September 20, 2020

Saturday Ramblings — Nov. 15, 2014

1956-Rambler-Custom-Cross-Country-Station-WagonSaturday Ramblings, November 15, 2014

Leaves are still on some of the trees, but we could get our first measurable snowfall here in central Indiana this weekend. That means we’ll have to call off our Saturday picnic and find somewhere warm to do our rambling this week.

I’m not sure I’m up for a big outing anyway. Doing this week’s posts on Genesis and participating in the daily conversations (along with a full work and call schedule) took a lot of energy. It felt like I wrote four term papers and defended them before the class each day. Not saying I didn’t enjoy it, it was just more intense than usual, and by the end of the week it was Fried-Day for me.

However, rambling around here is not an option, so hop in and we’ll try to find a coffee shop or some place where we can relax for awhile and consider some of the stuff that whizzed by while we were doing other things.


888,246 ceramic poppies marked WWI’s 100th anniversary at the Tower of London on Remembrance Day.

Volunteers have spent months installing 888,246 hand-made poppies – each representing a British and Commonwealth soldier who died during WW1.

It is thought about five million people have visited the artwork entitled Blood-Swept Lands and Seas of Red by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, from Derbyshire.

. . . The former head of the British Army said: “The great thing about it is that people are engaged with this.

“I think they have taken ownership of it and the reason why I think they have done that is that specific number, 888,246 – not a random number – that is the number of British and Colonial soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War.

“Every poppy represents a life lost and a family shattered.”

BBC News London

ESA’s Rosetta mission soft-landed its Philae probe on Comet 67P/C–G Wednesday.

ESA’s Rosetta mission landed its Philae probe on Comet 67P/C–G Wed. after a journey of more than 10 years.

“Our ambitious Rosetta mission has secured a place in the history books: not only is it the first to rendezvous with and orbit a comet, but it is now also the first to deliver a lander to a comet’s surface,” noted Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General.

“With Rosetta we are opening a door to the origin of planet Earth and fostering a better understanding of our future. ESA and its Rosetta mission partners have achieved something extraordinary today.”

“After more than 10 years travelling through space, we’re now making the best ever scientific analysis of one of the oldest remnants of our Solar System,” said Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. ”

“Decades of preparation have paved the way for today’s success, ensuring that Rosetta continues to be a game-changer in cometary science and space exploration.”

European Space Agency

Less than two days after its historic landing, Rosetta’s probe may be reaching its final hours, and the scientific team is racing to collect as much data as possible before Philae’s batteries run out. It’s do or die, and at this point there’s very little to lose in terms of its lifespan.

As the mission team announced on Thursday, Philae’s bumpy landing left it in a shadowy spot. Its solar panels aren’t being exposed to nearly enough light to keep the lander going, and it left Earth with only a 60-hour charge. In all likelihood, Philae’s batteries will die sometime Friday evening.

• Rachel Feltman, Washington Post

❀ Here’s a link to ESA’s Flickr page with more images


Philip Jenkins, a scholar and Episcopal layman, does the math and finds out that at the Episcopal Church’s current rate of decline, there will be no more Episcopalians by the end of this century. Excerpt:

If we extrapolate that rate into the not-too-distant future, then the number of people attending Episcopal churches on a typical Sunday will be negligible by mid-century, typical of a tiny sect rather than a great church or denomination. It won’t reach zero for a while, but in effect, the church will cease to exist. We might need a new vocabulary of religious decline. How about church evaporation? That mid-century date is really not far off. In fact, the baby baptized at my church last Sunday will by that point only be a young adult in her 30s. Non-attending notional members will persist for a few years longer, but by the end of the century, we should be talking total disappearance. In that scenario, America’s last Episcopalian walks among us today. At some point, young people contemplating a clerical career will have to consider just how long there will indeed be a church for them to serve.

. . . Without a doubt the percentage of young Americans affiliating with particular churches/denominations is declining across the board (see Pew’s big study for more). The trend for almost everybody is bad, though Mormons and Pentecostals, to the contrary, are growing. Catholics are growing, but this is only because of immigration; if not for Latin American Catholics moving to the US, the Catholic Church in the US would be shedding members at the same rate as the Mainline Protestants. It’s tempting for Christians in conservative churches to look at the rolling collapse of liberal churches and feel affirmed, but leaving aside the duty to basic Christian charity, the situation is much too serious for Christianity on the whole to warrant conservative Schadenfreude.

• Rod Dreher, “Has the Last Episcopalian Been Born?”


Joseph and Emma Smith’s Mansion House, Nauvoo, Illinois

Note from CM: Many news sources, including NPR, reported on the Mormons publishing an essay detailing Joseph Smith’s plural marriage practices, a revelation which many historians welcomed as a sign that the LDS organization is becoming more forthcoming about its history. Here is an excerpt from the essay:

During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealings for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only. Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone.

Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings. The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary. Some of the women who were sealed to Joseph Smith later testified that their marriages were for time and eternity, while others indicated that their relationships were for eternity alone.

Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56 years old. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday. Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens. Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations. After Joseph’s death, Helen remarried and became an articulate defender of him and of plural marriage.

Following his marriage to Louisa Beaman and before he married other single women, Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married. Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone. Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.

•, Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo


[Philip Yancey’s most recent book is Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?]

Why did you choose to revisit the subject of grace?

Sociologist and researcher Amy Sherman has said that Christians tend to have three models for interacting with society: fortification, accommodation, and domination. To put that in layman’s terms: We hunker down amongst ourselves, water down our witness, or beat down our opponents. For many reasons, those aren’t New Testament models.

So what should we be? We need to create pioneer settlements that show the world a different, grace-based way of living.

We have been spoiled in the United States because of our religious heritage. There was once a common Christian consensus. A few generations ago, Billy Graham would fill the largest stadium in any city, stand up, and say “the Bible says,” and have the audience nod along. Today, belief in the Bible can’t be taken for granted, so appeals to the Bible won’t have the same power. The new paradigm, in this culture, is that you reach out with acts of mercy that touch people’s hearts, and hopefully they want to know why.

