The World Serious

Even though the St. Louis Cardinals broke my heart by beating the Brewers in the playoffs, I find myself wanting them to win the World Series.  Not too long ago, the Cardinals were written off, 10 games back, with no hope for the wild card even.  But here they are in the World Series.  On paper, they are supposed to lose to the Texas Rangers–a team I also liked, especially last year in the series–but they have been defying whatever’s on paper with incredible clutch performances.  Chris Carpenter shutting down the Philadelphia Phillies, no less!  Albert Pujols batting close to .500!  And then the other performances all the way through the batting order!  And the manager Tony la Russa, said to be playing chess while all of the other managers are playing checkers!

What is your analysis, prognosis, and prediction?

God is Red

On Monday night, the dissident Chinese author Liao Yiwu gave a reading on my campus.  He read a poem, “Massacre,” about the killings of the pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. For writing that poem, Liao was tortured and imprisoned for four years.  This led to his writing about his fellow prisoners and documentation of more government abuses.  He now lives as an exile from his homeland.  He also read from his latest book, God is Red, which is about the rise of Christianity in China, despite horrendous persecution.

Here is a review of the book by my colleague, David Aikman, a former correspondent with Time Magazine who covered what was going on at Tiananmen Square who is currently a history professor at Patrick Henry College:

Every so often, you come across a narrative of courage under suffering that is so well reported, so restrained and sensitive in its intelligence, that you are momentarily altered by the experience. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich had that effect upon millions, both Russians and foreigners, in 1962. The publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novels—like Cancer Ward and The First Circle, for which the Russian writer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature—even contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

It is far too early to guess whether Liao Yiwu’s latest book, God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China (HarperOne), will have any long-term impact on the author’s homeland. But readers will surely come away inspired by the landmark account of Chinese Christians living under the vicious political campaigns of the Mao era. (No stranger himself to political persecution, Liao was imprisoned during the government’s post-Tiananmen Square crackdown. He described his prison experience in Testimonials, an expanded version of which has just been published in German.)

Two ingredients, in particular, make God Is Red such a powerful account of Chinese Christians’ perseverance. First, Liao acknowledges that he is not himself a Christian, so he cannot be accused of trying to persuade anyone of anything religious. And second, the quality of his reporting is simply excellent.

The drama of the reporting derives from the fact that much of it takes place in remote areas of the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. The characters Liao focuses on are men and women of extraordinary saintliness: the indefatigably beneficent Dr. Sun, for example, a man who turned down prosperous positions in China’s cities because he wanted to help the poor and outcast in China’s remote rural areas; the elderly nun persistently appealing for the Communists to return confiscated church property.

Some of the narratives are historically fascinating. There is the story of the martyrdom of Wang Zhisheng, an ethnic Miao executed by the Communists in 1973 and commemorated today by a statue in London’s Westminster Abbey. Almost as fascinating is the detailed story of the suffering of Yuan Xiangchen (Allen Yuan). A patriarch of China’s house churches, Yuan spent two decades in labor camps (as did his friend, the legendary Chinese evangelist Wang Mingdao) for refusing to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-controlled church. Yuan died in 2005, but I can still remember visiting his house, which served as a house church, in the center of Beijing in the 1990s.

Like all good reporters, Liao lets his characters speak for themselves, without adding superfluous commentary. From hip-hop youngsters in Chengdu to seasoned old saints in Yunnan come varied stories of how each one became a Christian. From the same people come powerful recollections of the pitiless and evil tyranny of Communism as it struggled to dominate all of life in China. If you want to read one book that sums up the glory of the Christian witness under persecution and the tragic 20th-century story of China’s Christians, read God Is Red. Brilliant and immensely moving, it will, if anything can, inject new backbone into your own Christian life.

via Profiling Christians Who Have Suffered Under Chinese Communism | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Some memorable lines from Liao, who spoke through an interpreter:  “To survive under a dictatorship, you have to lie.”  When asked about contemporary China, he said that Americans are so concerned with making profits that they are neglecting their traditional values of standing up for freedom and human rights.  He said that his father always told him that if you are confronted by a wolf in the mountains, be sure to look it straight in the eye.  If you don’t, if you look away, the wolf will tear out your throat and drink your blood.  He thinks we are avoiding looking China in the eye.

I think it was good for our students to be in the presence of someone who had been tortured for his political beliefs.  I think it was good for them to hear about Christians who were killed for their faith.

When I came to the event, an elderly Chinese gentleman came to the door about the same time I did.  I opened the outer for him, but then he insisted on opening the inner door for me.  We smiled and I welcomed him to our campus.  It turns out, it was Dr. Sun, one of the book’s heroes, a saintly physician who led Liao into his exploration of the Chinese church.  I don’t know his story, if he too was driven out of China, but I want to find out.  It was remarkable that he showed up for the reading.

Seeing people like Liao and Dr. Sun in the flesh turns abstractions such as freedom, persecution, and martyrdom into powerful, tangible realities.

Buy the book here.

The latest debate

We had another G.O.P. presidential candidate debate.  I’ve stopped watching them, finding them too disheartening.  If you watched it, please report in the comments.  Did anyone rise or fall?

