateuch (which means “five scrolls” in Greek).  The books of the Old Testament were originally written in Hebrew, but have been translated into other languages since ancient times.  Many different versions exist, some more “word for word” and some more in the nature of paraphrases.  A good reliable version in English is the New Revised Standard Version.  This is a modern (1989) revision of the 1952 Revised Standard Version, which in turn was a revision of the 1901 American Standard Version, which in turn was a revision of the 1611 Authorized Version (also called the King James Bible).  Another reliable, modern translation in the R.S.V. line of translation, is the English Standard Verson (E.S.V.). There are many formats and editions  readily available. Study note versions of a trusted translation, also provide additional teaching notes, such as maps, tables, and essay related to the study of Scripture. At each stage of translation, starting in 1611, teams of eminent scholars with expertise in Hebrew and history were involved to examine old manuscripts and determine the best translation.  So your homework for next time is to get a Bible.

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For Saturday evening

August 12, 2017 – Saturday Evening

God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.1

When the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer, Ehud, … a man lefthanded. After him was Shamgar, … which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.2

The Lord looked upon Gideon, and said, Go in this thy might: … have not I sent thee? And he said unto him, O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.3

The Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me, … lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.4

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.5 My brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.6
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11Co 1:27; 2Jdg 3:15,31; 3Jdg 6:14,15; 4Jdg 7:2; 5Zec 4:6; 6Eph 6:10;

From Bagster’s Daily Light

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Friday light

It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.1

Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.2 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.3 We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering an offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.4 Blotting out the handwriting of ordin-ances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.5

I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.6 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.7
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1Joh 19:30; 2Heb 12:2; 3Joh 17:4; 4Heb 10:10-14; 5Col 2:14; 6Joh 10:17,18; 7Joh 15:13;

How can this “Good Friday” lection be appropriate for the start of the first weekend in August? So often the traffic reporters note the Friday light commuter traffic as people try to get a jump on weekend living. Eugene Peterson wrote of considering to live our lives as though every Friday were good Friday. Each weekend we can choose to live as participating in the Great Triduum. It is a very different way of life than the normal tenor of modern cultures. Even in the church there is a constant struggle to avoid Triduum living and compress such time for a couple of hours on Saturday or Sunday.

The great lie of our times is that our lives are our own. Such an arrogant view demands that we can possess any present and future we desire just by claiming it. The lie is perpetuated when we believe that we can control our future and direct our course. Control is the great spirit at play and our enemy longs for us to make it our compact.

As Christians, our faith teaches us that our lives are not our own. A recurring truth is that we trust and obey our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Living a weekend or two in the sacred time of the Triduum is one way to express that trust. Instead of frantic pursuits of cramming a life of experiences and amusements into a single weekend, Triduum living preserves the sacred. There might be deliberate solitude or prayerfulness. There might be extended time given over to ministry or mission. It requires discipline and the confidence to know that we are not missing out when given over to things so different from a consumer or acquisition culture. Give it a try and listen for the still small voice that is God whispering in your ear.

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Stirring Times at the A.C.N.A.

As you can see elsewhere on this website, St. Barnabas is a member of the Anglican Church in North America.  The ACNA has its roots in the Church of England (“Anglican” refers to England).  The Church of England was formed during the Reformation in the hope of avoiding what were perceived as the opposite errors of the Roman Catholic church and the more radical reformers.  For a long time, the Church of England and its counterpart in the United States, the Episcopal Church, remained loyal to the teaching of the Bible and of the Apostles.  But any human institution requires reformation from time to time.  First the Episcopal Church and then the Church of England began to drift away from faith in the Bible and the beliefs of the Apostles.  ACNA was formed by people who wished to remain true to what the Christian Church has always believed, based on the authority of the Bible.  This has led to a curious situation.  Historically, each nation had a single version of the Anglican church.  Now in America the Episcopal Church and the ACNA (and other groups) claim their roots in the Church of England.  More interesting yet, this summer bishops of the ACNA joined with Anglican bishops from around the world and appointed (consecrated) a bishop to be sent to Great Britain to minister to those who object to the way the Anglican churches in England and Scotland are departing from traditional beliefs.image This act of sending a missionary to England has caused quite a stir in church circles.  It might be dismissed as a matter of church politics, but there are important issues at stake.  The success or failure of any particular church organization is a matter of only local importance, but the preservation of true religion as revealed by God has ultimate importance for all people.  It is God’s plan to save all people that accept his message.  For that to happen, the message must be delivered.  St. Barnabas participates in God’s plan by preserving and passing on the message of Jesus.  You are welcome to join us with your questions and concerns.

