Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day, 2008

This hymn, written by William Whiting in 1860, is known widely as the "Navy Hymn" and is a common staple of Memorial Day services. Liam's late grandfather (my father-in-law) served in the US Navy in the Pacific during World War II. Both my brothers served in the US Navy in the mid to late 1970s and I tried to enlist in the USN when I "won" the draft lottery in 1971. As events turned out, I had some medical issues that made me a 4F, so I returned to college.

What I think about most, when I hear this tune, is the summer of 1970. I had recently graduated high school and the shocking news came that a beloved music teacher had died. Mr. Dubin was a veteran of World War II (as were a number of teachers in my high school) and he was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Many of his students were present, and in the course of the graveside ceremony a military brass band played the Navy Hymn. It was not unfamiliar to me, as it has long been a part of the Presbyterian hymn tradition, but since that time I have an emotional response when I hear or sing this great trinitarian hymn.

The words below are from the Cyber Hymnal, and I suspect they are the original words. They differ in some ways with the various Presbyterian hymnals.
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy Word,
Who walked on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our family shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoever we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

[Added Later] -- Wikipedia has an informative article on "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" with its history and a compendium of supplemental verses written over the years.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What is a "Fundamentalist"

I received my June 2008 copy of Christianity Today on Saturday and, while reading the letters to the editor, I noticed this response by Tim Stafford to a letter questioning an article he had written:
"Fundamentalism as I used the term is belief plus attitude. Fundamentalists draw much of their self-identity from warning against those who don't agree with them. Thus, you can speak of liberal fundamentalists, environmental fundamentalists, free-market fundamentalists, and so on. Among Christians, such attitudes led to the rise of evangelicalism, which tried to hold to biblical fundamentals in the 1940s and '50s while maintaining a more welcoming, positive attitude toward those outside. ..." -- Christianity Today, June 2008, pp 8-9
I have to agree fully with Tim Stafford here. Evidently Stafford used the word "fundamentalist" 17 times: 3 times in a positive way, twice in a neutral way, and 12 times in a negative way. Tim Stafford's original article was about Philip Yancy's crisis of faith brought on by fundamentalism at its worst, that breakdown of usage is understandable.

When a belief system feels it needs to devote a significant amount of time toward attacking people with different beliefs, it raises questions about their ability to actually defend what it is they believe.

The Lord does not require Christians to run inference; He can take care of himself. What he DOES require is for us to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8 paraphrased). In this general set of principles can be found, I think, the ability to tell the Good News in a clear and cogent manner and to defend our beliefs in a loving, yet firm fashion.

To be sure, it would be hard to discuss Martin Luther with out some passing reference to indulgences. Or much of Reformed theology without make some sort of comparison between differing beliefs among Christians. How one makes such comparisons can be positive or destructive. Or, in other words, a discussion or a harangue.

Which is more likely to serve the Lord?

Friday, May 23, 2008

UN chief says junta to let aid workers into Myanmar - International Herald Tribune

UN chief says junta to let aid workers into Myanmar - International Herald Tribune:
"BANGKOK: In what he said appeared to be a breakthrough after three weeks of obstructionism, the United Nations general secretary, Ban Ki-moon, said Friday that the leader of Myanmar's military junta had promised to allow into the country 'all aid workers' of any nationality.

But Ban gave no indication when the Myanmar government would allow aid workers to enter the country and whether they would be allowed to travel to the badly-hit Irrawaddy Delta.

The statement was met with surprise and wariness by relief officials, including some affiliated with the United Nations, who have been struggling since the cyclone against the intransigence of the Myanmar authorities to let in aid workers."
I heard a more optimistic story on NPR this morning which indicated that the aid could come in on civilian ships and small boats. I guess we will have to wait and see what will actually happen.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Myanmar agrees to accept ASEAN cyclone aid -

Myanmar agrees to accept ASEAN cyclone aid -
"BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Myanmar has agreed to let its South Asian neighbors send medical personnel and an assessment team to the cyclone-ravaged country.

Monday's decision came after an emergency meeting in Singapore of the 10 countries that make up ASEAN -- the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said.

The assessment team will go to Myanmar on Wednesday to gauge the impact of the disaster and the scope of aid needed, Wirayuda said. ..."
It has been wo weeks since Cyclone Nargis devastated parts of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and there are finally signs of movement in getting relief to those who need it. Hopefully the ASEAN nations can break down the barriers of isolation and suspicion that seem to permeate the government of Myanmar. In any event getting people "on the ground" who can provide authoritative information is of utmost importance.

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance office has resources and information for disasters worldwide, including Cyclone Nargis, and the May 12, 2008 earthquake in China. This would be a good place to get updated on what the PC(USA) is able to do in that region.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Specter Calls Patriots’ Spying Wider Than Stated - New York Times

Specter Calls Patriots’ Spying Wider Than Stated - New York Times:
"WASHINGTON — After meeting with a former New England Patriots employee who helped the team spy on opponents, Senator Arlen Specter on Wednesday described the team’s illicit videotaping tactics as more systematic and deliberate than what the N.F.L. has acknowledged publicly. ..."

"... Mr. Specter, a longtime Philadelphia Eagles fan, has battled with the N.F.L. on several issues over the years. This time, with his continued criticism of the league’s investigation into the Patriots, he is raising questions about the legitimacy of the Patriots’ accomplishments — which include three Super Bowl titles this decade, one against the Eagles, and an 18-0 record last season before a loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl. ..."
Do we really need a Senate investigation of this?

To be clear, I consider what the Patriots did to have been unethical. They have been punished fairly harshly by the NFL with fines totaling $750,000 and loss of a first-round draft pick, and that should be the end of it.

