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British parents are no doubt delighted to discover that chocolate Easter egg prices are at ‘rock bottom’ in 2015 thanks to supermarket discounts.

Meanwhile, Church of England Archbishops are unhappy because The Real Easter Egg, the one with a booklet telling the story of the Resurrection, has been crowded out by eggs representing Darth Vader, Doctor Who or Postman Pat.

The Real Easter Egg

Meaningful Chocolate produces The Real Easter Egg, a tasty teaching aid (my words) which comes with a small booklet explaining why eggs are a central symbol of the Resurrection.

The Warrington-based company has been making the eggs for four years. However, it is not always easy for them to negotiate shelf space. Their website provides a list of UK supermarkets selling the egg, made with quality Fairtrade chocolate.

David Marshall, who runs Meaningful Chocolate, told the Daily Mail:

We do wonder at times if there is an anti-Christian agenda from some of our supermarkets who just keep turning it down. It is as if some feel Christianity is politically incorrect or the Easter story, which mentions Jesus, might put people off.

‘One buyer asked us what Easter had got to do with the Church, while another simply said, “I don’t think this is a credible product” and asked us to leave.’

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, are urging Asda, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s to stock the egg.

Pagan, useful or both?

A growing number of Christians all over the world, but mainly in the United States, consider that, as the Easter egg and the Easter Bunny are not in the Bible and that they were part of pagan rituals, they have no place in the Resurrection story.

Yet, when we think back to the early centuries of Christianity, when missionaries risked life and limb travelling around Europe to spread the Gospel, what was the best way for them to tell people about Jesus? One cannot help but think of St Patrick, who taught about the Holy Trinity using a shamrock.

We’re talking about people who were illiterate and whose lives revolved around nature, upon which they were dependent for survival. The world then was not the way it is now: clean, sanitised, educated, plentiful. Life was precarious. Death was just around the corner. Food was not widely available 365 days a year. Hens stopped laying eggs. Animals went into hibernation. Most crops were unsustainable during frosty months. Is it any wonder, then, that people rejoiced at the advent of Spring?

Most of today’s well-meaning believers labelling everything ‘pagan’ are driving everywhere, buying food at a supermarket and maintaining their lawns devoid of other life. Look at any suburb.

Under such privileged circumstances, it is easy to denounce symbolism of the ancient world as being purely pagan with no crossover into Christianity. The same was true during the Reformation in discarding anything symbolic or exemplary, such as stained glass illustrations of biblical events or recalling the lives of the saints, many of whom died for the faith.

Fine, for those who wish to do that. However, there is another side to the story.

Hares and rabbits represented life

Explore God has a good article explaining what the hare and, later, the rabbit, represented for ancient peoples.

Life and fertility are intertwined in man’s atavistic need for survival and propagation. No animal represents these characteristics quite as well as the beautiful hare or cuddly rabbit.

Explore God tells us that a thousand years before Christ was born, the peoples of Mesopotamia and Syria viewed the hare as representative of life and rebirth. In the Greco-Roman world, gravestones had depictions of rabbits for the same reason.

The early Christians also used the hare and the rabbit to represent rebirth in the resurrected Christ.

The ancient world, northern European traditions and ‘Easter’

The word Easter is only used in Teutonic, Scandinavian and English languages.

Therefore, English-speakers would do well to stop saying that Easter is a pagan feast. We might have appropriated a pagan word for it (as we did with Sunday), but it is not universally known as that in every other language.

Infoplease says (emphases mine):

Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages.

In French, for example, it is Pâques. The Passover which the Jews celebrate is called Pâques juif.

Explore God summarises the possible origins of the word ‘Easter':

– The ancient German fertility goddess Eostra, associated with the hare;

– The ancient Norse word for Spring, which, translated into German is ostern.

It is difficult to know which came first: ostern or Eostra.

Infoplease says that the Venerable Bede, chronicler of the early Anglo-Saxon world that he witnessed, described the month of what we now call April as being named after Eostra:

“Eostremonat,” or Eostre’s month, leading to “Easter” becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it.

Some historians see no connection with the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar as her feasts occurred later in Spring. Explore God explains:

It seems probable that around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols.

On the other hand, Christina Georgiou explains Eostre’s connection with the hare and the Ishtar story. Easter was not established until 325 AD at the first Council of Nicaea:

… co-opting an existing pagan holiday served the purpose of sowing the seeds of a new religion on existing faith.

In the east, the festival of Ishtar (correctly pronounced ‘Easter’) and the resurrection of  Tammuz also took place shortly after the equinox.

Still, they might have been on to something, even if it wasn’t exactly new. The holiday they picked had many of the same connotations attached.

The mystery of death and resurrection is remarkably similar in many places and times, and the time of year when it is recognized is practically universal across the northern hemisphere …

The  totem of Eostre is a hare—and according to the story, the goddess can turn into a hare at will. In one legend, the goddess comes upon an injured bird, who she saves by turning into a hare, it being the animal she is strongest as. Yet, having been a bird, this hare could still lay eggs, and in gratitude to the goddess, the bird laid colored eggs on her feast day ever since.

The hare heralded new life as did lilies — and the first eggs of the season.

Other related rituals

Georgiou goes on to explain that whether pagans of the ancient world worshipped Ishtar in the Cradle of Civilisation, Adonis/Aphrodite in Mediterranean lands or Eostre in the North, certain practices and rituals surrounded the vernal equinox.

One of these was fasting from meat for 40 days prior to the equinox. Some cultures cut down a tree in the shape of a ‘T’, commemorating Tammuz’s death and resurrection, which they believed occurred soon after the equinox. In the days approaching this time, pagans sang songs of mourning and held a vigil. On the appropriate morning, the priest or shaman comforted mourners by telling them that they, too, would rise like Tammuz from the grave to new life.

From this, it is easy to see why Church fathers established the feast of the Resurrection at a similar time. Fasting could easily translate into Jesus’s time in the desert to fast and pray. The tree held significance as Jesus died on the Cross.

Pagans and fundamentalist Protestants might be angry about this history for different reasons, but the springtime story helped to spread Christianity in earliest times throughout Africa, the Middle East, Mediterranean countries and Europe. What’s not to like?

Eggs, hens and early civilisations

We’re used to going to the supermarket to buy eggs. It’s nothing unusual for us. Eggs are on sale all year round.

However, historically, this is a relatively recent development.

Hens cannot lay eggs without a generous supply of light. Today, this is done artificially indoors so that we can enjoy them throughout the year. However, in the old days, as daylight grew shorter, people used to gather eggs for winter storage. At some point during the winter when production had ground to a halt, they probably ran out or the eggs spoiled.

Once longer days rolled around in the Spring, hens guarded their newly-laid eggs by hiding them. Georgiou tells us:

When does laying season begin? You guessed it.

And, if you’ve ever kept free-range chickens, you know that this time of year they hide them everywhere. Yes, even in the grass. (No, I never kept chickens, but when I was in college, my landlord did, and these are things I can attest to personally.)

Hmm. Think of American Easter baskets. They have artificial grass and chocolate eggs, a throwback to a hen’s natural behaviour.

She explains that in pagan times, the hare’s winter behaviour — nocturnal — was associated with the moon. In springtime, hares resumed running around during the day. Eggs also began reappearing; pagans connected them with the sun, the ‘golden egg':

The two together indicate a balance between the sun and moon, appropriate for a holiday that is centered around the vernal equinox, a time of equal day and night, and also to indicate the fertility of the season.

Therefore, eggs were a prominent food at pagan rituals taking place at this time. Infoplease says that the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans all used them.

Early Christian missionaries used the egg as a symbol for the Resurrection: out of the hard shell (the tomb), new life emerges.