We hear nowadays about Christian groups losing university recognition or public prayers and Christmas displays being banned. We feel on the defensive and that we’re the outliers. But much of Christian history has been lived this way, like it was during the Roman Empire, when a small number of Christians modeled another way to live. In a culture like ours, we need to demonstrate first how faith in Christ makes a difference in how we live.

Amy Julia Becker interviews Philip Yancey at CT

VeteranHeard while rambling around this week . . .

Justus Belfield, a 98-year-old World War II veteran U.S. soldier, salutes on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2014.

Belfield had worn his Army uniform every Veterans Day since he and his wife moved into the nursing home outside Albany several years ago. On Tuesday, the former master sergeant wasn’t able to get out of bed to participate in the facility’s Veterans Day festivities, so he had the staff dress him in his uniform.

Belfield passed away the next day.

The week that was and is . . .

I always look forward to this week and the next two in November. Three of the most beautiful women in my life, my mother (this week), my wife (next week), and my oldest daughter (the following week) celebrate their birthdays. Seems like not too long ago I was driving our family around the southern end of Lake Michigan this time of year to visit my great-grandmother on her birthday too. She lived to age 103, and I remember well when I enjoyed the company of five generations of women who have embodied her name and example: Grace. This is a special time of year for me.

“An excellent woman, who can find? Her price is far above rubies.”


  1. Billy Graham could still fill a stadium in any city.

    • Yes, he probably could. But the question is, where would the people go, and what would they do, after they left the stadium?

      • My sense of things is that the failure to integrate converts was not so much a failure of Graham and his organization as it was of the local churches to get out from behind their barricades. I remember hearing about the Graham organization’s efforts to recruit churches to follow up and disciple converts, and also observing from the inside the fundamentalist reluctance to engage in the ministry simply because of lame objections to perceived ecumenical contamination. I was a teenager at the time. Somewhat later, I actually attended a Bible School founded by a man who had been at the forefront of the kerfuffle around Graham’s NYC Campaign in the 40’s.

        Of course, one could argue that the model itself was flawed — when large groups are converted outside of prior social and emotional connections within the structures of an existing community, one might only expect a large degree of fall away. But again, I think Graham attempted to correct those weaknesses, attempting to recruit churches to be the main source of people coming to the campaigns (through being invited by believers already rooted in local faith communities) and through the aforementioned follow up processes. In both cases, I think churches simply failed to recognize the gift of God right in their midst because they were too focused on lobbing grenades at Graham and anyone else they perceived to threaten their purity.

      • Super-nice, and well intentioned man, Billy Graham.

        His theology…not too good.

        • The man helped bring God’s grace to people. Sounds like pretty good theology to me.

        • OK, Steve, I’ll bite. What don’t you like? Or more importantly, what is it that you think God doesn’t like about Billy’s theology?

        • Hi STEVE,
          I think Billy Graham was spiritually gifted at pointing people to Christ.

          He once preached in the Catholic cathedral in Krakow, Poland, at the request of the man who was to become Pope John Paul II. They became friends and when John Paul II died, Billy Graham when asked by Larry King if he thought the pope was in heaven, said this: ” I think he’s with the Lord, because he believed. He believed in the Cross. That was his focus throughout his ministry, the Cross, no matter if you were talking to him from personal issue or an ethical problem, he felt that there was the answer to all of our problems, the cross and the resurrection.”

          For many people of different theological backgrounds, there is no doubt that Billy Graham himself is also a man who believes in the Cross. And his own words about Pope John Paul II could also be said about himself . . . Billy Graham focused people on Christ . . . the cross and the resurrection. And he did this with an authority in his voice born out of his own deep personal conviction and his own passion for Our Lord

          It will be a sad day when Billy Graham passes . . . he will be mourned by many people who don’t all share the same ‘theologies’, but who will come together to remember a man who clearly pointed them toward the light of Christ

  2. The Remembrance day art is fantastic. World War I was such an awful and futile war. I have heard is said it ushered in the de-Christianization of Europe. Not sure if that’s true, but it probably didn’t help matters.

    • I would think that any war, particularly on one’s home soil, tends to dechristianize and dehumanize that populace, especially one that drags out for years. War is inherently AntiChrist. Still I am rooting for us and the fighters we are supporting to rout ISIS? How do I live with such inconsistency in myself? Lord knows I have plenty of it. I mean I want those guys routed and soundly stamped out as does basically everyone who is not them. There’s no way to whitewash that except to admit that I am hoping that they are killed, knowing that nothing less will stop them from their murderous obscenity. Anyway, very moving photo when you consider that each flower represents a life and those are only English lives. A lot more acreage would be required to cover every life lost in that war.

      • David Cornwell says

        “I would think that any war, particularly on one’s home soil, tends to dechristianize and dehumanize that populace, especially one that drags out for years. ”

        I think you are correct. However I think even a war that’s fought on the soil of another tends to “dechristianize and dehumanize.” In our own recent wars we have engaged in many activities that dehumanize. It’s a gradual process of acceptance that results in the decay of values. When we dehumanize, we also dechristianize.

        One of the problems with America and war in the last 25 or so years, is that we do not have as much “skin in the game” as in the past. We do not raise taxes to pay, and in fact basically hide the budgetary costs from the public. Not having national conscription means that many people can put war at arms length. Very few of the rich or the ruling classes will encourage their children to join up, except as possibly an officer. Not having money available means that our other national needs go unmet.

        Torture, prison camps that never close, prisoners that are never tried, and extraordinary rendition are other symptoms. Mistakenly bombing families or other groups of people and offering a weak apology later and raiding homes in the middle of the night adds to the mix. All these are natural recruitment tools for our enemies.

        Some generals and others are now speaking of a thirty year war in the Middle East. This seems short to me.

        But— what does this do to our values as a nation? As Christians? What King will we choose to serve? If we choose Jesus, then we will have our own skin in the game in ways we cannot imagine. I will not be around for much of this century, but I do pray for my children and my grandchildren that they will have the strength to know the Truth and walk in the Light.

