Prayer, meditation, temptation

Luther famously said that to be a real theologian takes oratio, meditatio, and tentatio. The first two are clear enough: prayer and meditation (on God’s Word). But tentatio is not so easily translated from the Latin. It can mean “trial, test, attack, temptation.” What does THAT have to do with spiritual formation?

John Kleinig, in his book Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today–a book that would make a great Christmas present for any serious Christian–explores this.

Luther proposed an evangelical pattern of spirituality as reception rather than self-promotion. This involves three things: prayer, meditation, and temptation. All three revolve around ongoing, faithful attention to God’s Word.

The order of the list is significant, for unlike that traditional pattern of devotion, the spiritual life begins and ends here on earth. These three terms describe the life of faith as a cycle that begins with prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit, concentrates on the reception of the Holy Spirit through meditation on God’s Word, and results in spiritual attack.

This, in turn, leads a person back to further prayer and intensified meditation. Luther, therefore, does not envisage the spiritual life as a process of self-development, but as a process of reception from a triune God. This process of reception turns proud, self-sufficient individuals into humble beggars before God.” (Page 16)

We’ll be talking more about such “attack” in subsequent posts. But do you know what he’s talking about? Some people see temptation as a sign of spiritual failure, but notice how Luther and Kleinig see it, if it drives us to deeper prayer and meditation, as part of the Christian life and of Christian growth.

Environmentalism as the new socialism

Reflecting on the government power grabs being recommended at the Copenhagen climate summit, Charles Krauthammer explains how the left has turned to environmentalism for its new ideology:

This naked assertion of vast executive power in the name of the environment is the perfect fulfillment of the prediction of Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus that environmentalism is becoming the new socialism, i.e., the totemic ideal in the name of which government seizes the commanding heights of the economy and society.

Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.

The desire for economic justice, social equality, and the elimination of oppression are worthy aims. One could argue that free market economics and conservative politics meets these goals better than statist systems such as the different varieties of socialism. But I have been struck at how snobbish so many leftists are today (as in their classist reactions to Sarah Palin and the populist “tea parties”) as opposed to their old image of champions of the working man and the voice of the common people. (One can certainly criticize them, but I’m specifically thinking about the critiques that consist of little more than looking down their noses at the “rednecks”–making fun of their clothing, their accents, their culture.) Economic populism still exists among the left, but it seems overshadowed by this new article of faith, that the world faces an environmental apocalypse. There was a time when the left supported, say, West Virginia coal miners. Now, it seems eager to put them all out of work. The left is concerned about the environmental impact of various policies, but it seems indifferent to the economic impact on ordinary people of their environmental policies.

Episcopalians elect another gay bishop

The Episcopal church in the U.S.A. has installed yet another gay bishop, this one an open lesbian. Mary Glasspool was made an assistant bishop in the diocese of Los Angeles.

Christians turning to syncretism

Like many ancient Israelites before the exile, more and more Christians think they can add pagan beliefs to Christianity. Here are some findings from The Pew Forum:

Mixing religions: Many Americans have beliefs or experiences that conflict with basic Christian doctrines. People who say they believe:
Total Christians
People will be reborn in this world again and again 24% 22%
Yoga is a spiritual practice 23% 21%
People with the "evil eye" can cast curses or harmful spells 16% 17%
The position of stars/planets can affect people's lives 25% 23%

Interfaith worship: A third of Americans say they attend multiple places of worship, including outside their own faith (excluding holidays or family events). People who say they attend:
Total All Protestants Catholics
Multiple places within own faith 11% 9% 21%
Services of one other faith 12% 15% 13%
Services of two other faiths 8% 10% 5%
Services of three or more faiths 4% 4% 1%

Attending other services: Attending worship services beyond their own faith is more common among Protestants (30%) than Catholics (19%):
One other faith Two others Three others
White evangelicals 15% 9% 3%
White mainline 11% 8% 5%
Black Protestants 18% 14% 9%

Mystical experiences: Half of all Americans say they have had a "religious or mystical experience or spiritual awakening":
Black Protestants 71%
White evangelical Protestants 70%
Catholics 60%
White mainline Protestants 40%
Unaffiliated 30%

Spirit and nature: Many Christians have adopted beliefs or experiences that conflict with basic Christian doctrines. People who say they:
Total Christians
Have been in touch with the dead 29% 29%
Found "spiritual energy" in trees, etc. 26% 23%
Had ghostly experience 18% 17%
Consulted a psychic 15% 14%

Source: 2009 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Survey of 2,003 U.S. adults. Margin of error /- 2.5 percentage points

Consequences of the “one-child policy”

Just as some Westerners have started advocating laws to prevent families from having more than one child, China is having second thoughts as it is facing the consequences of its one-child policy, which it enforced with mandatory abortions:

More than 30 years after China's one-child policy was introduced, creating two generations of notoriously chubby, spoiled only children affectionately nicknamed "little emperors," a population crisis is looming in the country.

The average birthrate has plummeted to 1.8 children per couple as compared with six when the policy went into effect, according to the U.N. Population Division, while the number of residents 60 and older is predicted to explode from 16.7 percent of the population in 2020 to 31.1 percent by 2050. That is far above the global average of about 20 percent.

The imbalance is worse in wealthy coastal cities with highly educated populations, such as Shanghai. Last year, people 60 and older accounted for almost 22 percent of Shanghai's registered residents, while the birthrate was less than one child per couple.

Xie Lingli, director of the Shanghai Municipal Population and Family Planning Commission, has said that fertile couples need to have babies to "help reduce the proportion of the aging population and alleviate a workforce shortage in the future."

Remember when the phrase “population crisis” referred to alleged over-population? Now the same phrase is used for under-population.

Regulating innovation

The House has sent to the Senate a bill to regulate the financial industry, leading to a telling quotation from a Congressman who aspires to controlling our economy. From the Washington Post:

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who guided the bill through the House Financial Services Committee, compared the legislation to efforts in previous generations to expand the government's oversight of private enterprise.

"Innovation is generally a good thing. But in the absence of sensible regulation, it can cause abuses," he said. "And so I think this is, frankly, of the historic dimensions of what Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson did, and what Franklin Roosevelt did."