As Christianity displaced paganism, various peoples attached this symbolism to the egg. Elaborate decorations also appeared.

The pagan fasting became a Christian tradition, recalling Christ’s own 40 days in the desert. Not only was meat restricted, eggs were, too. Easter represented Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the fast.

People gave each other eggs as gifts, a token of mutual rejoicing at new life through our Lord’s victory over death and the tomb.

Christians in the Middle East and Greece painted eggs bright red, recalling His blood shed for our sins. Armenians carefully emptied the contents of the egg then painted the shells with pictures of our Lord, Mary and the saints. Early Germans also hollowed out eggs which they hung on trees. They coloured whole eggs green to give to family and friends on Maundy Thursday.

Austrians buried eggs in plants with decorative foliage. When they boiled the eggs afterward, a pretty plant pattern emerged on the shell. Further east, the Poles and the Ukranians painted eggs silver and gold. They also developed an elaborate method of egg decoration called pysanky. This involved applying designs in wax on the eggshell before dying it. They reapplied wax then boiled the egg again in other colours of dye. The end product was a multi-coloured, patterned delight.

In Russia, Tsar Alexander III wanted an exquisite Easter present for his wife. In 1885, he commissioned Pierre Faberge to create the first of what we know as Faberge eggs.

The white week — hebdomada alba — and Easter parades

Traditionally, Easter has been the time when catechumens — those who have been instructed in the faith — were baptised.

Centuries ago, the newly baptised wore white robes during Easter week to symbolise their new life in Christ. That week was referred to in early Christianity as hebdomada alba: ‘white week’ in Latin.

Infoplease says that during the Middle Ages local churches arranged religious processions after Mass on Easter Day. The congregation processed in their towns or villages following the clergy and deacons who carried a processional cross and/or a Paschal candle, which would have been lit at the Easter vigil service. Unlike today, people dressed up for church and Easter would have represented the perfect occasion for wearing new, Sunday best attire. Hats and bonnets would have been important, too, as they were seen by everyone. These processions, originally religious and solemn, became more secular and joyful. They evolved into what we know as Easter Parades.

The German Easter Hare — the children’s judge

From what we have seen so far in the history of springtime and Easter symbolism, we know that a) it was an important time of year as it meant food production could recommence, b) ancient civilisations attached atavistic importance to the hare and the egg and c) Christianity was able to biblically use certain elements — fasting, the tree of sacrifice and the egg — to make Christ’s death and resurrection more understandable to pagan populations.

In the 16th century, possibly the 15th, Germans borrowed the aforementioned Eostre story about the transformation of the bird into a hare that could lay eggs and transformed it into a religious Oschter Haws or Osterhase (‘Easter Hare’).

Proflowers explains:

Children were told that a special hare would deliver gifts of colored eggs to the baskets made by good little boys and girls. Homemade baskets were crafted from bonnets and capes, and then hidden within the home. This tradition has evolved into modern-day Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets!

The first German settlers in the United States brought this tradition to Pennsylvania.

Parents told their children to be good or else the Easter Hare would not leave them a treat. I read elsewhere that the Easter Hare might determine that bad children needed a good whipping instead of a basket.

The Easter Hare — now the Easter Bunny — arrived in secret to leave these hidden eggs. From this we have the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.

We can see the similarity of the Easter Bunny with Father Christmas/Santa Claus operating on the reward-punishment basis. In Dutch traditions, Sinter Klaas (St Nick) goes around in the early hours of the morning on St Nicholas’s feast day — December 6 — to leave a treat or nothing. Sinter Klaas travels with his friend Black Pete, who metes out a whipping to bad boys and girls. These days, Black Pete is seen as politically incorrect. Whether he was actually from central Africa as today’s activists say is unclear. The best testimony on that came from one of my ex-colleagues, a Dutchman, who said that the warning his parents gave him before December 6 was, ‘Be good or the Spaniards will take you away!’ This refers to the long-standing rivalry centuries ago between the Netherlands and Spain. It is possible that Pete — Piet, in Dutch — represented Spaniards who would have had somewhat darker skin. Or Piet could have represented a similar-shaded person from St Nicholas’s native Turkey. Another theory posits that Piet was covered in soot from sliding down so many chimneys.

But I digress.

Suffice it to say that the Church’s principal feasts share this mandate for children to be good — or else. It’s an easy way of shaping their early behaviour into a civilised, godly one. What harm can that do? The child can digest ‘reward-punishment’ better than he can theology at that stage. That is not to say theology should not be paramount even then with prayers and Bible stories, but the ‘reward-punishment’ principle teaches simple, practical lessons quickly. A child’s mind only runs to the immediate future.

How Easter treats further developed

Germans developed the first edible Easter Hares out of pastry and sugar in the early 1800s.

Today, Easter is the second largest day of candy consumption during the year. The first, at least in the United States, is Hallowe’en. Here in the UK, it is probably Christmas.

We are awash in chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies in the run-up to Easter. In fact, one of our local shops brought out creme eggs on the 11th day of Christmas this year: January 5!

We don’t have Easter baskets here in the UK, and now, having done this research, I know why.

Twenty-five (or more) years ago, candy companies sold complimentary mugs, sometimes egg cups, with their Easter eggs. This went by the wayside 20 years ago, unfortunately, although I was able to procure a Snickers mug for the 1990 World Cup, a Kit Kat one the following year and an M&Ms one, my last mug purchase. I still have all three. They are fun and practical.

Easter cards

Easter cards became popular in Victorian England. A 19th century stationer had a card with a hare on it and added a seasonal greeting. From there the rest is history.

Today, at least in the United States, Easter is the fourth-most popular greeting card holiday after Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Last but not least — the pretzel

Before leaving the food aspect of Easter, it is worth pointing out that the pretzel is an Easter treat.

Apparently, the pretzel is the world’s oldest snack food. In 610 AD, an Italian monk wondered what to do with leftover bread dough. He decided to make small twists of dough, the shape of which was meant to resemble children’s arms folded in prayer.

Conclusion — and the Passover connection

In closing, what is important about Easter is that Christ Crucified – Christ Risen is the most important concept we can share with young people. An Easter basket helps to convey to a little one that shared joy of everlasting life through our Lord’s death and resurrection.

And we might also recall that one symbol — the egg — came to the Jewish Christians from the original Passover seder. Therefore, we acknowledge our spiritual history with the Old Testament as well as Jesus’s mandate for us in the Last Supper:

the hard-boiled egg is one of the seven symbols set out on the Seder plate. Easter and Passover, after all, are strongly connected to each other. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples just before the crucifixion. After the disciples began proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, they continued to celebrate a yearly Passover in the way Jesus had instructed them to, remembering his death and, more importantly, what his death and resurrection meant for them.

Whatever way you choose to celebrate Easter with your family, I wish you a very happy one, indeed.

Not so long ago, most Reformed (Calvinist, including Presbyterian) churches had Communion — Supper — services once a month.

Today, that tradition is changing, with more churches embracing a weekly Supper.

Those churches which have not yet done so say that the frequency of the Supper might diminish its significance to the congregation. Along with this is the rationale that, during the service, congregants will choose to reflect on either the preaching or the Supper but not both. Others say that their church’s tradition has always been for a quarterly or monthly Communion service. All of these are reasonable.

However, there is also a poor excuse, which is that the distribution of the Supper takes too much time! This lady, commenting on a Gospel Coalition post exploring the subject, supports frequent Communion. She rightly takes issue with the ‘not enough time’ excuse, pointing out:

this is the one thing the Lord commanded we do to remember Him and what He did. If you don’t have the time, please feel free to cut out the collection of money, the silly dramas [some Reformed churches feature short plays during their services], the endless singing about how great God makes you feel (not Glory to God in most contemporary Christian music), the light show, the “howdy” (greeting…where everyone walks around talking about anything but Jesus). You can’t spare 10 minutes out of the weekly hour to remember what Jesus did for you? SHAME!