        • Yes David, I agree wholeheartedly. That’s why I threw in the “particularly on one’s home soil.” That’s the direct and irreversible impact but one step removed we are diminished nonetheless. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      So much modern art evokes nothing but ridicule. Then something like this comes along, and is perfect.

      • Much art of any time has failed to move people and is now no longer remembered.

        One should look at the poppies and remember that that was only some of the dead from that one war. France lost at least 1.3 million, Russia 1.7 million and on the other side Austria-Hungary 1.2 million, Germany 1.7 million, Ottoman Empire 700,000 and so on. The United States lost 116,708.

        As a minor Hungarian poet wrote (in English)
        “…To know that he was not a unit, a pawn whose
        place can be filled ;
        Not blood, but the beautiful years of his coming
        life have been spilled,… ” Ferenc Békássy (1893-1915) ‘1914’

      • Agreed ! This is a beautiful and well considered piece. And it seems to evoke blood spilling out on to the ground.

    • The war changed so much – i can’t imagine that any European country was untouched by it, even those that didn’t participate in the conflict. The death toll alone had tremendous consequences, and i think the overall effect of the conflict was incredibly disheartening. Is it any wonder that doubt and disillusionment – even despair – followed in its wake? Nobody “won,” and the scale of the war plus many of the weapons (like poison gases) was far greater and in many ways more horrifying than any other war up to that date.

      • And in many ways the fighting didn’t end till 1945. And the conflict as a whole could be considered ongoing until at least the break up of the Soviet Union. And with recent events there, maybe it still hasn’t ended.

  3. Is it just me, or does anyone else think Philip Yancey and Rainbow Man aka Rock ‘n’ Rollen could be twins, or more intriguingly, has anyone ever seen them in the same room together?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Probably not. As far as I know, Rainbow Man is still in jail after that hostage situation in the LAX Hyatt in the mid-Eighties. Guy lost it (End Time Prophecy obsession), set off a couple bombs behind convenience stores, then barricaded himself in an upstairs room at the Hyatt with one of the hotel maids as a hostage and demanded media coverage so he could Witness that Ye Ende Is Nighye. Made all the news down here. (When a crazy preacher takes hostages and hangs bedsheets sprayed with End-of-the-World Bible Verses and Zip Codes out the windows during the hours-long standoff, somehow the word gets around…)

      What got me is that he didn’t lose it all at once, he was showing signs of coming unglued for a while and none of the churches or parachurch groups he was involved with noticed until the LAPD SWAT team was digging him out of the Hyatt. Don’t know whether they mistook his growing weirdness for the Holy Spirit, whether they didn’t care because The Gospel Was Being Proclaimed or Souls Were Being Saved, or whether it was so gradual they didn’t notice it until the end.

      • Yay, I looked up his story before posting my joke about Yancey/Rainbow Man. Pretty weird tale of brokenness.

  4. But Mike, you forgot the most important issue concerning the Rosetta comet-lander:

    • LOL

    • Interesting. Science, as it turns out, is no more conducted in a perfect cultural vacuum than in a perfect physical one. I think that it’s good to remember that, and to the degree that this issue, for all its tabloid-worthy pedigree, can help us to do that, it’s not insignificant.

    • It’s deeply fascinating to watch the progress in science especially with the universe now that’s absolutely interesting!

    • On another website, this bit from the “Guardian” was quoted:

      “The controversy follows the revelations from the scientist’s sister Maxine that he could be “useless” in everyday life. Portraying her tattooed sibling as absent-minded, unable to find his car in the car park, and sometimes lacking in common sense, she told the Evening Standard, he didn’t like making decisions.”

      The comment was made that this sounds like someone with Asperger’s. If this is the case, Dr. Taylor should be cut a whole lot of slack; he truly didn’t know the shirt was not appropriate for work, and the tears that accompanied his apology are evidence of shame. He doesn’t need any more of that.


      • He might well be an “Aspie,” as they often refer to themselves, and they are certainly well-represented in the sciences. Perhaps he really did just zone out, and I’ll certainly accept his apology at face-value.

        Why his managers weren’t in his face 1.3 seconds after showing up at work so dressed is the bigger point as far as making women feel more welcome in the sciences is concerned.

        • Indeed.


          • Patrick Kyle says

            Really? One of the smartest men in the world lands a space craft on a comet a couple miles in diameter from 300 million miles away, and the big news is his shirt? Do women really feel ‘unwelcomed’ in the sciences because this guy wears his lucky bowling shirt on the most important day of his career? These critics are real lunatics and need to get a life.

  5. “But much of Christian history has been lived this way, like it was during the Roman Empire, when a small number of Christians modeled another way to live. In a culture like ours, we need to demonstrate first how faith in Christ makes a difference in how we live.” Uh yeah…that’s the NT whole point. But from my spot in the evangelical wilderness this takes the back seat…living the Christian life is too often about the “other” things we like to emphasize.

  6. Robert F (aka Deep Faith) says

    Why are they wasting so much time, and so many resources, on the Rosetta mission? After all, we already know about the origin of planet earth, along with everything else, from the first chapters of Genesis. Right?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Only if you bear the Curse of Ken Ham….

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      Actually, I really hate the subtext to a lot of these mission speeches. I highly doubt the mission will reveal a blessed thing about the origins of Earth – and it shouldn’t have to. It should be enough to say, “This is pretty damn cool, and we did it.” Knowledge for its own sake sort of thing. The need to “justify” these science missions doesn’t speak well of our culture.

      • I disagree. There is no neutrality in the motivation to undertake scientific projects; they have a cost, resources are limited, they need to be justified. Knowledge for its own sake is an Enlightenment conceit. Human beings do have love of exploration, yes, but that’s because exploration into the unknown is dangerous and exciting. For scientists, this edge may be apparent even in the most humdrum laboratory work; it’s not so easily conveyed to the rest of us, therefore it’s up to the scientists to make their case before the public and it’s institutions.

