Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: March 2008 (Page 2 of 2)

Maureen L. Condic: Getting Stem Cells Right

The February 2008 issue of First Things is now available online to non-subscribers. One of the most interesting pieces is that of Maureen Condic regarding recent breakthroughs in stem cell research. No one can doubt the importance of stem cells in medical research, or the promise they hold, however, there have been a number of intense ethical dilemmas regarding their use, parrticularly the use of embryonic stem cells. Now, however, there seems to be some movement from a scientific front that may make the debate moot.

A true, no-cost resolution of a conflict, where the interests of all parties are served without compromise, is an exceedingly rare thing. Yet just such an unlikely resolution may be in hand for one of the most acrimonious conflicts of recent times: the debate over human embryonic stem cells.

Research groups in Japan and the United States have shown that ordinary human skin cells can be converted to stem cells with all the important properties of human embryonic stem cells by a process termed direct reprogramming. Like embryonic stem cells, reprogrammed cells are pluripotent, able to generate all the cells of the body, and so they have been named induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs). Unlike human embryonic stem cells, however, IPSCs are genetically identical to patients and are generated without destroying human embryos or using either human or animal eggs.

{read my all}

Visitor stats

One thing everyone should realize but many people don’t understand, is that most (ok, probably all) of your movements on the internet are tracked by somebody. And if you’re a visitor of this site, I’ve been watching you. Oh, I don’t have any nefarious intent of course. I started tracking visitors to my site with a simple counter back when I first put it up in High School. Back then, you just knew how many “hits” you got, not how many unique visitors (and some people ran up their counters by constantly refreshing them in their browsers in order to make their sites appear more popular). Well, those days have been gone for a while, and more detailed tracking information has become widely available. Now you can tell, generally, what region of the world someone is from–sometimes all the way down to their city–plus other information like what kind of browser they are using and what the set up on their computer is. Most of this information is intended to do two things: help web designers know who to design a site for, or what software to make it compatible with, and for businesses to see what content of theirs is popular and who is checking it out. What started out for web designers and businesses became more widely available and now even an amateur like me can keep track of a lot of information through services such as Google Analytics.

So, tonight I was looking at my blog stats over the last several months (they’ve been quite good) and I became curious to see what my overall traffic looked like since I started using Analytics in May of 2006. Well, here’s what I found. Since May 1, 2006 I have had around 13,022 unique visitors who have averaged about 1.94 pages and 2 minutes 19 seconds during their visit. But what I’ve always found really interesting, in addition to where folks get to my site from (i.e. were they referred by another site, did they find me through an internet search etc…), is where folks are from in the world.

So here’s a little slice of info, the top ten countries for visitors to Quo Vadis since May 2006:


Douglas Groothuis: Recovering from Fetus Fatigue

Philosopher Douglas Goothuis has a call out to younger evangelicals, which I would extend even to those Christians who don’t particularly consider themselves evangelical. I struggle with the political bondage that some politicians believe they can hold Christians in over this issue, and by all means just because we agree with them on this one issue doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge them on others (like the environment, poverty etc…). The political landscape in America today may seem like a moral desert in which one is constantly choosing between the lesser evil, but I’m not convinced that this isn’t simply a human reality. In the midst of such a reality, headway isn’t made by letting go of one non-negotiable in order to pursue other ends. Instead, Christians need to stand up for each of these positive goods. Legislation may require compromise at times, but you can’t compromise your core convictions and come out unscathed… we need to be reminded of Mark 8:36 it seems.

There is an interesting debate taking place in the comments section as well. As a priest and pastor, I try to stay out of overt political activism, but I do think issues are important, and there are certainly enough moral quandaries flying around in this election cycle.:

It appears that millions of evangelicals, especially younger ones, are experiencing fetus fatigue. They are tired of the abortion issue taking center stage; it is time to move on to newer, hipper things–the sort of issues that excite Bono: aid to Africa, the environment, and cool tattoos. Abortion has been legal since they were born; it is the old guard that gets exercised about millions of abortions over the years. So, let’s not worry that Barak Obama and Hillary are pro-choice. That is a secondary issue. After all, neither could do that much damage regarding this issue.

Evangelicals (if that word has any meaning), for God’s sake, please wake up and remember the acres of tiny corpses you cannot see. Yes, the Christian social vision is holistic. We should endeavor to restore shalom to this beleaguered planet. That includes helping Africa, preserving the environment, and much more. However, the leading domestic moral issue remains the value of helpless human life. Since Roe v. Wade, approximately 50 million unborn humans have been killed through abortion. Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy. A million dead is a statistic.” Too many are now Stalinists on abortion. The numbers mean nothing, apparently. The vast majority of these abortions were not done to save the life of the mother, a provision I take to be justified. Things have reached the point where bumper stickers say, “Don’t like abortion, don’t have one.” It is simply a matter of private, subjective taste. But how about this: “Don’t like slavery, don’t own slaves”? Two human beings are involved in this matter, inescapably.