However, there are deeply rooted historical reasons why Communion has been infrequent in Reformed churches.

Calvin, Zwingli and Knox

John Calvin believed in weekly Communion:

the Lord’s Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually.

However, he was unable to persuade the Geneva City Council of this principle. At this time in history, large European cities often legislated on matters spiritual as well as temporal. The Council approved monthly Communion.

In Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli took the view that the Sacrament was but a mere memorial of the Last Supper and offered no means of grace. Appalled, Martin Luther took strong exception to this and told Zwingli that ‘another spirit’ moved through him.

Nonetheless, Zwingli set a quarterly Communion observance for his followers: one Sunday in the autumn, followed by Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

John Knox promoted the Geneva pattern of Communion in his Order of Geneva (1556). Six years later, the First Book of Discipline adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1562) was issued. It called for a Zwinglian quarterly observance in Scottish cities and twice a year in countryside churches.

Communion Seasons

By the 18th century, Presbyterians in Scotland received the Sacrament rarely. Many only received it annually for the following reasons: suspicion of clergymen, lack of ordained ministers and a shortage of bread because of widespread poverty.

Scottish Presbyterian Communion tokenThese annual commemorations of the Supper turned into what were called Communion Seasons. The faithful began by fasting on a Thursday, attending a church service on Saturday where they received their Communion tokens, receiving the Sacrament the following day and a thanksgiving service on Monday.

If these remind us of revivals, that is indeed how they turned out. The same weekend format was adapted for American revivals, with a certain amount of religious enthusiasm.

Presbyterianism in Colonial America

By the end of the 18th century, Presbyterians in the American colonies held opposing views with regard to the frequency of Communion.

Whilst the 1787 Directory of Worship for American Presbyterianism stipulated the annual Communion Season, a Scottish-educated minister in New York City disagreed. In his 1797 book, Letters on Frequent Communion, John Mitchell Mason argued that the showmanship of the revivalist approach detracted from traditional Presbyterian piety. He advocated weekly Communion as a consistent means of grace.

Reformed Communion historically

There was one issue with frequent Communion, not only in the Presbyterian Church, but also in the Reformed congregations.

Those wishing to receive the Sacrament were required to attend preparatory classes at their church in the days before each Communion Sunday. Ministers and elders gave tokens to those whom they had deemed worthy. The recipients were then required to present the token at the service.

These circumstances made frequent Communion services impractical.

Today’s experience

Although Communion tokens have long been history, Reformed clergy and congregations still struggle with the frequency of Communion services.

The Revd P Aasman of the Canadian Reformed Church in Grand Valley, Ontario, explains that his denomination’s Book of Praise contained a lengthy Communion liturgy and now has a shorter form. However, he writes, even then, congregations are reluctant to participate more often:

Both of these things (the length of the form and the manner of celebration) support infrequent communion and, therefore, need to be adjusted before positive change can be made.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is concerned that their congregations might have a Zwinglian view of the Sacrament as a memorial with little to no means of grace. OPC elders D. G. Hart and John Muether posit that increased frequency of Communion services are not guaranteed to alter those perceptions where they exist. Whilst they conclude that these services should ideally be weekly, they also warn:

weekly communion might tempt partakers toward a deadening familiarity with the sacrament …

Personally, as a former Catholic, now Anglican, I would agree that frequent reception of Communion, sadly, does become overly familiar and loses its significance. That is a terrible admission to make, however, it is true. I have also seen it in other Catholics during my time. When I first became an Episcopalian, my church had monthly Communion services. (That said, the 8:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were always for Holy Communion as were Wednesday evening services.) I felt better prepared spiritually for less frequent Communion. I could also concentrate more on the readings and sermons during Morning Prayer Sundays. My weakness, but no doubt others’, too.

I spent quite a bit of time seeing how often Presbyterian churches have a Communion service. Here are but three examples in the PCA: one has it quarterly (the Supper elements have been prepared by the same family line for 150 years!), another has it monthly and a third has one weekly.

It will be interesting to see what the future brings in this regard.

luther-roseOlder Lutherans who wonder how and why their liturgy has changed so much since their childhood might find Frank Senn’s 2011 paper ‘Ninety-five Theses on the State of Liturgical Renewal in the Lutheran Churches of North America’ a helpful resource.

A brief summary follows with page citations from the PDF.

Lutheran liturgy began to change bit by bit in the 1950s, although its ‘renewal’ did not begin in earnest until the 1970s.

The Catholics were the first to begin tinkering with liturgy and tradition in the 1960s. Unfortunately, Anglicans also followed them into the same trend, which has left all three denominations confused. It is no wonder that most of us cannot recognise the churches of our childhood.

Early days of settlement

Senn divides his paper into items of historical and current interest. His first seven points on pages 2 and 3 cover the early Lutheran Church in North America.

We discover that German Lutherans were the first colonial settlers to celebrate Christmas with gusto. However, in regular worship, Senn tells us that Lutherans were either pietists or rationalists. (Pietists rejected the established — state — churches of Germany and Scandinavia for more homespun practices. Rationalists, probably the middle and upper middle classes, adhered to established liturgy and theology.)

In the mid-19th century, Senn writes, immigrants brought more confessionally Lutheran styles of theology and worship (item 10, page 3). Those who were translating prayerbooks into English found these useful resources. A more uniform pattern of worship began to develop which culminated in 1888 with the Common Service (item 12). It was so named because it was liturgy which all Lutherans could appreciate and use.

By the early 20th century, what pastors wore at Sunday services had changed. Black robes were gradually replaced by an alb and stole with the addition of a chasuble for Holy Communion services (item 15).

1950s and beyond

In the late 1950s, the Lutheran Churches of North America embarked on a programme of ‘liturgical restoration’. A new worship book, The Service Book and Hymnal, was introduced in 1958. The Joint Commission on the Liturgy and the Hymnal had gone beyond Lutheranism to embrace certain prayers and hymns from the broader Western Church (item 17, pp 3, 4).

However, it was not long before the new worship book’s critics complained that its language was too archaic. After all, they said, American culture was changing rapidly. So, eight years later — 1966 — an Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship convened to discuss how church services could be made more relevant to contemporary society (points 18, 19).

The Commission was in place through the 1970s. Although certain synod-specific rubrics were created, the Commission encouraged them all:

1/ The LCMS Worship Supplement (1969) to the Lutheran Hymnal (1941). This new volume had not only newer hymns but also alternative orders of service (item 20).

2/ The 1970 Service of Holy Communion (item 21) was an modern one in line with the spirit of unity and ecumenism of the day. Not only that, it established Holy Communion as the principal Sunday service (item 22). As with the post-Vatican II Catholic Missal, Lutheran liturgy moved towards being more man-oriented to the perceived ‘needs’ of the congregation.

3/ Throughout the 1970s, new booklets appeared with more particularised and alternative worship services and hymns (item 23). The Commission’s summer conferences introduced them — and no doubt proliferated them year on year.

4/ The Commission adopted a version of the three-year Roman Catholic Lectionary for public worship (items 24, 32). Although North American Lutherans began using the Lectionary, most European Lutherans did not (item 25).

5/ It could be said that the Commission’s work culminated with the 1979 Lutheran Book of Worship, approved by the church groups involved except for the LCMS (page 5). That said, many LCMS congregations began buying copies for their churches. The LBW was informed by ecumenism, reiterated the importance of Holy Communion as the main Sunday service and borrowed texts (e.g. the Psalter) from the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer. A broad campaign of workshops in churches across North America ensured its acceptance.