Creative destruction

One side effect of the foreclosure crisis:  Many banks do not want to hold and pay taxes on run-down properties that no one will ever want to buy.  So they are razing the decrepit buildings that plague so many of our big cities and are donating the lots to new land banks.  These, in turn,  are making the land available for next to nothing for new development and neighborhood improvement projects.  (These include churches, which in some cases are getting land for expansion for pennies.) Thus we have an example of capitalism’s “creative destruction.”

See Banks turn to demolition of foreclosed properties to ease housing-market pressures – The Washington Post.

Episcopalians vs. Anglicans

Lutheran journalist Mollie Hemingway has a fascinating piece in the Wall Street Journal about how the Episcopal Church in the USA is trying to thwart the new conservative Anglican denomination:

When the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, N.Y., left the Episcopal Church over disagreements about what the Bible says about sexuality, the congregation offered to pay for the building in which it worshiped. In return the Episcopal Church sued to seize the building, then sold it for a fraction of the price to someone who turned it into a mosque.

The congregation is one of hundreds that split or altogether left the Episcopal Church—a member of the Anglican Communion found mostly in the United States—after a decades-long dispute over adherence to scripture erupted with the consecration of a partnered gay bishop in 2003. But negotiating who gets church buildings hasn’t been easy. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said she’d rather have these properties become Baptist churches or even saloons than continue as sanctuaries for fellow Anglicans.

The Episcopalian congregations that want to break away are part of a larger movement of Anglicans world-wide who are concerned by the liberalism of the official New York-based Episcopal Church on sexuality and certain basic tenets such as Jesus’ resurrection. Of the 38 provinces in the global Anglican Communion, 22 have declared themselves in “broken” or “impaired” fellowship with the more liberal American church.

In 2009, breakaway Episcopalians in the U.S. and Canada formed the Anglican Church in North America, which now reports 100,000 members in nearly 1,000 congregations. This group has been formally recognized by some Anglican primates outside of the United States.

Bishop Jefferts Schori says this new Anglican group is encroaching on her church’s jurisdiction, and she has authorized dozens of lawsuits “to protect the assets of the Episcopal Church for the mission of the Episcopal Church.” The Episcopal Church has dedicated $22 million to legal actions against departing clergy, congregations and dioceses, according to Allan Haley, a canon lawyer who has represented a diocese in one such case.

Now the Episcopal Church has upped the ante: It has declared that if congregations break away and buy their sanctuaries, they must disaffiliate from any group that professes to be Anglican. . . .

“We can’t sell to an organization that wants to put us out of business,” said Bishop Jefferts Schori, who added that her job is to ensure that “no competing branch of the Anglican Communion impose on the mission strategy” of the Episcopal Church. Indeed she has no complaint with Muslims, Baptists or barkeepers buying Episcopal properties—only fellow Anglicans.

via Mollie Ziegler Hemingway: Twenty-First Century Excommunication – WSJ.com.

And the winner is. . .

Interesting discussions about “Manliness” in that contest we started last weekend.  As was noted in the thread, many of the virtues that were put forward could also apply to women.  Perhaps they apply to men, though,  in a distinctive way, but that way is what we are trying to get at.   There were lots of thoughtful comments.  I appreciated especially things said by sg, SKPeterson, Kirk.  I liked Helen’s point that “man” is not only the opposite of “woman,” it is also the opposite of “boy.”   Many males just never grow up, which is part of our problem today. That was the point too of that great Kipling poem.

Helen also got off a line that deserves to become a classic, in responding to FWS’s interesting comments about Adam & Eve and the curses we suffer, while trying to mitigate them.  Helen said, of Adam and Eve, respectively:  “He got the weeds.  She got him.”

But here are the runners up and the winner:

4.  Tyler (#49), with his close reading of a line from Homer’s Odyssey, quoting Telemakhos on his father Odysseus.  Both classical and apt.

3.  JunkerGeorge (#77), me being a sucker for all of those literary references, which culminated in what Pilate said of Christ:   “Ecce Homo.”  Behold the Man.   So that when we want to see what a man is, we need to behold Christ.

2. Abby (#59), with her moving and perceptive tribute to her late husband.

AND THE WINNER of  The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood (a book that would probably be good for all of us to read, so many are the confusions about the issue, so you can click on the link to buy it here) IS:

1. Joe (#35):

Seriously, I think manliness is nothing more than attempting to faithfully fulfilling your vocation as son, husband, father, etc. God has given to all men many vocations but certain of them can only be fulfilled by a man – attempting to fulfill these vocations is manliness.

As my students have learned (including those who worked on that book), whenever I ask them something that they don’t know the answer to (“What is this poem about?”  “What is the theme of this novel?”  “How can Christians influence the culture?”  “What’s the relation between faith and good works?” etc., etc.), a good guess that will be correct most of the time is “Vocation.”

But “seriously,” as Joe says, I think he nails it.  The two sentences are short, but unpack them and we’ll discover all kinds of things about manliness.  Indeed, this is basically the approach the book takes, with chapters about men at work, at the specialized calling of war, with women, with children, as citizen, with God.  Maybe my students had an influence on Mr. Bennett in the methodology of the book!  At any rate, please join me in congratulating Joe.

(If you want and if this didn’t make those of you who lost too angry, maybe we’ll have more contests like this!)


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