Thursday, April 28

The Ballad of Jennie Geddes

One of the most memorable episodes in Scottish Reformation history was the recalcitrance of the Gileskirk congregation against Bishop Laud's liturgical impositions--which ultimately led to the National Covenant. But what really made the episode so remarkable was that this bold movement was not provoked at first by the warrior poets or stalwart theologians of that nation's renown. Instead, it was a simple milk maid named Jenny Geddes who led the way. One of my favorite Reformation ballads by John Stuart Blackie tells the wonderful tale:

‘Twas the twenty-third of July, in the sixteen thirty-seven,
On the Sabbath morn from high St. Giles the solemn peal was given;
King Charles had sworn that Scottish men should pray by printed rule;
He sent a book, but never dreamt of danger from a stool.

The Council and the Judges, with ermined pomp elate,
The Provost and the Bailies in gold and crimson state,
Fair silken-vested ladies, grave doctors of the school,
Were there to please the King, and learn the virtues of a stool.

The Bishop and the Dean came in wi’ muckle gravity,
Right smooth and sleek, but lordly pride was lurking in their e’e;
Their full lawn sleeves were blown and big, like seals in briny pool;
They bore a book, but little thought they soon should feel a stool.

The Dean he to the alter went, and, with a solemn look,
He cast his eyes to heaven, and read the curious-printed book:
In Jenny’s heart the blood upwelled with bitter anguish full;
Sudden she started to her legs, and stoutly grasped the stool!

As when a mountain wildcat springs upon a rabbit small,
So Jenny on the Dean springs, with gush of holy gall;
Wilt thou say mass at my lugs, thou popish-puling fool?
No! No! She said, and at his head she flung the three-legged stool.

A bump, a thump! A smash, a crash! Now gentle folks beware!
Stool after stool, like rattling hail, came twirling through the air,
With, well done, Jenny! Bravo, Jenny! That’s the proper tool!
When the Devil will out, and shows his snout, just meet him with a stool!

The Council and the Judges were smitten with strange fear,
The ladies and the Bailies their seats did deftly clear,
The Bishop and the Dean went in sorrow and in dool,
And all the Popish flummery fled when Jenny showed the stool!

And thus a mighty deed was done by Jenny’s valiant hand,
Black Prelacy and Popery she drove from Scottish land;
King Charles he was a shuffling knave, priest Laud a meddling fool,
But Jenny was a woman wise, who beat them with a stool!

Marathon Countdown

I am down to just two more days before I attempt to keep up with thousands of younger, faster, and fitter runners in the 26.2 mile Country Music Marathon! I have very nearly reached my fundraising goal for this event--I am running to benefit the vital work of cancer research at St Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis. Won't you join with me in the fight against this dread disease? You can pledge online at my St. Jude sponsor site. I'd be honored to know that you're standing with me as I try to keep my legs moving long after they've sent messages to my brain urging me to do something--anything--else but that!

Wednesday, April 27

Marathon Countdown

I have just three days before I take to the streets of Nashville to run in the Country Music Marathon. I have very nearly reached my fundraising goal for this event--I am running to benefit the vital work of cancer research at St Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis. Won't you join with me in the fight against this dread disease? You can pledge online at my St. Jude sponsor site. I'd be honored to know that you're standing with me as I attempt to stay upright and moving for 26.2 miles!

Tuesday, April 26

Reading the Patristics

Like America’s Founding Fathers, the Patristics are often invoked but seldom actually read. They are often referenced but seldom actually quoted. Though they are at the heart of traditionalist sloganeering, they have in fact, only rarely actually contributed to the traditions they supposedly have inspired. Today they are the great unknowns, these Church Fathers. Even in those communions which place much emphasis on Apostolic Succession—the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Copt—there is scant knowledge of those who succeeded the Apostles. Their words and works are seldom more than anecdotally revered.The irony of this goes beyond the obvious—the fact is the writings of the Patristics are imminently readable and widely available. The earliest Christians were both literate and literary. They were people of the Book and of books. As a result, their refined letters, sermons, tracts, commentaries, manifestos, credos, dialogs, proverbs, epigrams, and sagas were carefully, preserved, anthologized, and preserved through the centuries. The harried and persecuted believers during the imperial epoch took solace in their pastoral wisdom. The pioneering Medievals grounded their worldview on Patristic foundations throughout the era of Christendom. The reforming Protestants carefully considered their precepts during the tumultuous days of the Reformation. Indeed, nearly every generation of Christians through the end of the nineteenth century made a study of their ideas an elementary aspect of classical education.