6/ Altars have been rearranged or built to be free-standing to allow everyone to stand around them (item 41, page 6).

Resulting present day problems

Senn hints that so much alternative liturgies and hymns might have made the Lutheran churches in North America come full circle, approaching the tension of pietism versus rationalism in the colonial days. Some Lutheran churches are more traditional whilst others embrace new practices and language. This is because of:

1/ Gender-inclusive liturgical language (item 42) which has led to a deliberate omission of the Creeds with their male-oriented references to the Holy Trinity (item 44). The 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Worship book is gender-neutral whilst the LCMS Lutheran Service Book, also published in 2006, retains traditional language (item 45).

2/ Inter-Lutheran co-operation on worship has consequently become polarised (item 46).

3/ Worship has come to be seen, erroneously, as a form of evangelism and, as such, services have been modified to become seeker-friendly (items 68-71, page 8).

4/ Congregations and clergy now think that prayer books and hymnals are too complicated for the unchurched to use (items 73 and 74, page 9), so service sheets and big screens are being used instead.

5/ Congregations are omitting a confession of sin and the Creed (item 77), no doubt in order not to offend.

Senn makes excellent points near the end of his paper (item 84 on page 10 and items 91, 94 and 95 on page 11). Emphases mine:

84. Lutheran laypeople used to be able to recognize Lutheran worship when they visited other congregations in the days when the Common Service was included in the hymnals of various church bodies, or when the SBH and then the LBW were in widespread use. Common Lutheran worship can no longer be presumed.

91. The question needs to be raised as to whether a common order is sufficient if common content is lacking. Historically Lutherans have been concerned about the relationship between the lex orandi (rule of prayer) and the lex credendi (rule of belief). In the nineteenth century, liturgical and confessional restoration went together. Lutherans have understood that practices influence theology.

94. Lutheran worship has always been trinitarian and Christological.
Worship is addressed to God the Holy Trinity and the content of many songs
is Christ ‘‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’’ This orthodoxy is challenged today by secular ideologies such as feminism and Pentecostal praise and worship songs that focus on Jesus and me.

95. In many congregations we have returned full circle to a situation in which the liturgy must be retrieved and restored before it can be renewed. In many other congregations, however, the seeds of liturgical renewal, planted forty years ago, are producing rich fruit.

I suspect that the Lutherans are experiencing a long-term decline in worship just as other Protestants and Catholics are. Our churches and liturgies are no longer what they were.

As I have written before (here and here), we are no longer hearing the voice of the Shepherd through our clergy and lay leaders but that of the stranger, the hired hand and the thief.

j03138821The frequency of Holy Communion in Protestant churches has increased in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Many Protestants have deplored the sparsely scheduled Holy Communion service, which, until recently, had been monthly or perhaps twice-monthly.

However, historically, everything is relative. At the time of the Reformation, most Catholics received the Sacrament once a year at Easter.

Therefore, even a Protestant reception once a month would have been 12 times more frequent than a Catholic one in that era.

The words ‘frequency’ and ‘regular’ have made many Protestants over the age of 50 forget the traditions that we grew up with. I have an Episcopalian friend in the United States who says that every Sunday service has long been one of Holy Communion. Yet, we were both longtime members of an urban Episcopal church which had such a service only once a month. The other Sundays featured Morning Prayer. Granted, as that congregation was a large one, the 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were those of Holy Communion. It seems an appropriate middle way.

Lutherans are receiving Communion much more often, although when I was growing up, my neighbours’ church — along with all the other many Lutheran churches in our town — had such services only once a month. This has been blamed on a shortage of clergy in the 19th century; the infrequency became the norm (see item 7, page 3 of this PDF).

Yet, almost no Protestant church held Communion services more than once a month. To cite another example, Methodists have had varied attitudes towards the Sacrament. As with Lutherans, they, too, historically had fewer ordained clergy and, as such, fewer Communion services. John Wesley advised them to go to the local Anglican church for Communion. Our local Methodist church has monthly Communion; the celebrant is either the pastor, in charge of three other churches in his Circuit, or one of the Anglican priests.

This paper from the Methodist Church in Great Britain describes the history of Communion frequency and what Methodists think of the Sacrament (see page 2 of this PDF, emphases mine):

2 The early Methodists were expected to practise constant and frequent Communion, either at the parish church (although in the first century of Methodism, 1740 to 1840, it was not the custom to celebrate Communion every week in most parish churches) or in their own chapels, receiving Communion either from Church of England clergy or, later, from their own itinerant preachers (ministers). However, in each of the branches of Methodism before the 1932 union, the number of Sunday congregations far exceeded the number of such ministers. This was usually the main reason why the Lord’s Supper continued to be celebrated no more than monthly in the town chapels and usually only quarterly in the villages.

3 Today Methodists vary hugely in their attachment to Holy Communion. For some it is at the very heart of their discipleship, for some it is one treasured means of grace among others and for a small minority of Methodists Communion is not perceived as either desirable or necessary.

Although many today will disagree, there is also a danger in receiving Communion unworthily: not being in the right frame of mind, being unbaptised or living a dissolute life.

In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the 1662 Holy Communion liturgy has a very long prayer in which the priest exhorts members of the congregation to determine whether they are worthy to receive the Sacrament. Although no longer read in BCP services, it is based on Articles 28 and 29 of the 39 Articles of Religion:

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.  (Article 28)

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.  (Article 29)

Decades earlier, Martin Luther wrote:

It is useful and good that arrogant, godless blasphemers be so cut off that they should not join in partaking of the holy sacrament, for one should not ‘throw to the dogs what is holy, nor pearls before swine’ [Matt. 7:6] … It is very good and useful that our possession should not be scattered among the unworthy but kept holy and pure among the humble alone. (“That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], pp. 131-32)

Some of the Reformed (Calvinist) churches required ministers to interview their congregants prior to the Holy Communion service. Worthy Huguenots received a méreau — token — to present at church that particular Sunday. Other Reformed churches had the same tradition in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries:

Participation among communion among 18th Reformed protestants was slim as well. Usually, in the days leading up to Communion, prospective communicants had to go through an inquiry with a minister into the state of his soul before being admitted. They called it fencing the table. If the man passed the inquiry, he received a Communion token. Then on Communion Sunday, he presented the token to receive Communion. At a Presyberian museum in Montreat, NC they have a collection of tokens. Someone named Tenney I think wrote a book about them and included photos.

This provides evidence as to why Holy Communion services and reception of the Sacrament were infrequent.

Catholics themselves only began frequently approaching the altar for Eucharist in the early part of the 20th century:

Lack of frequency in reception of communion was not unusual in that period. In 1905, Pope Pius X, in Sacra Tridentina Synodus,[20] exhorted Catholics to receive communion frequently, even daily.

The ‘regular’ and ‘frequent’ ‘celebration’ of Holy Communion has led to another issue of improper reception of the Sacrament: universal Communion, available in most mainstream Protestant denominations — Anglican, Episcopalian, ELCA (Lutheran) and PCUSA (Presbyterian) among them.

A few years ago, I made a case against universal Communion from Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed perspectives. These historically have stemmed from St Paul’s warning to the Corinthians about improper reception of the Sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:27-30):

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g]

Therefore, receiving Holy Communion should be an awesome and fearsome occasion, done with a reverent mind and humble heart.

It is no accident that the faithful have been receiving the Sacrament infrequently until recent decades.

May we be mindful and prayerful when we approach the Lord’s table.

One year after it premiered in the United States on the Food Network, Save My Bakery is now showing on the channel’s sister station in the UK.