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To read the full story of an missionary bishop sent Anglican churches in England and Scotland follow the link: http://www.anglicanchurch.net/?/main/page/1476

 

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The Value of Love – Part 5 in Who is God?

WHO IS GOD?  Part 5 (The Value of Love)

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     We have seen that our universe is afflicted with sin, evil, and death.  We struggle against them, mostly in vain.   Our stories end with some version of “and they lived happily ever after,” but we know this does not really happen.  The happiest families deal with strife and illness.  The brilliant are misunderstood and attacked by the envious.  Even the movie stars and singers that we idolize, despite their millions, end up in rehab and divorce court.  We try to postpone death, though the prospect of endless life, when you think about it, is actually disturbing. 

     Image result for a new commandment i give youWhat can be done?  There is light in the darkness of this world.  Acts of courage, justice, wisdom, and self-control were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans and (to some extent) by us.  Like Camelot in the musical, acts of courage, justice, wisdom, and self-control inspire us with the possibility of virtue.  Even more inspiring are acts of love.  Not the romantic passion of Romeo and Juliet that (so often) ends in tears, but the persistent selfless love of Vincent de Paul, discussed earlier, or of Father Damien, who volunteered to serve the exiled lepers of Molokai and ended up dying of the disease.  Throughout the world, people are working selflessly for the good of others, caring for children, visiting the sick, helping the poor and disabled, and feeding the hungry.  These acts, humble and unsung, give dignity to humanity and have real value in an afflicted world.

     So it is reasonable to conclude, before we ever talk about religion, that we live in a universe where material things follow physical laws and there is a real moral dimension, the crowning glory of which is selfless love.  What progress we can make from here will be the subject of this continuing blog.

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Walk in Love

July 28, 2017 – Friday Morning

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Walk in love.1

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.2 Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.3 Love covereth all sins.4

When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.5 Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again.6 Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.7 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrar-wise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.8 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.9 Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.10

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.11
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1Eph 5:2; 2Joh 13:34; 31Pe 4:8; 4Pro 10:12; 5Mar 11:25; 6Luk 6:35; 7Pro 24:17; 81Pe 3:9; 9Rom 12:18; 10Eph 4:32; 111Jo 3:18;

 

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St. Vincent de Paul

https://i2.wp.com/www.verdekc.org/images/pictures/stvincent1.jpgThis name is familiar in Seattle (and many other places) as referring to a mission that helps the poor with personal visits, thrift stores, and food banks.  The mission was founded to honor Vincent de Paul, who was born in Gascony (southwestern France) in 1576.  He showed an aptitude for learning, so his peasant family arranged for his education.  He was ordained a priest.  It is related that he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery in Africa, but escaped after converting his master to Christianity.  Back in France, he served as a parish priest until appointed Chaplain General for the galleys of France.  Vincent worked to improve the lot of prisoners who were chained to oars and made to row warships about.  He continued all his life to preach the Gospel (the Good News of Christ) especially to peasants and he worked to improve the education and conduct of priests so that they could join him in this mission.  He was an advisor to the aged King Louis XIII, and was one of the council of advisors to the young king Louis XIV.  The Anglican Breviary says, “There was no kind of misery which he did not strive to relieve.  Christians groaning in Mohammedan slavery, foundlings and deformed children, your maidens exposed to danger, houseless nuns and fallen women, convicts sent to the galleys, sick lunatics and beggars without number; all such as these he relieved, and devoutly housed in divers charitable institutions which remain to this day.”  Vincent died in 1660 and was canonized in 1737.  He is regarded as the patron saint of charitable societies.  His feast day is July 19.  Vincent did not work for glory or fame.  He inspires us to work in selfless love for the poor.

