Social capital

We’re in Oklahoma for the Christmas holidays, traveling around visiting relatives and revisiting the places of our past.  Part of it has me feeling melancholy, as I see beloved locations rich with memory falling into neglect, disrepair, and decay.

My wife, who has been studying the social sciences, introduced me to a term that helps me understand what I am seeing:  Social capital.  This refers to what builds up a sense of community, relationships with neighbors, and social networks.   The small towns whose residents have stopped painting their houses, with rusty junkyards on mainstreet, with empty storefronts with broken windows–these have lost their social capital.  Yes, it’s a problem of economic capital too, the loss of jobs and the deprivations of poverty, but the loss of social capital too inhibits the rebuilding of economic capital.

This happens in big cities too.  I notice a decline of social capital in Tulsa and Norman, with things looking and  feeling run-down.  (I could be wrong, since we weren’t there for long.)  And yet, Oklahoma City seems to be growing in social capital.  The new NBA team, the Thunder, which is having lots of success, has created civic pride.  Then there is Bricktown, a re-development of an old warehouse district that is now an entertainment hot spot, with music clubs, restaurants, night spots, and even a river walk.  But what seemed most telling to me is that the overpasses and sound screens along the highways are being decorated with Native American-style buffalo and shields and abstract designs.

And even some of the small towns, equally poor as the others, are building social capital.  For example, Vinita, where I grew up, has a remarkable number of houses and stores with Christmas decorations.   Even the most humble abodes and neighborhoods are adorned with lights and yard art and nativity scenes.   This is a sign, my wife observed, of social capital.

How else might this concept be applied?  For example, in churches?

HT:  Jackie

Reapportionment Favors Republicans

The constitutionally-mandated reappportionment of congressional delegates (and thus electoral votes) according to the latest census is looking good for Republicans.

States gaining Congressional seats: Arizona (1), Florida (2), Georgia (1), Nevada (1), South Carolina (1), Texas (4), Utah (1), Washington (1).

States losing Congressional seats: Illinois (1), Iowa (1), Louisiana (1), Massachusetts (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), New Jersey (1), New York (2), Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (1).

via Pajamas Media » Reapportionment Favors the Red States.

Of those gaining representatives, only Nevada and Washington voted Democratic in the 2008 presidential election.  Of those losing representatives, only Louisiana and Missouri went for the Republican.

Why do you think the population shift and demographic changes favors Republicans?  Aren’t the progressives supposed to be the wave of the future?

Someone I know has been martyred!

That American tourist who was murdered in Israel–I knew her!  Kristine Luken.  She worked for Patrick Henry College for awhile, helping us with accreditation issues.  (She had previously worked for the Department of Education as a liason with colleges.)  She became friends with my wife.  A Jewish convert to Christianity, Kristine began to feel a strong calling to go to England to work with a ministry there involved with evangelizing Jews.  That was surely a calling to her martyrdom.

Kristine was gentle, sensitive, and extremely devout.  One account I read said that police were investigating if she had any sinister dealings of any kind, and I can assure them that she most certainly did not.  I’d stake my life on that.

The first assumption was that she was killed by Muslim terrorists, but I’m not so sure.  Judging from the detail about the Star of David necklace, recounted by another woman who survived the attack, I’m thinking it sounds like the two assailants might have been Jewish radicals who attacked her for evangelizing Jews.  At any rate, I have no doubt that she was murdered for her Christian faith.

And I have no doubt she has joined this number:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)

American Tourist Kristine Luken Killed in Israel, No Arrests Made, Say Police – Crimesider – CBS News.

Brits to take on internet porn

Great Britain’s new get-serious coalition government is concerned with the sexualization of children and may have found a way to thwart internet pornography.  Instead of setting up systems to “opt out” of certain kinds of content, adult users would have to “opt in” before  getting access to pornography.

THE UK Government is to combat the early sexualization of children by blocking internet pornography unless parents request it, it was revealed today.

The move is intended to ensure that children are not exposed to sex as a routine by-product of the internet. It follows warnings about the hidden damage being done to children by sex sites.

The biggest broadband providers, including BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, are being called to a meeting next month by Ed Vaizey, the communications minister, and will be asked to change how pornography gets into homes.

Instead of using parental controls to stop access to pornography – so-called “opting out” – the tap will be turned off at source. Adults will then have to “opt in.”

The new initiative is in advance of the imminent convergence of the internet and television on one large screen in the living room.

It follows the success of an operation by most British internet service providers (ISPs) to prevent people inadvertently viewing child porn websites. Ministers want companies to use similar technology to shut out adult pornography from children. Pornography sites will be blocked at source unless people specifically ask to view them.

via All internet porn will be blocked to protect children, under UK government plan | News.com.au.