SpouseMouse and I have been enjoying the programme. For me, the bakeries featured are a blast from the past. SpouseMouse is bemused by what passes for a ‘bakery’ in the United States. ‘First, there are no breads or rolls. Secondly, most of what’s on offer looks as if it were intended for a bake sale.’ I try to explain that that is the nature of neighbourhood bakeries. Although nothing was fancy, everything was a favourite.

Kerry Vincent is the Australian makeover lady who helps beleaguered bakeries out of a hole. She focussed her efforts on Pennsylvania, particularly establishments in or near Philadelphia.

Her brusque manner is offputting as is her penchant for fondant-covered cakes which did not feature in the establishments shown (initially) or in the ones I frequented as a child. Hmm.

However, she does seem to be good at conflict resolution. In every one of these shows, the bakery owners are at odds with their children or younger employees with regard to overcoming an impasse in sales.

I am still thinking about the episode at Schenk’s Bakery in Philadelphia. Their website has a thank you to Vincent for remaking their shop and offering advice on their products. I hope they continue to prosper.

Schenk’s cake line used to feature three cakes which Vincent advised against: pound cake, Washington cake and Goldenrod cake.

The last two came as a revelation. I’d not heard of them before. I was very disappointed that Vincent did not help the Schenks to keep these items on sale by improving the texture and flavour. Washington and Goldenrod cakes are historical artifacts.

Pound cake

But, first, let’s look at pound cake, one of the few cakes which does not need icing. Not so long ago, most grandmothers made pound cake. Mine did and hers was still the best I’ve ever tasted. The best part is the crunchy exterior, the product of the amount of butter in the batter.

In researching pound cake recipes, I was surprised to see how huge they are and that they are now made in ring tins. My grandmother used to make hers in much smaller quantities in a well greased loaf tin. The top used to split ever so slightly, giving a craggy appearance with extra crunch.

A loaf tin pound cake will probably serve a dozen people. The texture is dense and rich, similar to a French quatre-quarts (‘four quarters’, equal weights of eggs, butter, flour and sugar). A little goes a long way.

Since I’ve been on the ketogenic diet, I don’t make it anymore. However, those who enjoy traditional cakes will find it worthwhile practising making it. I would recommend several tries, because it can be challenging getting the consistency light enough. For this reason, I would suggest cutting the following recipes in half and using a loaf tin. King Arthur Flour’s site has the traditional recipe and Chef In Training has one for a coconut version.

Vincent did approve of a remake of the Schenks pound cake, to which they added orange flavouring and topped with sliced almonds. It looked delicious!

The Goldenrod

The Goldenrod, or Golden Rod, was popular in the late 1890s through to the early part of the 20th century.

It is — or was — probably the only full-size triangular cake in existence. This photo from a 1906 cookbook, courtesy of Resurrected Recipes, shows the special tins used:

These tins are not available today, however, using a loaf tin would probably do the trick. Cutting the rounded top off the finished product then neatly slicing diagonally down the middle should produce a good result.

Resurrected Recipes compares and contrasts the recipes for the Goldenrod with another popular cake of the same period, the Waldorf Triangle. Both look easy enough to bake.

The Goldenrod must have orange flavouring in the batter. Vincent said that the Schenks’ version could have used more of it. Why did she not help them with such a small improvement? If I were in the area, I would have loved trying it.

This is another missed opportunity; the bakery could have introduced the Goldenrod to a new generation.

It is also interesting that the Schenks frosted one side with white icing, piped it along the top ridge and frosted the other side with chocolate icing. One wonders if that decoration was particular to Philadelphia or to Mr Schenk’s father who emigrated from Germany and founded the bakery in 1938. Resurrected Recipes tells us that this cake was also popular with German bakers.

Washington Cake

This cake has undergone several reiterations since Martha Washington first made her Great Cake to share with guests on Twelfth Night (Epiphany) 1798.

Her husband George had announced before Christmas 1797 that he would not be serving a third term as America’s first President. He returned to his home in Mount Vernon for the holidays.

Mrs Washington’s great cake was modelled on the traditional English recipe for Christmas cake. It was a pound cake made with currants and spices.

The cook-historian Tori Avey tells us that after Washington’s death, a Manhattan shopowner named Mary Simpson made Washington Cake every year on his birthday, February 22. She was popularly known as Mary Washington, as she claimed to have been one of his slaves. Customers flooded in to buy a slice of cake and a small glass of punch or cup of coffee.

In the 19th century, American bakers created variations of the Washington Cake. One used cherries, recalling Parson Weems’s legend of young George cutting down his father’s cherry tree. When Washington State was incorporated into the Union, their version had apples, the fruit for which the state is known.

Avey says that Philadelphia had its own version, which emerged in the 1950s. The Schenks made this variation, which was a spiced cake with chocolate and scalloped-edged white icing.

Kerry Vincent didn’t like their Washington Cake. Admittedly, the one shown was poorly frosted. However, whether it was the amount of spice in the cake or the frosting, she said it had to go. Unfortunately, the Schenks agreed.

Another opportunity missed! Why not improve it and introduce it to people — especially children — who have never tried it?

Suggestion for the Schenks

My better half and I suggest that the Schenks offer one of these types of cakes — pound, Goldenrod and Washington — on special once a month at the weekend. Make sure Washington Cake in on sale during Presidents’ Day weekend in February.

Have a sign up — ‘This week’s special’ — and tell everyone how good it is. Have some samples on the counter. Let people try it.

It would be a shame to lose these historical recipes for the sake of a few minor improvements to flavour and appearance.

Kerry Vincent

Hmm. She’s an acquired taste, certainly.

However, after having researched her biography, I can understand how her background shaped her outlook on baking and life.

Zap2It has a fascinating, if brief, interview with Vincent. We discover that, like many Australians living on sheep stations (ranches), she went to school via radio. I remember reading about this method of education in geography class when I was eight years old. Households had pedal radios — operated by foot pedal — which, when used with a telephone line, could enable any Australian youngster to communicate with the teacher. Parents were responsible for reviewing homework!

She also told Zap2It that her mother taught her how to bake at a very young age. One of the first lessons young Kerry Flynn learned was how to test an oven. Mrs Flynn told her to stick her hand in it to get a true feel for the temperature. Vincent does the same today because:

I don’t even believe the calibrated oven because it is never calibrated. Shove your hand in, and feel this, and close your eyes, and that’s the temperature you need for a sponge [cake] and the rest of the baking.

At the age of 8, Kerry won first prize in an adult baking competition at Albany Fair in Western Australia.

As a young woman, Vincent was a Western Australia state finalist in the 1964 Miss Australia Quest. She went on to a career in modelling hats and as a cigarette girl:

The fashion co-ordinator at the Perth department store Boans wanted her for millinery: “She said, ‘I could put a jerry [chamber pot] on your head and it would look good.’ ” For tobacco brands Rothmans and Dunhill, Kerry wore navy and white, pillbox hats and white boots, and moved from trackside to cocktail party as a promotional girl. “It was elegant then; you smoked with a pair of long satin gloves and a holder.”

In 1973, whilst on a working holiday in London, she met the love of her life, Doug Vincent, an American oil engineer, in a pub. They married in 1974 and live in Oklahoma.

Vincent’s baking and sugar-crafting career has taken her around the world, winning her accolades from the rich and famous to hundreds of aspiring home bakers.

The Pennsylvania bakers who took part in Save My Bakery say that Vincent’s bark is worse than her bite.

Stephen Riccelli of Schubert’s Bakery in Nazareth said:

I think she’s a very nice lady but I also think she may not have been the best fit for our bakery.

I agree. She never understood the Moravian cake which isn’t exactly patisserie but has deep historical and cultural roots in that part of the Lehigh Valley.

Richard Wilcox of Phatso’s Bakery in Chester told his local newspaper:

The host’s venomous demeanor is just a front, Wilcox said, explaining that Vincent was very helpful and pleasant off camera.