{read it all}

[HT: Russel D. Moore @ Mere Comments]

Pilgrim People: The Church of Frank Sinatra

A very good summary of exactly where biblicism takes you in the end–complete, unfettered individual interpretation, every person their own personal Pope pronouncing judgment on their fellow Christians–and the need for creeds and statements of faith, as well as ecclesiastical authority, to avoid the worst abuses.

Yet, in its attempt to free the Bible from the fetters of the traditions of men, American biblicism has actually removed Scripture from its authoritative function. Rather than being guided by the principle of Sola Scriptura, biblicists have been guided by the egalitarian spirit of the American culture. The result has been a Protestantism that “has been pushed and pulled into its present shape by a democratic or popluist oreintation.”

{read it all}

Another great sermon from Fleming Rutledge

Several days ago I linked to a sermon by the the Rev. Fleming Rutledge. Well, the guys over at the Boars Head Tavern have directed my attention to another great one that is available at Asbury Seminary’s online chapel page. I don’t think I could give it any better introduction than Richard already did at the Tavern:

I heard the Gospel today. I heard it preached powerfully and, as always, it did me a lot of good. This sermon in particular I would rank as one of the best I’ve ever heard. Certainly in the top 10%. The preacher made no attempt to entertain the hearers. There were no jokes and no gimmicks of any sort. The sermon was a faithful exposition of John 9 – The healing of a blind man at the pool of Siloam. It was about 30 minutes of lifting up the Lord Jesus, fulfilling the preacher’s opening prayer “Lord Jesus, uphold me that I may uplift thee. Amen”.

Just scroll down the page to February 26th and have a listen. There are both Hi and low resolution versions.

{listen to it}

R.R. Reno: The Offense of Piety

Reno offers his take on the current trend of anti-faith authors/speakers in First Things’ “On the Square” blog:

The intemperate, even violent tone in recent criticisms of faith is quite striking. Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens: They seem an agitated crew, quick to caricature, quick to denounce, quick to slash away at what they take to be the delusions and conceits of faith. And the phenomenon is not strictly literary. All of us know a friend or acquaintance who has surprised us in a dark moment of anger, making cutting comments about the life of faith. There is no way around it. There is something about faith that agitates unbelief.

The great poet Lord Byron knew the complicated power that faith has over unbelief. He built his play Cain, a dramatization of the Cain and Abel story, around the effect of piety on doubt; and, in his version of the original murder and first death, Byron gives us insight into the present crop of crusading unbelievers.

{read it all}

Two book recommendations…

I’ve been reading two books recently (well, I’ve been reading more than that, but these two stand out) and I wanted to recommend them.

Several days ago a friend called me to see if I could recommend any resources on Richard Hooker and his view of scripture, tradition and reason. When I heard his concerns about the way someone was using Hooker’s thought as a rational for disregarding scripture’s authority, I was as bothered as he was. Several days later, there was a discussion on an email list that I read where a reasserter* and a reappriaser* were going at each other over what the defining characteristics of Anglicanism are. The reasserter was pushing for recognition of the Articles of Religion and the 1662 Prayer Book, ordinal etc… while the reappraiser was pointing toward Richard Hooker with his well-worn scripture-tradition-reason three-legged-stool metaphor. Of course, the problem was that each of them were rejecting things they didn’t really understand, and painting far too broad a brush in order to enlist the dead in their argument. For example, the reappraiser dismissed the Articles as “calvinist” (and therefore bad) while the reasserter dismissed Hooker as little more than an early example of a post-hippie priest looking for the next social movement. The fact is that the Articles of Religion are much more important to the history of Anglicanism than the reappraiser was willing to admit, while Richard Hooker was and is solidly orthodox. All that is to say, Nigel Atkinson’s Richard Hooker and the authority of scripture, tradition and reason is a very informative and accessible solution to at least one side of that misunderstanding. As I explained to my friend regarding Hooker’s views:

The “three-legged stool” idea (better explained as a tricycle with scripture being the large front wheel) comes from a lengthy explanation from Hooker about the uses of scripture, tradition and reason, but this is the most succinct:

“what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth.” —V.8.1 (Book 5, section 8.1)