      • Actually, what I should have said is that the idea of knowledge for its own sake, like art for art’s sake, is a Romantic conceit, that itself was the result of an unbalanced reaction against the Enlightenment.

      • +1.0E3

        There seems to be a very dominant meme in all science writing and speechifying these days that the REAL purpose of any major scientific endeavor is to shed light on (A) the origins of life on earth, or (B) the origins of the universe itself. This is followed closely by (C) new technological spin-offs that will cure cancer or at least give us another reason to stare down even more often at our smartphones.

        Costs must indeed be justified, as Robert F notes. Fortunately, “This is cool!” actually ain’t half bad, and certainly is a lot more inspiring to young people than most pro forma alternatives.

    • Is that really why they’ve gone to all these lengths? And here I thought space exploration might actually have more of a practical, current day usage. You know, technological advances that can help people, rather than just prove them right or wrong.

      • Yes, practical usage is a main argument I would use. Even if a particular mission only gives us advances on theoretical questions, that kind of knowledge tends to have practical use down the line. Plus, successful missions tend to bring about technological advances. It’s likely to be to our long-term advantage to get better and better and launching objects into space.

  7. It’s tempting for Christians in conservative churches to look at the rolling collapse of liberal churches and feel affirmed

    Their turn is coming. Michael Spencer predicted it, the ‘nones’ and the Mars Hill/SGM scandals are the harbingers. Conservative evangelicalism is just as enculturated as the mainlines were – as the culture shifts, they will lose ground too.

  8. Richard Hershberger says

    In other “War: Not as much fun as you would think” news, today is the 150th anniversary of the burning of Atlanta.

    • Mid 19th century urban renewal project.

    • “and fairly won!”. General Sherman

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      You can still get beaten up for singing “Marching Through Georgia” in Atlanta.

      The song was written to commemorate the destruction of the city.

      • On to Savannah! General George “the rock of Chickamauga” Thomas

      • Richard Hershberger says

        This is not strictly correct. It commemorates the March to the Sea. The taking and subsequent burning of Atlanta were necessary precursors to this, but were distinct from it.

        My area has more than its share of Civil War reenactors, many of whom have more than a whiff of Lost Cause about them. i have no patience for this, so I will go through the encampment singing Marching Through Georgia.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Oh, and I also annoy people by naming Sherman as the only true military genius of the Civil War. I am quite serious about this: that it annoys these people is merely a side benefit. The March to the Sea was genuine thinking outside the box, doing what appeared to sensible and experienced officers to be suicidally impossible. When I look at other Civil War generals I see varying degrees of competence–from very competent to very, well, not–but I don’t see anything like what Sherman did.

          • I have recently finished reading the latest bio of Sherman, “Fierce Patriot” and I agree with those who call him a military genius. This particular biographer noted that those innovations Sherman brought to warfare were done so out of intuition, even though he had little idea of how innovative he was.

            I WILL give R. E. Lee credit for being the best and most daring tactician on a large scale, Nathan Forrest being so on a smaller scale. Grant was a bloody pragmatist who knew that throwing an unending stream of men and material at Lee would win a war of attrition.

            But this has nothing to do with “Rambling” today…

          • You may be right — Sherman was an amazingly clear-minded and independent thinker, who understood what war really was beneath the romantic trappings.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            “I WILL give R. E. Lee credit for being the best and most daring tactician on a large scale,”

            When I look at Lee I see someone who is very competent. The mere act of moving an army from point A to point B is difficult. (Heck, I consider getting two small girls dressed and in the car on time an act of heroism.) Anyone able to get an army dispersed and moving, then to concentrate it again at a given time and place, qualifies as a good general. Show a knack for spotting when and where that is, and you have a very good general. The genius is the guy who can do all that, and also spots the possibility that the others think impossible. Take a look at Napoleon’s early northern Italian campaign for another example.

          • Take a look at Napoleon’s early northern Italian campaign for another example.

            Then to what do you attribute his march to Moscow?

          • Richard Hershberger says

            “Then to what do you attribute his march to Moscow?”

            Not knowing when to quit. It turns out that even a genius isn’t a genius all the time.

        • I am involved in Civil War reenactments and the correct phrase is “The war of Southern Rebellion”!

    • This anniversary is also a good reason to note something that’s changed about life in the US:


      Oh, sure, while 9/11 remains raw, this date that shall also live in infamy will annually rivet our attention, as well it should. But beyond this, and 4th of July celebrations, do we really, actually commemorate anything?

      I’m here in Atlanta. Richard’s post was the first I’d heard of the 150th anniversary. Then again, did we stop for a minute of silence during last year’s 150th anniversary of Gettysburg? When next spring brings us the 150th anniversary of Appomattox, rest assured, it’ll just be another day. When Armistice Day 2018 brings us WW I’s centennial ending, it, too, will just be another Veteran’s Day. Pearl Harbor Day 2016 — 75 years is just 75 years.

      Santayana said something about all this.

      • Trevis – if the US had gotten involved in WWI early on, I’m sure there would have been much greater public awareness and involvement in commemoration.

        There actually *is* a lot of local stir re. the Gettysburg anniversary, every year. But given the fact that that war was internal, and so bloody, i think many people wouldrather forget. I do vaguely recall a lot of stir back when we reached the 100th anniversary, but i was very young then and most of it went right past me. (Nov. 11th was still referred to as Armistice Day by people of my grandparents’ generation.)

        • In fact, immediately following the Civil War, both the North and the South cultivated an immense case of national amnesia, doing their best to bury, and alter, the memories of that fratricidal war, thinking to move on and leave the past behind. Fat chance. We may not remember, but the memories haunt us as poltergeists of strife that continue to plague our national life.