“Kerry is a wonderful lady,” he said. “We had a very pleasant time working with her. She was not the same person when the cameras were off.”

Vincent clearly did not understand the slang word ‘phat’ — beautiful, excellent — which can be used to describe anything from food to women.

It was also a play on words, as Wilcox called his younger son Fatso as a toddler. He gave the name to the bakery. Vincent wanted to change it!

I’m glad to read that Wilcox saved his past awards and put them back on the wall of his bakery.

Vincent insists that America’s tastes are changing. Possibly.

However, there is always room for enduring American, cross-generational favourites. May they — and family-owned bakeries — long continue.

When is ‘Wesleyan’ synonymous with John Wesley?

Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Wesleyan University in Connecticut is a Methodist institution of higher learning.

In recent weeks, two news items about the university have hit the headlines (H/T: Stand Firm).

On February 23, 2015, ten students and two visitors were hospitalised after overdosing on a pure crystalline form of MDMA known as Molly. At the time the Hartford Courant reported the story, what happened was still a mystery. One student told the paper:

I don’t understand why so many people were doing Molly that night, at one time.

There’s a lot of alcohol, there’s a lot of weed on campus. I’m not necessarily in contact with anything harder than that.

Some of the students had attended an on-campus rave at the social house of the university’s Eclectic Society.

Wesleyan’s president Michael S Roth pleaded with students not to use illegal drugs. Quite rightly, he said:

One mistake can change your life forever. If you have friends who are thinking about trying these kinds of drugs, remind them of the dangers … These drugs can be altered in ways that make them all the more toxic. Take a stand to protect your fellow students.

Yet, Roth was less sensible in his sanction of one of four male fraternities, Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE). The university’s administration told them they would all have to admit women or be closed down with the frat house left empty. All Wesleyan students must live on campus.

It is unclear what the other four frat houses have done, but DKE claim that they were given three years to admit women until the university accelerated the transition. The Daily Caller tells us they have decided to file a lawsuit.

The irony is that Wesleyan has specialised, identity-specific housing, so why not allow fraternities the same politics? The Daily Caller reports:

For instance, the Women of Color house caters to non-white females, the Womanist House is for students “committed to the issues of Wesleyan women,” and the Turath House exists for Arab, Middle Eastern, and Muslim students.

Most spectacular of all is the Open House, which defines itself as (we are not making this up) “a safe space for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Asexual, Genderf**k [spelled out in full on the university’s website], Polyamourous [sic], Bondage/Disciple, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism (LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM) communities and for people of sexually or gender dissident communities.”

But we can rest easily, because Wesleyan University fully commits its students to Community Standards. We should all be happy (not) to see that, whatever else goes on there — crystalline MDMA, cannabis or sexual violence in a safe house — this policy appears in bold on their website:

Smoking Policy

In order to limit exposure to environmental smoke, the University prohibits smoking in all residence halls, program houses, apartments, and Wood frame houses, as well as within 25 feet of university residences.

Why does the ‘w’ in ‘wood’ need uppercase?

As for the university’s name, many readers are under the impression that once Wesleyan always Wesleyan, that is, Methodist.

And we would be wrong, because the website tells us (emphasis mine):

Ties to the Methodist church, which were particularly strong in the earliest years and from the 1870s to the 1890s, waned in the 20th century. Wesleyan became fully independent of the Methodist church in 1937.

Goodness me — 1937.

Today, Wesleyan University expresses pride in being

a New England liberal arts college that is far from traditional.

Isn’t that the truth!

Advice to parents — please read university websites in full before going on name alone.

My thanks to my reader Lleweton who sent me a link from American Conservative with predictions for the modern world by the late sociologist Pitrim A. Sorokin.

American Conservative‘s source for Sorokin’s five points is Morris Berman’s site. Berman is an American social critic and historian who has been living in Mexico since 2006. (Regarding the ensuing comments, the tenor of what Berman has to say is in sharp contrast with what he posted. Readers, be warned!)

This is what Sorokin wrote. This comes from his magnum opus Social and Cultural Dynamics, written between 1937 and 1941:

  1. The boundary between true and false, and beautiful and ugly, will erode. Conscience will disappear in favor of special interest groups. Force and fraud will become the norm; might will become right, and brutality rampant. It will be a bellum omnium contra omnes, and the family will disintegrate as well. “The home will become a mere overnight parking place.”
  1. Sensate values “will be progressively destructive rather than constructive, representing in their totality a museum of sociocultural pathology….The Sensate mentality will increasingly interpret man and all values ‘physicochemically,’ ‘biologically,’ ‘reflexologically,’ ‘endocrinologically,’ ‘behavioristically,’ ‘economically’…[etc.].”
  1. Real creativity will die out. Instead, we shall get a multitude of mediocre pseudo-thinkers and vulgar groups and organizations. Our belief systems will turn into a strange chaotic stew of science, philosophy, and magical beliefs. “Quantitative colossalism will substitute for qualitative refinement.” What is biggest will be regarded as best. Instead of classics, we shall have best-sellers. Instead of genius, technique. Instead of real thought, Information. Instead of inner value, glittering externality. Instead of sages, smart alecs. The great cultural values of the past will be degraded; “Michelangelos and Rembrandts will be decorating soap and razor blades, washing machines and whiskey bottles.”
  1. Freedom will become a myth. “Inalienable rights will be alienated; Declarations of Rights either abolished or used only as beautiful screens for an unadulterated coercion. Governments will become more and more hoary, fraudulent, and tyrannical, giving bombs instead of bread; death instead of freedom; violence instead of law.” Security will fade; the population will become weary and scared. “Suicide, mental disease, and crime will grow.”
  1. The dies irae of transition will not be fun to live through, but the only way out of this mess, he wrote, is precisely through it. Under the conditions outlined above, the “population will not be able to help opening its eyes [this will be a very delayed phase in the U.S., I’m guessing] to the hollowness of the declining Sensate culture…. As a result, it will increasingly forsake it and shift its allegiance to either Ideational or Idealistic values.” Finally, we shall see the release of new creative forces, which “will usher in a culture and a noble society built not upon the withered Sensate root but upon a healthier and more vigorous root of integralistic principle.” In other words, we can expect “the emergence and slow growth of the first components of a new sociocultural order.”

Please feel free to discuss this in the comments.

Here’s my take.

I agree with nearly all these points. However, a few bones of contention follow.

First, I disagree with the last sentence in point 1: home will become an overnight parking place. There is no explanation as to why he said this. Therefore, I’m working on assumptions here.

Sorokin was a sociology professor at Harvard from 1930 to 1968. Living and travelling in the Northeast, he no doubt witnessed the rise in what were then known as ‘dormitory communities’, or suburbs, as we call them today. Men, particularly near New York, worked in Manhattan then returned home via commuter train to Long Island, New Jersey, Westchester County or Connecticut. A 1960s example is Mad Men‘s Don Draper.

These days, that still holds true, however, more businesses are moving to the suburbs. Their offices are located off of turnpikes and tollroads. There are also more people working from home, at least a few days a week. So it seems most of us still enjoy the charm of our own four walls.

The only men I know who like being away from home are thirtysomethings with young children. They love hopping on a plane for overnight business trips. A generalisation, I know, but those are the managers I’ve worked for in the past.

My second point of disagreement is with the last statement in point 3 regarding artistic masterpieces appearing on banal, albeit useful, objects. Ask young people if they know who Michelangelo and Rembrandt are. Most school leavers would give you a blank stare. Furthermore — and sadly — classical art is nothing more than a collection of museum pieces these days. Portraiture, classical painting and sculpture are no longer taught in art schools anywhere. Today, it’s all about photography or installation art.