Alas, reading their works demands a certain amount of diligence, thoughtfulness, and discernment—as is necessarily the case with all substantive writing—which is probably why reading and studying the Patristics passed out of favor during the late great twentieth century.

Theoretically, the Patristics continue to be appealing to us. We repeat the pious reforming litany—let’s get back to the pattern of the early church; let’s restore the integrity of first century worship; and let’s strip away the accumulated layers of traditional practices, rituals, and ceremonies. Somehow we imagine that the Patristics support us in this. We suppose them to be simplistic, primitive, and primal. So, we are often surprised to discover them to actually be complicated, refined, and mature. And if there is one thing that the modern church is in rebellion against, it is depth, sophistication, and acumen. The result is that we carry on with a blithe don’t confuse me with the facts naiveté.

Speaking in a general way, the epoch of the Fathers was, in the Western Church, the first five centuries after Christ. In the Eastern Church, the Patristic Age may be extended to embrace John of Damascus in the middle of the eighth century. Scholars have traditionally arranged the writers, not unnaturally, into four groups. In the first group are the Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists, or those writers who were roughly contemporary with the formation of the New Testament canon. These all wrote in Greek. In the second group are those writers from the third century—approximately from the time of Irenreus to the Nicene Council. They wrote partly in Greek and partly in Latin. In the third group are the Post-Nicene Latin Fathers—those writers from the age of the great Ecumenical Councils. In the fourth group are the Post-Nicene Greek Fathers—those writers from the Golden Age of Byzantium.

Most modern collections of the Patristics include only writings from the first group—which is a great pity. To ignore Clement of Alexandria means that we lose much of our knowledge of classical antiquity. John Chrysostom can no more be left out of the world of letters than Chaucer or Shakespeare. And the Confessions of Augustine is one of those rare books which belong to the whole human race, and should always live. That said, the first and formative period of the Patristics—the Formative Period—is a great place to start.

At the beginning of this early period, we know that at least one Apostle was yet living; Christianity was only fairly born into the world. At its close a universal, transnational, and multi-ethnic church existed, holding in her hands a defined canon of Scripture. The eighty-five years intervening thus witnessed one of the most important movements in human history; and, when we reflect that almost the only knowledge we have of that movement is gained from the scanty remains of the Patristic writings, we shall scan the documents closely, to see the forces working behind them. Indeed, according to Gibbon, “If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.” It was indeed the flood-tide pause, before the pagan civilization of the ancient world ebbed back into its ocean of oblivion.

But virtually no eye was then so practiced in reading the marks of the ages as to see in that universal lull and happiness a presage of the world’s decline—with the possible exception of Augustine. Still less was there anyone to note that then, at the very climax in the history of one age of the world, there was crystallizing into form a power which would scatter from the world the darkness of its impending night, and illumine the nations with a more than Antoninian brightness. No pagan could note this. Pliny, writing to Trajan of the worshipers of Christ in Bithynia, never dreamed of such a destiny for their faith. And virtually no Christian could forecast it; for only a few visionaries as yet regarded Christianity as a power for transforming this world—rather most still saw it as something in antagonism with the world, which latter was soon to be swept away with all its vanities and pomps.

Fortunately, though we have to study the secular history of that age largely in its coins and architectural remains, and in the writings of its panegyrists and satirists and philosophers, the Christian history of the day was well documented by the Patristics.

Through the pages of Clement we catch glimpses of the disciples at Rome, toward the close of the first century, suffering persecution at the hands of Domitian. We see these disciples, even before the hand of persecution is withdrawn from them, taking thought for the welfare of their brethren at Corinth, where the Church is suffering from internal dissensions. Clement, writes to the Corinthian brethren, urging submission to spiritual authorities. His letter contains a prayer which, it is thought, may have formed a part of the earliest liturgy. Thus we detect the beginnings of the vigorous ecclesiastical organization, and of the elaborate order of worship, which grew up in the influential church at Rome.