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WHO IS GOD? Part 4 (The Broken Universe)

     Someone reading earlier posts in this blog may say, “I see that a case can be made for saying that the universe is governed by laws, certainly physical laws (like gravity) and even perhaps moral laws (like don’t oppress the poor), but we are a long way from the Christian God.  In fact, I don’t think you can ever prove an all-powerful, loving God because, after all, look at the sorry state of the universe!”  Let us explore this challenge even if we cannot fully deal with it.

     It is an interesting fact that, although no physical thing is able to escape the pull of gravity, which reaches invisibly to the distant stars, yet people do seem to be able to escape the force of moral laws.  It may be a law that you should not oppress the poor, but lots of people do this.  They commit fraud and theft and murder.  We can call this category of problems “sin.”  Looking further, we see that the world is a rough place.  Animals eat one another to survive.  Earthquakes and wildfires cause widespread destruction.  Germs and parasites blight millions of lives.  We can call this category of problems “evil.”  And all lives end in death.

     Sin, evil, and death.  These are fearsome realities of our world.  We struggle against them.  We have elaborate systems of justice to detect and punish crime, but crime continues.  We spend fortunes to treat disease and parasites, but new diseases appear.  We exercise and watch our diets to prolong our lives, but die anyway.  Sin, evil, and death are problems we can combat, but never solve. 

     What can we learn from these bleak reflections?  One lesson is that we have many shared intuitions about the defects in our universe.  No one applauds when a helpless person is robbed, when a child suffers from malaria, or when a loved one dies.  Sin, evil, and death are repellant blights on the world and all good people struggle against them.  A second lesson is this.  If the world was originally good (as seems to be assumed in mythologies around the world) then something has gone seriously wrong.  If the world was made by a good God, then God must surely want to do something about sin, evil, and death.

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WHO IS GOD? Part 3 (The Moral Universe)

In addition to matter in motion and the forces studied by physicists, the universe contains a moral dimension that it is difficult both to deny and to understand.  It is difficult to deny that we recognize a good deed (a firefighter enters a burning building to rescue a child) and a bad one (a man robs and kills a defenseless person). We claim that people have rights and duties.  We distinguish virtues and vices.  We teach all of these things to our children. 

     People all over the world and throughout recorded history have remarkably similar views about morality.  Some of these similarities were documented in C. S. Lewis’s book, The Abolition of Man.  They include negative rules like “don’t steal, don’t murder, take no bribes” and positive rules like “respect your parents, help the poor, seek wisdom.”

     What are we to make of this similarity of moral outlook through time and across cultures?  Some say that moral ideas are nothing more than emotional or sociologically conditioned responses, subjective rather than objective. Lewis’s book is well worth reading on this subject.  Lewis argues persuasively that the subjective view of morality not only fails to account for the facts of our shared moral understanding, it is actually incoherent.  There is good reason to believe that our moral views reflect something real in the universe. 

     The idea of a moral dimension to the universe will disturb those who believe that the universe is nothing more than a collection of matter and physical forces that are studied by science, not moral philosophy.  But nearly everyone, particularly those who are dedicated to science, understand that the universe is more than matter and physical forces.  Scientists in particular prize knowledge and free inquiry.  These are, after all, moral values.

     How could the universe have a moral dimension?  It is hard to picture, to be sure.  To get a sense of what it might be like, consider other areas of life where we are bound by rules of conduct.  In this family, we sing the birthday song before blowing out the candles.  In court, everyone rises when the judge enters.  On the baseball field, the rules allow seven (or eight) ways of getting to first base.  All of these situations have something important in common: they were created by and are sustained by beings with minds and purposes.  Apart from minds and purposes, it is difficult to see any possible basis for supposing that our actions should be governed by rules.

    For this reason, our moral intuitions are evidence – though not yet very clear evidence – supporting the hypothesis that the universe as a whole was created by and is sustained by something with a mind.

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