Finally, the item I disagree with most is point 5. However, in order to understand it, it is important to know that Sorokin’s work relies on the following principles:

“ideational” (reality is spiritual), “sensate” (reality is material), or “idealistic” (a synthesis of the two). He suggested that major civilizations evolve from an ideational, to an idealistic, and eventually to a sensate mentality. Each of these phases of cultural development not only seeks to describe the nature of reality, but also stipulates the nature of human needs and goals to be satisfied, the extent to which they should be satisfied, and the methods of satisfaction. Sorokin has interpreted the contemporary Western civilization as a sensate civilization dedicated to technological progress and prophesied its fall into decadence and the emergence of a new ideational or idealistic era.

Except that in all his research on the subject, he found only two eras in the whole of history which he considered idealistic. Varacalli Nichols, writing for Catholic Social Scientists, explains (p. 6 of PDF, emphasis mine):

In 1937, in the first three volumes of Social and Cultural Dynamics, Sorokin provided the first relatively full statement of Integralism, although he used the term “idealistic culture mentality” for it.13 This mentality was defined as a harmonious blend of two fundamentally opposed premises about reality/value: that it was spiritual (ideational premise) and that it was secular (sensate premise). Within the idealistic synthesis, the ideational component retained primacy. Although some persons in all eras had idealistic mentalities, idealistic systems of culture and society were relatively rare and short-lived. The fourth century B.C. and the twelfth to thirteenth centuries of the Christian era in Europe were the only two examples Sorokin found over a period of twenty-five centuries.

Therefore, it hardly seems realistic to expect another anytime soon.

Yet, Sorokin strongly believed in utopian society. His obituary in the Harvard Crimson of February 12, 1968, tells us:

In 1949, he founded the Harvard Center for Research in Creative Altruism. As the Center’s first and only chairman, he was often criticized. His research into the lives of 4600 Christian saints, and 500 living American altruists, his descriptions of five-dimensional love, and his study of Raja-Yoga techniques led some to regard him mistakenly as a ludicrous eccentric.

Sorokin knew that. He said:

Since governments, big foundations, and better brains seem to be absorbed mainly in the promotion of wars and in the invention of increasingly destructive means for the extermination of man by man, someone, somehow, and sometime had to engage in the study of the phenomena of unselfish love, no matter how inadequate were his capabilities or how low the esteem of colleagues for his engaging in such a ‘foolish enterprise’.

He believed Man is basically good. Humanity just needs to be channelled into doing good things for others in order for utopia to happen. Once we put away our selfishness and antagonism, we will have fewer wars and greater harmony.

Hmm. If we were basically good, we would not cajoling to be altruistic. Scripture tells us we have lived in a fallen world since Original Sin. Nothing will change that, although the effects can be ameliorated somewhat.

Sorokin was brought up in a Russian Orthodox peasant household in Komi, near the Finnish border. He attended Russian Orthodox school prior to studying at the University of St Petersburg. He became involved in the Social Revolutionary Party whilst in school. Unlike the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, the Social Revolutionaries were the only ones open to bringing together peasants, the proletariat and intellectuals.

Sorokin ran into trouble with the Tsarist police, then the Bolsheviks. He was no stranger to arrest or imprisonment. Nonetheless, he was far from being the only political activist to encounter such things. He completed his studies and, by 1914, was lecturing at the University of St Petersburg’s Psycho-Neurological Institute.

For a time, he served as secretary to Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky in the Russian Constituent Assembly. After the October Revolution, he refused to tow the Bolshevik line and was imprisoned. Lenin sentenced him to death but released him in 1918. Sorokin resigned from the Assembly and sent a letter to Pravda accordingly. Lenin published his own lengthy response to Sorokin’s letter. Lenin wrote:

Pitirim Sorokin is representative of the Menshevik Socialist-Revolutionary trend, an extremely broad public and political trend. That this is a single trend, that the difference between the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries in their attitude towards the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is insignificant, is especially convincingly and strikingly borne out by the events in the Russian revolution since February 1917. The Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries are varieties of petty-bourgeois democrats—that is the economic essence and fundamental political characteristic of the trend in question. We know from the history of the advanced countries how frequently this trend in its early stages assumes a “socialist” hue.

Soon afterward, he founded the University of St Petersburg’s sociology department. However, he was arrested again in 1922. He and his wife were able to migrate across Europe towards the United States.

Once in the Midwest in 1923, universities invited Sorokin to lecture on the Russian Revolution. The University of Minnesota offered him a professorship in their sociology department. By 1930, he had accepted a similar position at Harvard, where he taught for the next 38 years.

Sorokin, drawing on his background, did several years’ work in rural sociology, which encompassed the changing countryside landscape, including farming and family life.

Afterward, in 1948, he obtained funding from the Eli Lilly Foundation to research altruism and how it could be made into more of a commonplace social practice.

No doubt Sorokin was able to use much research and many insights which gave him — and others — hope for the future.

The March 2015 issue of The Atlantic has an excellent article by Graeme Wood called ‘What ISIS Really Wants’.

Everyone would do well to read it at least once. It is easy to follow, fascinating and detailed. A few people commented that it tells us more than daily reports on television news or in the press.

IS propaganda involves a heady combination of bloody battle, religious purity and apocalyptic prophecy. It is Koranic; it is religious. The way its followers and recruiters present it online proves irresistible for thousands of youths around the world.

Wood’s article also addresses two prominent Christian converts to Islam.

A summary with excerpts follows.

Apocalyptic offshoot of Al-Qaeda

Before getting into the story of IS, here is (repeated) advice to Christians who get excited by prophecy involving the Apocalypse: don’t.

A number of Christians online grew up reading apocalyptic literature and think this is what the Church is about. Were they to read a balanced explanation of Revelation (see my Essential Bible Verses page) based on a Lutheran amillenialist perspective, they would be left wanting. It’s not exciting enough, even if it is the truth.

The same holds true for adolescent or young adult converts to the IS cause. It has all the elements of adventure, bloodshed and fervour.

On this subject, Wood quotes George Orwell on Adolf Hitler:

Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

Al-Qaeda shied away from Islamic apocalyptic pronouncements about the Mahdi (a saviour figure) and the End of Days. It was not in their framework. Will McCants of the Brookings Institution told Wood that Al-Qaeda leadership considers it unsophisticated:

Bin Laden and Zawahiri are from elite Sunni families who look down on this kind of speculation and think it’s something the masses engage in.

However, that didn’t prevent a group within Al-Qaeda to wax lyrical about it:

McCants says a prominent Islamist in Iraq approached bin Laden in 2008 to warn him that the group was being led by millenarians who were “talking all the time about the Mahdi and making strategic decisions” based on when they thought the Mahdi was going to arrive. “Al-Qaeda had to write to [these leaders] to say ‘Cut it out.’ ”

That group became ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham:

During the last years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Islamic State’s immediate founding fathers, by contrast, saw signs of the end times everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world.

Wood likens IS to an odd sect, not unlike those of Jim Jones or David Koresh. He does not compare it to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Koranic to the letter

IS takes the Koran seriously, to the letter. Its adherents are ever ready to accuse other Muslims of apostasy for not being holy or observant enough.

IS justifies its existence through its self-proclaimed caliphate under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has been in charge since 2010.

Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani is IS’s chief spokesman. He exhorts followers to crush unbelievers, borrowing the phraseology of the 7th century with passages from the Koran. Everything about IS is based on the book, down to coinage and stationery.

Wood tells us that IS believes that many deaths must take place if pure practice of Islam is to predominate. As IS is Sunni, their first targets are Shia Muslims and the Yazidis. Sunnis consider Shia as a departure from true Islam. Therefore, Wood says, it is estimated that 200 million Shias must die. Although we know little about it, those who are studying IS believe that they are murdering individuals nearly every day and staging mass executions every few weeks.