A half century later, a letter of Dionysius of Corinth shows us that the Roman congregations had been contributing money to the poorer churches of Greece, and had again, by her bishop, Soter, written a letter to the Corinthians. The latter, treasuring the letter, read it on the Lord's Day, as they did the former letter written them by Clement. This same Dionysius, as we learn from Eusebius, wrote various other letters to churches "for instruction in sound doctrine, for correction in discipline, for repression of heresy." To one of these letters Pinytus replied, urging Dionysius to “Impart at some time more solid food, tenderly feeding the people committed to him with a letter of riper instruction, lest by continually dwelling on milk-like teaching they should insensibly grow old without advancing beyond the teaching of babes.” Here we notice, as an important characteristic of this formative period, a free and filial intercommunication between the churches, and an interest both in one another's outward welfare and in a common soundness in the faith.

By the epistles of Ignatius in the earlier part, and by the letter of the churches of Vienne and Lyons in the latter part of the period, we are brought to see the entire abandon with which the Christians gave themselves to their new faith. Martyrdom, instead of being deprecated was often even courted as a privilege. Death by martyrdom, we must remember, was comparatively infrequent in this period. By the second quarter of the century the number of Christians, notwithstanding their social and political insignificance, must have been very great; and there was at no time anything amounting to a universal persecution. The terrible sufferings of the Christians at Vienne and Lyons, in 177, had had nothing approaching a parallel since the days of Domitian. Still there was enough of persecution to keep always alive the martyr spirit, and no conception of the growing Church of the second century is complete that does not make this spirit prominent.

>Then, standing out through every epistle and apology, especially appearing in the Shepherd of Hermas, we see evidence of the struggle for moral purity which Christians were compelled to wage amidst the corruption of paganism. To “come out from the world” was to the believer of that day no mere figure of speech, but the actual entrance into a new moral atmosphere. Reading the Shepherd, and remembering that it appeared in the midst of a society differing little from that satirized by Juvenal. we no longer wonder at the esteem in which it was held by the early Christians, but we almost join with them in calling it an inspired book.

As the period advances, we find that Christianity is becoming more and more conscious of its own existence and importance in the great world. Whereas the earlier Christian writings were simply letters or writings from one to another among themselves, before the middle of the century Christian works come to be addressed to others outside the body of believers. The latter part of the period therefore is known as the Age of the Apologists, which name implies that the new. society of faith was no longer wholly unknown; that it had found its voice, and was speaking for itself. Reaching at first only the humble and unlearned ranks of society, the new faith had in it that which appealed powerfully to the philosophic mind. Mere sophists, of course, despised it; but the true lovers of wisdom began to see in it a diviner philosophy than that of the Academy or the Porch. Not a few among them embraced Christianity, and became its most zealous defenders and propagators, often retaining in their new calling the philosopher's cloak which they had worn before conversion. The services of these philosophers were of two kinds. They were evangelists, “men inspired with godly zeal to copy the pattern of the apostles,” says Eusebius, “teaching Christian doctrine by word of mouth in all the centers of learning.” They were also writers, preparing treatises in exposition and defense of the faith. Such explanatory and apologetic writings make up the larger and the characteristic part of the later Christian works of the period.

Perhaps though, the most dramatic element to notice in reading the Patristics is the early and persistent emphasis on covenant—the idea pervades Polycarp’s encouragement to those being persecuted; it invades the discussions of liturgy in the letters of Ignatius to the Ephesians and Romans; it is evident in the anthologized sayings of the Didache; and it is the theological backdrop of the semi-apocryphal writings of Barnabas and Hermas.

Indeed, this is the great theme sounded by the Patristics. Even as they described their dynamic ecclesiology, as they illumined their substantive liturgy, and as they affirmed their salient, articulate, and stalwart theology, they were simultaneously driving home this essential sociology of home. They understood only too well that there is no place like home. But a token of Heaven, our true Home, the covenant community in which we temporally make our home is yet a place of joy, of peace, of plenty, where supporting and supported, dear souls mingle into the blissful hubbub of daily life. No matter how benevolent, no matter how philanthropic, and no matter how altruistic some social or cultural alternative may be, it can never hope to match the personal intimacy of godly domestic relations. Except in the rare and extreme cases where strife and bitterness have completely disintegrated familial identity, there is no replacement for the close ties of brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, parents and children, aunts and uncles, kith and kin—and their extensions within the family of families known as the Church. Though under siege in our day, covenantalism was recognized by the Patristics as the glue that holds societies together.