  9. “We hunker down amongst ourselves, water down our witness, or beat down our opponents.” Absolutely. I see it constantly out here in the rural Mid-west. Only socialize with those like you and only let your children go to school with those like you (“You’re letting your child go to a public university?? Do you KNOW what goes on there?” as I was once told), holler persecution at every turn (“They wouldn’t let me play my radio on the Christian radio station at work. Persecution!!!”), and the ever present War on Christmas (which, btw, Christmas is winning as I’ve seen holiday decor, etc. on sale as early as July); these all seem to be the tenants on which modern Christianity rests. I do fear that many are afraid of looking too closely at the early NT church because it wasn’t prosperous, wasn’t successful by worldly standards, and was extremely communitarian, none of which fit with the mega-church whoop-it-up feel good model we’ve come to know and love.

    Billy Graham did used to fill stadiums. I have to think that after all those rallies, all those altar calls, all that hoopla of people turning their lives over to the Lord, people look back with a giant “Meh” because nothing much changed for the better.

    Much like Jesus’ followers back in the day, I think many are looking for a mighty Americanized king to come in and whoop some “other’s” A** here on earth, others who are legion. Most don’t want to hear the gospel of humble love and grace which individually doesn’t make much of a splash. Collectively, though, it can change the world.

  10. Robert F (aka Deep Faith) says

    I can’t say that the decline of the mainline churches, along with the equal (though offset by immigration) losses in the RCC, doesn’t make me sad. My own Episcopal Church is right there at the top of that list of churches in decline. In many places in other countries, these same denominations are growing at a healthy, and sometimes astronomic, pace. What makes for the difference?

    I don’t think it’s merely reducible to a conservative versus liberal diagnosis, although that obviously needs to be taken into account when looking at the trends. If you look at one of the two exceptions to the trend, the Pentecostals, what you see is a group of church bodies that, however imperfectly (and believe me, I think there’s plenty of imperfection there) strive to recognize, and live out in their corporate life and worship, an opening out onto dynamic transcendence, sometimes called by sociologists religious ecstasy, in the present, in the here and now.

    I think that this element has been lost as a visceral reality in most mainline churches, and having grown up Catholic I can say the same for the RCC. I would hazard the guess that wherever Christian churches of whatever denomination are growing by making new converts, or re-engaging disaffected Christians, they are doing so by virtue of this visceral sense of transcendence being part of their corporate life.

    Many Americans and Europeans, however privately spiritual they may think themselves, have been rationalized out of the possibility of believing that the transcendent can inform or shape the imminent world in any significant or tangible way. Religion appears to them to be redundant, since the experience of technology, along with communications media, now sits in the place where religion used to reside. And technology delivers much more zing to them than the highly rationalized and disenchanting forms of Christianity they have replaced.

    Unless American mainline churches, and the RCC, find a way to authentically recharge their corporate lives with this sense of transcendent dynamism, they will continue to lose numbers. How to do this, I have no idea; I struggle with it in my own life. But it is one of the elemental functions of religion, and Christianity is, after all, a religion.

    • I predict an upcoming “screen fatigue,” where the analogue experience of prayer-book spirituality comes as a welcome relief to the daily digital onslaught. A snazzy production is always going to garner spectators, but I am a firm believer that emotionally, relationally, and theologically healthy spirituality is ultimately the most sustainable. The Episcopal church may seem in decline, but the BCP is soaring in popularity with Evangelicals. Churches that are faithful to its tradition will find plenty of interest from that demographic. The conservative Southern hemisphere Anglicans with booming numbers are much more consistent in their application of the BCP, including the doctrinal statements. I don’t claim to know for certain what “having a form of godliness but denying its power” is specifically referring to, but it does kind of seem like church bodies who tolerate amongst their clergy deniers of the resurrection and divinity of Christ might somehow fit under that umbrella.

      • David Cornwell says

        “I predict an upcoming “screen fatigue,” where the analogue experience of prayer-book spirituality comes as a welcome relief to the daily digital onslaught. ”

        Certainly hope that your prediction holds true. Without going into details, I think there are some positive indications in this direction They are small and incremental at this time, but hold great promise.

        • Small and incremental are precisely my observations. And the old guard will certainly dig in its heels. But I very much believe where Spencer was going with the “Coming Evangelical Collapse,” and even if his stats turn out a bit off, I can see that much of the kindling has already been laid.

          I do belong to a few different FB groups populated by mostly under 40’s that are specifically for fans of liturgical worship, and their membership numbers in the thousands, and includes quite a few prominent Evangelical leaders. A large percentage of the other members are vocational church workers like myself.

          I’ve labored long and hard to help influence the congregation I serve in this direction, and while there are still a number of high-tech diehards who really want to mimic the big box, for the most part my work has been abnormally well received. But unlike any other place I have served, the people in this church don’t crucify each other over these sorts of disagreements. There is a tolerance for diversity that is simultaneously one of our greatest strengths and weaknesses.

          • I hope that you and David are right on the mark. The observation that the shift is “small and incremental” is especially cheering because a creeping trend is more likely to indicate a lasting reorientation than would a fad that is everywhere overnight.

      • I picked up a used copy of the BCP recently. I may start reading through it.

        • In terms of wading into using at part of your devotions, the morning and evening prayer services (i.e. Daily Offices) are a really neat introduction to the monastic discipline of daily prayer adapted for us “regular folk.” The Daily Office Lectionary is a good somewhat-systematic bible reading plan. And the monthly psalm cycle his been one of the greatest boons to my faith in recent years. All versions/editions of the BCP have these things in one way or another. And if it seems too big at first, I’d recommend just picking one office (or the abbreviated versions of one of the offices, assuming you’re using one of the American BCPs) and one reading to get your feet wet. My BCP is by far my favorite and most treasured physical book I own.

        • You’ll never look back, Stu. I started, and while I kind of went off into an immature worship-wars mentality for a bit (“People ACTUALLY worship this way that feels so natural and right; it’s not just me? IT IS THE ONE TRUE WAY FOR ALL MANKIND!!!”), I’ve never regretted it.

          Personally, I used to read through Compline and the Exhortation every Saturday night before getting up for Communion at my childhood church after it went All-Contemporary All the Time. It helped me to understand why it was supposed to matter.

          Thanks be to God for Cranmer and the BCP.

