"What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote
in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes
his own self-interest as he sees it... which for the majority translates as 'Bread and Circuses'."
- Robert A. Heinlein

In Roman times, free Bread and Circuses entertained the masses. I hope you find your time
here both entertaining and informative.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Shameless Self Promotion

Jack's Confused Sense of Rejection

An expanded essay inspired by a previous blog post. Please go check it out, and if you have a blog, I'd appreciate a mention. Thanks.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Never Judge a Shop by its Contents

While visiting sister and brother-in-law this week, I made the rounds of used book shops. At the end of the weekend, after finding a traditional German sausage maker and an Italian bakery which felt like a time warp to the 1940s in all the good ways, my family was at a small upscale Italian pastry shop. While they were enjoying gelato, I was checking out the shops in the area. One in particular looked like the sort of place that you could offload some merchandise with few questions asked. Among the VCRs and collection of DVDs, some still marked from a library or video rental, there were several shelves overflowing with books. Most were the typical fare of pulp fiction, Clancy and Steele paperbacks stacked two or three deep with no apparent order. While digging through the piles, I did find a couple that were interesting. I wished I had the time to sort through the dreck and find all the forgotten treasures you could see poking out here and there. Next to a copy of Animal Farm (which I promptly picked out and dedicated to Professor Boxer), was The Allegory of Love by C. S. Lewis. Jackpot. It was labeled "$3". I took it up to the proprietor of the place, the kind of guy you wouldn't look at twice if he was sitting on a stoop with a bottle in a paper bag, with a Styrofoam cup for change.

Enboldened by the literary scores I'd made that week, I asked if he'd take two dollars. He looked at the book and said "Sure. Anyone who reads C. S. Lewis is ok by me." I replied that I doubted he sold much of the sort. "Not really. As you can see I devote real estate to books out of principle, not because they sell." I paid him, thanked him and left.

Here's a list of what else I picked up at other shops over the weekend:
  • Thus Spake Zarathustra
  • Beyond Good and Evil
  • Fear and Trembling (an absolutely beautiful copy which promptly replaced my worn Dover edition picked up for Boxer's philosophy class)
  • The Book of War
  • Teeth of the Tiger
  • The Cuckoo's Egg
  • Augustine's Sermons to the People
  • The Second Oldest Profession (as honorable as the first)
  • The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
  • Parliament of Whores
  • Grimm's Faery Tales
  • My Secret War (by Kim Philby)
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • The Peloponnesian Wars
  • Years of Upheaval (The lady at one shop threw this in for free, completing my set of Kissinger's Memoirs)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

When people ask me what denomination I consider myself, I usually tell them "I'm an Anglican who currently attends a Bapto-costal church." For purposes of this discussion, my church considers itself Baptocostal because they have Baptist doctrine and drums in worship.

A bit of a condtradiction don't you think? As an Anglican I find myself most blessed when in a church that has strong doctrine, sound tradition and a liturgial worship style. However, there are no good Anglican churches nearby, so I fellowship with my family.

Why do I go to a church where I often feel uncomfortable? Because I believe that the Scriptural mandate to fellowship with believers carries no caveat "if you find it comfortable or like the people in your church." That's not to say that I dislike anyone in my church, but I have to admit, after tasting the joys of a traditional faith, there is much in the large-e Evangelical movement that rubs me the wrong way. Why do I attend? Because we're commanded to fellowship with the local body of believers: http://relevantmagazine.com/god_article.php?id=7301

Now, what is Anglican? Most people think it's just Catholic-Lite, "More Doctrine.... Less Guilt... More Doctrine... Less Guilt."

It's a Protestant (maybe even Reformed) doctrine with a liturgical worship style, a church tradition and hierarchy that avoids splitting over whether women wear pants or what color carpet to have, and uses real wine in Communion. Catholic but not so Mary.

Now often people think that a liturgical style is "vain repetition." Every church has a liturgy in some form, no matter how informal it is, whether they call it a mass, a liturgy or a bulletin.

Now Evangelicals or 'fundies' often say that the Anglican church is based on the traditions of man. Yes, there is a traditional element. To quote: "It is not necessary that the Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word."

In my opinion, I'd rather have church traditions that have stood the test of time, rather than modernist manufactured traditions such as those that dominate the fundamentalist American church. My priest wears vestments that show a respect for God. Your Baptist preacher wears a suit and tie no matter how hot it is in the summer, out of respect for God. My church has a tradition of holding communion at every worship service, yours does it once a quarter. My church asks people to kneel out of reverance during prayer. Your church only lets people kneel when they're facing such a serious personal crisis that they must come to the altar. Kneel in the pews at a Baptist church as I do and you get strange looks. Yes the Anglican church has its traditions. But what of the mainstream evangelical traditions? WWJD, revival meetings, the prayer of Jabez, Joshua Harris, and many more.

If you have questions, read the Catechism and Articles of Faith in the Book of Common Prayer. I doubt most Protestants will find much cause for concern.

Now, many people have heard little about the American Branch of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church of the US (ECUSA), outside the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson (an open practicing homosexual), and the election of Katherine Jeffers-Schori as Episcopal Archbishop. This leads to many people thinking it's "the gay church." Yes, the Anglican Communion is in the midst of a crisis approaching schism over the issue, as the Archbishop of Canterbury put a moratorium on gay ordinations and marriages and the ECUSA broke it. Traditional-Episcopalians have been departing the ECUSA and seeking to align with the worldwide Anglican communion to preserve vital doctrine. However, the Anglican Communion is doing all it can to reconcile differences without compromising doctrine, and there is hope that this can succeed. The traditional minority in the US remain steadfastly committed to the doctrines of the faith regardless of the outcome, whether schism or healing and unity.