IS also considers Muslim leaders around the world to be apostate, as they favour a manmade political system and voting.

Christians, for now, are left alone as long as they pay IS jizya, a koranic tax imposed on non-Muslims. Jizya not only brings in extra money, it also serves as a constant reminder to those paying it that they have been ‘subdued’.

The Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, originally from the Lebanon, says that it is a mistake for Westerners to consider IS as un-Islamic. He says that this type of outlook emanates from interfaith dialogue and has no basis in reality. Haykel points out that everything IS members are doing conforms to the Koran and is a rerun of the conquests that took place in the early centuries of Islam.

For IS members and supporters, the Syrian city of Dabiq is where the final battle against ‘Rome’ — the Islamic version of corrupt and worldly ‘Babylon’ — will unfold. Dabiq is near the better-known Aleppo and is in a huge expanse of rural flatland. Wood says one can imagine it could be a battleground. The IS publication is named Dabiq, and the city is often referenced in beheading videos.

Two different converts from Christian backgrounds

Many Christians say, ‘Why are we reading about this when it has nothing to do with us?’

However, even certain Christians can ‘revert’ to Islam. Wood gives us their stories and photographs.

Travelling to Australia, Wood met with Musa Cerantonio, the son of Irish and Calabrian parents. He has an online presence as one of IS’s ‘new spiritual authorities’. Cerantonio used to be a televangelist on an Islamic television channel in Egypt until he started making too many appeals for a caliphate. Now in a suburb of Melbourne, the convert takes his message and sermons online via Twitter and Facebook.

The Australian government has confiscated Cerantonio’s passport, and he is well known to the local police. Whilst he is technically unaffiliated with IS, he and his wife attempted to emigrate via the Philippines, where he overstayed his visa. Hence the passport confiscation.

Cerantonio is thrilled with the IS caliphate. In general, he believes pledging allegiance to a caliphate is necessary for salvation. However, he told Wood that he has not personally pledged his to IS, which would be forbidden under Australian law.

Cerantonio told Wood he believes that the aforementioned Rome actually refers to Turkey, which many Islamists think had a false caliphate in that it did not enforce every rule of the Koran, e.g. slavery and stoning. After the fateful battle in Dabiq:

Cerantonio said, the caliphate will expand and sack Istanbul. Some believe it will then cover the entire Earth, but Cerantonio suggested its tide may never reach beyond the Bosporus. An anti-Messiah, known in Muslim apocalyptic literature as Dajjal, will come from the Khorasan region of eastern Iran and kill a vast number of the caliphate’s fighters, until just 5,000 remain, cornered in Jerusalem. Just as Dajjal prepares to finish them off, Jesus—the second-most-revered prophet in Islam—will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.

One can see that wrapping the relevant imagery into sermons or messages would have the desired effect on certain minds.

However, a former Catholic who is now a practising imam in Philadelphia, does not hold with IS, although he is an extreme, albeit nonviolent, Muslim. Wood met with Breton — now Abdullah — Pocius. A former Chicagoan, Pocius grew up in a Polish Catholic family. He now sounds as if he were a Muslim his entire life.

Pocius’s Islam could be compared to the legalism of an ultra-Orthodox Jew. Pocius believes that only an internal devotion to obedience of the laws of Islam will bring about a caliphate, and then only through the will of Allah. For him, Islam is all about personal holiness, not war against others.

He agrees with IS on daily observance and practices but says their penchant for violence is not for him. Wood tells us that Pocius is a ‘quietist Salafi’ and eschews anything to do with excommunicating others and a socio-political system. That said, he is not happy with the US government; he told Wood his mosque was under surveillance and that his mother had been harrassed at her place of work.

Conclusion

Wood’s article has much more, including a piece on London’s Anjem Choudhury, a map from January 2015 of IS territory as well as possible solutions as to how Western governments can approach this group. Yes, it is growing. Yes, it must be contained. Yes, it must be seen to be stagnating or receding.

Wood says that one of the best ways this can happen is for opposing Muslims in the area to resist expansion.

Expect a long battle ahead. This could take years.

Friday’s postconfession introduced Pastor Barney, a medically retired Lutheran minister.

His current ministry focus is on rural pastors in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Barney’s posts are not only thought-provoking but witty — recommended reading.

One of his posts deals with pastors new to churches in rural areas. In it, he also addresses the problems they face, particularly if they are fresh out of seminary.

To those of us sitting in the pews, Barney says that a pastor’s life is far from easy. The graphic comes from his post, ‘A Country Parson’. Excerpts follow.

Barney has a list of rules for those of us who go to church and complain about those who lead our walk in Christ. In addition to praying for them, he suggests ten great ways we can be generous (emphases in the original):

1. They are not the last pastor you had, who may have been a saint or an idiot!

2. Your budget is small, but your hearts are large! – money is not everything, you have beef, pork[,] eggs[,] chicken they too are tax-deductible.

6. Invite them out for coffee, to the farm or ranch!

7. Buy them season’s tickets to all High School sporting Events, give them invitations to all significant events.

9. Relax, teach them; it takes time, but they’ll change with love and care – If not[,] you’ve left them better ready for rural ministry.

And what follows are the first five of Barney’s 11 survival rules for rural clergy. (The post actually starts with this section, but as most of my readers are laypeople, it seemed fitting for me to prioritise generosity towards the pastor.)

1. You know all that wonderful stuff they taught you in seminary? – Forget it!

2. You know all those wonderful liberal  ideals you think are oh so important? – listen first – talk later!

3. That idea you are going to change the way these folk think and live – Toss it out!

4. Don’t charge in gung ho to change long-established traditions no matter how politically and theologically correct you know they are! Most of your seminary professors and Bishops have not done real ministry in real congregations in years – if ever!

5. Do go to all High School sports, Grade School programs, graduations, County fairs, Rodeos, 4H and FFA are big out here!

Any pastors from the rural Pacific Northwest who are interested in a private conversation with Barney can contact him via his blog.

A medically retired Lutheran minister has an excellent site, The Gospel of Barney.

One of his recent posts asks if we are looking for trouble. He replies that he certainly is and that, similarly, trouble has been seeking him for much of his life.

The crux of his discourse revolves around our Lord’s looking for trouble by associating with sinners and making His ministry all about them, not the self-righteous, soi-disant nice people.

Furthermore, Barney says that if we want to imitate Christ in this respect, we need to go — as He did — to the places sinners frequent if we want to share the Good News with them.

Please take a few minutes to read Barney’s advice in full. He is witty and engaging.

For now, here’s a taster (emphases in the original, the one in purple mine):

Notice Jesus never had an attentive or receptive audience in the synagogues. He went out to the highways and byways ate with tax collectors and sinners!

We want them to come to our nice churches, for a put-down? Why don’t we try going where they are? I’ve been in many a bar in many a rural town, even without my clerical collar, it usually slowed conversation or muted it a lot! Just because of what I represented.

Mind you the bars in rural towns are more often than not the restaurant too, so a lot of your members are there. I’ve been known to have a couple beers, and enjoy.
Knew the owners of the bar never worried about it! Save the fact there were a number in there I should have known better!

Folks need a refuge in times of trouble. We need to examine ourselves as to why the folks with the most troubles are not coming! It usually takes 7 invitations or connections from a congregation to get someone in the door.

Churches all say, “We are a welcoming and friendly place!” To each other, yes, the test is do we go looking for trouble to invite it in? …

Barney ministers in and to rural areas in the northwestern part of the United States. He counsels pastors from this region. Those who wish to contact him can do so via his blog.

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