Monday, May 22, 2006

A Banner of Truth

While in seminary, I worked in the periodicals department of the library, and there came to appreciate in particular two periodicals, The Banner of Truth, published in Scotland, but with a worldwide ministry of publishing Puritan and orthodox Reformed literature. The second was the Westminster Theological Journal, which I still faithfully read.

This week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. The Banner of Truth Trust provides Gospel ministers (i.e., evangelical, of orthodox Reformed persuasion) a refreshing conference each year, where one can hear some of the best speakers, preachers, and theologians in the Reformed world. This year it begins tomorrow at Messiah College, in Grantham, PA, and I am eager to hit the road. We will be a merry company of four ministers, three from the RCA and one Scottish OPC pastor. I've been attending these conferences since the mid-1990's, and just being able to fellowship with men of shared convictions is a tonic to the soul. It is a haven away from the culture and theological wars going on in the RCA, and I thank God for it. It is also a radical and countercultural event, in that only Gospel ministers and elders may attend. Hence it is a men's conference.

Another highlight of the conference is its proximity to Carlisle, PA, and the Gettysburg Battlefield site. In Carlisle there is a plethora of temptations: namely, the Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service, one of the best Christian bookstores can be found there, along with the Banner offices, which offer all manner of discounts and delights. Last year, for example, the Banner folk sold John Owen's Works, for $135. It retails at no less than $300, usually more. I can't wait to see what is offered this year. So I am taking this week off as an education leave, and will report back, D.V., later in the week.

Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth (Psalm 60:4).

Sunday, May 21, 2006

He Restores My Soul

The third sermon in a series on Psalm 23.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Requiem in Pace

Today is a very sad day in my world. Two luminary lights of poetry and historical theology have gone out. Stanley Kunitz, former poet laureate, died of pneumonia at 1oo years of age, and Jaroslav Pelikan died at age 82, of lung cancer.

Stanley Kunitz' death, while not unexpected, hit me with great force, as I truly loved his restrained, well-crafted poems, which would often resemble an iron fist covered by a velvet glove. He was a poet of great hopefulness, gentleness, with a deep love of nature. Many of his poems confronted the suicide of his father, who died before his birth. This is especially poignant in the "The Portrait":

My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

Many recent admirers of Kunitz came from reading the last poem in his Collected Poems, "Touch Me," which ends:

What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

Jaroslav Pelikan, a terror to many seminary students who had to read volumes of The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine" in five volumes, was my door to the early church. A much-lauded professor at Yale, Pelikan taught me more about Christian history and doctrine than anyone, and he taught me to love the interplay of theologians across time. He was a renaissance man, a concert pianist, a linguist, and a poet of a different sort than Stanley Kunitz. His poetry was of the Word made flesh, and the impact of the Incarnation into the thoughts and lives of men.

Rest in peace, Stanley and Jaroslav.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Green Pastures, Quiet Waters

The second in a series of sermons on Psalm 23.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hating America, Hating Americans

A review of two books in The New York Times which describe the nature and extent of world animosity toward America, uncharacteristically annoyed me. As the global superpower, world police, pious evangelists of democracy, America can seem at times over-bearing. Jealousy, envy, and suspicions of empire are almost inevitable given the world situation. But hatred of America, and more specifically of American citizens is another matter. President Bush has certainly not helped matters with some unguarded rhetoric, the appearance of unilateral indifference, and the ongoing mess in Iraq. But Nixon's limo was stoned by the Venezuelans in the 50's, so this kind of anger at presidents is nothing new. In other words, it's not all Bush's fault. Much of the fault lies with our allies, who cravenly criticize our culture, policies, and actions, while secretly being thankful we have the courage to act.

One response to the world's hatred is to temporarily behave like other countries. Simply cut off all international aid, military protection, military intervention, etc. What would the world look like without our presence? If the world believes we are now a force for evil, then deal with your problems yourselves, and see how easy it is. Our own media has forgotten, or more accurately chosen, to ignore the fact that America is a force for good in the world - we wear the white hats. We don't conquer other nations, we don't seek empire, we don't oppress peoples, we care what happens to others not like ourselves. We have allowed the world's rhetoric to seep into our own self-consciousness. In contrast, look at the inertia of the European union, and the introversion and apathy of Japan. We foot the bill, we pay the price, while they sit in the peanut gallery and fuel the world's hatred.

We will not, of course, recede into isolationism. It isn't in our national security interests, or the interests of innocents all over the world. But it is a thought experiment that some in the world would benefit from, if they had the wit to imagine an America truly indifferent to the world and its suffering.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Day with 'Aminals' (Stuffed)

Last week my wife and I took my brother's family to the Museum of Natural History in New York. It's an easy 30 minutes from my house if you leave early on a Saturday morning. I hadn't been there since my own two daughters were small, and I looked forward to seeing all the changes and new exhibits through the eyes of my nephew Ben (5), and my niece Maggie (3).

The museum is a marvelous place to contemplate the creativity of God in the wonders of nature, especially accompanied by children. It is indeed a temple to nature, but behind nature is nature's God, who ordains and sustains all things. As the old hymn says,

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

The highlights of the day were, of course, the reconstructed dinosaur bones (especially T-Rex) and the great blue whale which hangs from the ceiling in the hall of ocean creatures. I was struck at how many exhibits had not changed since my own childhood. The whole place has a charming 19th century feel to it that could not be erased by all the technological googaws which are now present everywhere. My favorite moment came when Maggie peered deeply into the rain forest exhibit and said to me, "I see aminals in there." My 43 year old eyes saw only vines, but I doubt her not.

Such a visit always makes one ponder the great questions of time and evolution, but such thoughts were banished in the amazement I saw in my niece and nephew's eyes. It was the innate recognition that we and all of life are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps 139).

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Lord Our Shepherd

The first in a series of sermons on Psalm 23.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Appreciation and Confusion

Two items from today's news caught my attention. The first reminded me of one of the West's debts to Islamic culture (yes, Islamic culture), and the second merely confused me. George Mgrdichian died. He was one of the foremost players of the oud. Ouds are lute-like instruments from the Middle East, which are precursors of the modern guitar. In fact the word "lute" is from the French "l'oude," meaning an "oud." We don't think much of Islamic culture these days, only violence, terrorism, and nuclear confrontation. But in the Middle Ages, Islamic society all but saved Western philosophy, and created a vibrant, syncretistic culture unknown to most Americans. For more information on ouds, here is a link.

The second item I offer as evidence of the decay of the West and its artistic culture. This painting by Picasso sold for $95.2 million! What's even sadder is that it does not represent the highest figure paid for a Picasso ($104 million). It beat out Van Gogh and Monet at auction. All I can say is that I have grown un-accustomed to her face. I simply cannot fathom spending $95 dollars on this violation of every aesthetic value I can think of, never mind $95 million. The longer one looks at this skeletal, nightmarish face, the more disturbing it becomes. It is an apt symbol for a culture "circling the drain."

Monday, May 01, 2006

Sermon Podcasts

Heretofore, sermons preached at the Fairfield Reformed Church could only be obtained by:
1. Coming to church and picking up last week's cd.
2. Listening online at this blog (if I felt the sermon was tolerable enough to put up).

Now, by the means of some mysterious technology, you can actually download the sermons, which are called podcasts. All one has to do is bookmark this link. I hope this is helpful. I of course had nothing to do with it, since all technological innovations on this blog come from cyber-genius-pastor Scott Nichols over at Random Responses. Thanks!

Scripture and Mission

The conlusion of a sermon series on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The text is from Luke 24:44-53. The portrait is of William Carey, pioneer in the mission movement of the 19th century.