  11. Well, it’s starting again, another cycle of the War on Christmas. And it’s opening with a movie by Kirk Cameron called “Saving Christmas.” It’s one of these movies like Left Behind that I am rushing not to see. I didn’t know Christmas needed saving, as if Jesus died on the cross to Save Christmas. Then why isn’t Christmas even mentioned in the Bible? (Now I have my decorations up, I’m not one of the Puritans who wanted to ban Christmas entirely. Now THAT was a war on Christmas, LOL!)

    ‘Tis the season once again to strain at gnats and swallow camels, and us cashiers are going to have people screaming at us to say “Merry Christmas,” and at those moments I am tempted to say “Bah, Humbug instead. There are Christians around the world who are taking their very lives in their hands to say they are followers of Jesus, and we here are more concerned that people say “Merry Christmas,” lest God’s kingdom collapse in ruin if somebody says “Happy Holidays,” which is shorthand for Holy Days anyways. You can’t keep God out if you tried. 🙂

    Sorry, this does put me in rant mode.

    • “straining gnats and swallowing camels.”

      Yup. And swallowing tinsel and mangers and little bitty lights and great big evergreens.

    • “you’re a mean one, MrGrinch!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Well, since November 1 “The Devil’s Holiday” was no longer a rallying point so we have to keep the proles mobilized for the Never-Ending Culture War. So The Devil’s Holiday rock-slams into the War on Christmas, with YOU responsible for the End of Christianity UNLESS YOU MOBILIZE AND MARCH!

    • As Tea party candidates lobby to abolish all holidays and weekend time off and force citizens to work for companies doing “business” on those holidays rather than in worship or spending time with family, the only ones left to observe Christmas – whatever that means anymore – are the elite. Dare I mention what became of Christianity in other nations when it became strictly identified with the wealthy and social elite? If you want to save the American family, Christmas, and Christian “culture” in general, start by saving the middle class.

      • Now wait a second. I’m not a friend of the Tea Party, but do you really think that, if it disappeared completely from the American scene, the trend toward an open-24/7-for-retail-business America would end? This movement toward all business all the time predates the Tea Party, and will continue with or without their help.

    • From what I understand, Cameron’s movie is largely about countering the “pagan origins” narrative that has surrounded Christmas in both secular and Fundamentalist Christian circles in recent decades and pointing back to it’s Christian use. I doubt I’ll see it, but I think that’s a worthy message.

      I mean, I have no real bone to pick with the American Family Holiday version how media and whatnot shows Christmas, but I think we should happily and proudly celebrate the roots and one of the key seasons of the Church’s year. Rudolph and Santa and old Bing Crosby movies and cookies and all that other stuff are great, but the high point of the season for me is pulling out the stops for midnight mass.

      That might be because I came back to celebrating Christmas through visits to the parish I’m now on staff at for their Christmas mass, after many years of being in the kind of fundamentalism that Cameron is partially aiming his movie at

  12. “We have been spoiled in the United States because of our religious heritage.”

    That’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard Yancy say. On the one hand, it’s always nice to be spoiled. On the other hand, now we have to adjust to living in a world in which we are not spoiled.

  13. “In a culture like ours, we need to demonstrate first how faith in Christ makes a difference in how we live.”

    Does it? Do sociological studies show that being a Christian makes a difference to how one lives, in any significant way? Is there anything for our neighbors to observe, aside from the things we do surrounding our cultic activity?

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      I think you are conflating the “is” with the “aught”. Our ethic is not the ding an sich.

      • Perhaps, but there is something to the idea that the proof is in the pudding. If the ought never, or rarely, shows up, can you blame non-Christians for coming to the conclusion that “there is no there there”?

        • Nope. I blame us. Not for failing to live up to our own ethical standards, though. For failing to preach the Gospel because we’re too busy pointing to ourselves to point to the Savior. When Christianity becomes a moral cause, the Law displaces the Gospel, and thus it is no wonder that no faith is created.

          • You don’t consider failure to preach the Gospel a moral failure? If not, then what kind of failure do you think it is?

          • Miguel, do you think, then, that Yancey’s question is not apt, and that we cannot as Christians demonstrate to the world that faith makes a difference in how we live?

          • I’d call it an err before a failure. Failure indicates something good was attempted. Err could be when something good was completely missed because it was not actually attempted.

            People who promote Christianity as being about good behavior are generally not being dishonest. Most of them sincerely believe this. They are incorrect and confused, but I wouldn’t call them “immoral” for a fault such as that. ….Adam willfully ate the apple (moral failure), but Eve was deceived (err), to kick a dead horse 😛

            Robert, if you want to prove to the world that we hold the one true religion by impressing them with what a righteous dude you are, more power to you. Let me know how it works out, I’ve already given up for the futility of it. There is always a pagan more righteous, before men, than I. As a publican and a harlot I’d rather cling to Jesus than try to join the ranks of the Pharisees.

            Does belief in Jesus make me a better person? Probably. But not a better person than somebody else who is does not believe. It only makes me better than I would have been apart from faith, so it’s kind of hard to demonstrate that comparison.

            I can understand the objection that the unbelieving world watching “believers” live like the devil will rightly disdain our faith. We should “let our light shine before men.” At the same time, our object is to magnify Christ, not ourselves, as per the example of John the Baptist: He must increase, we must decrease. So we do our good works in secret, not letting the left hand catch the right, and not announcing our almsgiving with trumpets, not to prove our mettle, but simply to love our neighbor. They may or may not notice that love. They may even hate you for it. Either way, faithful witness consistently points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

            Look at the disdain for Christianity in America today. It sounds to me like this: “They keep preaching morality, but look at how they treat people!” We’re too often known for our moral positions rather than the relief we’ve found from our own moral failures. Can’t blame a guy for not wanting to get on board that train: He’s hearing Law without Gospel.

          • Miguel, I don’t claim to be especially righteous in my behavior; as for my inner life, well, as Bob Dylan sang, “If my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.”