As a result, reading these Fathers is not merely an exercise in antiquarian curiosity—it may well be, apart from the study of the Scriptures themselves, the most relevant of all our educative pursuits.

Friday, April 22

St. Jude in Prime Time

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital will be prominently featured in the May 9 episode of The WB Network series 7th Heaven, in which two sisters from the the church--which is always the backdrop for the show--are battling sickle cell disease.

The treatments for the girls are draining the mother's budget as well as her spirit, when she is presented the opportunity to take her daughters to St. Jude in Memphis, Tennessee. She is surprised to learn that St. Jude was the first hospital to cure sickle cell disease with a bone marrow transplant, as well as to use other cutting-edge treatments that are available at no cost to the family.

St. Jude is the only pediatric cancer research center where families never pay for treatments that are not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. Never. Ever.

The episode, titled "Leaps of Faith," is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. Eastern time May 9 on The WB Network (check local listings).

Of course, that is a little more than a week after I will have (hopefully) completed my fundraising 26.2 mile run on behalf of St. Jude's work. Won't you join me in supporting this remarkable work? You can pledge online at my St. Jude sponsor site. I'd be honored to know that you're standing with me as I trudge along in the Country Music Marathon this next Saturday here in Nashville.

Wednesday, April 20

Wounded Knee Update

Well, the Country Music Marathon here in Nashville is just around the corner. If my wounded knees and gimpy ankles cooperate, I'll be in the thick of it attempting to stay upright for 26.2 long miles on the morning of April 30th. I've been training hard the last couple of weeks but I'm still not entirely convinced I can do this! I sure am going to give it my best shot though. Part of the reason I am so determined is that I am raising funds for essential cancer research. If you'd like to make a pledge, you can do so online at my pledge site. With the diagnosis of my dear friend Wes King with cancer just a few weeks ago and the continuing battle against the dread disease by one of my students here in Franklin and two of my correspondence students in New York, I am more committed to this cause and this work than ever before.

My goal is to raise $5000 for St. Jude's Children's Hospital. I've still got a long way to go. I am going to run in the RC Cola/Moon Pie race this July, either the Chicago or Boston races in October, and finally the Memphis St. Jude race in December. But, I would love to get the bulk of the fundraising done now so that I can focus on the running as the year starts to wind down. Won't you help?

The reason I picked St. Jude as the focus of my fundraising efforts is actually very simple to explain: this nationally renowned children's charity hospital is one of the most remarkable and effective medical research institutions anywhere in the world. St. Jude has treated children from across the United States and from more than 70 foreign countries. And yet ability to pay is never an issue because St. Jude is the only pediatric research center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. Not one penny! Not ever! Zip! Zilch! Nada!

The treatment of children and the onging research at St. Jude includes work in bone marrow transplantation, chemotherapy, the biochemistry of normal and cancerous cells, radiation treatment, blood diseases, resistance to therapy, viruses, hereditary diseases, infectious diseases, and psychological effects of catastrophic illnesses. Vital work, indeed. And again, always made available to families regardless of their financial means.

Obviously, this kind of care is very expensive. Won't you help me support the remarkable ministry of St. Jude to children and families battling cancer? Please donate now and come back to visit my St. Jude sponsor site often. Tell others about what I'm trying to do. Learn how my effort to help find cures and save lives is going. Oh yes, and do pray for my weary old knees and ankles to hold up!

Tuesday, April 12

Fred Flinstone v. George Jetson

"Dr. Grant, puleeeze," the young man implored. "Your site is soooo twentieth century!"I had been speaking at a conference and this self-proclaimed member of the "aughters" (the successors to the gen x-ers and gen y-ers) came up to speak to me after one of my talks to tell me how much more effective my ministry could be, should be, would be if only I'd "get with it," if only I would get my website "up to speed."