So I'm not Catholic, I'm not pro-gay-marriage (though I am pro-gay in the way that I am pro-all human being created in the image of God). I am a Mere Christian. I don't ask you to genuflect when you prayer, but don't burn me at the stake if I cross myself. Thanks.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Gluttony: Being the First in a Seven Part Series on the Deadly Sins

“You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on a stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?..... There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest in their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.”

Some heady thoughts from the fifth chapter of the third book of Mere Christianity. Lewis is of course making a point about the unhealthy cultural attitude towards sex, but I want to reverse the analogy and deduce the inverse. Lewis claims here that our attitude towards food could become just as corrupted as that toward sexual expression. And as we know, the sins most comfortable to us are often the ones we must remain on guard against. How many Christians preach sexual chastity but think nothing of unchaste indulgence in the pleasures of food? I touched on this briefly in a previous essay, asking how many fat Baptist preachers (yes, it’s a generalization, but one that experience has proven accurate) inveigh against the evils of even moderate indulgence in tobacco or alcohol, railing that it defiles the temple, but who are poisoning their bodies with an excessive and unhealthy diet.

Now, this is a difficult topic to broach, because in our society some things are acceptable to condemn people for, while other character flaws are socially protected. If you doubt my premise, consider this: how often is it considered normal to personally confront a smoker about their “filthy” habit, but if someone addresses overeating, which I shall herein refer to as gluttony, we are insensitive to people whose metabolisms or stressors predispose them to obesity? Understand that I am not condemning those who eat any more than I condemn those who smoke or drink. All can be done in moderation, and they can also be indulged in to excess.

Let us first understand what we are talking about: Gluttony, properly understood, is expecting more of food that it can offer. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a proper Christmas repast, even if we overindulge a bit on that occasion. No, gluttony is a far more insidious vice. It consists of using food as a panacea for stress, for depression, becoming dependent on food to lift our spirits. To quote Church Father Thomas Aquinas: "Gluttony denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire... leaving the order of reason, wherein the good of moral virtue consists." This is a vital distinction. Not all those who are overweight are gluttons, men like Chesterton and Luther, “giants side to side,” spring first to mind. Nor are those like myself who possess a rapid metabolism immune from the influences of the vice. You may be, for whatever reasons, prone to being larger, but if you have a proper emphasis on the spiritual, and do not use food for more than it was intended, you may not be a glutton. If you are slender but eat for purely sensual pleasure, or deny yourself without reason, you may well be gluttonous. Like many failings in the church, we overlook the dangers of gluttony by looking at things in and of themselves, when we should rather take a systematic approach to how everything in our lives affects our spirituality.

From First Corinthians 11, When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

In the early church gluttony was divisive and separated the church. Today, it unites us, but it is still as dangerous to our moral state.

If I may beg the reader’s indulgence while I engage in a bit of speculation: Food has become a central pillar of church fellowship. Churches, especially of the evangelical variety, eat together almost every time they gather. And it is not just a simple meal of fellowship. We have fattening foods and coffee (ahh caffeine, the ignored social drug of choice in the Church) after worship, we hold potlucks on any pretext, men’s groups hold prayer breakfasts during which there is little prayer and much breakfast. Obesity is set to over take smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in this country, and yet the church comfortably gorges itself at the table of fellowship, smugly content that we don’t destroy our bodies with liquor or nicotine. If the aforementioned pastors are concerned about the state of our bodies, they would realize that comparatively, gluttony is a far wider-reaching sin in the church than smoking.

So far we have established what gluttony is, and that it is a serious sin in the church. Gluttony and materialism are linked, and western society, and the American church specifically, are in thrall to materialism. So how can we correct our gluttony? I would suggest a few systematic approaches, leaving issues like dieting and exercise (asceticism perhaps) to the more educated than I. First we must become more concerned with those who have less than us. If we are mindful that there are many poor and homeless among us who are dying for want of a decent meal, if we are truly moved to compassion, not just pity, by news reports on the plight of those in Africa, in sum if we consider others before ourselves, we will go a long way toward correcting our own over indulgence.

Now if overeating is gluttony, so too can be an artificial show of deprivation. We are liberated, Peter’s vision opens up to us the opportunity to enjoy a good Delmonico on occasion. If we choose to eat not just moderately, but modestly, we must beware the temptation to another sin, that of Pride. I do not want the reader to exchange a smug confidence that we do are not drunkards or smokers with an equally arrogant and hypocritical confidence that we are not gluttons.

In everything we must remember that Christ is more concerned with our spiritual well being than the purely physical. Gluttony, drunkenness, or drug abuse are sins not purely because they are physical, but because they take the place of a proper emphasis on the spiritual. When it comes to the physical virtues, we must remember Colossians chapter 2:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

It is clear that the indulgence of the flesh has at its root an improper emphasis on the spiritual. It is not that we overemphasize the physical, but rather we denigrate the spiritual and allow our natural appetites to fill the void left by an unspiritual life. If we construct a moral code, as much of the Evangelical church has, based on a laundry list of physical dos and don’ts, then we miss the mark. The key to appropriate and moderate indulgence in the things of the flesh is to have a proper conception of the spiritual. If we give the best to God of our soul, and focus on the spiritual virtues as primary, we will naturally bring our natural appetites in line with a moderate enjoyment of the physical things God created for our pleasure. Hold fast to the Head, which is Christ, and our whole body will be properly nourished, and we will not rely on food to satisfy ourselves.