Handel’s Messiah as (Lutheran) Apologetics

Crossway editor Justin Taylor interviews Calvin Stappert on his new book about Handel’s Messiah.  Did you know Handel was a Lutheran?  Did you know he intended his oratorio to be a work of Christian apologetics?

Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of who George Handel was?

George Frideric Handel was born in 1685 in Halle, Germany. Like J. S. Bach, born the same year, Handel was born into a Lutheran family and his earliest musical training came from a Lutheran organist and church musician. But unlike Bach, his career went in the direction of opera.

From age 25 when he moved to London, his primary occupation was composing and conducting Italian operas. When the popularity of Italian operas in England waned in the early 1730s, he turned to English oratorio—or, more accurately, he “invented” English oratorio, a genre that grew up in Italy during the 17th century but did not yet exist in England. Though he was reluctant to give up opera, during the ’30s he gradually turned to oratorio. After composing Messiah (his sixth oratorio) in 1741, he left opera entirely and went on to compose about a dozen more, leaving an unmatched legacy in that genre.

You write that apologetics was one of the reasons that Handel wrote Messiah. Can you explain?

Deism was very strong at the time, a serious threat to orthodox Christian faith. Charles Jennens, a devout Anglican, compiled the collection of Scripture texts that make up Messiah in order to combat Deism.

Deism’s “natural theology” had room for a creator-god, but denied miracles and any divine intervention into human affairs. Therefore it denied the fundamental Christian beliefs in the Incarnation and the Resurrection. It also denied their necessity. Humans, they believed, had the resources to solve their own problems; there was no need for a Messiah.

Jennens’s choice of texts had both a polemical purpose—to persuade unbelievers—and a pastoral purpose—to nourish and strengthen the faith of believers. He enlisted Handel (whose music he loved and who undoubtedly shared his convictions) to convey his message through the rhetorical and dramatic power of music.

How will reading your book enable people to understand the music and the theology of Messiah better?

I had two overarching purposes in writing the book.

The first, which doesn’t directly answer your question, was to show an example of how “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” The Messiah, a work of art that has told the Gospel story to more hearers than any other, owes its existence to a remarkable series of historical twists and turns that finally led to its composition. To make a long story short—without connecting the dots between beginning and ending—Messiah, an oratorio (a genre that originated in a devotional movement in the 16th century in Counterreformation Italy) was composed by an 18th-century German Lutheran who was happily established in a career of writing Italian opera in England, a country in which oratorio did not exist until he “invented” it.

The second purpose, which does speak directly to your question, was to write a commentary on the whole oratorio.

via Handel’s Messiah: An Interview with Calvin Stappert – Justin Taylor.

So, in what senses can a work of art, such as this piece of Handel’s music, function as apologetics, that is, an argument for the truth of Christianity?

Buy the book here:  Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies)

Gays in the military, in history

The Senate struck down the  “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, allowing gays to serve openly in the military.  Unlike gay marriage, this is not unprecedented.  In fact, the Greeks sometimes purposefully cultivated homosexual attachments in military units in order to build unit cohesion.   This happened among the Spartans.  The most famous example, though, was the elite fighting force known as the Theban Band, a.k.a., the Sacred Band of Thebes:

Plutarch records that the Sacred Band was made up of male couples, the rationale being that lovers could fight more fiercely and cohesively than strangers with no ardent bonds. According to Plutarch’s Life of Pelopidas[2], the inspiration for the Band’s formation came from Plato’s Symposium, wherein the character Phaedrus remarks,

“And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their beloved, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?”

The Sacred Band originally was formed of hand-picked men who were couples, each lover and beloved selected from the ranks of the existing Theban citizen-army. The pairs consisted of the older “heníochoi”, or charioteers, and the younger “parabátai”, or companions, all housed and trained at the city’s expense in order to fight as hoplites.  During their early engagements, they were dispersed by Gorgidas throughout the front ranks of the Theban army in an attempt to bolster morale.

via Sacred Band of Thebes – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

This, of course, is not the kind of unit cohesion our forces try to cultivate today.   The soldiers in these arrangements would live in homosexual relationships during their military commitment, but then afterwards they would usually get married and live normal heterosexual lives.

There is apparently a cultural component, at least in some cases, to homosexual behavior.  I’m not denying that some people seem to have some sort of innate same-sex attraction.  Still, it might help to study homosexuality in the ancient world, which was rampant–contrary to those who think the Biblical authors did not know anything about the subject–and yet it was also fluid–contrary to those who insist that homosexuality is always a fixed condition–with people going back and forth from homosexuality and heterosexuality.


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