I'd heard it all before, of course. Get permalinks for the blog. Start a podcast of sermons and lectures. Have an RSS feed so that folks can subscribe, get announcements of any updates, and receive auto-mailings. In other words, actually leave the twentieth century behind and enter into the brave new world of the twenty-first.

Enough, enough already! Yesterday we began work on upgrading the site. Please be patient while we roll out the new features. It will likely take a couple of weeks to get everything online. But keep watching this space for the tranformation--Fred is going to morph into George! At long last!

Tuesday, April 5


A great deal of ink has been spilled in discussing the tragedy of Terri Schiavo's coercive euthanasia. But one of the most insightful pieces I have read was not written by a journalist, a bio-ethicist, a lawyer, a politician, a preacher, or a TV talking head. It was written by a mom. Stephanie Hubach submitted the following letter to the editor of her local community newspaper in Pennsylvania. Her wisdom, discernment, and discretion is all too evident at a time when such things are all too rare:

The American Heritage Dictionary defines integrity as “completeness, unity.” For human beings, living with integrity means living consistently with all of the aspects of our humanity. It implies exercising our personal freedoms while at the same time owning the limits within us and those rightly set upon us; practicing appropriate autonomy while concurrently embracing our role in community; expressing our independence while simultaneously living interdependently with others.

Why did Terri Schiavo’s story so capture the interest of Americans in recent weeks? It was, in part, because we all struggle with the tension between these aspects of our humanity. In the last century we saw the harvest of bitterness reaped in communist countries where all decisions were made in the name of the supposed collective good of society, while crushing the human spirit’s need for expression and freedom. At the same time, there is a growing uneasiness with the American mindset that the fullest expression of the human spirit consists exclusively in personal freedom, personal fulfillment, and personal autonomy. When we lose the tensions between freedom and responsibility, between individuality and community we begin to lose our identity—and our way.

Many arguments made in support of removing Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube were based on the underlying assumption that the preservation of personal autonomy was the highest moral good in this case. An editorial in last week’s paper stated that “the only justifiable debate, therefore, is what Terri’s wishes would be in this situation.” But is it? Is that an integrated view of the human person? When a person struggles with severe depression and attempts to end their life, we intervene if at all possible. Is that disrespecting their autonomy, or embracing our role as a community? At the time—knowing what they know about their current state in life—the suicidal individual chooses to no longer live. We intervene, not because we can guarantee improvement to their condition, but because we value them as human beings and are committed to their care. We intervene as it is humane to do so—which is to say that it is kind, merciful and compassionate.

Kindness, mercy and compassion are costly acts of community and interdependence. They require something of us. They make us more than we would be otherwise—more than we would be if left alone, self-absorbed in our private world of autonomy. Twenty-first century American society is a culture that glorifies the exercise of personal choice. But we seem to have forgotten that one can also make a choice to be committed to others. We need to recover a commitment to a different kind of choice, the choice to live connected lives that are characterized by mercy. St. Gregory of Nyssa once defined mercy as “a voluntary sorrow which enjoins itself to the suffering of another.” Sorrow and suffering are two of the common threads of the human experience that bind us across generations, income brackets, races and ability levels.

Whose life will you choose to enter into today? If we each make a choice to live with integrity—to embrace all aspects of our humanity—we will begin to find ourselves again and, perhaps, our way in the process.

Diminished Lives

Never will I sit motionless while directly or indirectly apology is made for the murder of the helpless. In securing any kind of peace, the first essential is to guarantee to every man the most elementary of rights: the right to his own life. Murder is not debatable.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
John Donne (1571-1630)

Do unto others as if you were the others.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

All the starry hosts of heaven and of earth declare with one voice the glory bestowed on these sublime creatures of the Living God, these creatures made just a little lower than himself. We can do no better than to acknowledge our acceptance of Him by our acceptance of them.
Dympna of Gheel (c. 770-795)

If I can stop one heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life in the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
Emily Dickenson (1830-1886)

The accursed everyday life of the modernist is instinct with the four sins crying to heaven for vengeance, and there is no humanity in it, and no simplicity, and no recollection.
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

The Modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; but their truth is pitiless. And thus some humanitarians care only for pity; but their pity--I am sorry to say--is often untruthful.
G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)