As far as Hooker’s understanding of reason, I’ve attached a PDF from one of my books that gives probably the best summary I’ve seen, placing Hooker in context with Luther and Calvin etc… the most applicable bit to what we discussed on the phone is at the end, where the author summarizes the scholarly consensus on Hooker’s view of reason:

“Hillerdal writes that for Hooker reason is supposed to clarify revelation and yet, in order to do so, it first needs God’s grace to enable it to understand revelation. What Hillerdal has failed to grasp is ‘the exact distinguishing’ of which Hooker speaks. Because reason is unable to teach the things we must do to attain life everlasting, mankind needs the grace of God to open their eyes to see the truths of revelation. Reason is free to operate in the other spheres in which mankind is ‘civilly’ and not ‘spiritually associated’. But in the area of spiritual life mankind need God’s grace and revelation and so it is in this area that their faith needs to be quickened. This is a far cry from fideism, a position that insists on positive scriptural warrant for every belief.” (Atkinson, page 32)

Basically Hooker taught a form og Luther’s two Kingdom’s theology in which human reason can only get one so far (a sort of naturalism/basic theism) but revelation is needed for more. Even Adam had to have revelation, he could not tell from natural revelation that he shouldn’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil, but needed God to reveal that to him. The situation is even worse after the fall, when our reason is clouded by sin and needs God’s grace to understand anything spiritual. How this might apply to the Peanut Butter lady’s letter is this: we may not be founded on “sola scriptura” as some other protestant churches are, but we are certainly founded on “Sola fide” and “sola gratia” and Anglicanism has always taught that scripture is the paramount guide to things spiritual, i.e. contains all things necessary to salvation. That was Hooker’s whole point: the Bible may not tell you how to pave the road, but it tells you how to approach God and how to live your life in his service.

The other book I’ve been enjoying over the past day or two is entitled Being Salt by the Rev. Dr. George Sumner and was a thank you gift to my wife and I. Like Atkinson’s book on Hooker, it is fairly brief (Richard Hooker is 134 pages or so while Being Salt comes in right at 100.) but it packs a big punch. I very much appreciated Dr. Sumner’s approach in this book–looking at the indelible character of ordination from an evangelical perspective. This is one of the most distinctive characteristics of Anglican theology in comparison to other reformation churches, and has been brought into stark relief by “Called to Common Mission,” our ecumenical agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Being Salt is well written and easy to understand, and I particularly appreciate Dr. Sumner’s ability to relate the role of the Priest to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Here’s a sample from his discussion of Cranmer’s eucharistic prayer in a section entitled “The Cranmerian Non-sacrifice:”

The priest who stands at the table and reads the communion prayer, in the service of this surprising Priest and King [i.e. Jesus], in spite of all appearing, reinforces that he or she is neither, all in the service of pointing to Him. And by so doing he or she is proven a fitting symbol of priestly offering (of one’s self, one’s life, etc.) He or she is, then, a kind of counter-symbol that preserves the form of the signified (i,e, priesthood), even as it works to undercut his or her own claim. And all this is done to the service of the One who is the real and only Priest, who redefines, fulfills, and ends all priesthood in himself. The minister at the table is a counter-sign that works by its own displacement, by becoming a great finger stretched away from oneself and toward the dying Jesus at the center of the Church’s life (as the great triptych by Gruenewald depicts). (Sumner, page 25)

Home is where the heart is….

…but it helps to have a place to get out of the rain.

[Update: Anna has posted some pics of our property.  Take a look]

Center Point barbecueAnna and I just closed on our new piece of land on Center Point Road between Goodlettsville and Hendersonville TN (we’re agreed that it could only have been better if the road had been named “centre pointe” ’cause we’re weird like that).

In honor of that event we drove down to Center Point Barbecue and ate supper. It was good stuff, so I’m adding it to my list of recommendations. We both had pulled pork plates, with their corn bread patties and garlic mashed potatoes, while Anna had greens and I had barbecue beans (I know you were dying to know all that).

At any rate, it is a great little Barbecue joint–just the right ambiance (barbecue connoisseurs will know what I mean :-p ) with a big helping of friendliness. If you’re ever in the Hendersonville TN area, you should stop by for some good food at reasonable prices.

Ok, now that the plug is done, I thought I’d post some pictures of the house we’re going to build (actually I suppose we’re hiring someone else to build it, but you understand). So, picture this on top of a wooded hill:

The Laurel Bungalow

(The plans are from The Bungalow Company… if you’re in the market for a craftsman style home, check out their designs).

The Laurel picture1

laurel plan1

laurel plan2

To see more pictures of the house, click here.

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