Why subject the country to yet another senatorial circus with the attendant posturing for the TV cameras. Surely there are more substantive things for Arlen Specter and the rest of the US Senate to be attending to....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Myanmar worried by new storm warnings -

Myanmar worried by new storm warnings -
"PATTAYA, Thailand (CNN) -- Survivors in cyclone-devastated Myanmar are bracing themselves for further hardship following warnings that more bad weather is imminent this week.

A 'significant' tropical cyclone is expected to form in the next 24 hours and sweep across Myanmar's largest city Yangon and into the Irrawaddy delta area -- the region worst affected -- according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center."
The story is, perhaps, the most depressing one to come out of Myanmar. Little progress has been made on geting the food into the country and there are indications that the food just isn't getting to where it needs to go.

Now there is another cyclone expected to hit the affected area.

At this point, I would be willing to go with the suggestion proposed earlier by France: Just do it. This is one of the reasons for the existence of the United Nations, but if they can't (or won't) do what is needed, then perhaps other nations should.

Friday, May 09, 2008

U.N. Suspends Myanmar Aid After Supplies Seized by Junta - New York Times

U.N. Suspends Myanmar Aid After Supplies Seized by Junta - New York Times:
"BANGKOK — The United Nations suspended relief supplies to Myanmar on Friday after the military government seized the food and equipment it had already sent into the country.

Earlier, in a statement, Myanmar’s military junta said it was willing to receive disaster relief from the outside world but would not welcome outside relief workers, a key demand of aid agencies who want to coordinate and control their own aid. ..."
One flight was forced to return to its origin because in addition to relief supplies, it had a team of disaster assessment experts on board along with some journalists.

It's a tough call here -- does the UN acquiesce to the Myanmar ruling junta's restrictions, no matter how ridiculous they may be? Or do they go with the doctrine that where a government is unable or unwilling to help their people, the UN can step in unilaterally?

Time is running out, and the UN needs to summon the moral courage to put the Burmese people ahead of a suspicious, xenophobic government.

There is not much that Christians can do at this point except pray, and prepare for a time when aid workers are permitted to do what they are best qualified to do.

Thursday, May 08, 2008 - Myanmar Clears First Airlift Carrying Aid, U.S. Planes Still Blocked - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europ - Myanmar Clears First Airlift Carrying Aid, U.S. Planes Still Blocked - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News:
"YANGON, Myanmar — Relief supplies from the United Nations began arriving in Myanmar Thursday, but U.S. military planes loaded with aid were still denied access by the country's isolationist regime five days after a devastating cyclone.

The military junta also continued to stall on visas for U.N. teams seeking entry to ensure the aid is delivered to the victims amid fears that lack of safe food and drinking water could push the death toll above 100,000. ..."
This really strains my credulity. I realize that the UN feels the need to be cautious, but only one plane has been allowed to land, and visas for relief personnel are being processed at a snail's pace.

France has proposed landing planes without the ruling junta's permission, but the European Union executive says no.

As of mid-day Thursday, only one UN plane had landed, although approval for a second plane was granted.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has an information page outlining what is being done, and what the needs are, but mch depends on the Myanmar government allowing planes to land and people to assist.

Let's keep this on the prayer list.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Evangelical Manifesto

The Evangelical Manifesto:
"An Evangelical Manifesto is an open declaration of who Evangelicals are and what they stand for. It has been drafted and published by a representative group of Evangelical leaders who do not claim to speak for all Evangelicals, but who invite all other Evangelicals to stand with them and help clarify what Evangelical means in light of “confusions within and the consternation without” the movement. As the Manifesto states, the signers are not out to attack or exclude anyone, but to rally and to call for reform. ..."
Well, the Manifesto was released today and the list of signatories has a number of names I recognize, and a whole lot I don't. Not surprising to me is the fact that a lot of the names that come to mind when I think of people who confuse politics and theology were NOT on the list of signatories as they now stand.

There have been lukewarm reactions from some sources, such as Murky Manifesto: Evangelical Statement Repudiates Theocracy – Sort Of, from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, but by and large a Google search of the topic shows a lot of interest in this work.

The web site linked above has PDF files of the manifesto and a study guide, and provides an opportunity for those who have read and agree with the document to add their names to the list of signatories.

It will take me a while to wade through the 20 pages, but I may add my own name. Or not. We'll see...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Associated Press: Evangelicals say faith is now too political

The Associated Press: Evangelicals say faith is now too political:
"Conservative Christian leaders who believe the word 'evangelical' has lost its religious meaning plan to release a starkly self-critical document saying the movement has become too political and has diminished the Gospel through its approach to the culture wars.

The statement, called 'An Evangelical Manifesto,' condemns Christians on the right and left for 'using faith' to express political views without regard to the truth of the Bible, according to a draft of the document obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

'That way faith loses its independence, Christians become 'useful idiots' for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology,' according to the draft. ..."
This seems to be a significant statement, and I look forward to reading it when it is officially released.

I disagree somewhat with the initial assertion that the "evangelical movment has become too political." It really boils down to how the "evangelical movement" is portrayed in the media (including blogs, I might add). Is it possible that the media are using the excesses of a few to characterize an entire group of people? I think so. It has only been in the past few years that the media have finally understood that "evangelical" and "fundamentalist" are not equivalent terms. But they continue to make the same logical error of using the worst examples of a group to define the group.

The way religion has already insinuated itself into the 2008 presidential campaign has been a source of concern to many, including me. It's bad enough that truth goes out the window in years evenly divisible by 4, but it is even worse when religious leaders who should be speaking the truth, instead tell only that part of the truth that furthers their particular agenda.

This AP news release suggests that there may be notable names absent from the list, but hopefully enough respected leaders will sign on that some meaningful discussion can take place.