            But it troubles me, because, from what I know, the early Christians persevered and prevailed against their pagan oppressors through the power of Christ’s resurrection manifested in them in very holy lives; in addition, this holiness and goodness, in the form of active, caring and humane works, won many of their pagan neighbors over to Christ.

            Also, the early Christians took post-baptismal sin very seriously, to the point of assigning decades long, and even lifelong, penances for some sins, and only admitting transgressors to full communion after these penances had been finished. I wonder what they would have to say about me, if they knew my sorry, sin-filled life; I don’t doubt that they would cast me out from among them forever.

          • Robert, any church, even if the it has the very Apostles themselves in it, who casts out the repentant sinner, has betrayed Christ and the Gospel, period.

            You are correct about the powerful witness of the early church. Basic Christian morality, however, was more drastically contrarian in a pre-Christendom society. Most of what passes for civil righteousness today, even done by atheists, are left over cultural priorities of Christendom whose history can be traced down through various pulpits.

            Yes, we should certainly try our very best to be as righteous as we possibly can. No argument there! (…and yes, if our inner thoughts counted before men, we’d all face certain and immanent doom.) But when that doesn’t work, and it won’t, we shouldn’t despair and wonder if we’re really Christian enough. It is enough to believe that Christ has died for our failures to live righteously (at least, in terms of our own redemption), while we make every effort to bear Christ to our neighbor in word and deed for the sake of their redemption, and because the love Christ has given to us shines out through us.

            You might even say that Christ on the cross managed to win a thief over by his behavior. But he didn’t win the other, so even Jesus couldn’t convince the world by works alone. In fact, he never sinned at all, and we still crucified Him. The natural, totally depraved man, will always see the pinnacle of righteousness as a blight on society, and so we shouldn’t be surprised if our faithfulness to Christ wins us more enemies then adherents. Some will take notice, but if all they’ve got is “I like you guys because you’re nice,” they haven’t yet been converted. Our good works may get the attention of some, but it is our proclamation of the Gospel that creates faith in the hearers.

          • “…. but if all they’ve got is I like you guys because you’re nice, they haven’t yet been converted.”

            I think there is great truth in what you’ve said here. If what converted pagan Rome to Christian Rome was merely good works and humane treatment, then there is a sense in which Rome, and many Christian converts, remained pagan, though they accepted the forms of Christianity. If Rome was won over because of the good works, and not because of Christ, then the conversion of the Empire was not a true conversion.

            But, given your theology of baptism, Miguel, how could this be? How could all those people have been baptized, which means they were claimed by Christ, and still not have been converted?

          • Robert, that is a good question, but it kind of surprises me you’re still missing the Lutheran perspective on this one. We do not believe that any of the Baptized are saved apart from faith. We do believe that many who are Baptized will wind up condemned, because they are unbelievers. And yet, Baptism does save, according to the Scriptures. Remember, we reject all “once saved always saved” teachings, though we do not teach that you can sin your way out of grace, like it may seem Arminians and Catholics do. The only way to go form being a child of God to being his enemy is to stop believing. We don’t ever truly know when that line has been crossed, especially in somebody else, so we simply trust them at their word.

            In pagan Rome, many were Baptized as a formality for social respectability. Of those who were Baptized, we cannot know how many continued in true faith, but we can know that many were continued to be nourished in that faith by the Gospel and sacraments given them in the Mass. Also, the churches of that time tended to catechize more heavily prior to Baptism, so the adults were well instructed in the faith before formally uniting themselves to it. I would compare it to American Christendom today. Half of Texas things they’re Baptist by virtue of their geographical location. We cannot know how many of them actually believe in Jesus. It doesn’t therefore follow that the Baptist religion is nothing more than a cultural institution.

            So in a sense, those who were Baptized in newly Christian Rome who heard the teaching, and those who rejected it internally but went through the motions anyways still received the forgiveness of sins in their Baptism. Apart from the faith which clings to this, however, it will do them no good. However, if after hearing the Gospel later in life they came to a place of belief, their former Baptism would be just as valid as if it just happened. Baptism is not just a ritual of passing, it is the eternal “now.” We do not say “I’ve been Baptized,” but rather, “I am Baptized.” Our union with Christ, which it gives, is our defining ever-present reality.

          • Thanks, Miguel, for your patient answer.

            As to your being surprised at my still not getting the Lutheran perspective on baptism, please remember two things: 1) It’s a very subtle doctrine and perspective, and 2) I have the mind of a fishmonger.

          • Robert, I will say this until I’m blue in the face: Just read the Small Catechism. It is very simple, written for children, but at the same time, it takes a lifetime to digest. This is part of the beauty of it. You will find no more brilliantly succinct summary of our teaching (and, we believe, that of the Scriptures) on Baptism anywhere else in our tradition. It answers four questions: What is Baptism, what does it give, how can water do this, and what does it signify?

        • Robert,
          Has you ever considered that maybe it does show up more often than we realize, but we are too cynical or distracted to see it? Or that what gets reported and talked about concerning the church is always what is negative, and rarely if ever the good that is done. Every day there are Christians feeding the hungry, taking care of orphans, helping the poor, and any number of good things, but that doesn’t usually make the news. I’ve known too many people whose faith in Christ did truly make a difference to dismiss the notion that faith makes a difference.

          • And every day there are Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist people doing the same. So, how does feeding the poor point anyone towards your god?

          • The question was is there any evidence that faith in Christ makes a difference, and Robert seemed to indicate that there isn’t. And I speaking from personal experience have seen that it does. If the groups you mentioned are doing these things, good for them. I don’t know of any studies to indicate whether they actually do or not, and there is not a significant enough population around here for me to know from personal experience.
            As far as pointing people towards God, good works alone are not enough, the gospel must also be preached. But if we live a good life it can make the gospel attractive rather than running people off.

  14. The decline of denominations and the obscuring of Grace are related phenomena. I really appreciate the summary of the Good News are articulated by Tim Keller. The gospel is that we are more broken and lost then we every dared imagine, but in Jesus Christ we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. Whatever you think of Genesis, the two-stroke nature of Law and Gospel is the core of the good news.

    By and large, churches (and the denominations they comprise) in America have failed to proclaim good news. On the one hand, they tend to make excuses for people, denying the claim of the law on us. On the other hand, they heap burden upon burden on the backs of people, requiring with wretched urgency that we must keep trying harder and doing more, denying the love of God for us.

    I love church. I love churchy church. I love that dusty sweet smell of old church buildings and light filtered through stained glass and reflecting off rich woodwork. Arches and stone and flagstone. Hymns and harmonies and organs and pulpits and the warm rustling of people seated in pews and standing in full throated song. Love that stuff.

    Yet, this falling away is not necessarily a bad thing. To my view, we are entering into a time when people are putting their cards on the table. They are tired of bluffing and they are calling or folding. That’s good, because now we can deal with people as they are without having to deal with religious facades. They are without God and not afraid to say so. The problem for churches now is how to articulate the Law in ways that make sense to those who deny the lawgiver. It is possible. There are those who do it. The site MOCKINGBIRD does a great job of it. For instance, their use of the recurring theme of Addiction as a metaphor for the sin that wrecks every life — is very helpful in this regard. We are all addicts to ourselves. And then “recovery” is a model for Grace, and Jesus is the Higher Power, but one with a particular and objective existence.

    Buckle up, Buttercup. It’s a pagan polythesitic world out there. We shouldn’t be surprised. But God has our back. The death of denominations is just one more death in a world where dying is the only way to resurrection.

    • To everything you said: !!!!!

    • There’s a story that goes like this: A group of Russian Christians is meeting in secret in a forbidden church building. Suddenly, in the middle of Divine Liturgy, armed men in uniforms burst in shouting. “Freeze! You have one minute to deny your faith and live!” At about 50 seconds, many of the church-goers break and run. At that point the armed men put down their guns and say, “Now that the hypocrites are gone, brothers and sisters, shall we worship God?”

      Is the shrinking of denominations a bad thing? Probably; but not an unrelievedly bad thing.

  15. “We have been spoiled in the United States because of our religious heritage. There was once a common Christian consensus.”

    I must admit, I feel no grief at the loss of this “common Christian consensus.” I question whether it was really Christian, and I deplore the way it was used to underwrite and justify so many contemptible cultural habits, such as the oppression of women, ethnic minorities, native peoples, and to sanctify a history of violence, conquest and slavery in the name Jesus Christ.

    • Take a spoonful of sugar and an antacid and call me in the morning.

      • You must be a Christian Scientist practitioner….

      • … our Christian forbears in Europe and America sowed, so are we reaping…Christian karma, though, unlike its Oriental cousin, not an iron metaphysical law, is nonetheless a good rule of thumb for understanding the dynamics of Christian flourishing and decline throughout Church history.

  16. That Other Jean says

    An excellent Saturday Ramblings, Chaplain Mike, with its remembrance of the past in the poppies denoting every one of Britain and the Commonwealth’s soldiers who died in the Great War, as well as Mr. Belfield’s final salute on Veteran’s Day, giving a nod to the future by cheering the ESA’s first-ever landing of a spacecraft on a comet. May Philae’s working life, however brief, increase our understanding of the universe in unimaginable ways. And, as always, while we remember the past and prepare for the future, the present is its usual mess. Happy Saturday!

  17. Regarding the Rosetta mission: Part of the a priori content of my Christian faith is that there is no scientifically observable phenomenon as marvelous, mysterious, complex, wondrous, astounding or miraculous as the simplest human being.

    A corollary to this is that I support and am interested in science (provided it’s conducted in a humane and ethical way) as a way of knowing, understanding, augmenting and exploring humanity, and as long as it does this, no matter how far-flung its explorations and researches into interstellar or quantum realms, I’m in favor of it; when it ceases to do this, I’m at best neutral and uninterested, though sometimes hostile and antagonistic, to it.

    • “…science (provided it’s conducted in a humane and ethical way) as a way of knowing, understanding, augmenting and exploring humanity…”

      Two words: space colonies. 🙂

      • “Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying,
        in the yellow haze of the sun.
        There were children crying, and colors flying,
        all around the chosen ones.
        All in a dream, all in a dream,
        the loading had begun.
        They were flying Mother Nature’s
        silver seed to a new home in the sun.
        Flying Mother Nature’s
        silver seed to a new home.”

  18. Long ago and far away at a bible study which was focused on the culture war. Someone stated that we Christians are “different” from the dominant culture. So I asked “how?” . He responded with a list: “we are nicer, generous, caring, helpful, don’t cuss ” etc.
    Yep but so are non-Christians right ? Silence. But but.
    No one mentioned “forgiven” .
    And no one listed all the ways in which we are the same as the Culture.
    Sometimes, no, most of the time, I forget too. Culture war and grace. What a combination.
    Small acts of extraordinary grace or generosity coming from non Christians is very humbling
    and are always unexpected. Maybe it is time to “pound” the weapons of our culture war into
    “plough shares” . Be overly generous with your money. Not to charities. Not to the church. But to the baristas, the waitress, the carwash attendant, your cousin who fell on hardtimes etc.
    Also turn off the tv and radio for 21 days and observe with your own eyes and ears.
    Okay now I’m gettin’ preachy heheh.
    All for now.

  19. Connecting the dots between th poppies in London and Veterans Day. Many, today, do not know that orignally 11 November was Armistice Day, the celebration of the end of bloodshed in WWI. When our clueless Congress changed the date of the holiday some decades ago, they received a swift kick in the pants from the WWI veterans who remembered the significance of the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour when the fighting stopped.
    Also of note, this is the centennial year of the Christmas truce.

  20. Definitely off-topic, but i am sorry to see that comments on last Friday’s post are now closed. CM, thanks for leaving the current discussion available.

    • Numo, I was very bummed about that. Our discussion was just starting to get really interesting! Would you be open to continuing it offsite?

  21. Miguel – i think I’d better drop it for now, due to life in general and some things that have come up since Friday. One of those times when things go sideways fast.

    But i fo appreciate the offer!